The failure of the federal government to appoint a substantive Auditor-General for the Federation (AuGF) is hurting Nigeria’s efforts in auditing ministries, departments and agencies of government, findings by Daily Trust have shown.
This has also, to a greater extent, grounded operations of the public accounts of both chambers of the National Assembly. This is because the reports of the AuGF, which form the bulk of the job of the committees, have not been filed for three consecutive years: 2020, 2021 and 2022.
The development has also made it impossible for the government to know the true state of public finances in the various MDAs.
Checks by Daily Trust showed that the position of Auditor-General for the Federation became vacant on September 7, 2022 after the retirement of the then substantive AuGF, Aghughu Adolphus.
Before then, an internal advertisement by the Federal Civil Service Commission dated 11th of August 2022, with the number FCSC/PS/31/VOL.II/239, called for applications from suitable candidates to occupy the position of the Auditor-General.
The letter, titled ‘Internal advertisement: Appointment of Auditor-General for the Federation’ and sighted by Daily Trust, reads: “The Auditor-General for the Federation (AuGF) is the Chief Executive Officer of the Federal Government Audit. For this key position, the Commission seeks a candidate with vision, good managerial ability, professional competence, discipline, integrity and transparency in public life. The candidate should be able to provide the government and the Nigerian people with appropriate advice and support for transparency and accountability in government’s financial transactions.
“The AUGF is responsible for the audit of accounts of all accounting officers and all persons entrusted with the collection, receipt, custody and issuance or payment of public monies, stores or other properties of the Government of the Federation and for the certification of the annual accounts of the federal government.
“The Auditor-General for the Federation, in the performance of the duties of the office, shall examine in such a manner as deemed fit the accounts relating to public funds,” the letter said.
Daily Trust understands that qualified directors in the office applied and the examination was conducted by the Federal Civil Service Commission with security clearance from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), and the Department of State Services (DSS).
However, after the examinations and other processes for a new AuGF, nothing has been heard.
Subsequently, a letter with the number FCSC/PS/31/VOL.II/287 dated 7th of September, 2022 addressed to the Auditor-General’s Office by the Permanent Secretary of the Federal Civil Service Commission, announced Adolphus’ retirement.
No Auditor-Generals’ report for 3yrs
Daily Trust gathered that for three years and still running, the National Assembly Committees on Public Accounts have not received an Auditor-General’s report.
The years under review are 2020, 2021 and 2022; a development, which is making the job of the current committees difficult, Daily Trust understands.
The audit reports usually form the bulk of the committees’ work for oversight functions and investigations into the activities of MDAs.
The 2021 Ethics and Integrity Compliance Scorecard compiled by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission had revealed that 137 MDAs did not submit their audited accounts to the Office of the Auditor-General in the last three years.
The assessment further stated that 174 MDAs did not comply with the Public Procurement Act (PPA) 2007.
The same defect was noticed in 88 MDAs where tender board composition was in contravention of the PPA 2007. “This promoted procurement and due process abuse and fraud,” it said.
“196 MDAs did not have a training plan and 171 MDAs did not support ethics and compliance initiatives,” it stated.
“Though personnel of these agencies are regularly exiting the system through retirements, resignations, terminations, dismissals, deaths, etc., yet the number of personnel keeps rising and the wage bill keeps increasing,” the report said.
The ethics and integrity compliance also depicted the absence of a strategic action plan in 140 MDAs; while 187 MDAs did not conduct monitoring and evaluation of their projects in six months before the deployment and assessment exercise.
The report recommended that “Lists of defaulting MDAs should be submitted to the president, SGF and the ICPC.”
‘Acting Auditor-General occupying office against the law’
Relevant laws show that Mr Andrew Ogochukwu Onwudili, a Director of Audit, who currently oversees the Auditor-General’s Office is occupying the position against the stipulated guidelines of the constitution in the appointment of Auditor-General for the Federation.
In section 86 of the 1999 Constitution as amended, the law states that no individual shall act as Auditor-General for the Federation for more than six months.
Part 1 of the section reads “The Auditor-General for the Federation shall be appointed by the president on the recommendation of the Federal Civil Service Commission subject to confirmation by the Senate.
“The power to appoint persons to act in the office of the Auditor-General shall vest in the president.
