Olusegun Adeniyi: Obazee, accountability and the Church

Olusegun Adeniyi YNaija

by Olusegun Adeniyi

While only a few people would query the rationale for sacking Mr. Jim Osayande Obazee, the Executive Secretary of the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria (FRC), the timing of the decision has raised some fundamental questions, especially given the suspension by the Minister for Industry, Trade and Investment, Okechuckwu Enelamah, of the controversial corporate governance code that led to the action. Yet, I had more than three years ago warned in my column, “One Central Bank, Four Governors”, that Obazee is unfit for the kind of responsibility he was saddled with.

As I wrote back then, the story can be traced to 1982, when the Nigerian Accounting Standards Board (NASB), a private sector initiative was established in collaboration with the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN). Ten years later in 1992, then military president, General Ibrahim Babangida, converted the NASB into a government parastatal under the Federal Ministry of Commerce. In 2003, the NASB Act was passed by the National Assembly with the primary functions to “develop, publish and update Statements of Accounting Standards to be followed by companies when they prepare their financial statement and to promote and enforce compliance with the standards”.

Following a critical appraisal of the NASB by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 2010, the then Executive Secretary, Mr. Godson Nnadi began a process for establishing a new body that would not only regulate accounting and auditing standards in the country but would also be independent of both ICAN and ANAN. Shortly after he commenced that process, Nnadi was appointed Finance and Economic Development Commissioner in Enugu State where he hails from. Before he left, Nnadi handed over to his protégé, Obazee who saw to the drafting and eventual passage of the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria (FRC) Bill in May 2011. I have it on good authority that, either due to compromise on the part of the National Assembly committee that was to provide oversight or out of negligence, the lawmakers simply endorsed the draft presented to them by Obazee without any input.

Even at that, there is nothing in the FRC Act 2011 (which I once took the trouble to read) that empowers Obazee to be interrogating CBN Governors as he tried with Sanusi Lamido Sanusi in 2013, harassing promoters of commercial banks as he did last year with Stambic IBTC or compelling church leaders to vacate their positions as he recently attempted with some dubious guidelines. But the controversy has also thrown up the question of whether churches and mosques are above accountability. That needs to be addressed.

Whatever may be Obazee’s excesses, and he is a man renowned for sundry acts of recklessness, his problem started in December 2012 when he announced that the FRC had designed an accounting system for churches, mosques and other not-for-profit organisations that would compel them to report their financial transactions periodically from January 2013. To achieve this objective, he unveiled the Statement of Accounting Standards (SAS) 32 which stipulates that the financial statements of such organisations shall include Statement of Accounting Policies, Statement of Financial Position, Statement of Activities (income and expenditure), Statement of Changes in Net Assets, Statement of Cash flows, Notes on Accounts and Five-year Financial Summary.

I don’t know how much compliance there has been in that direction but Obazee once lamented publicly about the challenge he was facing. “In keeping other peoples’ money, you have to prepare account. That is why churches fought me so badly, took me to court as a person and then my office too. Mosques and orthodox churches freely complied, but those Pentecostal churches called me to ask questions. They said ‘this church is church of God and we are accountable to God.’ And I told them: ‘Very good, so you must take this church to heaven, you can’t operate it here’. When public funds are involved, government needs to ensure proper accountability” he said at the time.

Since not-for-profit organisations exist for social, religious, educational, professional or other charitable reasons, and their income are not captured in the tax net, Obazee has a point. Even when a non-profit organisation may have assets and may be profitable, the accruing funds are expected to be deployed in pursuit of the goals for which those institutions were established; and not to be shared by some promoters. Yet, we all know that there are religious and other non-government organizations in our country that are established and run like family businesses. That is not right.

In most civilised societies, donations to churches, mosques and other religious centers are well documented not only for record purposes but also to ensure that the sources of those funds are not from criminal enterprises like money laundering, drug trafficking, graft etc. For instance, during the 2010/2011 academic year when I was in the United States with my family, we were worshipping at the Chapel of Resurrection Parish of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. On the church offering/tithe envelope, you have to write your name, address and phone number along with the amount being paid. I once asked the Pastor why I had to fill all those details just to give offering or pay tithe and he said they were important for the American authorities that would examine their books. That means there should be institutions with powers of oversight over such organisations even in our country.

