By Amechi Ogbonna
Emeka-Ugwu-Oju, a former banker is the Convener of the Concerned Nigerian Professionals and Entrepreneurs Forum, a non-governmental body advocating the protection of the rights of all Nigerian professionals and entrepreneurs across sectors. He spoke to Daily Sun on a number of issues affecting the Nigerian economy, including the recent appointment of PWC and KPMG to audit NNPC account. He argues that leaving Nigerian accountants out of the planned forensic audit of NNPC would dampen the esteem of indigenous practitioners and deny them legitimate income while boosting the revenue of foreign firms.
I coordinate different professionals, South South, South East, Professionals and The Concerned Nigerian Professionals and Entrepreneurs’ Forum. Today, we are talking about The Concerned Nigerian Professionals and Entrepreneurs’ Forum of which I am an active member with what I do. Professionally I retired as a banker and right now I am on sabbatical with NGO work. South East, South South is regional but this one is national and it is important we don’t mix it up. I am the convener of The Concerned Nigerian Professionals and Entrepreneurs’ Forum which came into existence before the recent presidential election. What happened was that my friend Sani Dangote, younger brother to Aliko, said to me that instead of South East, South West, why don’t we have a national platform, and I said, that is one of the mistake Nigerians make, we don’t build foundation, yet we want the structure to stand but that is where we are heading to, to get our zones to work with and then we can have a Nigerian organization we can work with based on understanding with each other. Since the presidential election which covers the whole country, things are not looking too good but I said we just have to start off with that and after the elections we could take it from there. So since the election, this is my first interview to the press. What we tried to do during the election was for the two presidential candidates to address the Nigerian people on issues and how and what they would do if they are elected President. Unfortunately we ended up not having that, but we have published some of the key issues Nigerians wanted them to address. We also circulated it on the internet and we did some town halls in various regions to sensitise the people on some of the issues. The elections have come and gone, the country is moving ahead, it turned out different from what many expected, in the sense that there was gloom and doom before the elections. But whether people like him or not former President Jonathan was able to avert all that would have happened if he decided not to step aside when he did.
Nigeria economy with no Ministers and policy direction
I think if you want my comment on the economy as a whole, Mr. President says he is the slow and steady type that he should be given time to lay a solid foundation, even though in this global economy is running with the speed of light. The global economy does not stand still but we understand where he is coming from and Nigerians’ have given him benefit of the doubt. But be that as it may, the reality, is because there is no economic team in place, there is no policy direction in place right now, things are at a standstill and that is not too good and that is why people are hoping and praying that September should come quickly so that a team would be in place and we can then start judging the government and where they are going to and if they are going properly and also make suggestions on how they should go and if they are not going properly, we make some objective criticisms that hopefully will redirect the government. Right now it is all in a standstill and we are trying to get information because what we see every day is each ministry coming to brief the President. So it looks like after the briefing, may be the President would have had a team and then they can shape the economic policy and direction. But right now everything is just at a standstill and I can say this has put the CBN governor in a tight corner whereby he is handling both monetary, fiscal policy and developmental policy at the same time, so that the economy does not implode, which is a bit unfortunate and I have my sympathy for the CBN governor.
Impact of fluctuating naira exchange rate on economy
I think exchange rate is a price and then it is also a tool that can be used by a country to achieve its objectives. For-instance, the Chinese have been using the exchange rate to make their export competitive. So in that instance, when a country has a direction, they can use the exchange rate to encourage export, if that is what they want to do to increase their export. I am not one of those who looks at exchange rate in a bad light, and say the rate is too low or too high, but it is using the overall economic objective, is it helping you to achieve your objective. In the case of Nigeria, are we trying to encourage export or what are we trying to do, that is where we have a problem because when we talk about exchange rate, we look at exchange rate as something and this exchange rate is going to make import very expensive, so there will be inflation and we have our children outside the country, with the way the rate is going, where would you get the naira to pay their school fees and so on. So we already have that mindset of importing a lot of our goods and services and once the exchange rate starts going down, then we are in trouble. That is why we have to address the issues. But do we have to continue that way, we can’t because and the bottom line is that we depend mostly on foreign exchange and oil and if we don’t diversify the economy the idea of trying to manage the exchange rate, in the long run would be very counter productive, because it wouldn’t work.
FG’s neglect of local accountants in NNPC audit
I am not speaking for the President but I think what might have informed the decision is his lack of confidence in Nigerian firms. But we have firms that can deliver like their counterparts overseas. Before we start putting the blame, if there is going to be a blame on the president, I think his decision or recommendation which was accepted was made by the committee of governors headed by Edo State Governor,Adams Oshiomole, under the auspices of NEC. I don’t think it is the president that decided to exclude local accountants. However, if the Federal Government is going to foot the bill for this audit then we are going to say to the President, this recommendation is not right and should not stand but has to be reviewed. Let me now address the issues, of saying whether as professionals especially those who are directly affected as accountants, are happy with it. They are very unhappy and that is one of the reason I am talking to fellow professionals in the media at the same time seeking the assistance to scream and let the President, the National Assembly and every Nigerian know that this act of using international auditing firms without following due process and without trying to encourage national accounting firms, is a killer decision and we are talking at an academic environment (UNILAG). What you are saying is that you are telling the students, especially the accounting students that they cannot be the Pricewater House’s of tomorrow, that they can’t find international accounting or auditing firms, because if their own government does not encourage them how will they grow. If they leave university, they cannot dream of trying to start and grow and become the PWC of Africa and globally. We are talking of conserving foreign exchange and this job people might be overlooked it is a big job. If you use international audit firms, the way it is structured is that the seven percentage of the reward will go to the home office, so inadvertently we are encouraging some sort of a government policy that is providing jobs outside. We are not saying they should not engage international firms, because many of their staff of course are Nigerians, but what we are saying is as much as possible and where the capacity exists, there should as a matter of urgency have priority. Where we have worst case scenario of local firms and international firm, the best should be only local firms will do it, all the resources remain while we grow our local capacity but where that may not be possible, we can involve foreign firms. We have new government and this will send a wrong signal that we don’t have trust in our local professional firms. If we don’t have trust in them, then they cannot grow. It means that we can also bring in foreign judges, lawyers, governors, to come and rule this country but of cause we know we can do much better.
Can local accountants handle forensic audit
The people that will do the job even for the international organisations are Nigerians, PWC, KPMG and all its managing partners are Nigerians but the ownership is not Nigerian so there is no doubt if you have the capacity in Nigeria to do the job, but we are saying Nigerian owned firms, because there is a big difference between ownership and management.
Integrity of Nigeria
Source : SunOnline