Nigeria is undoubtedly one of the most, if not the most attractive market in Africa today. This is no doubt courtesy of a huge population numbering up to 182 million people, the highest in Africa. One would expect that with such large number, Nigeria would be a thriving place for businesses to operate. However, this has not been the case. Some years ago, investors looking to do business in Nigeria were easily turned away by the difficult process of registering a business, filing returns and other business registration matters. Often, foreign investors would come into the country with huge sums of money ready to set up shop. They come in inspired by the potentials that abound in the giant of Africa.  However, as they go through the difficult bureaucratic processes involved in registering a business, they start to have second thoughts about investing in Nigeria. This is evidenced by the low ranking of the country in the World Bank’s global ease of doing business scale with the latest ranking placing the country at 169th position out of 190 countries assessed late last year. The nation’s low ranking can be attributed to various factors, among which is its huge infrastructure deficit. But much more frontally, businesses are encumbered in Nigeria by the intrinsic bureaucratic bottlenecks at various stages of economic facilitation especially within government establishments.

This deficiency was noted by the President, who promised to reduce the difficulties confronting business in Nigeria. In July 2016, President Muhammadu Buhari established the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC) with the mandate to remove critical bottlenecks and bureaucratic constraints to doing business in Nigeria and move Nigeria 20 places upwards in the World Bank Doing Business Rankings. The council is also to carry out reform projects and provide a conducive atmosphere for transactions in Nigeria.

In carrying out these reforms, one of the key bodies which have been vital has been the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) headed by Mahmud Bello Esq. The CAC has played its role in strengthening the ease of doing business in Nigeria, courtesy of its various initiatives, including the Company Registration Portal (CRP). Since the launching of the CRP, company registration activity has witnessed progressive increase. Worthy of note is the fact that the feedback which the CAC gets from its customers, and other stakeholders have over time helped to further enhance the workability of the online registration experience, and operational needs required for a perfect registration process which the Commission is committed to providing.

The following are some of the steps taken to empower the ease of doing business in Nigeria.

The CRP affords customers online real-time access to the services of the CAC from the comfort of their offices or homes, utilizing e-payment platforms e.g. Master card, Verve c  ard, Visa card etc. as means of payment. It has also significantly impacted on the time cycle for company registration, and as such, the PEBEC target of registration of companies in 24 hours has been achieved, which indeed is a giant milestone for the county. Similarly, the desk of CAC at the One-Stop Investment Centre (OSIC) being hosted by the Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission (NIPC) has been empowered to conclude company registration activities within 24 hours. OSIC is a platform to cater to foreign investors coming to register and do business in Nigeria,

CRP has made it possible for promoters and business owners in Nigeria to register their companies without the employing the services of lawyers. Before now, it was compulsory that promoters of a business name engage the services of either a CAC accredited chartered accountant, chartered secretary, or a lawyer to register such a company on their behalf. But now, promoters of business names can now register their businesses at the Commission directly by themselves provided they have valid identifications such as the permanent voter’s card, international passport, national ID, or driver’s license.

Furthermore, the commission has created a public search window that allows members of the public to view all registered names free of charge before they get to choose their own names for reservation. Prior to this, it was lawyers who did this on behalf of promoters for a fee. The commission also revised its service timelines for registration services. As such, name reservations can now be completed within 12 hours from when the request was made.

In order to get the optimal benefits of the Companies Registration Portal and further ease the process of company registration, the Commission has integrated it to the Electronic Stamp Duty Portal of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS). The e-stamping system has cancelled the physical submission of documents to FIRS for assessment and manual stamping at the various Stamp Duty Offices across Nigeria. Once the stamp duty is paid through an e-platform, customers fill in the application form and the Memorandum and Articles of Association (MEMAT) on the CRP. After filling the document, they are then to download and print the certificate of stamp duty as well as the MEMAT together with the application form for submission.

Once this is done, the documents are scanned and uploaded through the document upload interface together with relevant documents such as means of identification of the promoters and subscribers to the MEMAT and proficiency certificate (if required). The documents are then uploaded via a link to the CRP portal which enables customers to upload their registration documents from the comfort of their homes or offices.

This new development and procedure have eliminated the need for physical submission of documents by customers for new and post registration filings, as it can easily be done through the interface. In order to ensure the smooth running of this operation, the Commission has contracted the hosting of its main database and operating software to an external organization. Through this, the site shall available for customers 24/7, in other to ensure efficient registration services.

The CAC has also stopped receiving physical applications in its six State Offices. Starting May 2017, therefore, customers of the Commission process new registrations by applying online. In addition, the Commission also extended its operating hours to accommodate more transactions. It now opens from 8.00am to 7.00pm from Mondays to Fridays in its State Offices, as well as reducing the fees charged by the Commission for its services by half.

The operations of the Commission have also been decentralized in other to take its services closer to its customers across the country. To this effect, the six state offices; Abuja, Port Harcourt, Kano, Enugu, Lagos and Kaduna can start and complete the registration process, unlike before, when the processes had to be completed at the head office of the Commission. The Commission also intends to implement the same method to 20 other states by the 3rd quarter of this year.

The Commission recently introduced single incorporation form (CAC1.1) to save time and reduce cost. It also has empowered its internal lawyers to conduct declaration of compliance to certify company incorporation forms and conduct statutory declaration of compliance for a fixed fee of N500

These, among numerous other initiatives, are measures taken to ensure ease of business in Nigeria for willing investors.

The website of the Commission is www.cac.gov.ng

The rationale behind the strategic steps taken by the Buhari led administration is to enable citizens and foreigners who want to set up companies in Nigeria do so with ease.

So what are you waiting for? Kick start that plan into action and make that move.

Conrad Hilton said “Success seems to be connected with action. Successful people keep moving. They make mistakes, but they don’t quit.”

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