However, Obazee overreached himself by releasing the guidelines that prescribe how many years church leaders can spend and the lines of succession. That is the point being missed by some commentators, including my friend, Pius Adesanmi. What Obazee tried to do is not done anywhere in the world and even Pius is well aware of the Yoruba adage that if you do what nobody has done before, you will bear the kind of consequence nobody has suffered before. Besides, the global best practice for churches, mosques and other not-for-profit entities, even as outlined by the FRC National Code of Corporate Governance 2016, is “Comply or Justify non-compliance” so you wonder where Obazee derived his powers from.

The FRC guidelines, as the Stanbic IBTC Chairman, Mr Atedo Peterside, stated during the week should neither alter nor supersede the law. And if anybody should know, Peterside should, as Chairman of the 17-member committee that drafted the subsisting “Code of Corporate Governance in Nigeria”.

The publication, which is in the public domain, is a product of the work done between June 2000 and October 2003 by the committee at the instance of the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC). “Attempting to treat people in different businesses, situations, organisations, ownership structures etc in the same way is akin to prescribing the exact same diet for all Nigerians irrespective of their weight, height, health status etc. Nobody except the Catholic Church should seek to force term limits on the Pope” Peterside said.

Obviously a power monger, Obazee spent most of his period in office fighting needless battles that did not in any way advance public good so it came as no surprise that he was ‘relocated’ from the office he was using to terrorise others. And I find the political imputations to his long overdue removal rather unfortunate. I believe President Muhamadu Buhari took the correct decision and if, rather uncharacteristically, he acted very swiftly on a matter that has potentials for causing a breach of public peace, he should be commended, not condemned.

To the extent that they are registered under the Companies and Allied Matters Act, religious bodies are not above the law but you need a mature person of sensible temperament to handle matters that concern faith, especially in a country like Nigeria. With the appointment of a respected professional like Mr. Adedotun Suleiman as the new chair of the FRC Board, I feel very confident that guidelines that will take into account our national sensibilities, while at the same time promoting transparency and accountability in the public arena, will be produced. That is good for a society like ours where religion has become an industry with which some charlatans exploit the people.

Buhari, Sall and Jammeh’s Defiance

I was already in bed around 10Pm local time in Dakar, Senegal (11pm Nigerian time) on Sunday when my host peeped into my hotel room to ask: “I am going to see the President, want to come along?” I don’t know any reporter in the world who would not jump at such opportunity.

Driving into the Palace, as they call the official residence of the President of Senegal, an old colonial edifice built in 1902, was without much fuss. Inside the building, we were ushered straight to the dinner table where we met President Sall, his wife and their three children, two male and a female. Incidentally, Mrs Marieme Faye Sall is Senegal’s first black first lady to have a single nationality. Wife of the first president, Léopold Sédar Senghor was French; Abdou Diouf’s wife had a Senegalese mother and a Lebanese father while Abdoulaye Wade’s wife is also French.

The Salls are evidently a normal family that dot on their last child, a young boy who said he would want to be a pilot and spoke impeccable English just like his dad. Having always been fascinated by how many French-speaking people can also speak English while such proficiency in French language cannot be said of English-speaking people, I asked Sall who explained that it was a practical decision borne by the fact that English is more universal a language than French. A geologist by profession, it was enjoyable chatting with Sall, 54, who was elected in 2012, after defeating the then incumbent Wade, who was at the period seeking a controversial third term in office.

In the course of the dinner chat that lasted more than two hours, there was an argument about whether more countries drive on the left than on the right and while we were still on it, Sall brought out his phone (and apparently having Googled), he began to reel out in French before translating into English not only the numbers of countries that drive on each of the two divides but also the history of the whole idea. One interesting insight he brought out is that there is actually a place in London where motorists drive on the right: It is the road leading up to Savoy Hotel’s front doors and there is a 1902 Act of Parliament to legalise the decision taken for the reason of commonsense. “That is the year this building was erected”, Sall added.

