I am compelled to write this for the sake of posterity.
So, Nigerian Lawyers are busy dragging themselves over a variety of issues ranging from; the Election, “the SAN and Non-SAN Debate”, “the Senior are evil and the juniors are saint debate”; “Invitation and desinvitation of El-Rufai to Conference” and the propriety or otherwise of forming and deforming a Northern (New) Nigerian Bar Association. These are the issues that has the attention of lawyers, both senior and junior in this corona virus year 2020. We make our views go as viral as possible on these issues. We send to both bloggers and frontline news media because these are the important issues bothering on our egos and our pride.
However, dear seniors and juniors, while you continue to drag yourselves and dissipate energy over the above issues and make the whole Nigeria see how much you detest yourselves, may I remind you that the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) “is on fire”. Can you all please pause and spare a moment to look at what is happening to lawyers at the CAC? Na beg I dey beg!
It was, in 2017 or there about, at the NBA AGM that I first listened to the erstwhile CAC Registrar Lady Azuka Azinge speak passionately about liberalizing and digitizing the CAC as part of the effort to enhance the Ease of Doing Business Project. I recall that it was after she presented the CAC Statutory Report that a young lawyer by way of comment expressed concern over the CAC’s recent introductions that were seemly liberalizing transactions and throwing the hitherto jobs that were done exclusively by lawyers open to everybody to just walk in and do. The young lawyer was visibly worried about “allowing non lawyers take over the job of lawyers at the CAC”. Apart from the murmuring that followed that comment as many tried to boo him and call him a “CAC lawyer”, the explanation given by the then Acting Registrar was that we must emulate developed countries like the UK and the US and key into the ” Global Ease of Doing Business Project” she said so many things about how the CAC has to become open to all comers.
These people are often quick to tell us how we must learn from UK, US and the likes but they would never take their time to understand that when UK and US decide to ease pressure, you can hold them to account. It is ok for CAC management to tell us how individuals can register a company without a lawyer because that is how it is done in the UK and the US, but they would never tell us how these registrations are done with a few clicks and within 24 hours in UK and the US. Not that this matters anyway. It is only a matter of moral standing and the audacity of these comparisons.
Since then, we have several times been told about how Ease of Doing business requires that both lawyers and non-lawyers transact businesses at the CAC as it is obtainable in the places we tend to emulate. The so-called CAC lawyers whose practice are 100% CAC transactions were bullied into silence and have had to adjust. But then, I tend to get confused when we again start to throw tantrums each time, we see banks adverts offering CAC services. We play the double standard and ultimately pursue and cajole these banks into apologizing but then, we quickly become silent.
The CAC has also since introduced a semblance of an online services in a bid to digitize the Commission, even if the only efficient service that we get from the so-called digitizing of services is “Availability Search” when the server did not crash. The CAC should have the highest rate of server crash and down time. I stand to be corrected with superior argument.
Now in the wake of Corona Virus Pandemic, the CAC decided to issue notice of dispensing with physical presence of customers at their offices in Abuja and Lagos. In the spirit of the joint effort to fight the corona virus, we all accepted this. But we should certainly not accept the way and manner the CAC is going about this dispensing with our presence. As a follow up to the plan to dispense with our presence, the CAC issued a notice (read here). That notice mandates that we all use named courier services as intermediaries to transact business at the Commission. The notice requires that we pay money to these courier services to receive and transmit our documents to and from the CAC. The above, as ridiculous as it sounds has become the norm at the CAC today.
So, in emulating UK and US, our version would be to establish an office of a courier service less than one hundred meters away from the CAC office and allow crowd to converge to pay the courier service to take in the documents to the Commission.
At this point, I urge you to take a closer look at the picture above. That is a courier service boot few steps away from the CAC. And lawyers have to get to those courier service agents to form a queue to submit their filings for onward transmission to the CAC.
The CAC will receive the documents from the middle men Courier service and if they are not satisfied with your document query the document. The queried document would be received by the courier service and back to you. Don’t worry, you are still a lawyer. You would receive the document and return to your office and revise the queried document and pay the courier service again. If your filing receives 10 queries, the routine would be the same. This process is our own Ease of Doing Business and effort to curb the spread of Corona virus. Where exactly in UK and US do they operate in this manner?
But then, truth be told I really would not wish to be physically present at the CAC if things were done right. I am not sure anyone would want to. But I definitely would not also wish for the CAC to attend to me through a courier company because that would not make things right. It is this same CAC that would misplace files and blame you for it. The same CAC that will query filings without course, make silly mistakes with documents even while you are seated at their lounge. It is this same CAC that wants to attend to us through courier services. This is unacceptable.
Having decided that the best option is to liberalize the commission for the sake of ease of doing business, CAC must and should fully and efficiently digitize its services. I should be allowed to send in my incorporation document, my annual filings and my applications and all other transactions via an email or at the click of a few buttons on my computer! After that, I should receive an email notifying me of any query on my filings and giving me an opportunity to refile through same process. If this is not possible, CAC has no right to further frustrate my life with the introduction of these courier services.
If CAC’s concern is about corona virus, it would be more prudent for us all to adopt the most reasonable option of allowing people come into the commission and observe the required social distancing pending when the CAC becomes fully digitized to transact with us through our computers. Anything less than this should be rejected by Nigerian Lawyers.
But, the ultimate question remains, why has it become rocket science in 2020 to digitize CAC and make it work efficiently? The people selling the “Ease of Doing Business” should do more than talk and really step in and try to find out why CAC has become the clog in the wheel of their progress.
Finally, dear radical Nigerian lawyer, I am surprised that while these things are happening, your preference is to concentrate your time and intellect on NBA Political activism.
You are all doing well.