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Economic managers must develop unconventional strategies to change Nigeria’s narrative – Eyitayo

COMFORT OLUJUMOKE EYITAYO was recently inducted as the 57th president of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN). In this interview with AMAKA ANAGOR-EWUZIE, she discusses planned initiatives and how she hopes to revolutionise operations of ICAN to meet global best practices. Excerpts:

As the newly inducted president of ICAN, what are the plans for your tenure?

In this presidential year, we would deepen our value proposition not just to our members but the economy as a whole. The accounting profession is very important to the health of the economy and we are poised to ensuring that we collaborate with all stakeholders in the nation’s economy for the efficient management of public financial resources.

The articulated agenda for the presidential year would also include providing leadership in a Volatile Uncertain Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) World; playing visible role in the management of the national economy; developing entrepreneurship initiatives for the teeming young chartered accountants; rebranding the Institute; aggressive sensitisation on the impactful services of ICAN members, the institute and profession as a whole; enhancing the capacity of Small and Medium Practitioners (SMPs); mentoring other Professional Accountancy Organizations (PAOs) for International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) membership in the African sub region and; expanding the mutual recognition agreements with other world renowned PAOs.

What are the challenges to achieving accountability in both private and public sectors, and to what extent can you say ICAN has contributed to solving them?

The lack of accountability in the country, whether in the public or private sector, is basically due to weak enforcement and poor compliance to regulatory guidelines. As already alluded to on several forums, Nigeria is not lacking in policies, programmes and laws aimed at promoting accountability and transparency in the jurisdiction. Unfortunately, the country has not fared well in ensuring the implementation of these laudable policies and programmes due to lack of commitment to business ethos.

Another hindrance to accountability in the country is regulatory capture, whereby those who are expected to enforce the regulations are influenced by the interests of the few and not the public interest. There is also the need for appropriate and timely sanction for person(s) whose action(s) bring the accountability and integrity of the nation into disrepute.

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At ICAN, we have several initiatives for promoting accountability and integrity not just in the profession but in the economy as well. We launched the Whistleblowers’ Protection Fund to protect members and the public from any form of reprisal or victimisation when an alarm is raised on financial impropriety by public or private establishments, individuals or groups within the country.

The Institute also has a robust disciplinary mechanism against any member or firm of chartered accountants suspected to engage in acts of financial malpractices. Recently, the ICAN Accountability Index (ICAN-AI) Report on the public finance management practices across the three tiers of government has given an insight into these governments’ priorities where transparency is concerned. Some governments have also implemented the index as the Key Performance Indicator (KPI) of the Accountant General in their various jurisdictions, and this has dramatically improved best practice in those jurisdictions.

How does ICAN structure its programmes to drive members’ participation across various sectors and how do they address peculiar challenges faced by young accounting professionals?

The Institute’s examinations and other capacity building programmes are structured to make our members fit for any sector of the economy. The mandatory professional development trainings covers 17 sectors of the economy including agriculture, oil and gas, telecommunications, Information Technology, finance and so on.

We are also building the skills and competencies of members not just to be job seekers but job creators through our entrepreneurship programmes. In this presidential year, we are raising the bar of our entrepreneurship programmes through the creation of an Entrepreneurship Centre and Entrepreneurship/Endowment Fund.

The Endowment Fund would assist graduates of the Centre to embark on projects and productive activities for which regular funding sources may not readily support. Our goal is to produce future-ready chartered accountants who are equally equipped with skills to face the demand of the present day market.

Compliance with the provisions of local content law has been a challenge. What measures would ICAN put in place to drive full compliance in order to boost human capital development?

Within the sphere of our activities as professionals, there has been appreciable progress in the promotion of local content law. For the accounting profession, it is not possible for an organisation’s financial statement to be accepted by any regulatory authority without the seal of a professional accountant.

In filing tax returns, the seal of the relevant professional bodies, including ICAN, is required before such returns can be accepted. As part of promoting local content in human capital development, the Institute has reviewed downward, from five to three, the number of years for registered accountants to become associate members or full members of the Institute.