While I do not know much about Senegal to write about Sall’s stewardship, it was nonetheless a refreshing time with him until we left at exactly 1.20am (Nigerian time) which was 12.20am local time. He said he would be departing for Abuja by 6.30am for the ECOWAS meeting on the crisis in The Gambia. By then, I had learnt a lot about the mutiny in Cote D’ivoire where soldiers went on strike last week as well as the attempts by the ECOWAS leaders, including President Buhari, to resolve the political crisis in The Gambia.

Fortunately for me, when Sall was receiving us on arrival, I had been introduced to him as a former presidential spokesman in Nigeria and not a journalist so he had no reason to be on his guard, as most people usually are when with reporters. That gave me ample opportunity to ask probing questions at the dinner table without raising any suspicion about my interest.

I started by reminding Sall of what he already knows: that whereas the problem in The Gambia may be a challenge for ECOWAS, it is one that his country (Senegal) would have to deal with on behalf of all of us. He agreed with my summation before also expressing optimism that it would be resolved before January 19. He was confident that Yahya Jammeh would go because the consequences of doing otherwise, as Sall explained it, would be too much for the Gambian dictator who would likely not want to commit suicide. Already, some of Jammeh’s ministers have started voting with their feet.

However, Sall is also mindful of the fact that there are old prejudices between the two countries that for a period in history were one (Senegambia), especially when I asked him whether he was ready to offer asylum to Jammeh; having already told me of such plans and some of the countries without mentioning Senegal. “I can have him here in Senegal but I don’t think he will come,” Sall said as he explained the complications of the negotiations to oust Jammeh. “I think he fears what might happen to him when he leaves, especially with the International Criminal Court that could look into some things that happened under his watch.”

According to Sall, raising the stakes by Jammeh may prove to be no use for him at the end, given that Charles Taylor of Liberia also negotiated his way out of power before he was apprehended three years later under circumstances that were not particularly edifying for Nigeria. The best way out for Jammeh, he argued, was the first option he took to concede the election before he reneged. But Sall believes that he and other African leaders have a responsibility to ensure Jammeh’s exit without damage to his country and Senegal will definitely play a decisive role in that direction.

To say that it will not be easy is an understatement given that Jammeh is digging in and he is not without his own supporters. For instance, The Gambian Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations (UN), Mr. Samsudeen Sarr, recently took to the social media to reiterate his “unflinching support for His Excellency Shiekh Professor Doctor Alhagie Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh Babillimansa” while attacking Senegal that “has always overtly or covertly expressed its compulsion to annex our Anglophone nation into its 8th region.”

However, Jammeh will most likely not have the last word on this matter, even if he chooses to play the Gbagbo script. As Dr Chidi Amuta highlighted in his intervention yesterday titled “The Banjul Urgency”, Nigeria has to take the lead in finding a resolution to the logjam by helping to ease out Jammeh with as minimal damage as possible. He also reminds us of the role Nigerian military was playing in the country as at the time Jammeh staged his coup. But perhaps the more poignant lesson that must underpin our intervention this time is our disgraceful outing in Mali.

When in 2012 President Amadou Toumani Touré was toppled by a bunch of military adventurers led by Captain Amadou Sanogo, a Nigeria-led ECOWAS initiative moved quickly to force out Sanogo who was granted all the benefits of a former leader, an allowance, a house, transportation and security as well as immunity of sorts while the negotiations also led to the resignation of Toure. A one year transitional arrangement led by Dioncounda Traore was also put in place to lead Mali for one year.

At that period, Nigeria was meant to send in a contingent of troops to create a buffer between the interim administration and the polarized Malian military. Unfortunately, because those troops were not on ground, mobs loyal to Sanogo invaded the presidential palace to give interim President Traore, 72 years in age at the time, the beating of his life after which they looted the Malian seat of government with images of that barbarism beamed to the world.

As Nigeria therefore leads another effort in The Gambia, this time to impress it upon the dictator of 22 years, Yahya Jammeh, that the market is over, we hope sufficient lessons have been learnt from the Mali misadventure. But the message President Buhari and his team must take to The Gambia tomorrow remains the same: Jammeh must go!

Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

This article was first published on This Day

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