The Private Wealth & Private Client Review: Nigeria


Until 28 February 2020, reports about the sporadic spread of the novel coronavirus across the globe had seemed distant to Nigeria. The announcement of the index case by the Federal Minister of Health was met more with curiosity than any real apprehension. Not many Nigerians could fathom the trying days that lay ahead.2 As this chapter is being written,3 Nigeria has lost more than six hundred people to covid-19, including the Chief of Staff to the President of the Federal Government of Nigeria, a serving Senator and a former Governor. Emergency legislation has been enacted to combat the pandemic.4 The economy is reeling from the imposition of lockdown and social distancing measures in various states across Nigeria including the Federal Capital Territory.5 Socio-economic policies have done little to cushion the crushing impact of the pandemic.

While few things about the virus have been certain, one thing seems painfully evident. The world as we know it has been radically changed and many aspects of human life will now move forward in ways never before imagined. In the world of work, adherence to public health measures has meant a significant increase in telecommuting,6 and in private life, restrictions on social and religious gatherings have similarly necessitated migrating such congregating online. Though data is largely unreliable, it is widely reported that Nigerian e-commerce, health and pharmaceuticals, and logistic services, are experiencing a significant uptick. Brazil,7 France,8 India, China, Italy, Germany9 to name only a few, have also seen an increase in e-commerce services since their economies went virtual. One somewhat unexpected service that is experiencing a surge in demand is estate administration. In India, it has been reported that demand is on the rise from people wanting to write their wills.10

Much digital 'ink' has been spilled over the role of the law in response to covid-19. A good portion relates to legal and ethical responses to the outbreak, economic recovery policies, and human rights dimensions to the mandatory containment of individual liberties. We herein hope to shed some light on the ways in which the law is able to assist Nigerians in coping with other legal dimensions to the pandemic, including the management and intergenerational transfer of wealth from a private client services perspective.

Like in other parts of the world, Nigerians, both in individual and corporate capacities, made charitable donations to help those adversely affected by the pandemic. Charities were established to manage these resources; from multi-million-dollar charities engaging in constructing isolation centers, to micro food banks providing food palliatives. Unfortunately, these massive movements of funds have not gone unnoticed by criminals, especially cyber criminals.11

This article will assess how the law of charitable trust in Nigeria is effectively assisting Nigerians adversely affected by the pandemic and how it can be used to curb the incidence of charitable frauds. With the rise in mortality caused by the pandemic, the need for clear-eyed estate planning is also much more apparent. Social media accounts are fast becoming assets that testators now desire should be transferred to other persons to manage, as a legacy. This piece therefore also devotes attention to the law regulating the disposition of digital assets in Nigeria. Finally, it captures the latest developments in the taxation of assets in the midst of the covid-19 crisis.


i Taxation of charitable causes (in a covid-19 reality)

Philanthropists are, it seems, on a daily basis joining the fold of champions against poverty and social welfare imbalance. These are mostly high net worth individuals, many of whom, in response to the pandemic, have donated cash and medical supplies to support the government's relief efforts. Their donations are sometimes disbursed in a personal capacity or through non-profit or non-governmental organisations (NGOs). The Nigerian government, being acutely aware of the importance of philanthropy in a population where many (or most) are borderline poor, has made provisions to encourage charitable causes; especially when in the midst of a global health crisis. The donors of these charitable funds are in some cases entitled to tax benefits under the relevant regulations.

Section 20(1)(i) of the Personal Income Tax Act (PITA) provides that donations made by an individual for the purposes of research and development are tax exempt.12

With respect to donations by companies, Section 25(3) of the Companies Income Tax Act provides that donation by a company to an NGO is tax deductible provided the donation does not exceed 10 per cent of the company's total profit for the year, as calculated before the donation is made, and where it is not of a capital nature.

