Here we are in Abuja for the 50th Annual Accountants Conference of The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria [ICAN] which is scheduled to run from April 5th to April 9th, 2021. In our midst is the President of the International Federation of Accountants, Mr. Alan Johnson.
50 is a magic number. The President of The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales [ICAEW], Mr. David Matthews (Ex-KPMG) has sent me the following message:
“From our records, you have been a member of our Institute for over fifty years. Congratulations.”
Hence, it is tempting to reflect on the year 2003/2004 which for me was epochal as it was my privilege and honour, as Chief Host and President of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria, to preside over the 33rd Annual Accountants Conference, in Abuja.
On that auspicious occasion, the Guest of Honour was the President of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo GCFR. He had the option of sending a representative but I remain grateful to him for the honour he accorded the Institute by declaring the conference open himself. To his eternal credit, he arrived right on time and proceeded to deliver an excellent but pungent address that did not pull any punches. His message was clear – Chartered Accountants had in his view not lived up to expectations !!
Indeed, when a delegation of Past Presidents of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria paid him a courtesy call at the Presidential Villa he caused panic when he bluntly demanded:
“Where is the money ?”
He was referring to cases in which Chartered Accountants were alleged to have been involved in corruption and looting of the treasury.
Perhaps I should add that even before then, Prince (Justice) Ambassador Bola Ajibola SAN a very close friend of President Obasanjo (they both attended Baptist Boys High School, Abeokuta) while serving as the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation (from 1985 to 1991) under General Ibrahim Babangida had publicly accused chartered accountants of duplicitously signing two different sets of accounts for their clients in order to assist them to evade taxation or whatever. The solution he came up with was that reports of the Auditors should be countersigned by his professional colleagues – lawyers !!
No wonder that in “Merchant of Venice” William Shakespeare delivered a dire exhortation:
“First let’s kill all the lawyers.”
Anyway, going back to 2003/2004 the stock and reputation of Chartered Accountants were under a cloud. When the searchlight was beamed on us we had no option but to robustly defend our integrity. It is for others to judge whether we succeeded entirely or failed woefully.
As matters stand, our primacy in the management and regulation of the accountancy profession are under threat not only by the Association of National Accountants of Nigeria [ANAN] who have been competing with us since they obtained recognition by the Federal Government of Nigeria in 2010 and are also members of the International Federation of Accountants [IFAC], we also have unresolved issues with the Chartered Institute of Taxation of Nigeria regarding whether members of our Institute can offer services/consultancy on tax matters unless they are registered with the Nigerian Institute of Taxation.
We are also under attack from those who are determined to balkanize our profession by creating separate bodies for Forensic Accounting; Public Accounts; Local Government Accounts; Receivership and Liquidations, etc.
I must quickly add that I have no personal issues with whoever is pursuing such agenda.
In a democracy, which is what our nation proffers to be, freedom of association is guaranteed under the Constitution. Indeed, it is a cardinal principle in the exercise of fundamental human rights.
What is required is for Chartered Accountants to be extra vigilant in the pursuit of professional excellence and impregnable ethics as well as robust defense of our integrity.
Indeed, it is most gratifying that amongst the speakers at this year’s conference is Mr. Mohammed Mani, Executive Chairman of Federal Inland Revenue Service. The last time we checked, he did not appear to be a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria [ICAN].
I understand he is a Fellow of the Association of National Accountants of Nigeria. Of course, he is most welcome. Sentiments and prejudice are not to be confused with reality, realism and pragmatism.
Perhaps it is too late in the day to begin to wail and lament that the commanding heights of our nation’s financial landscape and economic system which used to be the exclusive preserve of Chartered Accountants have steadily crumbled due to heavy artillery (under at first the military government and subsequently by the civilian government) are now occupied by those of other ilks.
In 2003/2004 our fellow Chartered Accountants held the following positions (and I stand to be corrected):
- Minister of Finance
- Auditor-General of The Federation
- Chairman, Federal Inland Revenue Service
- Accountant-General of The Federation
- Governor of The Central Bank of Nigeria
- And many others too many to be counted.
The pattern was also replicated in the thirty-six states of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
Indeed, some of you may recall that both the late Past President of ICAN, Chief Oluwole Adeosun, and I mounted the stage and at my prompting, he conceded that perhaps he was being overloaded as Minister of Transport, Aviation and Communications, all at the same time !!
Perhaps I should have made my own confession that I was at the age of nearly sixty combining being President of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria with being the Chairman and Chief Executive of KPMG Nigeria in addition to being the Chairman of KPMG Africa. I was also a member of the International Council of KPMG and a member of the Committee of Accountants in Business of the International Federation of Accountants.
Some of you may also be aware that I have been a newspaper columnist for fifty years in addition to writing thirty books of which probably the best known is “THE GODFATHER NEVER SLEEPS.”
I am not sure that all these are a match for the pace set by my late father, Chief J.K. Randle who held probably the three most important positions in Lagos – Lisa of Lagos (Prime Minister); Chairman Lagos Island Club; and Chairman of Lagos Race (Horse Racing) Club. He was only 47 years old when he died in 1956.
As for whether Chartered Accountants belong to the same category as farmers, it was Sir Ronald Leach who as Senior Partner of Peat Marwick Mitchell (later KPMG) from 1975 to 1977 who put matters succinctly:
“Chartered Accountants are like farmers – we reap what we sow. Most importantly, our ethics, integrity and reputation are the fertilizers of our sacred profession. Whatever we do (or do not do), public trust is paramount.”
It was when Sir Colin Sharman became the Chairman of KPMG (1991 to 1999) that he canvassed a somewhat different perspective and profoundly different message by blowing the hunter’s whistle – chartered accountants have to hunt for new ideas, and crucially shift from being re-active to being pro-active. In other words, our attention should shift to the future needs of our clients. According to him, clients are not interested in the past (as reflected in the audited accounts). What is of utmost concern to them is the future, especially the sustainability of their business. The credit for publishing the firm’s accounts belongs to him and the innovation was further amplified by his successors.
When Michael Rake became the Chairman of KPMG, (2002 to 2007) the music changed even more dramatically. He came out with a bold and blunt statement.
“Kill what you eat; and eat what you kill.”!!
It galvanized momentum and legitimized aggressiveness in the pursuit of goals. No more common pool. The culture had changed in favor of the performance/reward equation and matrix as a well robust matrix.
We were herdsmen (but without AK-47 rifles). We were no longer pastoral settlers but herdsmen ever ready to venture into hitherto forbidden territory (e.g. China and Russia).