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President Obasanjo’s acts of omission and commission contributed to the ineffectiveness of the two corruption-fighting agencies he started – Ladipo Adamolekun

March 3, 2013

Iju Public Affairs Forum

Integrity in the Accounting Profession and the Problem of Corruption in Nigeria – Ladipo Adamolekun

He that shaketh his hands from holding of bribes, he shall dwell on highIsaiah 33:15

Talk delivered at the Annual Dinner/Awards organised by the Akure District of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN),

Saturday, March 2nd 2013.

 

Integrity and the Problem of Corruption: An Overview

Almost every professional association world-wide includes “integrity” as one of its core values.  In the specific case of your Institute (Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria, ICAN), you’ve made it part of your Motto: “Accuracy and Integrity”.  In coupling ICAN’s commitment to integrity with the problem of corruption in Nigeria, I wish to make the point that if ICAN members in both the public and private sectors were to consistently exhibit integrity in the discharge of their functions, the problem of corruption in Nigeria would become less pervasive and less destructive than it is at present.

Let me quickly explain that I decided to draw attention to the problem of corruption because I belong to the school of thought that considers pervasive, systemic and institutionalised corruption as the major explanatory factor for the deepening poverty and worsening insecurity in the country.  (Some illustrations of the scope and scale of corruption in Nigeria is provided as Appendix 1).  The strong linkage of corruption to poverty and underdevelopment that is extensively documented in the development literature makes fighting corruption in Nigeria a priority concern for all those who would like the country to achieve two of our national goals that have eluded us since we articulated them in the 1970-74 Second National Development Plan: (i) “a great and dynamic economy and (ii) “a land of bright and full opportunity for all citizens”.  Nigeria will not be able to achieve “a great and dynamic economy” as long as the huge waste and indiscriminate looting of public treasuries persist, and we will not have “a land of bright and full opportunity for all citizens” as long as less than 5% of the population capture, by hook and mostly by crook, 70-80% of the country’s wealth.  At independence, poverty rate in Nigeria was 15%.  Today, poverty rate is about 70%.

Tackling Nigeria’s corruption monster in a systemic manner would require the president and head of state taking on the role of supreme anti-corruption champion – this is the lesson from almost every country that has achieved or is achieving low corruption: Singapore and Botswana have achieved it, and Brazil is convincingly engaged on that path. (According to incumbent Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, combating corruption is “state policy”).  From Shagari through Buhari, Babangida and Abacha to Obasanjo and Jonathan, only Buhari came close to acting like an anti-corruption champion.

Although former president Obasanjo sensibly established two anti-corruption institutions, his acts of omission and commission limited their effectiveness.  Incumbent president Jonathan does not believe in public declaration of assets (one of the key instruments for fighting corruption) and he would rather encourage Nigerians to change their attitudes (a nebulous idea) than champion prompt and severe punishment for corrupt officials, including their debarment from public office. (“I don’t give a damn about it if you want to criticise me from here to heaven.  Channels [Television] can talk about that from morning till night, all the papers can write about it.  It’s a matter of principle [that is, decision not to publicly declare his assets]). – President Jonathan, June 24th 2012 during media chat in Aso Rock. And the Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) recently summed up the prevailing situation accurately as follows: “No political will to fight corruption” in Details

Daily Trust, February 14th 2013

Given the strong evidence that corruption continues to undermine the economy, pollute our politics, and erode the moral fabric of the society, there is need to explore alternative strategies for taming the monster.   (See Nigeria’s persistent low score in the annual Corruption Perception Index published by Transparency International since the mid-1990s, Appendix 2). A possible alternative to fighting corruption from the top is an incremental strategy that would comprise strengthening anti-corruption civil society groups and promoting the emergence of pockets of “clean” professionals who, through their key positions in the public and private sectors, can act with integrity and prevent/expose corrupt behaviour. Specifically, I would like to strongly recommend that ICAN accepts to become a champion of anti-corruption through (i) enforcing rigorously its integrity code in respect of its members and publicising infractions together with the sanctions meted out to the guilty members and (ii) mandating its members to henceforth resolve to become whistle blowers whenever and wherever they witness corrupt behaviour.