ii Deduction for research and development

Section 26 of the Companies Income Tax Act (CITA) provides that in determining the chargeable profits of a company, where such company incurs expenses for the purpose of research and development, then such expenses will be tax deductible. This deductibility is qualified per the provisions of Subsections 2 and 3. Simply, for such deductions to be allowed, they must not exceed 10 per cent of the total profits of the company. In respect of companies that engage in research and development as their core business, they will be allowed a 20 per cent investment tax credit on their qualifying expenditure (i.e., such companies will be allowed an incentive of deducting up to 20 per cent of the amount they invested in the course of research and development). These provisions under the CITA are intended to encourage investment in research. In the current climate, this may encourage companies to donate towards research studies for the creation of a potential cure or vaccine for covid-19.

iii Tax exemptions to non-profit organisations or charities

Non-profit organisations (NPOs)/NGOs and charities are generally exempt from tax on their incomes provided they do not profit from any business or go outside their objects. Section 23(1) of CITA, Section 19 and Paragraph 13, third Schedule of PITA provide that the profits of any company or institution engaged in ecclesiastical, charitable, benevolent, or educational activities of a public character are exempt from income tax provided such profits are not derived from a trade or business conducted by the organisation. Also, Paragraph 22 of the third Schedule to PITA permits cooperative societies to conduct transactions only with members. When they go outside such transactions, those shall be taxable. This applies to their incomes.

Again, in the pandemic reality, it is believed that donations supporting research satisfy this test. The deduction generally applies to expenditure in research.


i Rights in digital assets

With increasing advancements in technology comes the automation of the medium of daily living – paying bills, streaming movies, booking a flight, uploading images, chatting with friends and loved ones irrespective of distance, is now made possible by only the click of a button. With the proliferation of the internet and the 'app economy', online commercial activities are poised to thrive in spite of other restrictions. This has only served to confirm the inevitability of embracing technology as not only part of the new normal, but essentially, the new normal. This is already creating an increase in assets that exist online, simply referred to as electronic or digital assets, in which an individual has a right or interest.13

The closest definition of a digital asset within the Nigerian context is the legislative definition of electronic data. This includes all data created, recorded, transmitted or stored in digital or other intangible form by electronic, magnetic, optical or by any other means, including non-paper means, that have capabilities for creation, recording, transmission or storage similar to those means.14 Examples of these assets include:

  1. online bank accounts including PayPal, inland revenue, credit unions, investment accounts, credit card rewards;
  2. share trading – stock broker, etrade;
  3. social media accounts like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Snapchat;
  4. email accounts like Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo;
  5. content holders like iTunes, Amazon, eBooks and Spotify;
  6. videos or written works that produce income as well as digital copyrights and trademarks;
  7. domain names, income-gathering blogs and websites;
  8. virtual currency – cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin; and
  9. information or documents stored in cloud storage like Dropbox or Livedrive.

These assets can be further classified as those with sentimental value like photographs, personal emails, blogs and social media accounts; and those that have monetary value like bank accounts, share accounts, etc.

ii The transferability of digital assets

It is not uncommon to find non-transferability clauses in the terms of service and data policy agreements of licensees of online assets. This is largely for security purposes. These clauses prohibit third parties from having access to a user's profile and accounts. More specifically, these terms of service often specify that account owners must not share their passwords, let anyone else access their account or do anything else that might jeopardise the security of their account. They also usually prohibit the transfer of an account to anyone without first getting the written permission of the media developer, and the same goes for the transfer of rights or obligations to anyone else without their consent.

Facebook has introduced the legacy contact option, which allows a user to designate a contact and give him or her the ability to write a pinned post (i.e., in the case of the user's demise, respond to a new friend request, etc.). However, this power is quite limited as it does not permit the legacy contact to log into the deceased person's account to remove or change posts or anything shared on the deceased user's timeline, read messages or remove friends. Because a person's online presence can now effectively exist almost in perpetuity, it is imperative for people to take stock of what these social media policy terms actually mean in the face of emerging data protection trends.

For instance, it is not immediately clear who will take precedence where an owner of a digital asset in a social media handle or account nominates a person who is not an executor of his or her estate as next of kin for the management of his or her account. In the case of the Facebook policy discussed above, it might mean the nominated legacy contact person would have the right of login into the account while the personal representatives will have the right of administration under estate laws to 'administer' the digital asset. The issue will appear to present a case of conflict of laws between the laws regulating the internal policies and products of Facebook as a corporate entity, and the administration of estate laws of Nigeria. An amendment of the law of the administration of estate and the data protection laws may help to solve this conundrum.

