Thekla Advisory, a public affairs advisory firm, has reacted to the repeated invitations to private companies in Nigeria by various committees in the National Assembly, by calling for the practice to stop in view of the negative impact to the country’s ease of doing business objective, as well as the judicial challenge by the Nigeria Employers Consultative Assembly (NECA) that is currently before the Supreme Court.
In a statement by the firm, Godson Ogheneochuko, its founder, stated: “The National Assembly’s powers of oversight are duly acknowledged but the extent of such powers in relation to private companies has been disputed repeatedly. Inviting private companies to appear before committees and then have their compliance practices investigated by the committees (and their consultants) is, in our view, outside the scope of the oversight powers conferred on the National Assembly and their committees by the Constitution.
“Such investigation is the responsibility of the various Ministries, Departments and Agencies of Government (MDAs). Very often, to seemingly avoid a breach of the constitution, businesses are formally invited to ‘assist the committees with their investigation’ but the companies end up being the parties under investigation and even though these same companies undergo the usual audits/records reconciliation by the government agencies empowered to do so e.g. the Industrial Training Fund. Sometimes, the audits/investigations are already concluded but those facts are usually (unfortunately) discountenanced by the National Assembly committees.”
Thekla Advisory’s statement on the matter recommends as a first step, that leadership of the National Assembly and the Committees should put the national interest first and allow the private companies to be investigated through the proper channels i.e. the MDAs that are specifically empowered to do so.
If truly concerned about the outcomes, the National Assembly committees can through their oversight review of the MDAs, review whether such audits/investigations were properly conducted – which in our view, is consistent with the intention behind Section 88(1) & (2) of the Constitution. Any additional information requests to private companies should also be channelled through the relevant MDAs, the firm stated.
The firm also drew the attention of the National Assembly leadership to the financial and other burden that such invitations impose. “Most times, invitations are sent to the Managing Directors, which means at very short notice, they (or other senior representatives) must abandon their usual course of business, travel with at least one other officer of the company to Abuja at least twice within the pendency of such investigations.
“The cost of such trips, human resources involved in responding to such investigations, together with the associated business disruption is too much for Nigerian businesses to bear, especially as they are already suffering from the economic downturn. Accordingly, to the extent possible, virtual interactions e.g. video conferences, should be utilised to save time and cost of travel, as well as to minimise the attendant disruption to business.”
A further recommendation is that “considering President Tinubu’s vow to remove all obstacles to doing business in Nigeria, the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade & Investment and Attorney General of the Federation should intervene on behalf of the private sector.
“The kind of political will that was exercised to produce the National Assembly leadership needs to be applied to protect businesses from the constant invitations that expose businesses to undue / untoward requests. The same applies to new taxes proposed in bills before the National Assembly.”
As an additional step, Thekla Advisory has advised private businesses to work with their public affairs advisers and lawyers to devise a strategy for dealing with requests from committees of the National Assembly going forward.
Ogheneochuko concluded by calling on the Presidency to take more urgent and practical steps to protect businesses that have braved the odds to remain in Nigeria.