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THEWILL EDITORIAL: Redressing Untoward Attitude to Audit Queries


Shortly after his inauguration in May 2015, President Muhamadu Buhari decried the level of financial indiscipline among government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs).  The area of concern was their failure to answer audit queries, which was a violation of existing standard operating procedures and financial regulations.

Angered by the flagrant abuse of due process by many government officials, President Buhari directed that all outstanding audit queries be conclusively resolved within 30 days. He also ordered that all audit queries, from then, must be answered within 24 hours.

The Presidential directives followed what was seen as Buhari’s displeasure on learning that audit queries had remained unanswered for long periods, sometimes running into years, under the previous administrations. Those were the early days of President Buhari’s anti-corruption war.

The Senior Special Assistant to the President (Media & Publicity), Malam Garba Shehu, in a statement stressed that President Buhari was irrevocably committed to tackling administrative and bureaucratic corruption head-on.

His words, “The era of impunity is gone. The President is taking the war on corruption to the civil service. He is not happy that standard operating procedures and financial regulations are no longer being observed, as they should. President Buhari will ensure that public officials and civil servants in the service of the Federal Government pay a heavy price from now on for violating financial regulations or disregarding audit queries.”

Malam Shehu stressed that President Buhari would see firm action taken against those who violated prescribed financial regulations “against the prevarications and shenanigans that went on in the past in the form of endless probes and public inquiries.”

Shehu added that the President was determined to put an end to the situation at the time in which, “rather than respond to legitimate audit queries, violators of financial regulations in the Federal Government would resort to threatening, bribing or mounting other forms of social pressure on auditors.”

Nigerians applauded the move, believing that sanity had returned to a system that was deeply immersed in corruption and engineered by public officials whose conscience had become numb.  But the zeal seems to have fizzled out. More cases of abuse are being reported under the same Muhammadu Buhari Administration and with unequalled impunity.

Today, audit queries are treated with levity no less than what transpired under the previous governments.  Even the areas the President is the head – the Presidency and the Ministry of Petroleum, are not exempted.

Last June, the Senate threatened to publish the names of government’s MDAs that failed to respond to queries raised against them by the Auditor General of the Federation (AuGF). It was reacting to the report of the Senate Public Accounts Committee headed by Senator Matthew Urhoghide. The committee had revealed in the 2015 report of the AuGF that seven MDAs failed to respond to the invitation to defend the audit queries against them.

The Senate President, Ahmed Lawan said, “This is one of our major responsibilities as a parliament to hold the executive to account and whoever is given the responsibility and the trust of running any agency with public funds must be accountable to the parliament on behalf of the people.

“This Senate will insist any public servant or civil servant that is given public funds for public good and has questions to answer and refuse to appear to answer should have no business in government because all of us are supposed to be accountable to the people. Therefore, if someone thinks he’s not going to be accountable, then that person has no business remaining in office.”  But the National Assembly is equally a culprit in this matter.

In March 2020, the AuGF, Anthony Ayine, lamented that the gross violation of statutory financial reporting obligations by government agencies was worrisome

“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 December 27, 2017, despite the provision of Financial Regulation 3210(v), which enjoins these bodies to submit both audited accounts and management reports to me not later than May 31 of the following year of account.

“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,” Ayine said.

An analysis of the report showed that government agencies, despite the anti-corruption campaign of the Buhari-led governent, have become more reckless with public finance, with 323 agencies failing to submit reports in 2016. In 2015 and 2014, however, defaulters numbered 215 and 148.

It is disheartening that audit queries will be treated with levity under President Buhari’s watch – an indication that the fiery anti-corruption war which is a major plank of his administration is losing ground.  Nigeria’s financial challenge today stems more from profligacy and disdain for sticking to the accountability rules.  Waste, corruption and pilfering of public funds are the reasons heads of MDAs are reluctant to answer audit queries. And no one takes responsibility.

It is high time this anomaly was corrected. No nation makes progress by opting for abuse of due process and violation of laid down rules.

We urge the National Assembly (NASS) to be more serious with its oversight functions by ensuring that MDAs respond to audit queries issued to them. Appropriate sanctions should be meted against those that violate the process.  The anti-graft agencies should do their job and be seen to be doing it.  They and NASS should set an example.  It will be preposterous for the agencies that have the responsibility to checkmate others to be found wanting.

The Financial Regulation which enjoins these bodies to submit both audited accounts and management reports to the AuGF not later than May 31 of the following year of account should be a priority to President Buhari who, at the early stage of his administration, told Nigerians that his government would be different.

The NASS should publish the names of the defaulting MDAs and their heads and ensure that their budget allocations are suspended until they respond. The audit queries are not meant to create an attractive archive.