Some jurisdictions15 are opting for assertiveness to clear the air of any uncertainty in digital assets regulations. In the United States, the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (UFADAA) 2015 enables fiduciaries to have access to digital assets of deceased or incapacitated persons. Other jurisdictions like Australia, Hong Kong, Jersey, Switzerland, Singapore and Abu Dhabi all have innovation-friendly legal structures that do not stifle the development and progressive stance towards succession to digital assets.

iii Succession to digital assets under Nigerian law

Succession in Nigeria is broadly regulated by the following laws:

  1. the Wills Act;16
  2. the Wills Laws of the various states of the Federation; and

the Administration of Estates Laws of the various states and customary law.

Section 1(1) of the Wills Law, Cap W2 of Lagos State of Nigeria provides thus: 'It shall be lawful for every person to bequeath or dispose of, by his Will executed in accordance with the provision of this Law, all property to which he is entitled, either in law or in equity, or at the time of his death.'

It can be argued favourably that by the very nature of digital assets, they can be categorised as choses in action in that the owner of such assets has personal rights in them that can only be enforced by taking legal proceedings and not necessarily by taking physical possession of them.17 The Administration of Estates Law of Lagos State18 defines property to include a thing in action and any interest in real or personal property. It also includes right of occupancy, sublease, sub-underlease, funds, securities for monies, shares, debts, chose in action, rights, credits, goods and all other property whatsoever, which by law devolved upon the executor or administrator and any share or interest therein.19

However, it must be emphasised that some digital assets are not transferable because of the restrictions apparently imposed by the electronic data custodian in user agreements or privacy policies that prohibit transfer to new owners. It is important for a settlor to state in clear terms who the beneficiary of such assets would be. The manner in which these assets should be dealt with must be clearly stated in writing. While there is no hard and fast rule in drafting clauses that reflect a disposition of digital assets, this might serve as an illustration: 'My Executor shall have the power to access, handle, distribute and dispose of my digital assets in the manner I have so stated'.

iv Advantages of including succession to digital assets in estate planning

  1. It makes it easier for your loved ones to retrieve and secure them.
  2. It affords protection of income streams especially those generated electronically by these assets. These could include royalty rights or revenues from online businesses.
  3. It provides legal protection for loved ones by restricting unnecessary and willful third-party interference. It guarantees protection against identity theft, by ensuring that permission is first sought and obtained before accessing computer systems or private data.
  4. It helps to overcome the obstacle that is often posed by federal or state data privacy laws that generally restrict online account service providers from allowing anyone other than the account owner to access electronic assets without explicit consent.

v Jurisdictional issues associated with succession to digital assets

By their very nature, digital assets live on borderless blockchains, while regulatory agencies operate within a defined jurisdiction. In Nigeria, blockchain technology is gradually taking shape and will inevitably be complemented by a strong regulatory framework. Presently, however, Nigeria does not have a comprehensive data protection and privacy law or a legal framework for digital assets. Given the many susceptibilities of data, it is necessary to develop such laws that will cater for the management and regulation of access to personal information. Nigeria could draw inspiration from the United States' revised UFADAA, which allows for access by a deceased person's next of kin.

The revised UFADAA seems to acknowledge that the best a next of kin can do is ensure that necessary steps are taken towards the handling of digital assets while knowing full well that he or she does not automatically step into the shoes of the deceased except as expressly stated by the deceased. It is also advisable to borrow one or two policies from states like Oklahoma and Idaho by enacting legislation to govern the rights over digital assets of a deceased.

