Beneficial Ownership and Tax Ownership in Nigeria: How to Stem the Tide

In the year 1956, just shortly before the Nigerian independence, the Foster-Sutton Commission of inquiry was set up by the colonial government to investigate the then Premier of the Eastern region, Nnamdi Azikiwe, for his involvement in the affairs of the African Continental Bank (ACB).

Under the code of conduct for ministers, a government officer was required to relinquish his holdings in private businesses when he held office. However, the Foster-Sutton tribunal strongly believed that Nnamdi Azikiwe, even as minister, did not sever his holdings in the ACB, and that he continued to use his influence to further the interests of the bank, and in favour of his group of companies.

Indeed, while the case remains one of the leading cases on corruption even in pre-independence Nigeria, one is tempted to classify it among the country’s many corruption schemes perpetuated through beneficial ownership systems.

What Is Beneficial Ownership?

According to the Black’s Law Dictionary, the term ‘Beneficial owner’ is a legal term wherein specific property rights (“use and title”) in equity belong to one person, even though legal title of the property belongs to another person. Accordingly, it always happens where the legal title owner has implied trustee duties to the beneficial owner.

In more contemporary terms, a “beneficial owner” is defined by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) as referring to natural person(s) who ultimately owns or controls a customer and/or the natural person on whose behalf a transaction is being conducted.