Sunday, October 18, 2020 1:52 pm
By Bashorun J.K. Randle
Considering that virtually all those listed to speak qualified as Chartered Accountants over fifty years ago, we deserve the introduction which tagged us as the “Old Brigade”. We should be thankful that we have not been labelled as the “ancient Brigade” who should be stripped of their claim to being digital rather than analogue.
Be that as it may, what is not in dispute is that when we commenced our journey into our cherished profession, to be a chartered accountant commanded immense respect and our commitment to transparency, integrity and professionalism was a foregone conclusion.
Besides, we were the direct inheritors from the expatriates who had hitherto been Senior Partners of the leading firms of Chartered Accountants or Finance Directors/Chief Accountants of multinational companies/conglomerates. It was against this background that we were considered ready and competent (both in learning and character) to be entrusted with the fate of our beloved profession and the destiny of our great nation. That is how we leapfrogged farming, herding and hunting – gathering to become the new elite (or oppressors!!). We were the “inheritors”.
Perhaps, (because) the transition was smooth and seamless, we felt no urge to address the critical issue of Risk Assessment / Risk Management.
We certainly did not contemplate Audit Failure, whether systemic or otherwise.
It would be totally immodest if not inappropriate to postulate that standards have fallen or suggest that the TRUST which the public invested in us was misplaced and unrealistic because we were Nigerians first before we became Chartered Accountants !! That would be a most damning auditors’ report. However, if indeed the standards have fallen, we cannot claim immunity or non-culpability. Indeed, the line between “Guilty” and “Not Guilty” has become blurred.
What stares us in the face is that our country is at a crossroads or roadblock. It we had been able to sustain the trajectory of our inheritance, our nation would today be one of the most prosperous in the world with first class health facilities and excellent education as well as politicians and civil servants who are dedicated to SERVING our nation. Added to this we would have the benefit of an incorruptible judiciary supported by a supply chain of disciplined military and police / security agencies for whom insecurity, fraud, ritual murder, kidnapping, insurgency, rioting and rigging of elections would be an aberration instead of a daily diet served in generous proportions on print and electronic media plus extra rations on social media. We can only hope that Reuben Abati writing in “ThisDay” newspaper did not include Chartered Accountants when he advertised
“…the wickedness of a generation that inherited independence and subverted it.” If the truth must be told, we fall into the category of “Failure of leadership” and the consequential failure of the state under the camouflage of impunity and incompetence.
About ten years ago, I was just one of the guests when Professor Robert Rothberg delivered a riveting lecture at Harvard University on the systemic breakdown of the security architecture of Nigeria. It was a masterclass. All the data, trends and statistics as well as algorithyms had been dissected, analysed and thoroughly mashed by big data and analytics to be fed directly to simulators. The results were as incontestable as they were alarming. It prompted my firm to host a Summit in 2011 on “SECURITY IN THE AIR, LAND AND SEA” at Eko Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos. The enthusiasm of the participants who came from far and near was subverted and supplanted by the indifference of the Government. The patriotic zeal displayed by Nigerians, especially those from the diaspora was a sight to behold. Sadly, the only outcome was the award of a dodgy contract to a Chinese company to provide CCTV surveillance in Lagos, Abuja etc at a staggering cost of N10 billion.
That was long before Boko Haram became a major threat not to talk of seizing Local Government Areas in the North East and hoisting their flag. In any case, within a matter of months, Boko Haram attempted to assassinate the Inspector-General of Police at Louis Edet House (Police Headquarters) Abuja. This was followed by a bomb explosion at United Nations Abuja Office with very serious casualties. Unfortunately, one of the victims is the daughter of Mr. Ambrose Feese, Sarah Feese. Mr. Ambrose Feese the former Minister of Works & Housing.
It was the same story with “Africa Week” at Cambridge University where the focus was on the systemic failure and the consequential “Abandoned
Projects” in Nigeria. Again, all the figures, facts, data had been thoroughly churned and analysed by electronic dumpsters; and fed directly to computer simulators. All four pretroleum refineries were abandoned while Nigeria went on an importation binge – spending huge sums importing petroleum products even when we were producing two million barrels of oil per day. The River Basin Authorities had become virtually moribund. Even more damning was the report of the Committee set up by the Government under the Chairmanship of Eng. Bunu Sherriff. In its report which was released in 2011, the committee listed 11,000 abandoned projects all over the country. The amount that had gone down the rat hole was estimated at over N100 billion. Since then, we have accumulated thousands more abandoned projects and the cost thereof runs into billions of dollars / trillions of naira – and still counting.
The well has been poisoned and our nation has been reeling from one crisis to another. Every week launches a fresh controversy or a rehash of an old rage to be followed by revenge. One calamity leads to another.
However, we must tread carefully. The records are intact. It was not so long ago when Chartered Accountants held the commanding heights in the economic and financial infrastructure – as Minister of Finance; Governor of the Central Bank; Minister of Transport; Aviation and Communications; Managing Directors of Banks; Auditor-General; Accountant-General etc.
There were also uplifting interludes when General Olusegun Obasanjo as Military Head of State introduced “Operation Feed The Nation” and “Low Profile” followed (after civilian interval/interlude under Alhaji Shehu Shagari) by Major-General Muhammadu Buhari’s regime when the clarion call was “WAI” (War Against Indiscipline).
