One of the privileges of owning shares in a company is the ability to attend the shareholders’ meetings and vote on important issues about the company. In most cases, such issues touch on dividend declaration, election and/or reelection of directors, authorization to fix independent auditors’ remunerations, and the election of members of the audit committee, among others.
It has been observed that shareholders love to attend such annual general meetings in person for the pride of place it provides, as well as the social status it bequeaths to the attendees in addition to the souvenirs they receive during such meetings.
Unfortunately, that era of a social event involving the physical gathering of shareholders seems to be going extinct, thanks to COVID-19. However, in spite of the devastating effects of COVID-19, and the changes it is bringing to our social life, shareholders can still make their voices heard during non-physical shareholders’ or annual general meetings. This they can do using proxy votes.
What is Proxy Voting: Proxy voting is a process where one person chooses another to represent him or her in casting a vote on his or her behalf. Proxy voting has not been more important than in the present COVID-19 times. In reaction to the pandemic, proxy voting is being used in areas outside corporate governance. For example, the US House of Representatives is pushing for proxy voting as a means of getting things done in the house. In a proposal released by the House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, US lawmakers would be allowed to cast votes for their colleagues who are not in the Capitol in person. That underscores the advantage and the increasing importance of proxy voting.
Nigerian Companies and Proxy Votes: Proxy voting is not new in Nigeria, especially among Nigerian companies. Whether it has been effectively used or taken advantage of is another question. However, Nigeria’s Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) has been proactive and forthright in its quest to ensure that companies in Nigeria and Nigerian shareholders alike, take advantage of the proxy voting process in keeping with the social distancing rules put in place by various governments to curb the menacing COVID-19. The CAC has therefore asked companies to take advantage of “S.230 CAMA on the use of proxies in holding their Annual General Meetings.”
In line with the availability of the proxy voting process as a way to give every shareholder a voice and the encouragement and enablement from the CAC, many companies in Nigeria are complying with the advice. A visit to the website of the Nigeria Stock Exchange indicates that all the 30 companies that notified the public about their annual general meetings via the Nigeria Stock Exchange, since April 1, 2020, included notices or indications of the need for proxy votes in such notifications. Many of them even included links to live-stream the events, for those who would like to participate online.
Brace for Change: There is no doubt that COVID-19 has changed and will continue to change the way certain things are done. From the look of things, proxy voting may become the new normal in corporate governance and conduct of shareholders Annual General Meetings.
Shareholders, big and small, should start getting used to voting by proxy, especially those who have not been doing so in the past. It is only by so doing that you will make your voice heard, in the affairs of the company in which you have worked so hard to invest in.