“Except with the sanction of a resolution of the Senate, no person shall act in the office of the Auditor-General for a period exceeding six months.”
With the provisional requirement of the law, it is concluded that the Overseeing Auditor General, Mr Onwudili is not expected to occupy office as he has exceeded the six-month requirement by law.
Office poorly funded since 1999 – CefTIW
Speaking to Daily Trust on the development, the Executive Director of the Centre for Fiscal Transparency and Integrity Watch (CefTIW), Umar Yakubu, said successive governments since 1999 have incapacitated the Office of the Auditor-General as a result of poor funding.
His words: “One of the most important offices in any anti-corruption fight is the Office of the Auditor General, which is empowered by the constitution to ensure that MDAs are accountable, and the constitution also clearly states that the Auditor-General only submits his report to the National Assembly.
“However, it is quite unfortunate that what the government has done so far is to ensure that the office remains underfunded. That office is poorly funded to the extent that it is incapacitated to do its work because if you don’t have money to execute your work, you will have limitations as to what you can do.
“This has even made it impossible for the National Assembly committees on public accounts to properly sanction erring MDAs indicted by the Auditor General’s report.
“Recall that sometime in 2002, the then Auditor-General submitted a report implicating many MDAs and the next thing the president did was to remove him, which is one of the problems we have,” Umar said.
He, however, called on President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to, as a matter of urgency, appoint a substantive Auditor-General to complement his transparency efforts in government.
In the same vein, Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Auwal Ibrahim Musa, who recently commented on the matter, noted that the delay in the appointment of a substantive AuGF will thwart the Tinubu’s administration plans to fight corruption.
He said, “If Nigeria is serious about auditing federal government resources and also ensuring accountability, the appointment of a substantive AuGF would have been one of the first and most urgent appointments of the new government.
“There is a need for as a matter of urgency to have a substantive AuGF; it will go a long way in ensuring accountability on government resources.”
According to him, without a substantive AuGF, many agencies will be spending without control and not reporting their finances, especially at a time when the country is in fiscal crisis.
He called on the president “To as a matter of urgency appoint a substantive Auditor-General for the Federation to ensure that government assets are not fraudulently diverted and people who receive money on behalf of the government are accountable.”
Vacuum makes governance susceptible to mismanagement — Senate panel
Daily Trust made efforts to get the chairman, Senate Committee on Public Accounts, Senator Ahmed Wadada Aliyu, to react to the issue, but he did not respond to phone calls and WhatsApp messages sent to his phone line.
Wadada’s committee probes the accounts of government agencies using the audit report submitted to the National Assembly by the AuGF. The senator had, last month, written to President Tinubu, urging him to appoint a substantive AGF in compliance with Section 86 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
Wadada, in the letter to Tinubu, noted that the absence of AuGF leaves the government susceptible to potential mismanagement, lack of accountability and transparency.
“This will affect the strict adherence to accounting standards and the transmission of annual reports of the Auditor-General on the accounts of government MDAs to the parliament, thereby impeding the necessary checks and balances integral to the functions of the National Assembly committees responsible for Public Accounts,” Wadada said in a statement.
He stressed that appointing a substantive AuGF would strengthen the federal government’s commitment to fiscal responsibilities and safeguard public trust.
He pointed out that the Audit Reports of 2020, 2021 and 2022 are yet to be transmitted to the National Assembly in accordance with section 85 (2) of the 1999 Constitution as a result of the non-appointment of an Auditor-General.
Tinubu will appoint substantive Auditor-General soon – Presidency
When contacted on the phone, one of the presidential media aides, Abdulaziz Abdulaziz, said President Bola Ahmed Tinubu would appoint a substantive Auditor-General for the Federation soon.
He said: “This government is still new. We came less than four months ago. And there were so many pressing matters the president had to contend with. This is not to say that it is not important. It is important. But I believe it will also receive the right decision sooner than later. I’m sure it is not something that will be ignored.
“The president was an auditor himself. So, he knows the importance of audit and having an auditor, a good one like that. And he will definitely attend to the matter.
“Also, it is not something you will expect him to rush into. I am sure he will search for a competent person from the service and available resources that will fill the vacancy. It is not that the acting person is not even performing the functions. I’m sure it is something the president will work on very soon.”