21 December 2013

Nigeria: The Nation's Audit House and the Transformation Within


Traditionally, operations of the bureaucracy in Nigeria are not meant for the public space. That is the reason for the cliché: civil servants are to be seen and not to be heard. This certainly explains the preeminent and prominent role being played by ministers in explaining government policies, achievements and failures: it helps their politics and the administration of their principal-the president who appointed them.

Executive heads of some departments, agencies and parastatals also take advantage of the platforms of the powers and privileges of their offices to make pronouncements and clarifications on issues that pertain to the schedules of their establishments, mostly not for personal political gains. Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation (OAGF) is one of such offices. Yet another is the Office of the Auditor-General for the Federation (OAuGF). But they can, through the platform of public hearings in the National Assembly or oversight checks, be interrogated on their modus operandi and the extent of their accountability. It is the latter-OAuGF- that I want to devote this piece to.

My concern with the OAuGF was borne out of the positive transformation evident in the office. The Auditor General is not talking about this transformational leadership. I am not sure there is a public relations department in the office to do that. Or, is it that the Office is not expected to showcase itself in the public sphere? Is it conventional that it should promote a culture of silence in the face of both great achievements and/or adversities?

I believe it is time this culture of silence was shattered. Regardless, this intervention would make nonsense of the age-long aphorism that if one does not blow ones trumpet, no one will blow it for him or her. Truth is that the OAuGF is not making efforts to celebrate itself; but, this piece will attempt to present in great motifs the transformational leadership which is being provided by Mr Samuel Tyonongo Ukura, the nation's Auditor-General. Those who know Ukura would attest to the fact that he is quiet; in fact, a man of few words. Some, after meeting with him, go away with the impression that he is possibly a shy persona. But appraised anyhow, he is the driving force behind the transformation that has become quite evident in the ambience of the entire set-up of the OAuGF. It is true that people who make noise most times only blow hot winds: long on promises, but short on fulfillment. Not so with Ukura who came on board, highly underrated, but has today surpassed his successors in office in terms of innovative leadership.

Validations: he stepped in the saddle in 2009 and in less than two years of resumption, he convinced the Federal Government to fund the purchase of an ultra modern eight-storey building for the OAuGF. This is what money, as learnt, had been provided for in the past but nothing came out of the enterprise. Today, the Office has its building that is equipped with modern furniture and equipment. In fact, the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) infrastructure in the office ranks as one of, if not the best, in Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of government in the country.

The icing on the cake, in the provision of ICT infrastructure, is that there is available video conference in the Headquarters which makes meetings possible with state branch offices, the Auditor General and the Directors. If there is one thing for which staff members would remember him, it is the series of international training exposures they have received through his leadership. He has garnered international recognition for the office at International Organisation of Supreme Audit Institutions and African Organsiation of Supreme Audit Institutions among others, with which he signed Memorandums of Understanding.

With these MoUs, staff members have been trained in current audits practised in other climes, which have helped those countries to move forward in transparency and accountability. Consider them: Performance Audit, Environmental Audit, Risk-Based Audit (a process that is very important in auditing), Forensic Audit and ICT Audit. In fact, it was confirmed that Ukura has created a full-fledged department to take care of emerging issues auditing.

There are reports that there is an on-going training for a professional audit of disaster management and Debt Management Audit. Ukura is said to have introduced strategic planning in auditing to set specific directives to be achieved by the Office and has additionally documented procedures/directives to be followed in auditing the public sector in Nigeria Communication Policy, Human Reserve Policy, Code of Ethics, Quality Control and Assurance.

Hitherto, Nigeria is said to be on level one in the International Auditing Standards (IAS) in the world, but the good news is that Ukura is said to be working towards taking the country up to number three. The highest level in the IAS ranking is five. In Africa, South Africa is on level four.

Another critical step that has been taken is the transmission of an Audit Bill to the National Assembly to create an enabling environment for real financial and administrative autonomy. The Bill is awaiting third reading and passage into law in the Senate; and one important recommendation is first line charge of the OAuGF's expenditure on the Consolidated Revenue of the Federation (CFR) in order to assert its full autonomy.

There is also a proposal in the Audit Bill for fifteen departments and two Deputy Auditors-General. The Bill also seeks to establish an Audit Service Commission that will function as a governing body for the OAuGF and will be specifically saddled with the responsibilities of appointing the two Deputy Auditors-General from among the Directors of the Office and handle all matters of recruitment, promotion and discipline of members of staff of the Office and other staff members, including pensions and retirement issues. These are positive indicators that underscore tangible transformation in the Office. Abubakar, a public policy consultant, sent this piece from Abuja.

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