For some time, I engaged myself in deep thinking about what exactly the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation does. Don’t get it twisted. I was only rummaging on what is supposed to be a very important office in the management of government finances but which the public knows little about. Out of contemplation, like a monk leaving his cell, I asked questions. One of the questions I asked was: beyond wearing black suits and counting Nigeria’s money, what else do workers at the OAGF do? The answers I got were quite revealing. I was actually wrong to think that because the office has ‘accountant’ attached to its name, all it does is count money, generated or borrowed. I may not be alone in this.
From inquiries, I came to the understanding that the OAGF was actually the brain behind the design and development of the innovative Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS), which is arguably one of the cardinal policies anchored by the OAGF. Development and introduction of the IPPIS have reduced the cases of ghost workers and other dubious activities hitherto associated with government payroll and, according to a January 2022 report, saved Nigeria N124 billion annually and eliminated some 70,000 ghost workers. With that, new ideas and strategies were incorporated and many ministries, departments and agencies including the military and paramilitary formations were enrolled on the payment platform. The decentralization of the operations of the IPPIS empowers agencies and institutions to handle certain functions without running to Abuja.
The innovative efforts of the office also led to the development of such financial instruments as the Treasury Single Account (TSA), Government Financial Management Information System (GIFMIS), Audit Modernization, adoption of International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS) and the training of public finance managers on the preparation and presentation of IPSAS accrual accounting compliant general purpose financial statements. These financial management reform initiatives have recorded tremendous successes and also helped to change the landscape of public finance management in the country.
Added to these, the office made strong decisions to institutionalise transparency, accountability, and efficiency in the governmental system by adopting and fully deploying Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the public financial management process. This effort, which symbolized a significant leap from the analog system, has rejuvenated the campaign for financial transparency and accountability in government through which the OAGF created a network of its staff in the MDAs, which has enabled it to push for the adoption and implementation of financial management reforms initiatives in all government agencies and parastatals as well as to ensure compliance.
For instance, in September 2020, the office, relying on the provisions of the extant financial regulations commissioned a comprehensive review of treasury forms and accounting source documents used for government financial transactions in all MDAs. It followed this up in 2021 with a review of the financial regulations. In carrying out these reviews, it was observed that the accounting sources documents in use were not compatible with the ICT-driven financial management reforms as the version of the financial regulations in use was last reviewed in 2009. The implication was that it did not capture the current public financial management reforms which internal auditors and chief executives of the MDAs needed as a guide in all government financial transactions.
As part of efforts to guide, sensitize and provide an appropriate roadmap for relevant stakeholders and managers of government finances, the office, in April 2016, created the Technical Sub-Committee on Cash Management which is the professional arm of the Federal Cash Management Committee (FCMC). Its functions include obtaining stakeholders’ inputs, deliberating on them, and making informed recommendations to the FCMC. This committee which has proven to be very instrumental to the successes of the office, convened for a retreat for the third time in April 2021, despite the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the overriding objective of thinking out, and developing, new strategies and ideas that would promote efficient management of government funds, which at that time, was seriously affected by the global economic meltdown. The annual retreat was themed “Advancing the operational efficiency for effective liquidity and cash management in Nigeria: beyond rhetoric”.
Going beyond rhetoric, the committee again in June 2022 reconvened for the fourth edition of its retreat with the aim to consolidate the gains of the previous meetings. The retreat themed “Enthroning Fiscal Discipline in Nigeria’s Public Financial Management: A Clarion Call to All Stakeholders”, sought to improve the capabilities of members of the sub-committee and acquaint them with more information and toolkits in the management of the country’s fiscal challenges as well as evolve strategies that would enable effective fiscal management.
Earlier in May 2022, the office had convened a five-day retreat in Kano State where it engaged stakeholders in the management of government finances in brainstorming sessions aimed at harvesting new ideas and strategies to advance the public finance management reform initiatives of the federal government. And, faced with evolving realities of the contemporary ICT-driven world, the risks, as well as the administrative challenges associated with document-based audits, have now made a strong case for the adoption of modern audit technology. Being conscious of this reality puts the office at the top of its thinking capabilities leading to the procurement of modern auditing software and gadgets with which its Audit Monitoring Department is now empowered. To retool its accountants and auditors, the office also in the year 2020 organized a three-day orientation workshop to upgrade and empower internal auditors on the use of modern auditing software. This was followed up with another five-day intensive training workshop for accountants and auditors in the MDAs on the use of such software.
Efforts of the office to improve open governance and financial reporting led to the inauguration of the Financial Transparency Policy/Open Treasury Portal, which went live as part of initiatives to promote transparency in government financial transactions. Accordingly, this policy stipulates the timely availability of information on revenue inflows and expenditures by MDAs on the Open Treasury Portal. This means that stakeholders and the general public can view the information and ask questions if need be.
Meanwhile, in the face of the dwindling revenues that have hampered the implementation of government policies and programmes, the OAGF has become a central player in the quest to reverse the country’s dwindling revenue inflows. To this end, it has evolved strategies, implemented new strategies and mobilized resources and personnel in the effort to see an improvement in the revenue inflows. One such strategy was to post treasury directors to FG Owned Enterprises (FGOEs) as Directors of Revenue. As Revenue Directors, they were to inject new ideas into the revenue-generating mechanism of the FGOEs as well as ensure appropriate remittances by the agencies. This strategy was approved in 2020 by the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Dr. Zainab Ahmed. A review of the policy in April 2022, at a retreat in Abuja, showed that the deployment of Revenue Directors to the ten Federal Government Owned Enterprises (FGOEs) in 2020 contributed positively to the realization of N1.250 trillion internally generated revenue (IGR) in 2021.
As observed from my inquiries, the OAGF has studiously undertaken wide range capacity building initiatives for its staff and their welfare, public finance operators in MDAs, and other stakeholders including the development of the Federal Treasury Academy at Orozo, Abuja. It aims to become a premier institute for developing human capacity in public finance management. Efforts are on to get necessary legal backing and approvals by relevant agencies to ensure that certificates issued by the institute are generally accepted.