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November 26, 2020

Accountant General’s 60th Birthday Celebration and the Elephant in the Room

Accountant General’s 60th Birthday Celebration and the Elephant in the Room

Ahmed Idris

Ahmed Idris

The silence surrounding the Accountant-General’s 60th birthday may be connected with the fact that he has reached the age of statutory retirement, Sule Minimah writes

The Accountant-General of the Federation (AGF), Mallam Ahmed Idris celebrated his 60th birthday on Tuesday, November 25, 2020. With this, Idris has joined the list of  Nigerian leaders who recently celebrated their birthdays, including former president Goodluck Jonathan who clocked 63 on November 20, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar who celebrated his 74th on November 25, and former Auditor-General, Anthony Ayine, who became 60 on October 25.

However, the fanfare and publicity generated by these other events are lacking in the Accountant-General’s birthday celebrations. There seems to be an odd silence surrounding the birthday of such a high-ranking civil servant. There have been no announcements, not even from his office, nor have there been congratulatory messages flying around as is usual with important figures in the government.

With a closer observation, it is easy to suspect that the silence around the Accountant-General’s birthday celebrations may be a deliberate strategy to deflect attention from his age. At 60, the statutory age of retirement for Nigerian civil servants, it is curious that the issue of his retirement and succession to his office is not being discussed in the public space.

Back in August, when the issue of the retirement of former Auditor-General, Anthony Ayine came up as he approached his 60th birthday on October 25, the House of Representatives rejected a move to extend his tenure, forcing him to retire after his 60th birthday. A lawmaker was widely quoted then as saying:

“The extension of service of public servants due for retirement is anathema to the career progress of other civil servants. We understand there are many directors and we expect that the president would look at their records and appoint the most qualified and perhaps senior to succeed the outgoing.” Is what is sauce for the goose no longer sauce for the gander?

Born on November 25, 1960, Ahmed Idris is of the same age with Nigeria. A financial accountant by profession, Idris was appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari as the Accountant-General of the federation in June 2015, replacing Jonah Ogunniyi Otunla.

A member of the Association of National Accountant of Nigeria (ANAN), Idris was a director in the Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel prior to his appointment as the country’s chief accountant. In June 2019, shortly after President Buhari was sworn in for a second term in office, he reappointed Idris, thereby throwing up the contradiction  of when his tenure as a civil servant is really expected to end.

So far, Idris’ six-year tenure has been dominated by the Treasury Single Account (TSA), a centralised bank account used by government agencies to receive revenues for the federal government, and the issues surrounding it. In August 2015, barely two months after appointing Idris, President Buhari made the TSA a centrepiece of his administration when he ordered all banks to close all government accounts and remit the funds therein to the TSA.

Previously, Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) operated thousands of accounts for different purposes, making it difficult to track government funds. The TSA has had a remarkable impact on Nigeria’s financial management system, automating processes, reducing wastage, and increasing transparency.

Five years after it became a major component of federal government policy, the initiative continues to save the government over 24 billion Naira monthly on charges that would have been paid for maintaining thousands of accounts across many banks.

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Despite these gains, what Nigeria has in operation appears to be a caricature of the original TSA concept as defined by World Bank. The TSA policy in Nigeria has been bedevilled by major controversies which reflect poorly on the government and may threaten its sustainability, even though it is being hyped as a major success. In my opinion, flagrant non-compliance by some MDAs and the lack of understanding of the technologies powering it by its most critical stakeholders are top on the list of issues impeding the progress of this laudable initiative.

A few weeks ago, Mr Idris himself strangely told the Senate that the government does not have capacity for the real-time monitoring of revenues accruing into the country’s TSA account at the Central Bank.

There have also been endless squabbles on the suitability of the IPPIS software procured and implemented by the OGAF to meet the needs of universities. The same goes for the GIFMIS accounting software which as at today and after spending millions of dollars for the foreign software and foreign consultants has delivered less than expected.

After five years in the saddle, one would have expected that Idris would come out shining with all of these technology initiatives without excuses.

he analysis above indicates that the actions of whoever sits in the office of the Accountant-General has significant implication for how the financial affairs of the country is managed using modern technology tools, This is why Nigerians must be really concerned about who occupies this important position.

As Idris clocks the honourable age of 60, several questions beg for answers. Why is the public, including the media, not asking when he will retire according to the statutory provisions for civil servants, whereas the same issues came up during the former Auditor-General’s 60th birthday? Why has the government not announced a successor to Mr Idris ahead of his birthday, in compliance with the statutory provisions for civil servants in Nigeria? Why did nobody ask questions when the president renewed his appointment last year, knowing he would hit the age of retirement this year?

While fighting the urge to see this from the dangerous perspective of ethnicism, one cannot but observe that this is beginning to look like certain people are subjected to the rules that others are above. The onus is on President Muhammadu Buhari, to explain to the public, why this is so. Otherwise, Nigerians will increasingly see his government as fragrantly disposed to favouritism, nepotism, and tribalism

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