Audit is not an end in itself; it is the concluding part of a robust public financial management system as typified by the budget process. The effectiveness of public spending, no matter the magnitude of the expenditure, is ensured by the presence of sound public sector auditing. It is fitting, therefore, that the office of the Auditor General for the federation (or for the states as the case may be) be properly enabled and empowered to discharge this vital duty as an office is as effective as the law that set it up.
The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 in s.85 (1) and (2) established the office of the Auditor General for the Federation with the power to audit the public accounts of all offices and courts of the federation.
The office is saddled with the responsibility of auditing the financial statements of all government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) after expenditure in a fiscal year. But the law governing public sector audit – the Audit Act, was enacted in 1956 and,as it is,does not capture the current realities of the modern audit practices as put together by the International Organisation of Supreme Audit Institution (INTOSAI) which Nigeria is party to. Recent efforts to enact a new audit law which would address this concern have been unsuccessful on three (3) occasions. The approved audit acts, for some reasons, were not given presidential assents under the Obasanjo and Jonathan led administrations and most recently in 2019, during the first tenure of the Buhari led administration.
As a result of this, the auditor general for the federation lacks the relevant powers toimplement his recommendations and financial management violations by various government agencies have become repetitive as a consequence of this.
For instance, the 2016 Annual Report of the Auditor-General for the Federation on the Accounts of the Federation of Nigeria stated that as at the time of publishing the report, 265 agencies had failed to respond to audit queries while 65 of agencies have never submitted their audited accounts for him to form an opinion on their financial statements. The 2017 edition reported that the number of agencies that failed to respond to audit queries had gone up to 323.
These developments are notwithstanding the President’s directive to duty bearers in the MDAs earlier in 2015 for responses to audit queries to be within24 hours.The foregoing underscores the need for new audit legislation.
Furthermore, the Financial Regulations on its part states that responses to the Auditor General’s queries on government agencies financial statements must not exceed 21 days. But government agencies have repeatedly failed to meet this timeline while some others have not submitted their audited reports for more than 3 fiscal years. These came to light at the recent public hearing organised by the House of Representatives’Public Accounts Committee in February 2020 for non-treasury and partially funded MDAs of government. Agencies in appearance included but not limited to: NSITF; NAFDAC; PPPRA; National Institute for Hospitality and Tourism Abuja; Oil and Gas Free Zone Port Harcourt; NLNG; Federal College of Agriculture Samaru, Kaduna State; NASREA; Nigeria Institute of International Affairs Lagos; FIRS; Radiographers Registration Board of Nigeria; NIMASA; PENCOM; National Road Research Centre Umudike; Lake Chad Research Institute and many others.
During the hearing, issues that arose were that many of them were behind in the record of Auditor General for the Federation with respect to submission of audited accounts thereby denying the Auditor General the opportunity to form his opinion on their accounts and to forward same to the National Assembly as stipulated by the constitution.
Centre for Social Justice