The Nigerian economy is in chaos, are there some specific steps the government can take to bring it out of the woods?
The first step is for the government to focus on production. Whatever government is thinking of doing, its primary starting point is to find a way of producing commodities within. In that you would have a chain that would be beneficial to the economy.
Once you are industrialised, you find out that that will come along with it employment, that will bring about improved purchasing power, that will come along with it capacity to pay for other services, that would also stimulate other activities to make the economy to become active.
Once you are not concentrating on creating opportunities that would ultimately create employment; that will ultimately empower the people, then you have not started,
Whatever it is that government would do, the starting point is opening up of factories here and there. They will tell you that government has no business in business, no problem, but government has business in building an enabling environment for people to participate in that business.
It is not even true that government has no business in business, it would reach a level where they would have to hands off but at the beginning, because most people don’t have capital, government would have to come in even if it means lending money to people. By the time you lend money to people at single digit interest rate, you are enhancing their capacity to participate in business.
You are the president of an accountancy professional body and we know that accountants have a critical role to play in the economic health of the nation. Can you say accountants have lived up to their calling?
Basically we need to start from the basics, we have to start with the training just like they do in the medical profession, we should have a regulator that should ensure that all those involved in the training follow a particular minimum standard so that before you professionalise, that minimum standard of at least knowledge, integrity quotient and the ethical conduct as established by the regulator have been met. That is going to give you the kind of approach that the medical people are taking.
Sixty years after independence, can you say that our accountancy profession has reached that level where you can have confidence that once an accountant is there, there is nothing to fear?
With the kind of successes we are recording now and the level of understanding and the cooperation we are getting among the professional bodies, one can say that within the near future we should be in a position to attain that kind of confidence.
I say this because before now there has been bickering between ANAN and ICAN, there was debate over whether other professional accountants can do what CITN is doing, but these things are being minimised now and rather than bickering, we are beginning to cooperate. In fact at my inauguration as the 11th president of ANAN, the sitting president of ICAN was there, so also when the 55th president of ICAN was inaugurated, I was there physically, the last one was held virtually, but I also participated.
You find out that with this level of cooperation, I believe very soon we would have a working document that would give us that kind of frame work of working towards a better accounting profession in Nigeria.
What specific roles do you think accountants should be playing in the Nigerian economy to turn the economy around for the better?
First, it is the issue of raising revenue and that will come along with it the issue of making employment possible, that will also create opportunities for enterprise, that will come along with it the issue of cost reduction and cost maintenance so that whatever revenue you are able to raise it reaches a greater number of people. Within that circle is also the level of control that they can do.
Most importantly, they have the ability to reduce the volume of corruption in the system.
Would you say that our accountants have been able to play this role in the anti corruption war we have?
No. And that is because the focus of the anti corruption war is on recovery not on prevention.
The approach should be that there is a system, like what the Bureau of public prosecution (BPP) is doing that makes it impossible to steal money in the first place. Even at the BPP, they still give a window which they call selective tender, where people are selected based on the cost of the work they have done before. That means the government is at the mercy of these contractors. There should be a mechanism where you determine the current market price and if somebody cannot do it at that price, let him leave it. What we have is a job that could be done for N100 million they want to do it at N250 million and that in itself is corruption. So our target should be to ascertain what can be done at a reasonable cost and give it to those that can do it at that price.
ANAN has made some giant strides in recent times, what has been the magic?
It is not really a magic so to speak, you see once you have an objective and you clearly explain to people that this is what you want to do, you find that it is easy for people to follow you and you can easily get the buy in of almost everybody. That has been our strategy. And that has greatly assisted us in achieving the level of successes we have achieved so far.
We say we want to advance the profession, if you want to do that, it is the members of the profession that would do that. Once they don’t own the process, you cannot go anywhere. That has been the major pillar in the things we are able to achieve.
People will always think that what you are proposing is not possible especially when it has never been done before, but you need to explain to them that this thing is doable.
For instance how can you say a professional body would have a university? But we said we want to advance the science of accountancy, and there is no way you can do that without rigorous research and the level of rigorous research you would do should be at Msc and Ph.d levels. If you don’t have an institution that has people that are doing these kinds of researches, how are you then advancing the science of accountancy?
So we said we must do a university, some of our members thought it was impossible, but we said let’s try it, after all, there is nothing wrong in trial, there we are the university has been approved.
It is our determination, with a clear focus and strategy to attain that kind of objective.
We know that many of the accountant generals of the federation, auditor generals and even the finance minister are members of ANAN, even the current minister is, how come we have this level of corruption in the system?
These individuals as members of the association are doing their very best. The current minister of finance is doing everything possible to ensure that the system is sanitised. The major problem is with those that are not accountants in government. If the minister of finance says ‘we want to do a particular thing,’ other ministers that are not in finance area would say she is looking for work for her people and that she is going to bring obstacles to their operation. So that policy may not be allowed to scale through at the federal executive council.
That is the challenge these people are facing, they are in position but they don’t have authority to deal with such issues that are not directly under their care.
That is what is happening to accountants. They are there, but the highest they can do is to advise, but if the person in authority says do it this way not the way you advised, their power ends. That is the kind of problem we have. For us to have the situation in Nigeria where accountants can actually be allowed to do the kind of thing they learnt, the kind of things they know, then that authority must be vested on the accountants.
Another thin I would like to say is that it is important that we allow those that understand the economy to manage the economy. It doesn’t make sense for you to have a government where those that are in position do not really understand the ministries they are running. That creates a lot of problems, because if you don’t understand it, it is going to be difficult for you to explain to any other person.
So the heads of agencies must be those that understand it.