Why advocate an anti-corruption role for ICAN?

Without question, professional accountants contributed to the world-wide economic crisis (recession) of 2008-2009 whose disastrous consequences are still responsible for negative to low growth and huge unemployment in many industrialised countries such as Greece, Spain and the USA.  The weakened industrialised economies have, in turn, impacted negatively, in varying degrees, on both the emerging and developing economies. Virtually as a prelude to the 2008-2009 recession, there were some financial scandals for which professional accountants were the major culprits, especially Enron (2001) and WorldCom (2002) scandals.  Enron is widely regarded as the biggest audit failure ever and this resulted in the de facto dissolution of Arthur Andersen, which was one of the five largest audit and accountancy partnerships in the world.  Regarding WorldCom, the company’s profit was inflated by some USD7 billion.

In the Nigerian case, the most recent illustration of financial scandal is the evidence provided in the latest Global Financial Integrity report (2012): $129 billion illicit money was exported from Nigeria between 2001 and 2010, $19.66billion alone in 2010 and an average of $12.9 billion per year.  According to one of the national dailies, “The humongous amount was moved by corrupt politicians, business men, drug barons and other assorted criminals”. (See Leadership, February 14th 2013). It is certain that professional accountants were involved, in varying degrees, in these criminal acts but there were no stories of accountants blowing the whistle!  Other scandals in Nigeria in which accountants have been involved include:

  • Cadbury scandal (2008)
  • Scandals in the banking and finance sector (2009)
  • N2.6 trillion fuel subsidy scandal (2012)
  • N3 trillion Pension fraud” (2012)

If these scandals are not arrested, the prediction that Nigeria could become a leading world economy in 2030 (US National Intelligence Council Report, “Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds”) might not become a reality.  Instead, we could have our own home-grown economic recession before 2030. And it is worth stressing that economic forecasts are as unreliable as weather forecasts.

What Role for ICAN in Combating Corruption?

In encouraging ICAN to formally and unequivocally accept the role of an anti-corruption champion, I am in the good company of one of your illustrious members, David Dafinone, patriarch of the family that has produced the largest number of accountants in human history (Guinness World Records).  Listen to him:

Many of our members connived in siphoning our collective wealth into private pockets, but not once did ICAN raise its voice to rebuke or punish any of such members.  The accountant has become a ‘mule’, the vehicle for the transfer of state funds for top government officials.  How many fraudulent money transfers have been made in which the accountant is not party? (Italics and bold added) – David Dafinone cited in “Challenge to ICAN”, Vanguard, editorial, December 20th 2005.

My earlier recommendation that ICAN should rigorously enforce its integrity code in respect of its members and publicise infractions together with the sanctions meted out to the guilty members is consistent with what Dafinone had advocated about seven years ago. I added that ICAN should mandate its members to henceforth resolve to become whistle blowers whenever and wherever they witness corrupt behaviour.  Of course, the primary responsibility of the accountant in both public and private organisations is the enforcement of financial accountability: he/she has the training, the techniques and tools for carrying out this responsibility.  I wish to add that ICAN as a professional association and its members in their individual capacities should also seek, to the extent possible, to support:

  • Advocacy for public declaration of assets because transparency helps to reduce corruption;
  • Advocacy for commensurate punishment for persons involved in corrupt practices and the export of the proceeds of corruption;
  • An end to unpunished corruption, including immunity clause in the 1999 constitution; and
  • Opposition to plea-bargain that is unknown to Nigerian legal system.  (To date, “beneficiaries” include former Governors Alamieyeseigha and Lucky Igbinedion, former Inspector General of Police,Tafa Balogun, senior banker Cecilia Ibru, and the N27bn pension thief, fined N750,000)

Last word

ICAN’s adoption of an anti-corruption champion role will significantly weaken the triangle of corruption that is at the heart of the corruption problem in Nigeria: public service staff, politicians in both the executive and legislative arms of government, and private sector operators (domestic and foreign) who interface with them.  This crucial weakening of the corruption triangle will happen if ICAN members in public bureaucracy, in the political class, and in the private sector resolve to henceforth not only become “clean” professionals but also accept to consistently prevent/expose corrupt practices, including blowing the whistle, when necessary.  And I would add that this admonition that ICAN members become “clean” professionals extends to those members who are overseers, pastors, imams, deacons and deaconesses (see Isaiah 33:15).  This is because, as we are all aware, religious organizations are the beneficiaries of significant proportions of the proceeds of corrupt practices in both the public and private sectors.  Today, I urge ICAN to publicly commit to an anti-corruption champion role, not in words only, but in deed and in truth!

