Many years ago, one of the biggest frustrations of investors and potential investors within Nigeria and from outside the country was the difficulty in the process of registering a company, filling annual returns and other business matters to do with the Corporate Affairs Commission. Many foreign investors who wanted to do business in the country ended up changing their minds when they discovered the trouble it took to incorporate their firms. This, to many potential foreign investors, was a first sign that a lot of bureaucracies awaited them even after incorporation. As such, they often backed out even before they fully got in.
The CAC has however significantly transformed itself in the past few years. The previous management led by Mr. Ahmed Al-Mustapha did a lot to modernize the operations and automate the agency’s systems. But the agency still wasn’t’ able to deliver services online-real time, which is a key ingredient in speeding up the process of company registration and fillings. So when Bello Mahmud emerged in 2009 as the Registrar General of CAC, there was still a lot of work to be done in order for the agency to get to the promise land.
Mahmud started out by initiating reforms in processes and systems. This immediately led to a significant reduction in the turn-around time for company registration, filling of returns and all other transactions. On resumption, he also vowed to enhance general processes in the system and make the CAC a model public agency of reference in terms of effectiveness, efficiency and general excellence.
But how did Mr. Mahmud achieve these strides? The CG came in not in the best of times at the CAC. He resumed office to find out that the Chairman of the commission’s board, Barrister Jimoh Ibrahim and employees of the CAC were engaged in a face-off that was threatening the corporate performance and the integrity of the agency. Mahmud immediately swung to action, intermediating between both parties. It took series of negotiations, pleas and wise counselling for both parties to agree to sheath their swords, in the interest of peace and progress at CAC. This was no mean achievement.
Achieving peace and harmony in the work place was the foundation that led to the transformation of key systems and processes in the CAC. Having done that, the reputable lawyer, who has distinguished himself in private practice, went on to make business easier for companies in Nigeria. Today, companies file their annual returns in good time. Other statutory filings required of registered companies, Business Names and Incorporated Trustees are now done at the speed of light, and businesses and stakeholders are happy about it. Why shouldn’t they? These are mandatory requirements that they need to fulfill in compliance with provisions of the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA).
While many stakeholders were amazed at the short time it took the RG to transform things in the CAC, it came as no surprise to people who knew him from way back in the days. This is because between 1996 to 1999 when he served as Attorney General and commissioner of Justice in Sokoto State, he made similar strides that helped to enhance the judiciary in the state.
Today, at the CAC, he has initiated and implemented plans that have integrated the state offices across the country with the head office in Abuja. He also made sure that the efficiency and effectiveness in CAC’s operations do not stop at the head office. All state offices have been compelled to up their game to meet expected standards.
The impact of these reforms has been obvious. The number of registered business entities has gone up from less than 1.2 million in December, 2009 when he was appointed to almost 3 million by December 2011, a space of just two years. From what I hear, the figures are much higher today. Within the 2009 – 2011 period referred to above, the CAC registered almost 900,000 companies, over 1.9 million business names and almost 50,000 incorporated trustees. Most of these successes were recorded following Mahmud’s decision to upgrade the Commission’s registration software, i.e. Content Pinnacle. One of the features of the software is the e-payment portal that enables clients to make online payments for services to be rendered to them by the commission.
It is said that the greatest asset of any company is its people. The best of strategies can fail if there aren’t the right human resources to implement them. In recognition of this fact, the RG decided to improve the welfare and working conditions of the employees. Pay packages were enhanced for workers to keep the focused and motivated while a befitting head office was constructed in Maitama district of Abuja. Using internally generated revenue, the RG also initiated plans to ensure that the Commission builds its own offices in all the 36 states of the Federation. So far, over 20 state offices have been built. These are expected to save the commission from paying huge rents to landlords for buildings, some of which are not very conducive the very sensitive work that goes on at the CAC.
The story of change at the CAC will not be complete without a mention of the fact that the RG has been able to improve internally generated revenue, moving it from N3 billion when he took over to over N5.5 billion as at end of 2012. This figure has also gone up in the last two years.
Despite all these achievements, the RG has been criticized in some quarters. Critics say that the agency has become a little bit relaxed following the successes achieved by the RG. They claim that in recent times, the commission has not been meeting its self-imposed turnaround time for transactions. Contrary to this view, I know for a fact as a stakeholder in the system that the little delays experienced once in a while are caused by network challenges. This is something that the CAC has absolutely no control over as it relies on broadband services from telecommunications companies. As users of telecommunications services in Nigeria, we all know the challenges of quality of service that the industry still battles with. This is why banks and other companies still experience down times once in a while, despite their huge investments in technology.
RG Bello Mahmud once said that his vision for the CAC is to evolve a world-class business registry that will keep accurate and reliable company records using the best technology and driven by a well-motivated workforce. With his achievements so far, it is clear that the gentleman has matched words to action.
Emmanuel L. Garba writes from Jabi, Abuja