Wealth structuring and regulation

i Covid-19 and charitable donations

If any good has come out of the pandemic, it seems to have in some ways broken through the technological trance and spoken to our better selves. This is no different in Nigeria as people are reawakened to the simply joys of lending a hand to a neighbor in need. The camaraderie across all levels of society is unmatched in the country's history. Of remarkable impact is the Coalition Against Covid-19 (CACOVID), initiated and coordinated by Africa's wealthiest man, Alhaji Aliko Dangote to create a private-sector led charitable response to the outbreak of the pandemic in Nigeria.20 People of different faiths also played a significant role in not only caring for members of their own religious affiliations, but also supporting the feeding and sheltering of the homeless and many less fortunate. The Catholic Church of Nigeria, for example, donated the use of all its hospitals across Nigeria as isolation centers.21

That is not to say it has all been rosy. There are rising feelings of distrust among the citizenry against the government for possible misappropriation of some donations from the private sector. Nudged by their constituents, the Lagos State House of Assembly has called for greater transparency in the spending of covid-19 relief funds.22 Olu Fasan, in his op-ed in BussinessDay newspaper of 20 April 2020 titled 'COVID-19 funds: Nigeria's private sector shouldn't donate to government' voiced what he perceived to be the real concerns of Nigerians:

Indeed, in his first broadcast on the coronavirus, President Buhari said all private donations should be made to the presidential task force, a government agency, “to ensure efficient and impactful spending.” Really, Mr. President? How efficient and impactful were the spending of the North-East's Internally Displaced Persons' funds? Private sector leaders contributed about N3bn ($8m), but, according to a Senate Committee probe, there was widespread corruption in the management of the funds, and a secretary to the federal government was forced to resign for the alleged fraud.23

Sahara Reporters reported that as at 30 March 2020, both the federal and state governments had received the aggregate sum of 40.771 billion naira as a donation to the (covid-19) project.24 Just who is the manager of funds donated to the covid-19 project? And how do citizens guarantee accountable and transparent management of donated funds? Are there frameworks that ensure that the specific intention of each donor is met? And can beneficiaries petition regulatory bodies where there appears to be misappropriation of donated funds? Some of these concerns could be obviated through the establishment of charitable trusts to manage donations received from the private sector.

ii The law of charities in Nigeria

A charitable trust arises where a settlor creates a trust for public or group welfare or for charitable purposes. Just like every other trust, there is the requirement of three certainties: certainty of words (intention), certainty of subject matter (trust property) and certainty of object (beneficiaries). Charitable trusts may be set up inter vivos, that is during a donor's life, or as a part of a trust or will at death, as a testamentary trust. For a trust to qualify as charitable, the objective of the trust as declared by the settlor or as implied from his or her intention, must be charitable. There is no restriction as to what constitutes a charitable purpose. The preamble of the Statute of Uses Act, 1601 reveals some purposes or reasons for constituting a charitable trust. These purposes were reiterated by Lord McNaghten in the case of Commissioners of Income Tax v. Pemsel25 as follows:

  1. for the Relief of Poverty; of the aged, impotent and the poor;
  2. for the maintenance of the sick and maimed soldiers and mariners;
  3. advancement of education and preferment of orphans;
  4. advancement of religion; or
  5. other such purposes beneficial to the community.

Nigeria's legal system is fashioned after the English Common Law. The laws of England enacted before 1 January 1900 are applicable to Nigeria as Statutes of General Application, in so far as there is no local statute on the same subject. There are a number of legislations passed in England between 1601 to 1900 that regulate charities in England and Wales. The Charitable Trusts Acts, 1853, 1855, 1860 and 1872; the Charity Commissioners Jurisdiction Act, 1862; and the Roman Catholic Charities Acts are among the Acts that directly regulate charitable trusts in England. The question of whether these laws are still applicable in Nigeria today as Statutes of General Application came before the Supreme Court of Nigeria in the case of Sofolahan v. Fowler.26

The issue before the Supreme Court was whether it was only the Charity Commissioners under the Charitable Trust Acts who, according to the respondent was the Corporate Affairs Commission, or the Attorney General, has the locus to institute an action against the charitable trust of Corona School Trust Council. While relying on the findings of the Court of Appeal to the effect that there are no indigenous laws on charitable trust in Nigeria, the Supreme Court held thus:

