Registrar-General, Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), Mr. Abubakar Garba, clocked one year at the helm of affairs at the company registration agency in January, having been appointed in January 2020. In this interview with journalists in Abuja, he recounts the achievements and challenges within the one-year period. ABDULWAHAB ISA, reports
What are the innovations introduced to company registration all about?
You recall during one of our engagements last year we committed to Nigerians that CAC was going to deplore an end to end electronic system that will enable CAC’s customers to transact without having to come to the office.
They can get results of their application remotely and such result will have provision that will allow for validation of the information by the third party or by the applicant themselves.
I am pleased to inform you that this has come to reality. Precisely on January 3, 2021, the Commission deployed an upgraded company registration portal.
With the new portal our customers can transact with us end to end on all aspects of our registration services without having to visit CAC; without having to send documents to us by courier, or dropping any document in any of our premises. With the new system, if you file your application, unlike before where you have to use different systems, different applications at every stage, everything is now consolidated in one place.
You start your registration, do your data entry, pay the registration fee, upload signatures using the same interface and you get your certificate electronically with a certified extract of the information about your company or incorporated trustees. This is unprecedented. As you know, CAC is one of the few government agencies that truly operates a self-service portal.
Unlike many other organisations that doesn’t have self-service porters, in CAC portal, you get your result.With what we have deployed, from anywhere in the world, from the comfort of your offices, you can start and finish your registration with CAC and get your certificate electronically. This is in line with the best practices.
Are you saying the innovation is peculiar to CAC?
In fact, we have found out that CAC is the first registry in the world to issue certificate and certify document with a QR code that allows you to validate your information. We are the first in history. This is an unusual record that has not been done anywhere. And we are committed to further improvement.
To our customers, all the old accounts on the company’s distribution portal have been retained and they have been allowed to continue their transactions.
All pending applications can also be continued. The only thing is, it has to be in line with the new requirement as enshrined in the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) 2020. There is no data lost for migrating from the old system to the new. Customers have been informed. Some of the old applications have been queried for them to update the information to make it consistent with the new law and they are doing that. Some of the old end reserves are still valid but some of the old applications, some of the requirements have changed.
Any application that has not been approved has to be updated to make it consistent with the law. We are already issuing certificates to our customers. Moving forward, we are going to introduce a dedicated account for every registered entity. The entity will have its electronic accounts. They can dedicate any of their officers to manage that account.
Any filling done through the account is deemed to have come from the entity. So, registered entities have the options to either use accredited customers like lawyers, accredited chartered secretaries or they may choose to maintain their own accounts. We are not dispensing the right of third parties to make filing against other entities. When a company borrows money and it now charges its asset, the law has given the lender the right to register a charge against that company.
The right of that third party to register that charge is still recognized anywhere the company has an account. Moving forward, every accredited customer must revalidate his accreditation with the commission before the end of march.
This is necessary because we recognised that some of our customers have died, some have changed their auditors; some have changed their locations without telling us. Some have even moved their accounts to other people to manage it on their behalf. So, to ensure the integrity of the information we are going to be receiving from the accredited customers, all existing accounts must be validated before the end of march. By April 1, any account not revalidated will cease to have effect until the customer comes forward to revalidate.
What are the requirements for revalidation?
The process of revalidation has been simplified on the portal. Everything is done electronically without needing to visit our office. Once you plug into a company’s registration portal, information to upload include evidence for qualification as lawyers, accredited chartered secretaries, evidence of payment for practicing fees as well as a means of identification; preferably the data page of the international passport, drivers’ licence or national identity card.
These are some of the requirements. All customers must obtain these. For public users, the new law recognises the right of any individual to register his own company directly without having to go through any professionals. The right of members of the public to do their own registration will remain sacrosanct. If you are a public user, there is an interface for you to collect an account as a public user.
The only limitation is, you cannot register as a public user and use that to register companies for other people. You must be part of that company so there is no choice. Your details will automatically be transported as first director or one of the shareholders of the business.
