BY INNOCENT OKWUOSA
I aver that when accountability flees from its custodians, the citizens cry, businesses collapse and the government fails. But who are the custodians of accountability? On the surface, we will say accountants, e.g., company accountants, local government accountants, accountants of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), state accountant generals, accountant generals of the federation. But the custodians of accountability are not only accountants.
Accountants may be likened to the first line of custodians of accountability while the second line and main custodians in the public and private sector are the budget holders, or the approving authority. The budget holder is the person who authorises and approves the payment for any transaction. However, when accountability flees from the first line of the custodian of accountability, the nation suffers.
Examples of accountability fleeing from its custodians abound in Nigeria. For example, the recent celebration of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation presenting an audited financial statement for the first time after 43 years in existence is an example of when accountability flees from its custodians. When an Auditor General issues an audit query on unexplained transactions in the public sector, and no response is given by those in charge of the transaction, accountability flees from its custodians.
Other examples of when accountability flees from its custodians is a newspaper reporting the arrest of the Accountant General of the Federation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for being involved in N80 billion fraud. Newspapers also screamed a headline: “EFCC declares Rivers Accountant-General, others wanted for N435bn fraud.” Then they informed us about a fraud allegation against NIMASA, all pointing to accountability fleeing from its custodians.
If Nigeria is to make economic progress, we must ensure that accountability does not flee from the first line of custodians of accountability – the accountants. Doing this is by ensuring that only qualified accountants of integrity occupy accountability positions in both the private and public sector. The private sector is already doing that and we must focus on the public sector. That is why the motto of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria is: “Accuracy and Integrity”. It is accuracy and integrity that ensure that accountability does not flee from its custodians.
Accuracy comes with the professional training of the accountants. Those who went through and are still going through the ICAN professional accountancy training can testify to the rigour of the training. To qualify, people write one stage of the professional accountancy examination two to ten times. The founding fathers embraced the training of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales and their successors continued to maintain that till date.
Accuracy refers to the calculative craft of the accountants in which they are meticulously trained to engage in double entry accounting where the dual concept is the order of the day. In this, every debit entry has a corresponding credit entry following measurement in monetary terms, recognition and disclosure in accordance with the guidance in International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) and International Public Sector Accounting Standard (IPSAS)
The process of acquiring the accuracy skill evidenced in the training of the accountant brings with it, a natural discipline which makes the ICAN chartered accountant to cherish that which he obtained through suffering. He values the training obtained to acquire the calculative craft and integrity re-enforced through the professional code of conduct. It is different from those for whom the professional accountancy certificate was “dashed”, to use the Nigerian terminology. You sit in your office and the professional accountancy certificate is posted to you.
Accountability is likely to flee from its custodian when the professional accountancy certificate is “dashed” and posted to you sitting in your office or you simply pay money for the award of the professional accountancy certificate without undergoing the actual training as stipulated.
The integrity of the members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria is enforced through a disciplinary process, whereby the respondent faces an investigating panel and if found culpable appears before the disciplinary tribunal for adjudication. The final verdict of the tribunal may lead to striking out the member’s name from the Register of members, or suspension for a period of time or a fine at the discretion of the tribunal. Fine may connote restitution.
The disciplinary tribunal is fearless and merciless holding on to integrity when it comes to confronting professional misconduct. For example, a former Accountant-General of the Federation (AGoF), Jonah Otunla, is facing an investigating panel for allegations of making ₦6.4 billion refund of diverted public funds in order not to be prosecuted.
Recollecting the untold suffering of writing the ICAN exam many times to qualify and facing the stark reality that your name will be struck off a member’s register is the greatest nightmare of a chartered accountant.
It is therefore recommended that the custodians of strategic accountability points at the local, state and federal governments, including their MDAs, should be qualified accountants, not those who got theirs by “dashing”. It should be those qualified accountants who went through rigorous professional accountancy training and belong to a professional accountancy body whose disciplinary process punishes professional misconduct without fear or favour. Such appointment should be strictly on merit and devoid of “my tribesman” or favouritism.
Innocent Okwuosa, PhD, CPFA, FCIB, FCA, is a visiting Associate Professor of Accounting at Caleb University, Lagos and the 1st Deputy Vice President, Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria. He consults with Entop Consulting Limited.
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