If the CAC shocks you, it’s because you deserve happiness
Nigeria Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) has a website where you can register your business by yourself. But that is not the news. The news is that I’m utterly astonished that the site works as well as it does. As a Nigerian with world-class expectations, you’re probably now narrowing your eyes and thinking, why the heck is that news? Give me a minute; I’ll tell you why.
You see, there’s this thing we do in this country. When judging the quality of government performance, we namecheck “advanced countries.” For example, if there are potholes on an important Lagos road, a pundit, in commenting on the avoidable danger and carbuncle that the holes present, might say something like this: “Go to the United States, there’s a system for fixing issues like potholes! Simple potholes! And we could emulate this country. I mean, it’s not rocket science.”
While the public service analyst may be right in some situations — because borrowing ideas from successful systems (also known as leapfrogging) prevents us from starting from scratch every time and making costly rookie mistakes, when it comes to websites, even mature entities can stumble, let alone a “third world” country.
The following is an instance:
In 2013, the United States, with Barack Obama as president, launched the Affordable Care Act. A milestone achievement, not only for the Black President but also for the whole American establishment. Naturally, it was heralded with extraordinary fanfare. But the day it launched, its website crashed.
Oh well, what a shame. The most powerful government on earth couldn’t even run a simple website. Analysts blamed the crash on several factors including the partial shutdown of the US government that began on that Tuesday and, according to public commentator Paul Muschick, “extreme government incompetence.”
The thing, however, is that websites can be a tricky thing, especially when they’re meant to serve several thousand — or millions — of people at the same time and deliver instantaneous feedback. Even the largest companies with the deepest of pockets have had to turn their sites off and on again.
An example is Facebook. The social network has seen at least seven outages since it was created in 2004. The website, as you know, is the property of Meta, a company that’s currently valued at about $524 billion. But Facebook is also a site with about three billion subscribers, around two million of whom use it every single day. Facebook is never supposed to be offline because when Facebook goes down, it’s like a global catastrophe and the people of Earth find themselves in a panic.
While we’re on the subject of high expectations, let’s also talk about GTBank, a personal favourite among Nigerian financial institutions. Aside from its beautiful corporate identity, which also includes the classic and deliciously snobbish tagline: “Wouldn’t you rather bank with us?”, GTBank often delivers banking without complication or mystery. It’s so admired that in 2021, Euromoney declared GTBank Africa’s best bank.
When it comes to its self-serve account opening platform, though, GTBank – in my experience at least – doesn’t maintain its reputation. After uploading all required documents and receiving an account number, GTBank still made me repeat all the processes in person in one of their brick-and-mortar branches. A customer service representative told me, “the site works but you still need to bring all those documents to the branch.” Okay, what’s the point of the virtual account-opening portal then? I imagine if GTBank were a government organisation, the sort of “extreme incompetence” I might have accused it of.
So, when a self-serve government site performs as promised, one might want to point that site out, perhaps because the process of building and maintaining that site could become a model for other local, state, and federal agencies and departments. They could leapfrog this one.
On the CAC site, as per my personal experience, you may create a user account and then proceed to reserve a name for a sole proprietorship, a one-person limited liability company, a private company limited by shares, a private company limited by guarantee, and so and so on.
Once your preferred name is confirmed available, you may then upload particulars of the owners—pictures, signatures, details of share ownership, and other details of the business. Once all conditions are fulfilled a digital certificate is issued to you and then you can proceed to download. Everything from namecheck to certificate issuance is done at your desk. For me, it was the most painless experience I ever had with Nigerian government operations!
Of course, it would be comically unsophisticated to assume that this one instance indicates that it’s now absolutely stress-free to do business in Nigeria. It’s still not, sorry.
Yes, in 2020, the nation won noteworthy points in the World Bank Ease of Doing Business rankings, climbing from 145 to 131. The government has been trying to build on that accomplishment further boost the public’s belief that things might indeed be on the up and up for local and foreign businesspeople — so much so that in February this year, the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC) launched another 60-day National Action Plan (NAP).
This NAP was the seventh of its kind and they hoped it would iron out the kinks in service delivery at some vital ministries, departments, and agencies. For now, fingers are crossed on the effects of this NAP on the operating systems in those MDAs. If the seventh NAP doesn’t result in the changes the Administration expected to see, perhaps the eighth NAP will.
But we’re not in fact talking about ease of doing business, are we? If we were talking about how easy it is to do business in the country, we would spend hours banging our heads with the runaway dollar-naira exchange rates, diesel costs that burn crater-sized holes in the pockets of entrepreneurs nationwide, and depressing interest rates. What this is about are the gradually-improving digital access points to government services.
Where the online portal of NIMC (the National Identity Management Commission) may be known to frequently fail, the voter registration site built by INEC (the Independent National Electoral Commission) appears to hold steady most of the time. Via this website, INEC has been updating the nation’s voter registry for months.
Baby steps? Absolutely. But all countryfolk — private individuals and companies — do deserve major pain relief with regard to doing business with the government. If the CAC site gives you a little break from the hassles, even if you’re downright shocked to see it, it’s still an experience you can claim as your God-given, legitimate right. And you should demand more from whence it came.