Our report card is smeared with the Enron scandal and audit failure which destroyed Arthur Andersen that was arguably the fifth largest accountancy firm in the world. Contrary to what prevailed everywhere else, in Nigeria it morphed into “KPMG” !!
All the details are in my book: “X KPMG: THIRTY-FOUR YEARS OF MERITORIOUS SERVICE BUT NO GRATUITY OR PENSION. NO CHRISTMAS CARD.”
Nearer home, we had our baptism of fire when Prince Bola Ajibola S.A.N. the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation under the Military government of General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, insisted that auditors’ reports must be counter-signed by lawyers in order to counter the slew of allegations that chartered accountants had signed two different sets of accounts for the same clients for the same period.
Anyway, before the exit of General Babangida, the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria [ICAN] had a new rival to contend with – Association of National Accountants of Nigeria [ANAN].
We are now in the cusp of history. Our children have been protesting in the streets all over Nigeria (putting their lives at risk) against the impunity and wickedness of SARS (Special Anti-Robbery Squad) – the “terrorist Arm” of the police. Even the daughters of our President and Vice-President endorsed the protests although they did not enter the fray. Be that as it may, SARS has been disbanded and the protesters are entitled to savour their triumph. As sure as night follows day, there will be more protests the subject, nature and dimensions of which are somewhat predictable.
As past Presidents of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria, we have been summoned as follows:
“It is rather unfortunate that as our dear country turned 60 on the 1st October 2020, Nigerians are living in the worst time ever. A time of unprecedented challenges most notably arising from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, insecurity, corruption, economic recession, youth unemployment and infrastructural decay.
Nigeria’s diamond jubilee is therefore not the time for celebration only. Now, more than ever, we are faced with the need to ensure that the country does not degenerate further. Can we overcome, recover from the current, pressing health, and socio-economic challenges?
Now, more than ever before, the BOPP’s voice needs to be heard on what the future holds for our nation and what emergency actions must be taken to transform Nigeria into a sustainable national economy with comparative advantage in a world where ‘great’ is no longer good enough.”
We have also been reminded that in 1980, Nigeria’s naira rate of exchange was 80 kobo to US 1 dollar but today it is N470 to US 1 dollar.
Our nation is seething with rage but our options are limited – Referendum; Devolution; Restructuring or Revolution.
To douse the rage and quench the fire are we now to intervene with a demand for ceasefire before matters get out of hand when the next chapter will be defined by the presence of the United Nations Peace-Keeping Force with their special uniforms, badges and white flag?
Then of course, we still have to contend with every parent’s nightmare – the prospects of a showdown with our protesting children. They may demand of us: no more sitting on the fence and offering platitudes while pleading for patience. They may insist on bold and direct confrontation. Are you for us or against us?
Our anguish revolves around whether we wait for them to disown us or we make a pre-emptive strike by disowning them first!! They may even ambush us by carefully selecting their next target for protest: how come the accountancy profession in our beloved country is dominated by only four firms who control 90 per cent of the market while the rest have to struggle for the crumbs?
As a former Chairman & Chief Executive of KPMG Nigeria and Chairman of KPMG Africa, I recuse myself.
Fortunately, Professor Wale Adebanwi who is a Nigerian-born first Black Rhodes Professor at St Anthony’s College, Oxford University has proved to be a worthy ally in our endeavour to highlight what is self-evident, namely investment and investors rely on Chartered Accountants to diligently assess risks and manage risks as a critical component of their professional services – to guide them in their strategic investment decisions in terms of destination, spread and component. Safety comes first and last.
Where systemic failure creeps in is when Chartered Accountants are in abudance but are unable to stem the brazen frauds, looting and reckless misalignment of priorities with available resources. Research has adequately documented the competition between the heavy demand for security and other critical areas – education, health, infrastructure etc. Failure by Chartered Accountants to impact on the selection of priorities is the shortest route to abandoned projects in Nigeria, systemic audit failure and ultimately the failed state.
As a postscript, we should reflect on the intervention of Nobel Laurette, Professor Wole Soyinka:
“There must be consequences for such crimes (corruption)
otherwise Nigeria will not develop.”
Indeed, the highly respected Pastor Enoch Adeboye, the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God has adopted mathematics (in which he obtained a doctorate degree) while side-stepping Pythogoras to proceed directly to quadratic equation as the driving force for his support for restructuring.
Perhaps he should have added that we face the huge challenge of praying for peace in an age when planet Venus the celestial patron of war is on a rampage.
We also have the archaeologists Nikolai Grube and Simon Martin to thank you for reminding us that nothing is new under the sun.
According to Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson the joint authors of the book: “Why Nations Fail”.
“They have identified the glyph that indicated warfare known as “Star Wars” showering the Earth with a liquid that could be water or blood.”
What we need in order to ensure that the sun continues to shine on Nigeria is to ensure we engender critical mass by inviting past presidents of other professions – law; medicine; architecture; engineering; surveying; teaching; journalism to join us in our mission to rescue Nigeria from self-destruction.
We need to calm down and stay positive. False hope is better than none – even when the video of a lady being hacked to death with a cutlass by a man in Kaduna State in broadday light has gone viral.
-Bashorun J.K. Randle delivered this paper at the Body of Past Presidents of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria Dialogue on 18 October 2020
He is a former President of the Institute of the Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) and former Chairman of KPMG Nigeria and Africa Region. He is currently the Chairman, JK Randle Professional Services.