Under the Charitable Trusts Act, 1853 the said commissioners were empowered to act in the case of any charity to promote its work assigned to it by its trust objects. It was also to ensure that no proceedings shall be entertained or proceeded with in any court unless authorized by the commissioners or taken by themselves or by the Attorney-General. As already said, under the 1853 and 1872 Acts the charity commissioners were vested with certain powers and duties. Similar powers and duties are now vested in the Corporate Affairs Commission under the Companies and Allied Matters Act, 1990 (the CAMA). Section 673(1) of CAMA recognizes the incorporation of trust body for educational and charitable purpose, among others. The question is the law to regulate the way they function. That is to be found in the Charitable Trusts Act, 1853 see Halsbury's Laws of England, 3rd edition, vol. 3, pp. 551 -552. Under that Act, the role of charity commissioners (now to be read as Corporate Affairs Commission in Nigeria) and that of the Attorney-General as regards proceedings on charity matters is spelt out. Apart from proceedings by the Attorney-General and those relating to exempt charity (in England) no charity proceedings may be entertained or proceeded with in any court unless the charity commissioners have by order authorized the taking of proceedings.

The Supreme Court held that the functions of the Charity Commissioners under the Charitable Trust Act have now been transferred to the Corporate Affairs Commission and that the functions of the Attorney General under the Acts have been retained. The judgment of the Supreme Court negates the position taken by the revered Professor of Law, Prof G Kodilinye in 'An Introduction to Equity in Nigeria',27 that there is no framework for charitable law in Nigeria.

While there are provisions in the Companies and Allied Matters Act for the supervisory role of the Corporate Affairs Commission to function in the capacity of the Charity Commissioner in England, the Commission is handicapped to regulate private charities that are not incorporated under the Act. Because there is no provision for mandatory registration of charities under the CAMA, the Act should be amended, or a Charitable Trust Act tailored in line with charities in Nigeria should be enacted.

Outlook and conclusions

The journey through the disruptions brought about by the covid-19 pandemic is not likely to end in the near future. These writers have identified the need to review administration of estate laws to reflect the succession of digital assets and protect the beneficiaries of the income generated therefrom. It has also been suggested that the Companies and Allied Matters Act should be amended to give the Corporate Affairs Commission all the powers of the Charity Commissioners under the Charitable Trust Acts of England. Empowering the Corporate Affairs Commission to function like the Charity Commissioners will ensure that all charities are incorporated, regulated and most importantly, accountable to the Commission. The accountability of the trustees of charitable foundations to the Commission will boost the confidence of donors to continue to fund relief from present and future crises.


1 Akhigbe Oserogho, Osasere Osazuwa and Hokaha Bassey are senior associates while Temidayo Adewoye and Damilola Oyelade are associates of Perchstone and Graeys LP.

2 The Nigerian National Centre for Disease Control reported the outbreak of the virus in Nigeria. According to the Minister of Health, the first case was an 'Italian citizen who works in Nigeria and returned from Milan, Italy to Lagos, Nigeria on the 25th of February 2020. He was confirmed by the Virology Laboratory of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, part of the Laboratory Network of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control. The patient is clinically stable, with no serious symptoms, and is being managed at the Infectious Disease Hospital in Yaba, Lagos'. See NCDC (2020): 'First Case Of Corona Virus Disease Confirmed In Nigeria' available at Accessed on 5 July 2020.

3 On 5 July 2020 the National Centre for Disease control recorded that 645 people had lost their lives as at that date. It is, however, widely believed that many more people have died from the virus but have not been captured in the NCDC's report. This is partly caused by the failure to release persons with covid-19 to government-administered medical facilities in isolation centres.

4 Lagos state government, in addition to its subsidiary legislations on covid-19, enacted the Pandemic Trust Fund Law to empower the Governor to make emergency orders and to make separate appropriation for the fight against the pandemic. According to the Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, 'The Bill calls for a Trust Fund named Coronavirus Pandemic Trust Fund with a board to manage this, but supervised by the Executive. The Trust fund shall consist of funds and material donations from individuals, private and public organizations'. See Vanguard Newspaper (27 March 2020) 'Nigeria: COVID-19 - Lagos Assembly Passes Law to Jail Lockdown Offenders', available at

5 The President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria invoked his powers under the Quarantine Act 1926 to impose a total lockdown of Lagos and Ogun States, and subsequently banned interstate travel on 30 March 2020. See the Executive Order on covid-19 here Certain states, including Lagos, Rivers, Ogun and Kaduna State, also made Executive Orders on covid-19.

