There was an invasion of Awka, the capital of Anambra State, by a troika of Nigeria’s savviest journalists, and another guru served as a supporting voice from the United States of America. The invading journalists happened to be all my friends and former colleagues and bosses.
Sully Abu, former Editor-in-Chief/MD of African Guardian magazine and publisher at New Age newspapers; Eluem Emeka Izeze, former MD/CEO and Editor of The Guardian; Chido Nwakanma, ex-this of The Guardian, ex-that of ThisWeek Magazine, former Editor of Business Magazine etc came to Awka with the supporting voice of the legendary columnist Sonala Olumhense from America.
The lionized journalists were in Awka on behalf of FrontFoot Media Initiative to conduct an Audit Report Training which entailed X-raying State Government Audit Reports at Hilton Leisure Resort & Hotel, Awka on October 19 and 20. The training programme was organised under the auspices of the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) and the sponsorship of the MacArthur Foundation.
FrontFoot Media Initiative chairman Sully Abu set the stage by stressing that the 42 participating journalists in the training will be empowered to learn how and where to locate the relevant audit reports, “interpret the material, and write engaging news stories and features that will enlighten, stimulate, and empower the electorate, and discourage impunity.” Making a case for the significance of the media reporting on state audits, Abu stresses: “State houses of assembly meant to use auditor-general reports as vital tools to hold the executive to account sometimes find themselves neutered.” For him, “The media is vital in spotlighting how budgets are made and public monies are spent… and the position of auditor-general is one of the most important offices of state.” As the holders of the office have failed to influence governance and ensure accountability, Abu declares: “Our duty as journalists is to shed light on it and hold our leaders accountable and thus be part of the rebuilding process of our nation.”
Speaking from the US on “Audit Reporting Imperative for Nigerian Journalists”, Syndicated Sonala Olumhense charges the journalists to see themselves as the representatives of the people by exposing the underbelly of fraudulence in state auditing. He cited relevant sections of the Constitution to buttress his thesis. He believes strongly that the country can be changed through journalism. He avers that “the audit reports of every state are important towards fully reporting the country”, insisting that journalists need to search for and publicise the reports by using Google in the search for Federal Government audits at oaugf.ng and also the audits of state governments through their websites at directory.org.ng.
In his facilitation of “Principles & Purposes of (Public Interest) Journalism”, Chido Nwakanma highlights the new breakthroughs of journalism as the necessary service to public good.
Prof Paschal Okolie, Special Adviser to the Governor of Enugu State on Financial Matters and former Accountant-General of Enugu State who spoke on “Principles and Applications of Auditing & Public Sector Finance” laments that while Nigeria has many laws to support the auditing of finances, there were many limitations hampering the proper implementation. He highlights the limitations such as ineffective compliance by many of the states of the federation with national and international standards and of course moral failure. Prof Okolie cites the instance of the Great Wall of China which was meant to protect China only to be sabotaged from inside by quislings. He stresses that all that is needed is the institution of character and integrity.
Emenike E.E. Ezinando, PhD, fca, Permanent Secretary, Anambra State Ministry of Finance and former Director, Office of the State Auditor-General, put forward on the front burner the loaded question: “Is it possible for an Auditor-General to function expectedly without basic independence, requisite autonomy, and above all, the backing of a committed and independent Legislature?” He answers his own question thusly: “Perhaps, this explains the emerging trend of some of our Auditors-General turning significant pages of their Annual Reports into inaugural addresses.”
Prof E.I. Okoye, Director of the Unizik Business School, who treated the subject of “Principles of Government Budgets” reiterates the truism that “the primary motive of government budgeting is to secure the welfare of the people.” According to the well-spoken professor of accounting, “A good government budgeting practice cannot thrive in a system that is void of respect for the rule of law, transparency, accountability and good governance.” He cites the favourable situation of increasing citizen awareness and concern about the financial condition of the states and the Federal Government arising from the State Fiscal Transparency, Accountability and Sustainability (SFTAS) programmes, stressing: “In May 2016, National Economic Council (NEC) endorsed implementing the 22-point fiscal reform action plans by the Federal Government and the sub-nationals. The 22-point reform action plans include early and transparent publication and dissemination of budget and account information, biometric capture of workers to reduce incidences of ghost workers, and proper debt management, among others.” He brought needed attention to bear on the fact that the World Bank arranged with the Federal Government to support states in implementing the 22-point Fiscal Sustainability Plan and Open Government Partnership Agenda to strengthen fiscal transparency, accountability, and sustainability in the states.
Emeka Izeze renders telling testaments on crafting good stories on audit reports through solutions journalism that must be original, factual, trustworthy, and transparent.
It was indeed a highly rewarding two-day programme of collaborative media engagement armed with the charge: to improve financial management, State Governments must empower their Auditors-General.