Registered accountants are holders of recognised foreign Professional Accountancy Organizations’ (PAOs) certificate who are practising in the country. The Institute would deepen awareness creation and motivation among its members on the need to adhere to the various provisions of the local content law. We have continued to work with accounting standards setters to ensure that the various international accounting standards consider the peculiarities of developing economies, including Nigeria.

Strategic partnership with stakeholders in the public and private sector is very critical to national and economic development. What are the roles of Accountants in achieving this?

As an Institute, we engage with a wide spectrum of social and economic players in the country to reposition the nation on the path of sustainable growth and development. We use the engagements to inform stakeholders about the value that our members can add to businesses and the economy if fully engaged. For instance, we regularly engage with the Federal Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC) to report our findings on the ICAN Accountability Index (ICAN-AI); with the National Universities Commission (NUC), National Board on Technical Education (NBTE), West African Examination Council (WAEC), National Examination Council (NECO) and Joint Admissions Matriculation Board (JAMB) to ensure that the accounting syllabi across the accounting education value chain is in line with present realities.

We also collaborate with the National Assembly in the business of law making by making recommendations on the Appropriation Bill, participating in public hearings and submitting position papers on matters that affect the business and economy of the country.

We also partner with the judiciary in the investigation of professional misconduct, as the Institute’s Disciplinary Tribunal is equivalent to the Nigerian High Court and appeals from the Tribunal go to the Court of Appeal and thereafter the Supreme Court. This is just to mention a few.

For you to come this far to become ICAN president, you must have had some ups and downs. Was there at any point when you felt like quitting?

Yes, there have been many ups and downs, and I must say that some of the challenges appeared overwhelming. However, quitting was never an option. Success requires unflinching commitment to a cause and the ability to overcome challenges. There has never been any regret in my career. I see the down moments as an opportunity to re-strategise and revisit the modus operandi. Persistence is still a great virtue for anyone who is determined to make impact.

Increasingly, technology is narrowing the space for professional practices across all sectors with its disruptive impact. How prepared is ICAN for this new normal?

Over the years, and more recently since 2004, ICAN has consistently developed the digital skills of its members through the Technology Competence Initiative (TCI). The TCI was introduced as a precondition for induction of new members to ensure that all ICAN members receive adequate grounding in Information Technology (IT).

As a result, technological disruption is not negatively impacting the activities of our members. Rather, the digital disruption continues to enable more effective and efficient delivery of the services being provided by over 53,000 ICAN members. ICAN members are no doubt adequately prepared for this New Normal. As a result, it was not difficult for us as an Institute, together with our members, to quickly adapt to the disruption occasioned by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

When you look at the economic situation like inflation, high unemployment rate, food crisis and insecurity among others in Nigeria, what advice do you have for the managers of the economy to address these issues?

There is no denying the fact that we are at a critical juncture in social and economic development in the country. With inflation rate at about 18 percent, unemployment rate at 33 percent and heightened insecurity, the nation has certainly had better times.

The managers of the economy must now develop and deploy unconventional strategies to change the nation’s discouraging narrative. We must, as a nation, reconsider our approaches to economic and social developments as old approaches cannot adequately address the unfolding problems. There is the need to deliberately adopt a bottom-up and home-grown problem-solving approaches as against forcing top-down policies.

This is not the time for promulgating policies just for scoring political points but there must be deliberate, conscious and well-thought-out programmes to take the country out of the woods. The anti-corruption crusade must be bolstered and a culture of transparency and accountability entrenched. Professionals must work with governments at all levels to contribute their expertise to address the lackluster social and economic indices.

Coronavirus pandemic has greatly impacted organisations including ICAN. This has no doubt impacted operations. What measures have been put in place to overcome these challenges?

Our huge investment in technology in the Institute greatly assisted us in quickly adapting to the changes brought about by COVID-19 pandemic. As the New Normal evolves, we would remain at the frontiers of building a truly digital Institute that leverages technology to provide bespoke services to our various clients.

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