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Nigerians Criticize Accountant General, Commissioners Over UK Workshop

Civil society and rights groups have lambasted the Accountant General of the Federation, commissioners of finance of the 36 states of the federation and other government officials for choosing to hold a workshop in the United Kingdom at a time when the economy is experiencing a major downturn.

The Office of the AGF reportedly held a workshop on Public Financial Management and International Public Sector Accounting Standards in London, UK.

Findings showed that the workshop was held at Copthorne Tara Hotel, Kensington London, from March 4 to March 9, 2024.

The workshop, titled “Public Financial Management and IPSAS,” brought together state commissioners of finance and officials from the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation.

Over the course of five days, participants engaged in discussions related to IPSAS and its impact on accountability.

The workshop delved into other critical areas such as accounting and reporting in a hyperinflationary economy, as well as the challenges faced in public financial management implementation in Nigeria.

Budget implementation challenges were also discussed.

Nigeria is grappling with a persistent foreign exchange crisis, which is worsening the challenges faced by businesses, especially manufacturers. This crisis has been prolonged, stemming from the government’s decisions to remove petrol subsidies and allow the naira to float.

The country is battling with high inflation that has eroded the purchasing power of consumers, aside from food shortage that has led to hunger protests in pockets of the state.

As part of his cost-cutting strategy, President Bola Tinubu recently reduced the size of his entourage and encouraged his team to do the same.

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As part of the UK workshop activities, participants had the opportunity for a courtesy visit to the Nigerian High Commissioner in London. The sessions commenced daily at 10:00 am and concluded at 2:30 pm, with participants departing for their respective destinations on March 9, 2023.

However, some Nigerians and rights groups have criticised the AGF and the commissioners for being insensitive to the mood of the nation, saying such a workshop should have been held within the country to save costs.

A human rights group, the International Society for Social Justice and Human Rights, described the travel embarked upon by the Office of the AGF as needless and a waste of the country’s financial resources.

The Chancellor of the group, Jackson Omenazu, told the PUNCH on Wednesday that the decision to move about 36 members of the implementation committee of the agency who are also commissioners of finance for the 36 states to London showed how insensitive the public servants were to the economic plight of the country.

“This is the height of financial recklessness and insensitivity to the economic situation of Nigeria today. If it is a workshop as they have claimed, the accountant general can go for the workshop and come back to replicate the knowledge here to the other commissioners,” he said.

Jackson added that the journey was absolutely unnecessary and wasteful.

He said, “The journey is absolutely unnecessary for him to travel with the 36 commoners of finance. Looking at the cost of the travel and the economic situation Nigeria has found itself in today, there is no prudence in such a decision. We need public servants who will key into the situation of this country and salvage the country.

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“It is cheaper to bring the facilitators to Nigeria to train the participants looking at the high exchange rate. The accountant general and the approving agency that approved the trip need to be cautioned.”

The Chairman of the Centre for Anti-corruption and Open Leadership and the President, Centre for the Defence of Human Rights, Debo Adeniran, said it was important to know the content of the courses the OAGF and his team had travelled to London to ascertain if they were readily available in the country.

While he did not chide the accountant general for the trip, he noted that the accountant general should have embraced a cheaper option of ‘training the trainers’ where if necessary only few principal officers of the agency would travel for the training and return to train others.

“Determining whether the journey was frivolous depends on the availability and accessibility of the courses they travelled for in Nigeria. The world is a global village and we want to know if the course can be readily assessed online here in the country. However, to save the cost of foreign exchange needed to travel to London, it would have been cheaper to go for ‘training of the trainers’ depending on the institution’s mobility,” he said

However, the Director of Press at the Office of the AGF, Bawa Mokwa, defended the trip, explaining the reason behind hosting the workshop in the United Kingdom.

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In a conversation with The PUNCH on Wednesday, he emphasised that the workshop was an annual event held regularly.

According to him, the event was held in London because the facilitators are based in the UK.

He also stated that the event was approved by the National Economic Council.

“It is an annual event. The OAGF members present at the meeting are sub-committees of Federal Allocation Account Committee. Members of the implementation committee are commissioners of finance of the 36 states,” he said.

“They usually go to the UK to do it annually because the resource persons are resident in the UK and they implement it to the letter,” he added.

Also, an economist at Lotus Beta Analytics, Shedrach Israel, said it was not economically wise to spend the country’s scarce forex on such travels, noting that the AGF should have either opted for a virtual study for the team.

“The government has said it will cut down cost of governance but what has happened is contrary to the initiative of reducing the cost of governance. We are living in a digital world. Do people have to travel to workshops? they don’t need to necessarily travel to be trained.
“The problem with most of our government agencies is that they budget more for recurrent expenditure instead of capital.

“It is not economically wise to transport such a high number of people to London to-and-fro looking at the high exchange rate. We must do all we can to make the naira improve its value,” he said.