We have attained one-day company registration mark, says Lady Azinge

Lady Azinge

Lady Azuka Azinge, the Acting Registrar-General and Chief Executive Officer of the Corporate Affairs Commission [CAC] is an interviewer’s delight any day. She has vast knowledge and understanding of corporate governance as well as companies’ registration issues and has been involved in such for more than two decades. But today, she can best be described as an admixture of a happy and sad technocrat. Happy because the CAC which she leads can now complete a company’s registration in one day, thus facilitating the ease-of-doing-business index in Nigeria. She is also sad because most entrepreneurs, particularly in-country are not responding to the many incentives and opportunities, including a generous slash in registration fees and take advantage to register their companies and help Nigeria in her diversification plan. She recently shared her mixed feelings with MATHIAS OKWE and ANTHONY OTARU in Abuja. Excerpts: 

How has it been running this all-important institution since your assumption of duties as Acting Registrar – General of the CAC?
IT has actually been very challenging. I came into the position as someone who has actually been in the system but I did not expect such enormous responsibilities because they are much more than I thought, especially when you want to really do the job with serious commitment.

So, it’s quite challenging but interesting. Interesting because we can see the benefits and results in the system as well as in the economy. We can see how the game has changed as far as company registration online is concerned.

The online registration we introduced are working and its effects on the overall economy in the ease of doing business in Nigeria. We are also aware of the ease it has also brought with those using it for the Commission.

How has those effects impact on Foreign Direct Investment [FDIs] inflows into Nigeria, because there is this belief that coming to Nigeria to start a business is very tasking?
Well, one of the focus of the present Administration of President Muhammadu Buhari was really to improve the business environment and make doing business in Nigeria easy to attract Direct Foreign Investments.

Every MDA that has something to do with investment has to adjust to the reforms and also to ensure that Nigeria’s ranking in the ease of doing business continues to improve tremendously.

So, for us in CAC, one of the reforms that we put in place was to ensure that the online system was activated and we also decentralized operations, so that from any part of the world and from the comfort of your office or bedroom, you can start the process of your registration and complete it.

We’ve had some foreigners who registered in some of our state offices, we ensure they are registered and documents sent to them in the state offices where they are.

Overall, it has made foreign investments easier. You know we have the one-stop-shop that are established by the government, which all the MDAs that are involved in ensuring that investors get all their registrations and processes are all under one umbrella. This is being done in NIPC.

Now with the SMES clinic initiative, in some of the states, we also have one-stop-shops being established as well to make investments easier.

For foreign investors, all they need to do is log in to: servicescac.gov.ng and they will get all their registrations done. They don’t need to come because they can just register online.

Definitely, if you look at the indices, the economy is improving. We have recovered from the recession, so we have different sectors such as the mining, aviation, agriculture and transportation, etc attracting investment.

So, you can see that foreign investments are flowing into the country.

In essence, how long does it take now to register a company in Nigeria and how have you checked the activities of touting?
It takes 24 hours to register a company after submission of all documents and requirements in accordance with the CAMA.

Name reservation takes between four and six hours. The issue of touting has reduced, as business registration is now online.

The process has been so simplified that anybody can do it himself. With respect to post incorporation services, which are not fully online, only accredited agents/ Company Secretaries can handle such.

What is the level of compliance of registered companies since you have been managing the affairs of CAC?
Well as a regulatory entity, the commission is concerned that registered companies comply with the rules of business registration and operations, particularly the issue of annual returns.

Initially, the responses over the years have been low but improved with a lot of awareness.

De-listing of companies also helped to improve it. We de-listed because that is an evidence that a company viable and that the companies are still operating.

So when the commission made that move to de-list some of the companies, we noticed that there were improvements and with a lot of awareness also, companies are beginning to see that as an important aspect of CAC regulations.

What is the implication of having a company delisted and what are the chances and procedure for the owner to re-register it?
When a company is delisted, it simply means such a company is no longer in the Commission’s Register of Companies.

Any member of the public who wants to do business with such a company cannot find your details and cannot access your records to do due diligence of or any kind of transaction. Such a company technically ceases to exist on record.

The implication is that the public cannot access your file. De-listing or striking out of dormant companies is a legal requirement.

Once a company is no longer in operation and has failed to file annual returns for several years, the Commission is obliged to strike same out after satisfying itself that such company has actually become dormant.

The detailed criteria are as provided under Section 525 of the CAMA. It involves sending appropriate notices to the defaulting company, and where no response is received nor any curative steps taken, the

Commission exercises its statutory power to de-list and gazette the de-listed companies accordingly. The procedure for a de-listed company coming back on the register involves the court.

Once a company is de-listed, the owners require an order of court for the Commission to enlist such company.

Besides the court order, you pay a fee of N25, 000 for re-listing to the Commission. Such a company will also update its annual returns for the period it was delisted.

