CBN’s cashless policy is working – ICAN boss
Kabir Alkali Mohammed, is the 49th president of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN). In this interview with News Editor (Daily), JOHNSON AYANTUNJI, the first Kebbi State indigene to occupy the prestigious seat of ICAN, talks about the profession, what he is doing to enhance the profession in the North, South South and South East. Excerpts…
Congratulations on your recent election as the 49th president of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN), how has it been so far?
Thank you very much and welcome to our Institute. It has not been different from what we have been used to. The presidential system gives you the benefit of going through tutelage of three years before getting to the seat. You would have seen what is happening and learn a lot. It is nothing really out of the ordinary.
Your theme for the year is “Redefining professionalism, unveiling the ICAN brand. What do you mean by this?
As I told you earlier on, ICAN is an institution on its own. It is well known by every Nigerian. You do not need to call its full name, just mention the word ICAN. It is like saying Coca cola or coke. It is well known, not only in Nigeria, but across Africa. Anywhere you go in the world and you talk about ICAN among like-minded members of international federation of accountants, they will tell you of course that they know ICAN. We have established a reputation of being professional, being thorough and high integrity. This is a brand that we cannot do nothing about but build on it.There are different ways of doing this. We will examine our processes and improve on them, we improve on our relationships with our stakeholders, and we also improve our services to our employers. But we must initially look inward, increase our capacity, these are some of the things that we plan to do with the support of the council this year.
What is the relationship between ICAN and the Chartered Institute of Taxation of Nigeria? Considering the bickering between both bodies on who should practise taxation in Nigeria, have you been able to resolve it?
It did not start in the last couple of years. It has been on for decades now. If you look at the history of Institute of Taxation in Nigeria, it was born in the Council chambers of ICAN. At that time we had members who practised taxation; they came together and formed what we now call faculties within ICAN members, where expertise would be provided. The Act which established Institute of Chartered Taxation of Nigeria came to be. We have had issues on who should practise taxation like you rightly mentioned. But that was settled not long ago by the law court. The verdict was that ICAN members by their profession were experts who file returns on taxation. We have had disagreements which were settled by the court. We are the mother and the father of that institute and if there was any disagreement, we should be able to settle it amicably as family members. Right now, we are doing that. As we are talking with you, we also are holding discussions with our colleagues within the profession. If you look at the percentage of the members of Institute Chartered Taxation of Nigeria, substantial numbers of them are ICAN members. That is the angle that we want to pursue and by the grace of God, we shall come to an amicable settlement.
Last year, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) started what we call the cashless policy. By June this year, it was extended to five more states. Before then there were complaints of power. Considering the rural areas where infrastructure are not available. How successful has the policy been so far?
I think on the scale of 1 to 10, you give the CBN a pass mark. You must understand that the policy is aimed towards certain things. One is to change the psyche in this country of dealing sorely with cash basis. The volume you require to carry to transact certain businesses is voluminous. But two and most importantly to bring some improvements into the economy and to enhance system upon which you can carry out transactions and do them seamlessly. But there are always resistance to any new policy, even within your family. It is left to you to educate and enlighten them about it. You should also look at the areas where you have issues and improve on them. There are countries in the world where you do not see cash in the hands of the people. In fact when you go to the bank and you request for cash, they issue you a cheque and look at you what you are going to do with it. We have a long way to go to get to get there. But we must take a step. The policy is working that is why they are extending it.
Though the resistance and the difficulties are there, especially when you look at the rural areas, where people are not educated and do not understand what it is, facilities are not there. When you want to carry out this policy, you do not have only resistance but difficulties as well. But it does not stop you from carrying it out. Look at the latest issue the CBN was talking about in the rural areas. You have 774 local governments in Nigeria; in each of them you have a post office. Nothing stops banks from making use of those post offices by bringing in ATM machines. That is an avenue. You make use of those post offices in use or dust up those of them that have gone moribund. You do not need to open branches there. You have to think outside the box to enable you succeed in anything that you do.
Looking at the fact that most of the rural people live far away from the area headquarters and considering the fact that there are no good roads to enable them go to the post offices and transact their businesses, how have they been doing this?
You will also ask the question, how have they been able to survive in those places, if they had to go to the hospital, they have to go. So, they will have to go to the local government headquarters if they have to go. And you hardly find the people living in that far away rural areas needing the amount of cash element more than the limitations you are talking about. We have to be realistic. You talk about the level of understanding and the level of earnings that we have. People that are living in the area that you are talking about do not require the amount in excess of the limitation allowed. If they require it, they will find a way to come and make use of the avenues that will be made available.
Talking about probity and professionalism, there have been cases of accountants involved in unwholesome practices in the banks, auditors named in oil subsidy frauds. What is ICAN doing to ensure that such things do not occur again?
