Unarguably, in the overall availability and use of open data for transparency and accountability, developing countries are always found lagging behind in the open data adoption at government level.
Going forward, Nigeria is looking to fully execute a determination for data provision. This is more so with the country’s readiness to launch Beneficial Ownership Register (BOR) by Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) on December 12, this year, according to Mrs. Zainab Shamsuna Ahmed, Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning.
She said this recently in her keynote address at a Roundtable on BOR in Abuja, Nigeria. Perhaps never again will the country be found absent in the Open Data Barometer, an annual worldwide survey of government commitments, implementation and impact. The most recent (3rd) edition had found open data initiatives in place in 55 percent of the 92 countries surveyed. Some communities were using government data in 93 percent of countries, even where data was not yet fully open, according to World Wide Web foundation, 2015.
However, the survey shows a marked difference between the availability of data in developed and developing countries; nearly half of the open datasets found were in 10 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, while very few were in Africa.
In view of the challenges in Nigeria, the country has experienced a lot in managing sector corruption, leading to significant loss of revenues, security challenges, and an eroded public trust. Lack of transparency has been a longstanding issue in the global extractive sector. In particular, anonymous companies (companies in which the ultimate or ‘beneficial owners’ are hidden) have been used to enable corruption, tax evasion, money laundering and other illegal activities in the sector.
This reality has served as a sobering wake-up call which has resulted in a move towards establishing measures and standards that could mandate the disclosure of the beneficial owners of such anonymous companies, and the coordinated development of a national public register in the extractive industries and beyond. These steps are in line with government’s priority area focused on fighting corruption and improving governance, and in moving towards an open, transparent, and citizen centered approach to policy-making and implementation.
As a member country of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), Nigeria, according to Ahmed, is one of the countries leading in EITI global family, and has made a long-standing commitment to ensuring transparency in the sector. “The EITI standard requires that member countries report the beneficial owners of companies in the sector, with Section 2.5 specifically requiring that implementing countries develop and maintain a public register of the beneficial owners of the corporate entities that bid for, operate or invest in extractive assets, including the identities of their beneficial owners and the level of ownership.”
In line with EITI requirements, she stated: “We developed and published a Beneficial Ownership Roadmap in 2016, to guide our plans towards ensuring beneficial ownership publication. The Nigeria EITI (NEITI) made a firm commitment to establish a beneficial ownership register for the extractive sector by January 2020, in line with global standards, and has been working with critical stakeholders such as the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) and civil society organizations to achieve this goal.”
So far, the government has considered open governance and beneficial ownership transparency as critical policy tools. Speaking on this, she further stated: “So firmly do we believe in the importance of transparency in beneficial ownership, that we reinforced our commitment to establishing a national public register in 2016, when we first joined the open government partnership (OGP). Our inaugural OGP National Action Plan (spanning 2017 to 2019) aimed to deepen and mainstream transparency mechanisms and citizens’ engagement in the management of public resources across all sectors.”