Lady Azuka Azinge is the Acting Registrar General of the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC). In this exclusive interview, she speaks on some of the reforms initiated by the CAC that helped Nigeria emerge as one of the top 10 most improved economies in 2017 and move 24 places to 145th position on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index. She says the reforms are targeted at growth and survival of small scale businesses.
As the head of one of the key agencies driving reforms in Nigeria’s business environment for ease of doing business, what is your take on the recent World Bank report that Nigeria moved from 169th to 145th place, a 24 place move in one year on ease of doing business index?
The report is very encouraging and very motivating as well. It makes us know that with determination, there is really nothing you cannot achieve. For us in CAC, we are encouraged to even do more because we’ve lifted Nigeria up on the global index of ease of doing business in the sense that Nigeria’s rating has really gone up. We are encouraged by that.
What were some of the reforms within the CAC that contributed to this improved rating Nigeria got from the World Bank?
One of the major ones was our online services for registration. The Commission deployed what we call the Company Registration Portal, which now enables businesses to be registered online- business names, incorporated trustees and Limited Liability Companies. So, you can now do it from the comfort of your office. One other reform is collaboration with the Federal Inland Revenue Service. Prior to this reform, you have to go to the Inland Revenue to do your stamping and what the Commission did to bridge that gap was to house them within the Commission so that in the process of doing their registrations, customers can have their documents stamped within the Commission premises. But now, there is an interface in the Commission’s Company Registration Portal where those documents are stamp. So, we have e-stamping of those documents. One other reform we did was the decentralisation of our registration centres. Before that, all registrations had to be approved here at the head office. Now, we have eight offices designated within the six geopolitical zones to carryout full registrations. They start and finish the registration processes. Another reform is that you don’t have to be a lawyer, a chartered accountant or a chartered secretary for you to register a business. It is now possible for a non-lawyer to come and register a company. If you are one of the first directors of the company or the owner of a business or one of the trustees for an NGO, a foundation or association, you can come to the commission and register it. This has also reduced cost and time. A nexus to the Company Registration Portal is the fact that you can upload the documents that prior to this you have to come to the commission to submit these documents. Now, you can do it yourself; upload your documents and they will be treated. We now register companies within 24 hours. All things being equal, you get your company registered and your certificate issued within 24 hours. Another reform is that we have extended our business hours to 7pm. We work from 8am to 7pm every day.
Cost is key consideration in World Bank surveys on ease of doing business. How have the reforms in CAC led to reduction in administrative cost?
Prior to our reforms, for you to do registration, you have to fill several forms. Now, we have only one form. That form contains all the basic information. This harmonisation in forms is a reduction in cost because you have to pay for each of those forms separately. Also, there is a reduction in memos and articles because as you submit those documents, the Commission also gives you the certified true copies and it has reduced the cost of doing business further by about N4, 000.
What would you say is the response of your customers to these reforms?
The reforms have been well received. In fact, our customers are very happy at what has happened because at any time, whether in their offices or homes, they can register their businesses. And most mobile phones can be used to do the registration. This has ease doing business because you don’t need to come to the commission unless you want to come and collect the finished product, which are the certified true copies of your documents. So, they are very excited.
You seem to be taking the feeding bottle out of the mouths of lawyers, chartered accountants and chartered secretaries. Are they also excited about the reforms?
Actually, they are not. But, recently in Port Harcourt, I made a patriotic statement when this issue was raise at a stakeholders’ forum. I did tell them that if you go through CAMA, you will see that there is no requirement really on whether you are a chartered secretary, chartered accountant or lawyer except on the issue of endorsement of the documents prior to submission by a lawyer. I explained to them that we have to follow global best practices. All over the world, there is nowhere that practice is done. Nigeria cannot be an island. On the issue of ease of doing business, government is targeting low income earners, small and medium enterprises to grow the economy and to help them to build wealth. How can this be achieved if a lawyer will ask someone who has never seen N100, 000 to bring N70, 000 to register a business name which N10500 can achieve? I told them it is beyond us. We should look at the whole interest of the society and the impact of these government policies will have. Believe me, many of them understood. You should know that this is just one little aspect of what a lawyer can do in the business. I told them most of the money in corporate practice is in post registration activities and not pre. Pre is just to bring it to life. There are other fillings that need to be done which they should pursue. So, there are so many other things. The law is a very versatile profession.
How do you intend to sustain some of these reforms to make sure that Nigeria does not relapse again on the ease of doing business index?
In Nigeria, most of the problems we have is sustainability and maintenance. But I can assure you that here, we are closely monitoring the processes. We are extending these infrastructures to other eight offices that can initiate and complete registrations. By the end of December, we hope to have 20 more offices joining these other ones so that things can go round. So, one, we will continue to monitor the process. We will continue to train our staff. We will continue to engage stakeholders and most importantly, we will continue to evaluate the results.
You recently assume office as the Acting Registrar General. What were some of the challenges that confronted you as you resumed office?
The challenges are not entirely new to me because I had acted several occasions when the former Registrar General was on seat. I am already abreast with some of the challenges. The challenges are staring me in the face now sitting here as the Acting Registrar General. The issue of managing so many things at a time is a challenge. We have a lot of activities going on at the same time. You still have to deal with in-house issues, staff agitation for better welfare package and many more. There are so many visitors and this can be a bit distracting with dealing with the main things I need to attend to. Of course, being a woman, the expectations are also there that can this woman deliver. I am not oblivious of that. I am not saying that it is something of concern. But the fact that you are in a position that no woman has ever been in before, the expectations are very high.
What are your plans on how to move the CAC forward?
The primary thing we want to continue with as management is the reform agenda. That is, moving from the issue of efficient service delivery to service excellence because we are no longer talking about efficiency. It has been proven that we have performed to that level. We will continue with the reform agenda and continue to move the Commission forward. We will also look at a robust ICT infrastructure and ensure that they are up to date. We will also prioritise staff welfare. We’ll go ahead with training and retraining of staff for us to move forward and get to the point of service excellence. If there is agitation, there will be no peace. We are looking at deepening communication with all stakeholders to ensure that information flows out to the staff for them to know what is happening. We have to douse rumour mongering among staff and of course communicate to the outside world on what we are doing. We are also looking at revenue drive. We generate our own revenues.