As I have always been saying, the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria has one of the best disciplinary procedures that you can find in any institute in Nigeria. Its mechanism offers the opportunity if you have any reason to complain about any chartered accountant in any part of Nigeria, you can put it down into writing and bring it down to my table. I am empowered within the law to constitute a panel and investigate and look into your complains. If they do that and discovered that he has questions to answer, he goes to the tribunal. ICAN Tribunal is equivalent of a high court. The president of ICAN is the chairman of the tribunal. For us to be technically guided, the Chief Justice of Nigeria sends in an assessor who sits in a court. We take decisions, if found guilty, his certificate is withdrawn and the police will take over from there. I need to establish this basis to enable you know that ICAN is thorough. When you said that accountants are involved, like in the oil subsidy as you mentioned, I beg of you in the name of the Lord, let me have the details of any member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria involved in such frauds. I can assure you that the processes I have enumerated shall be followed to the letter. A lot of people say they are accountants, but they are not chartered accountants. Once you falter, we will take action. It is very difficult to pass our exams. We have something that we cherish and hold dearly like you guard your life. And if for any reason, we feel that you compromise your position, definitely, you will not go scot free.
Last year, the Council said it was preparing to send a whistle blower bill to the National Assembly. How far have you gone with this?
There was a proposal to that effect. We are also cognizance of our colleagues in the Assembly as well as members of the society who feel that certain corrupt practices are going on where they are working and they feel that they should bring that to light without fear or favour; they should be able to do so under the protection of the law. This is the stand of the institute. This is a correlation to the issue you stated earlier on. We know what we are talking about and we raise a high standard for our members. If the members of the society and our members see that there is something becoming unbecoming, they should be able to report it and given the protection of the law. The Bill is with the National Assembly and we are waiting for its outcome.
Which stage is it? First or second reading?
I am yet to check that.
That also brings us to another crucial issue. There is a great disproportion of the number of qualified or chartered accountants from the Southern compared to the Northern part of the country. What are you doing within the ambit of the law to enlist the interest of more people from the Northern part into the accounting profession?
Thank you very much for that phrase within the ambit of the law. We always do things lawfully. It is an accident of history that there are far more chartered accountants from this part of the country particularly from the South Western of Nigeria than the Northern part. It is not only limited to the North alone, but some South Eastern part of Nigeria. But it is more pronounced in the North. ICAN has realised this a very long time ago. As far back as 2002, we set up a committee to bring up a programme on that. I served as the deputy chairman of that committee. Since then we have birthed so many chartered accountants particularly in the Northern part of the country, South South and the South East. We have what we call students special project that provides facilities for the generality of the population from these parts. We have what we call ICAN Centres which we have established in collaboration with other stakeholders, one each in Kaduna, Maiduguri and Ilorin. The one in Kaduna was in collaboration with NNDC (Northern Nigeria Development Corporation). We also have a centre in Kano. What we do is get an accommodation which we furnish as well as lecturers from seasoned institutions from this part of the country and transport to those centres where they teach students who have been identified by NNDC. They prepare them for the exam which they sit for and pass. I can tell you they do well in those exams. The other aspect of the programme is that they also train those students apart from teaching them. Eventually they take over from them. The success of this can be highlighted in two aspects. The Kano Centre in 2002, provided the best qualifying student in ICAN examination. The Calabar Centre has done so well that the government of Cross River State, has found it convenient to take over the Centre and run it completely, thereby releasing the fund tied down by ICAN in establishing it. The Deputy Governor of Bayelsa State now President Goodluck Jonathan was the one we met when we went to Yenogoa. He was actually the acting Governor then. When we presented the programme, he said it was excellent, himself being a teacher. He asked us what element of contribution we wanted from them. We told him our budget. He said that was good. That centre in Bayelsa has produced so many chartered accountants. We were there in June last year, we intend to go there this service year as well. I am from Kebbi State and we are at the verge of establishing a centre there as well which will cater for Sokoto, Zamfara and Kebbi States. These are the small gestures we have taken to try to bridge the gap in the areas where they exist between the South West and other parts of the country. This is our own corporate social responsibility in ensuring the oneness of the country.
What is the position of the law in unification of accountancy practice in the continent? That is, as a chartered accountant being able to practise anywhere in Africa?
The law governing the practise of the profession in any part of the continent is the same. ICAN has played a major role in terms of enhancement of this knowledge, particularly in West Africa. We have ABWA. We have ATSWA (Accounting Technician Society of West Africa) which, through it, we sit for a common examination. It is the same exams you write in Ghana, Nigeria, Liberia, The Gambia and so on. We are also trying to establish the same in the Franco-phone countries. We have been having a series of meetings. I would be going to Lome very soon in continuation of our talks. When you come to Africa, ICAN along with South African Institute of Chartered Accountants and some 48 associations in Africa formed what we call PAFA (Pan African Federations of Accountants). It took us about five years to do this through the auspices of the ADB (Africa Development Bank). We had an election in Senegal in May 2011. Because of the ICAN brand and the position played by it in Africa, the first president of PAFA turned out to be the former president of ICAN, Major General Sebastian Iwuama. He just handed over to his deputy in an election held last May in Ghana. ICAN has played a major role in Africa. We are also one of the founding members on the board of IFAC when it started.