I thank you all for your attention.

 APPENDIX 1

SCOPE AND SCALE OF CORRUPTION PROBLEM IN NIGERIA:

SOME ILLUSTRATIONS

1. According to UNIDO’s 2004 Report, by 1999, Nigerians had over $100 billion of private wealth in foreign bank accounts, about 70 per cent of the country’s total private wealth.  – Punch, July 24th 2004

Comment: One obvious question is the degree of involvement of accountants in these illegal transfers.  Nigerians’ private wealth in foreign bank accounts by December 2012 is likely to be double or triple the 1999 amount and would be at least 80 per cent of the country’s total wealth.

2. In 2012, Nigeria’s oil exports was worth about 100 billion dollars, “more than the total net aid to the whole of Sub-Saharan Africa” (bold and italics added), according to UK’s Prime Minister Cameron in his 2013 DAVOS speech, “Transparency key to development” – published in The Nation, February 6th 2013

Comment: Notwithstanding this high level of revenue, education and health were hugely underfunded in 2012 and poor roads and epileptic electricity persisted.

3. “When N100 million is voted for a project, Nigerians will be lucky if N30 million goes into that project at the end of the day.” – Philip Asiodu, a former “super Permanent Secretary” and former economic adviser to president Obasanjo (1999-2002) cited in Punch, March 26/07

4. “… corruption is killing the country, draining between 40 and 80 per cent of all public expenditures, according to the International Monetary Fund” – Punch, editorial, February 6th 2013

Comment (3&4): In 2007, an informed insider asserted that about 30% of public expenditure was lost to waste and corruption.  In 2013, it is estimated that the percentage had risen to between 40 and 80%!

5. EFCC Chair, Farida Waziri, claims that N285 billion was lost to the political elite – former governors, ministers and legislators between 1999 and 2009 – This Day, Editorial, June 16th 2009

6. “IGR – MDAs short-changed Nigeria by N9.12trn in 3 years”

(In reference to unremitted internally generated revenue by 60 federal MDAs between 2009 and 20120) – Leadership, February 8th 2013

7. “Corruption responsible for non-completion of Ajaokuta steel” – The Nation, February 5th 2013.  (After 40 years and about N675bn the project is still on-going)

Comment (5, 6&7): These are some specific examples of waste and corruption.

 

APPENDIX 2

NIGERIA’S CORRUPTION PERCEPTION INDEX (CPI) SCORES, 1996 – 2012.

 

YEAR

CPI SCORE

RANK

1996

0.69

54th of 54

1997

1.78

52nd of 52

1998

1.9

81st of 85

1999

1.6

98th  of 99

2000

1.2

90th of 90

2001

1.0

90th of 91

2002

1.6

101st  of 102

2003

1.4

132nd of 133

2004

1.6

144th of 146

2005

1.9

152nd of 159

2006

2.2

142nd  of 163

2007

2.2

147th  of 180

2008

2.7

121st  of 180

2009

2.5

130th  of 180

2010

2.4

134th of 178

2011

2.4

143rd of 183

2012

2.7

139th of 176

Source: Transparency International Website, accessed February 21st 2013

Explanatory Note: The total score is 10. Countries that have consistently scored above 8.0 include Denmark, Finland, New Zealand, Singapore and Sweden. Botswana, Cape Verde and Mauritius are three African countries that have consistently scored above 5.0.

Ladipo Adamolekun, D. Phil. (Oxon), a Nigerian National Merit Awardee, was a Professor of Public Administration and a former Dean of the Faculty of Administration, Obafemi Awolowo/University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria.  Adamolekun served as a World Bank Staff for many years and retired as Head of the Togo Office some years ago.  He is now an Independent Scholar.

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