This is necessary to cut the activities of touts. They are not professionals but they try to hijack the system to do registration services for a fee for other people. We are not going to deprive professionals of their rights to earn a living. At the same time, the right of individuals to do his registration must be respected.
We have to balance this interest. Hence, this restriction that your details must appear as one of the directors. The new portal covers existing legal entities, companies, business name and incorporated trustees.
The interface for registering limited partnership and limited liability partnership, these two legal entity types were introduced by CAMA 2020 because they are new entities.
The process of building that application is ongoing. We are hoping the interface for registering these two entities would be available by 1st of April,2021 so that Nigerians that would want to register limited partnership and liability partnership can do that. If you remember, we discussed severally about our commitment under the open government partnership as well as the extractive industry transparency initiative on the disclosure of beneficial owners of the companies.
The new portal provides for disclosure of owners with significant control or beneficiaries of companies. Our legal framework takes after the United Kingdom’s concept of disclosure.
Any individual, corporate body that owns shares up to a minimum of five per cent, or control voting right in a company up to five per cent, or control the appointment of majority of directors of any company; or in any other way exert any form of influence or control the way and manner that company is administered. If you qualify as such, you must provide this information at the point of registration.
And whenever any change occurs on your status and the point of filing your annual returns. The new register is ready in place under the new application. At the point of registration, the applicant must disclose persons with majority control. This is one information is available free of charge.
How has CAC faired under your watch in the last one year?
In terms of operations and management of the Commission, we have done well. Unlike in previous years where we had to struggle, even float to the next year. In the last five, six years, except for last year, the Commission was consistently recording losses.
When I took over in January 2020, I inherited a liability of over N6 billion on our staff pension, taxes and other statutory obligations. I’m pleased to announce that, as at today, over 85 per cent of these liabilities had been discharged. We have paid all pension arrears from 2017 up till March, 2019. We couldn’t pay from April 2019 to December because the budget could not cover it. We intend to pay differences this year.
For 2020, all the pension contributions due from staff, both the employer and employee, were remitted as and when due. We didn’t enter this year with any outstanding pension contribution. We had settled all our tax obligations. The tax obligations were over N1.2 billion.
When I took over, we were able to renegotiate; we paid about N700 million and got a discount of about N500 to N600 million. That has also been settled. For the first time, we were able to pay an operating surplus of over N2.7 billion to the Federal Government. If not for these outstanding liabilities, the operating surplus we paid would have been more than N5 billion. Some of these things were in our books and we have cleared them. We are hoping that this year will be different, so that we will be able to give more money to government.
We are committed to giving more to the Federal Government because we recognise the challenges, the global economic challenges. As a government organisation, we are under obligation to support the government to achieve its developmental objectives. Our resources have been prudently managed.
We had a projected revenue target of N18.2 billion in 2020, but we closed the year with over N19 billion. Some of these things were achieved due to conscious, deliberate policy instituted by the management to curb waste and leakages. On staff welfare, in an unpresented manner, two promotions exams were conducted last year for 2019 and 2020.
When I took over, I met a situation where the former management approved that, no promotion exam because the commission didn’t have money to pay any arrears or to promote anybody. In 2019, we ended the year with outstanding liability of over N6 billion.
The issue was not about promotion but about how to clear the backlog of liabilities. When I took over, we now revisited the matter and the board approved that since our finances have improved, we could conduct these exams. Two promotions exams were conducted at two months intervals. In the first instance, 258 staff were promoted for 2019, and 190 staff were promoted for the 2020 promotion examination.
All the staff have received their promotion letters. For 2019, because the examination took place in 2020, no budgetary provisions were made. For the payment of arrears dating back 2019, the board approved that the promotion should take effect from 2019 but financial benefit should be from 2020. This was because we didn’t have money to pay arrears.
For 2020, the promotion took effect from January 1, 2020 and salary, pension for staff totaling over N330 million had been paid. The board also considered the expansionary growth in the commission’s structure and the need to curtail that.