6 Experts say working away from the workplace will be significantly on the rise in the future. In 'Telecommuting will likely continue long after the pandemic', Katherine Guyot and Isabel V. Sawhil opined that telecommuting will continue for a long while. See Brookings (2020) available at

7 Statistica (2020) 'Brazil: change in online sales during the novel coronavirus outbreak 2020', published by José Gabriel Navarro, 6 April 2020. In the first 15 days of March 2020, overall e-commerce sales in Brazil increased by 40 per cent compared to the first 15 days of March 2019. The growth was linked to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, which causes covid-19. The number of new online shoppers also rose during the month. Meanwhile, online sales of health-related products increased over 120 per cent in the South American country. During the first week of March 2020, online sales of hand sanitizers rose more than seven-fold in Brazil. 'Change in online sales of health products and total e-commerce during the COVID-19 outbreak in Brazil in March 2020',

10 See Economic Times (2020) 'Covid-19 impact: India's wealthy have started detailing bequests, worried about both mortality & wealth erosion', where the news report has it as follows: 'We have received several requests in the last few days from people requesting draft of wills so that they can execute it', says Rajesh Narain Gupta, managing partner of law firm SNG Partners. 'Fear of inevitable is compelling many to plan the succession, which preferably should be done in good times when there is enough time to plan it.'

11 Nairametrics (2020) 'How thieves use Covid-19 to Defraud Bank Accounts',

12 The 5th Schedule to PITA also provides an allowance for expenses incurred on research and development. This cannot be claimed together with deductions under Section 20 of PITA.

13 Section 2 of the United States Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act, 2015 (UFADAA).

14 Section 44 of the Electronic Transaction Bill, 2015. This Bill is, however, yet to be signed into law.

15 Dignex 'Regulating Digital Assets “How Jurisdictions Compare”', 23 April 2019,, accessed 3 July 2020.

16 1837.

17 Per Channel J. in Tokington v. Magee [1902] 2 K.B. at p. 430.

18 Section 1, Cap A3 Laws of Lagos of Nigeria 2003.

19 id., at Section 25.

20 A coalition of captains of industries formed the CACOVID to assist the government in providing infrastructure and logistic support in the fight against the virus. According to Vanguard of 14 April 2020, Segun Agbaje, the CEO of Guaranty Trust Bank Nigeria Plc, Jim Ovia, a Director in Zenith Bank, Herbert Wigwe (Access Bank), Tony Elumelu (United Bank for Africa), Abdulsamad Rabiu of BUA Group, Folorunsho Alakija of Famfa Oil Limited, Oba Otudeko, a Director in First Bank, Femi Otedola of Amperion Power, billionaire businessman Mike Adenuga of Globacom and the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation have provided US$2.59 million each. See Vanguard newspaper (14 April 2020) 'Nigerian private sector donates more than most other African countries in fight against COVID-19',

21 Premium Times (2020) 'COVID-19: Catholic Church donates 425 Health Facilities as Isolation Centres',

22 BussinessDay (2020) 'Account for covid-19 funds, Lagos Assembly urges Sanwo-Olu',

23 BussinessDay (2020), Olu Fasan, 'COVID-19 funds: Nigeria's private sector shouldn't donate to government',; see also, Azu Ishiekwene article titled 'Using COVID-19 Donations To Give Charity A Bad Name' where the writer said: 'A report by the Human Rights Watch quoted a Nigerian NGO, the Social and Economic Rights Accountability Project (SERAP) as saying on April 4, “We are seriously concerned that millions of the country's poorest and most vulnerable have not benefited from the announced palliatives, donations, reported cash payments, cash transfers and other benefits”.'

24 Sahara Reporters (2020) 'Breakdown of Funds Donated to Federal and State Governments in the Fight Against the Coronavirus',

25 1891 AC 531.

26 (2002) LPELR-3092(SC).

27 London, Sweet & Maxwell, 1975, p. 97.

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