Tijani Musa Isah, 58th President of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) bares his mind on how to move Nigeria forward and his plans to transform the institute and members’ lives, in this interview with CHARLES OGWO. Excerpts:
You promised to preserve the future of ICAN and the accounting profession during your investiture ceremony. How do you intend to achieve this?
To achieve the pledge I made during my investiture, the governing council’s focus would remain on deepening the profession’s impact on the economy and society at large.
Our target remains to act in the public interest and boost contributions to national growth and development. We intend to find innovative ways to add value to our members and enhance their technical capacities.
In doing this, we support our members to add superior value in their various circles of influence. We would continue to create awareness of the imperative of transparency and accountability in the country. We would engage with stakeholders to instill the core values of integrity, honesty, objectivity, and credibility across all sectors of the economy.
How do you intend to restore the past glory of the institute?
The institute’s glory has never waned and thus we cannot be talking about its past glory. We have continued to add value and our members are still credible and highly sought-after.
The recognition that we have with the International Federation of Accountants, IFAC, Pan-African Federation of Accountants, PAFA, and other reputable PAOs with which we have reciprocity assures us that we are on the right trajectory.
Our members are regularly trained and are future-ready. The above notwithstanding, we are not resting on our oars. We constantly review our activities’ impact in line with the realities of the time and thus, the issue of past glory does not arise.
Your predecessor, Comfort Olu-Eyitayo achieved what could be described as massive successes within the 12 months period as ICAN president with her ‘Visible Impact’ programme. How do you intend to sustain the momentum or even surpass her record?
ICAN is a continuum. My predecessor, Comfort Olu- Eyitayo contributed her quota to the development of the profession. Our plan is to build on the successes of past leaders of the institute to ensure that ICAN remains a truly global professional body.
Recently, the Accountant-General of Nigeria was reported to have siphoned about N80 billion, and this is by all standards a dent in your profession and the institute. How do you intend to sanction erring members?
I would like to use this medium to emphasize that the immediate past Accountant-General is not a member of our institute. We have earlier issued a press release to the public to this effect.
We have a strong disciplinary mechanism in the Institute. Members who are alleged to have erred are usually investigated by the ICAN Accountants Investigation Panel.
When members are confirmed to have erred by the Panel, they are referred to the ICAN Disciplinary Tribunal. The ICAN Tribunal is equivalent to the Nigerian High Court and appeals go to the Court of Appeal and, thereafter, the Supreme Court of Nigeria. A list of guilty members is usually published.
The public tertiary education sector in Nigeria seems to be in limbo as a result of the ASUU strike, what do you think the federal government should do to fix the education system, which is a critical section of the economy?
Funding is the biggest problem confronting Nigeria’s education system. The percentage of the budget allocated to education annually is extremely low.
For instance, the budget allocated to education in 2021 and 2022 is about 5.68 percent and 7.9 percent respectively which falls short of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) benchmark of 15 to 20 percent of the annual budget. Out of this 7.9percent in 2022, an even smaller percentage funds tertiary education.
The lecturers’ compensation package is grossly inadequate, and so also funding for research and infrastructural development. Government must rethink the funding of the whole sector and find sustainable ways to revive the sector.
Tertiary institutions may also begin to increase internally generated revenue by making valuable contributions to science, innovation, technology, and industry.
However, we appreciate the contribution of the federal government through the TETFund through various interventions, including research and development and infrastructure.
What do you think is the biggest challenge with postgraduate and professional education in Nigeria?
The major challenge to postgraduate education in the country is its quality and the paucity of funds. The syllabi for postgraduate education in the country are adequate, however, we have observed that we are unable to rank side by side with international postgraduate studies due to the dearth of conceptual thinking and competence in research methodology.
The paucity of funds has also adversely affected the quality of postgraduate research. A significant number of postgraduate programmes/researchers are unable to access the funds necessary to carry out studies that will bring about innovation and sustainable development.
Nigeria, the most populous nation in Africa, cannot afford to be left behind in the capacity building. Again as indicated above we appreciate the contribution of TETFund in funding research.
Speaking broadly, the challenge with professional education in Nigeria stems from the multiplicity of professional associations. The nation’s legislature must realise that, regarding professional certification, more is not necessarily better.
The institute’s certification process has been tested for over six decades. Our professional examination syllabus is in line with the recommendations of the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC). That is why our members in the diaspora easily become members of other professional accountancy organisations.
There is an urgent need for professional organisations to align with global best practices in their syllabi and avoid anything that could bring professional qualifications, generally, into disrepute.
How is ICAN under your leadership planning to address the problems of brain drain in the country?
The problem of brain drain in Nigeria is not just a national problem but a global one. With the great resignation that succeeded the pandemic in 2020/21 in the West, many organisations are hunting for talents wherever they can find them.
Unfortunately, the quality of our certification makes our members more desirable for jobs outside our shores. The weak socio-economic environment of our dear nation has not made it any easier to persuade our local talent to stay.
To stem the tide of brain drain, we must address the economic and security infrastructure in our country; improve health care and the availability of basic amenities at a reasonable cost.
As stakeholders in economic matters, we would not relent in our efforts to create more job opportunities so that our intellectuals and professionals can be encouraged to remain in the country and build a stronger and more viable economy.
ICAN of recent is positively establishing skills acquisition centres to tackle unemployment and enhance entrepreneurship. What are your strategies for addressing rising youth unemployment?
The statistic on the unemployment rate in the country is alarming. As part of the institute’s public interest mandate, we established the Entrepreneurship Development Centre and the ICAN-BOI Innovation Plus Hub to address the high rate of unemployment in the country, especially among the youths.
Our objective for establishing the EDC is to train individuals to be job creators and not job seekers. The ICAN-BOI innovation hub is empowering youths through digital skills, competencies, entrepreneurship, and innovations.
ICAN has an entrepreneurship committee, which is a council standing committee to address the issue of unemployment and underemployment among our members who in turn would-be employers.
Do you have any plan for women’s inclusion and equality in your cabinet and programmes of the institution?
The Institute is well-known for its gender neutrality and we do not have any intention to do otherwise in this presidential year. The Council is presently 20:80 Female to Male and we are assiduously working on policies to ensure that more women are interested in participating in Elections at the Council level. At the sub-national level, that is District Societies, more women are leading with remarkable results.
In the last two induction ceremonies for new AAT and ACA members, the majority of the prize winners have been ladies. For members’ training, for instance, we deliberately identified training programmes that have all-male subject matter experts, and have contacted our female members with competence in those subjects to be part of the process.
We found out that with minor adjustments, such as mode of delivery, we have been able to increase the percentage of female subject matter experts. We are guided by Stuart Milk’s quote “we are less when we don’t include everyone”. Thus, we are of the opinion that the contribution of everyone is crucial for a successful tenure.
What would you love to be remembered for at the end of your tenure?
I would like my legacy to be quantifiable diverse access to information for members’ engagement, growth, and future readiness, and greater public interest impact.