It was observed that two levels constitute one-third of the total manpower: officers at the level of principal managers and officers as the level of senior managers. We have a total of over 400 staff on this cadre against a total workforce of 1,280. Organisation structure is supposed to be pyramidical, our own is totally distorted,
not near pyramidical. Because of this concern, the board approved that, maximum manning level be introduced from the position of a director to the position of senior manager. For the director, the board pegged a ceiling of 15, for deputy director 30; for assistant director 45, for principal manager, 180. That is quite magnanimous. For senior managers, 240; for other levels any officer can grow up to the level of a manager unhindered once you pass the promotion.
These are necessary measures because there is no way an organisation can end up with such structure. If this is not controlled, we will end up with over 300 principal managers.
This is not done anywhere. After the board’s decision, 16 vacancies were declared for the positions of principal managers for the 2020 exam, 16 vacancies were also declared for the position of senior managers for 2020 exams, only one vacancy was declared for the position of assistant director because already we had 44 staff that were assistant directors.
For Deputy Directors, the number didn’t exceed 30 so no vacancy was declared. For directors, we have 12. Three vacancies were declared. After the 2020 promotion exams, qualified candidates were promoted. Promotion is not a right, it is based on vacancies. it is based on the needs of the organization. We never defaulted on the discharge of our obligations. We trained over 390 staff alone last year in the face of COVID-19.
Considering the recent industrial action by your workers, will it be correct to conclude that CAC management fails in carrying the union along with its activities?
Some of you are unionists. This is the tradition, union hardly sees anything good in what management is doing. We won’t be distracted, but one fact remains: we could not have achieved these without the involvement of all staff. RG alone and directors cannot do this.
Some of us were practically sleeping in this office to make sure things we are trying to do were achieved and most of the people are actually members of the union. So, if the union officials are not keying into this, their members are. Let me make this clear, the union you are talking about – Amalgamated Union of Public Corporations, Civil Service, Technical and Recreation Service Employees (AUPCTRE) is no longer recognised as a senior staff union in CAC because of the decision of the National Industrial Court that declares UPTAR a junior staff union.
A copy of that decision has been made available to us, we have it. I sought the advice of my legal department. So, the people making this claim have no laws in what they are saying. Come here tomorrow and see what happens, because the majority of the staff are not in support of the strike. Majority of the staff committed to come to work.
We will not condone brigandage. Unionism is not a licence for anybody to disrupt government services. CAC is a critical national institution. We have a responsibility to ensure that this registry operates without hindrance.
Could you tell us some of your challenges in 2020?
Of course, every human endeavor faces one form of challenge or another. We have challenges. Our major challenges in 2020 had to do with our service delivery channels, and the impact of COVID-19 in relation to service delivery. If you recall when the first lockdown was announced, the country was under total lockdown.
For over one month, we had a backlog of applications that had not been treated when the lockdown was first eased, because only level 14 officers and above were allowed to be at the office to work from 9am to 2pm.
The number of level 14 and above officers in CAC was less than 20 per cent of our workforce. At the head office with staff strength of 750, 20 per cent was less than a 150. Things were manually done. So, we had a backlog of applications over overwhelmed the few available people at work.
We had another challenge. Because customers were still allowed to come to our premises in an organised manner, we got to the stage where all the protocols enshrined to curb the spread of covid-19 were not respected by the customers. This place was always crowded. In a day we used to have nothing less than 500 customers. They were not obeying cautions of the covid, the place was always crowded with nothing less than 500 customers. We were forced to dispense with the physical presence of customers in our premises.
We now introduced a mailing system. Some customers didn’t like it, it was understood. Some of them didn’t have anywhere to go except CAC. They stay here till the close of work, CAC is their office. It was challenging but we have to stick to our decision. When the lockdown was eased further, and the majority of staff were back to work, the applications didn’t stop coming. In fact, we recorded more fillings than previous years.
We fixed staff to attend to these applications. So that was our challenging moment, having to cope with those challenges.
We tried to provide mobile instruments like laptops and data for our staff to be able to operate from home. That would apply mostly to new registration services. We have to encourage staff to come on weekends to come and work for us to clear this backlog. We thank God, substantially things have been cleared