So what would you say are your challenges as a Corporation?
There is no business or any venture that does not have challenges. CAC is not absolved in this regard. Challenges come in different ways.

For us, one of the challenges we are having now is that of reaching out to members of the public which we are still making a lot of efforts on, to let them know or raise more awareness about the business processes of the CAC, especially that of registration of companies.

We want them to know that they could be done online, that they can access it online and that they can also do it themselves; that they don’t need accredited agents or any third party.

Government has simplified it, such that a first subscriber or a director of a limited liability company can simply register it yourself as the owner of the business.

If you are one of the trustees, it’s also simple to register. But the challenge is that this information is yet to get down to Nigerians because our population is very high.

We have people at the grassroots. They need to know this so that the costs of registration, which has been reduced, can benefit them maximally. There is no need going through third party who charges five times more than the approved costs of registration.

That is one of the challenges we are having. We are disseminating this information through radio, newspapers and through different media including internet, websites and different associations. We also organize customers’ forum and go to markets for sensitization, but its not yet enough.

One of our challenges is reaching out to more of the public so that they understand that the cost of registration has been brought down because the Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry, Dr. Okechukwu Enelamah reduced it by reducing the amount paid on share capital.

This is ongoing. Now business can be registered with N5, 000 instead of N10, 000, which has been the normal fee.

So we are trying as much as possible to reach out to the public so that they will know that this is the trend.

Recently, the Minister of State for Investment, Trade and Industry, Aisha Abubakar was saying that people are of the opinion that the N5,000 thing is not working and that people are still registering with the higher fee.

I said this is because they are still meeting the third party. But it is really something one can do online. Our offices are also opened.

Come forward and ask questions, we have customers’ desks officers who will help to give further clarifications and information you need.

Of course, like any other entity, the issue of funding is also another challenge facing us. Because you know we are on IGR, so we don’t get any subvention from government.

So we are financially limited basically. We get money from what we generate so that is a challenge because we are not able to do as much as we would have loved to do.

Another challenge is that of the Company and Allied Matter Act, which has been long overdue for review. The Process is ongoing now.

The bill has actually affected the Commission in terms of regulatory powers over the years but as we speak now, the bill is before the House of Representatives to pass for the 3rd reading and final passage before going to Mr. President for assent.

So that is where we are and these are some of the challenges facing the CAC. Once the President assents to this bill, I think it will go a long way to help the Commission to better carry out its statutory functions.

The CAC was recently listed by the Ministry of Budget and National Planning as one of the more than 50 agencies of the Federal Government in disregard of remitting operating surplus into the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federal Government. In fact, your agency was captured to be owing N7.7 billion. Why are you not remitting your operating surplus in line with the Fiscal Responsibility Act? 
Nothing like that is happening in CAC. We were surprised to see that we are being accused of this especially in the media.

For one, we have clarified this from the office of the Accountant General of the Federation.

We are supposed to pay where we have operating surplus, but for the past four or five years now, we have not had any surplus. In fact, we are generating far below our projected budgets.

For instance, last year the target was N15 billion or N18 billion but we generated N11billion. Year before that, the target was also N15 billion, but we generated N9billion, so you can see we did not have surplus.

It is supposed to be paid from operating surplus. After you have taken care of your operational needs, whatever balance is left is your operating surplus and that you must pay to government.

In the past, in the boom days, CAC was remitting to government, N3billion, N4billion so much operating surplus so. But in the past four years, we have not been able to meet up with our projected revenues.

So what’s your expectation for 2019?
Our goal is to reposition the Commission for better services. We have gone beyond efficiency, we need to move it up to become excellent because we believe it can be achieved.

My dream for the Commission is to make it a world-class companies registry comparable to any in the World. I plan to extend online services to post incorporation services.

I intend to take registrationservices to the point where members of the public desiring registration would generate the certificates at their end. It is called “self generation of certificates”.

The new Board of the Commission under the Chairmanship of Prince (Dr.) Dapo Abiodun, is very passionate about this.

Top priority is robust software that will achieve certificate generation and business registration within two to four hours.

To realize all of the targets, the Commission shall embarked on the review of its enabling Act to strengthen the regulatory and enforcement capacities of the Commission to effectively discharge its functions and thus promote global best practices and good corporate governance in the management of companies. And all we are putting in now is to achieve that goal of making the Commission a world-class entity.

Our expectation in the new year is to take more steps ahead. We are following the Federal Government to move to the next level.

Right now, we are online, certificates are generated from different offices and you can pick them up from there.

Our ultimate goal is that you can generate your certificate from the comfort of your office, and again the post- company incorporation where some aspects of it can be done online.

What safeguards are there to ensure your certificates generated virtually are not cloned?
As you know, we are in digital age and everything you do you have to take care as to ensure you avoid being duplicated.

All certificates that are generated from our portals have security features, which differentiate them from fake, so all care are taken to ensure that our certificates are secured and not exposed to forgery.

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