More ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) have refused to submit their accounts for review since President Muhammadu Buhari assumed office, an official report shows.
The poor compliance of MDAs to Nigerian laws on submission of accounts is worse in each of Mr Buhari's first two years in office than any previous year since Nigeria returned to democracy from military dictatorship in 1999.
According to the Auditor-General of the Federation, 324 MDAs failed to submit their accounts for audit in 2016, while 215 MDAs failed to submit in 2015. In each of the 22 previous years before that, the highest number of non-submissions was 148, in 2014.
Although he did not list the defaulting agencies in 2016, the Auditor-General, Anthony Ayine, worried about the situation, stated in the 2016 audit report that "The extensive violation of statutory financial reporting obligations by Parastatals is of great concern."
Mr Ayine's remarks were contained in the recently released annual report of the Auditor-General for the Federation on the accounts of the Federation of Nigeria for the year ended December 2016.
The 2016 audit report is the latest by Mr Ayine's office and was released last month.
Audited accounts and defaulting agencies
An ongoing PREMIUM TIMES' analysis of the report shows that only 51 audited financial statements for 2016 and 149 for 2015 were submitted to the office of the Auditor-General as at December 27, 2017. This, the report said, is contrary to the Financial Regulation 3210 (v) which enjoins the chief executive officers of these bodies to submit audited accounts to the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation, OAuGF "not later than 31st May of the following year of Account."
By Section 85 (5) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), the auditor-general is required to submit a report on the audit of the Accountant-General's Financial Statements to the National Assembly within 90 days of receipt of the statements from the Accountant-General of the Federation.
But in the executive summary of the 2016 report, Mr Ayine noted that the Financial Statements of the Federal Government for the year ended December 31, 2016 were first submitted to him by the Accountant-General of the Federation on June 30, 2017.
"Following my preliminary observations," he noted, "the Statements were significantly amended and resubmitted on 29th September, 2017. Further amendments to the Financial Statements led to another re-submission on 29th December, 2017 and 16th January, 2018 before the final version was eventually submitted on 20th March, 2018.
"The Financial Statements of Government Statutory Corporations, Companies, Commissions, etc, otherwise called Parastatals are not audited by my Office, in line with Section 85(3) (a) of the 1999 Constitution. However, in accordance with Section 85(3) (b) of the Constitution, their Annual Accounts and Auditor's reports thereon shall be submitted to me for comments.
"Most of the government Corporations, Companies and Commissions have not submitted their audited accounts for 2016 to me. Only 51 audited Financial Statements for 2016 and 149 for 2015 have been submitted to my Office as at 27th December, 2017, despite the provision of Financial Regulation 3210(v) which enjoins the Chief Executive Officers of these bodies to submit both the Audited Accounts and Management Report to me not later than 31st May of the following year of Account."
He explained further that as at April 2018, 109 Agencies have not submitted beyond 2013, 76 Agencies last submitted for the 2010 financial year while 65 agencies have never submitted any account since inception. The affected agencies and parastatals were however not mentioned in the executive summary.
"The extensive violation of statutory financial reporting obligations by Parastatals is of great concern," he noted. "Stringent sanctions, including withholding financial releases and sanction of the Chief Executives should be imposed on defaulting Agencies who do not render timely accounts, as provided in the Constitution and Financial Regulations."
The auditor-general also lamented that the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) and their accounting officers are reverting to the situation in the past where they did not promptly respond to audit observations, adding that it is a major setback to the nation's accountability process.
"Where accounting officers fail to respond to audit queries, the implication is that they have no explanation to offer. They should be compelled by the Public Accounts Committees to comply with the audit recommendations on such issues."
Although Mr Ayine mentioned the "stringent sanctions" that could be meted on defaulting MDAs, there is no indication that the federal government or the presidency would implement the sanctions.
Presidential spokesperson, Femi Adesina, did not reply to PREMIUM TIMES inquiries on the possible cause of this trend and what the government was doing about it. Phone calls were not returned and text messages sent to his known numbers were not replied either.
Fore economists and analysts, the trend of default by the MDAs is worrying.
Paul Aladje, lead economist and enterprise partner at SPM Professionals, told PREMIUM TIMES in a telephone interview that officials have studied the government and are exploiting its inability to take decisive actions against impunity. He noted that the underlying cause of the trend might be in civil servants' desires to hide corrupt deals.
"In my opinion, I think it is easier to point accusing fingers at politicians, meanwhile the highest level of corruption is going on in the civil service generally.
"In 2016, the auditor-general revealed that more than four trillion naira was not remitted and because most of these people are not politicians.
"Nigerians find it very difficult to even monitor them. The level of transparency in the system that we put in place makes it very difficult to receive the body language of the auditor general on forensic auditors that check the books," he said.
"First, I believe a lot of people have carefully studied President Buhari that he is more of body language than the real action. So they feel like corruption is free for all and that is what you are perhaps seeing among all the MDAs.
"For me, it is disappointing; all hopes were high when we have the president that we believed would have high level of integrity in his administration. Civil servants for who they are, projects could just disappear overnight, having no bearing even though the money has been completely spent and contractors would be nowhere to be found."
As a corrective measure, Mr Aladje noted that the first thing is to put systems in place.
"When you fight corruption by putting people in prison, you will only be fighting the effect, that is, corruption would have happened," he explained.
"Most of the time, you don't deter corruption alone by putting people in prison, but by making it difficult for people to steal; by putting the figures out. Secrecy around figures, tenders, contracts should be completely removed.
"The point is clear, people who don't want to serve Nigeria have no business in office. We need to take decisive decision to ensure that things are done properly."
For Jide Ojo, public affairs analyst, the trend by the MDAs is symptomatic of the culture of impunity that reigns under the Buhari administration.
Speaking in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES Friday morning, Mr Ojo noted that the trend speaks of how much the system has been made ineffective.
He said, "He who must come to equity must come with clean hands. This administration has severally been accused of the axiom in the bible that says 'You are trying to remove the speck on someone's face while you have a log in your own'.
"On several occasions, the anti-corruption mantra of this administration is suspect. What justification could there be for over 300 MDAs not to have audited reports and yet they continue to receive public funding.
Mr Ojo, however, says he would not put all the blame on the table of the president.
"What about the National Assembly which has oversight functions on these MDAs? When they go for these oversight functions, do they ever ask them of these audited reports? Because, you know again the office of the auditor-general is part of the government and I will tell you for free that that's one office that has been least funded by successive administrations.
"Why is it that a very vital parastatal of government that has tendency to help in the promotion of anti-corruption is deliberately underfunded?"
Mr Ojo explained further that most reports indicting agencies are not acted upon and gather dust in the auditor-general's office. He wondered whether the president was perhaps unaware of the concerns.
"How can you be an African champion of anti-corruption and this is happening under your nose. Does the president even read newspapers? Does he even get proper briefing from his media handlers? I wonder, if he doesn't have time to read; what are they telling him?" he said.