Queen Ifunanya Onwughalu:
Undoubtedly, Nigerians are in moments of anxicety and national outrage, no thanks to the unprecedented anarchy, chaos and doom caused by insecurity.
Incidentally, in these moments of insecurity even institutions whose function has a lot of bearing on the smooth and steady running of the entire civil service are challenged by cocktails of externally generated speculative tails of fear, anxiety and apprehension.
The Accountant General of the Federation (AGF); the administrative head of the treasury of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, perhaps one of the most prominent public offices in the Nigerian Civil Service has been having a fair share of cocktails of lies, half-truths and speculations and these are springing seeds of doubts, tension in the minds and hearts of Nigerians.
For purposefulness, the simple description of the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation (OAGF) as the agency of government responsible for accounting of receipts and expenditures of the Federal Government may appear too simple and incomplete for those who know the enormity of the work daily carried out by the agency.
Established under the Civil Service re-organization Decree No. 43 of 1988, this important agency is headed by the Accountant General of the Federation (AGF), who is appointed by the President for a tenure of four years, serves as the Chief accounting officer for the receipts and payments of account of the Federal Government.
A more roboust description will say the OAGF is mandated to collate, present and publish statutory financial statements required by the Minister of Finance, manage Federal Government investments, maintain and operate the accounts of the Consolidated Revenue Fund, Department Fund, Contingencies Fund and other public funds; and provide cash backing for the operation of the Federal Government.
It is equally saddled with the conduct of routine and in-depth inspection of the books of accounts of Federal Ministries and Extra-ministerial Departments to ensure compliance with rules, regulations, policies, and internal audit guides, investigation of cases of fraud, loss of funds, assets and store items and other financial malpractices in ministries and extra-ministerial departments.
The office is also to provide financial regulations and issue Treasury Circulars to Federal Ministries/Extra-Ministerial Departments to ensure that there are adequate accounting systems in public funds and for the coordination of the collection and disbursement of the public funds and for the coordination of accounting systems
The office also monitors government revenue and account for same, issues officially approved forms bearing Treasury Numbers for use in all Federal Ministries to ensure uniformity, formulate the accounting policies of the Federal Government, services government loans and manages public debts.
The good news here is that the OAGF is currently headed by the tested and trusted leadership of Ahmed Idris; a Nigerian financial accountant who in the recent history of the Nigerian political journey has been adjudged the only AGF who has through his professional expertise championed some reforms in the process of revenue collection, management and disbursement of public funds, by the institutionalizing a practical model which succeeded in blocking leakages, enhances transparency, accountability and openness in Government financial dealings, which includes Single Treasury Account, IPPS, and many more.
However, this writer has been following with keen interest the hot air balloon created in some selected and selfish media platforms in concert with some shadow political forces to deliberately create political smokescreen designed to spark unnecessary confusion and distraction on the person of the Accountant General of the Federation.
Remarkably, in the midst of these orchestrated campaigns of calumny, Alhaji. Ahmed Idris, who several pundits has described as a cool headed, calculated and compassionate gentleman has maintained his calmness and has refused to be distracted. His silence over some of these issues goes a long way to buttress the fact that the accusations are baseless; since “Silence” they say, “is best answer to fools”.
Also, it is a well-known fact that the President has the vantage position of getting intelligence feed on to him. That the Accountant General of the Federation hasn’t been fired for this long shows the allegations to the President are tissues of lies.
Perhaps, highlighting these rumors and half-truths against the person of Ahmed Idris will be to make them weighty, nevertheless, an analysis of a few will help set the records straight on this misleading campaign.
A good case in point was the report on accusations by one Professor Lawan Abubakar of ASUU, Bauchi branch, against the AGF. According to a social media report credited to solacebase.com (www.solacebase.com) dated 19th November, 2020, Prof. Abubakar singled out the person of Alhaji Ahmed Idris for vilification in connection with the then protracted negotiations that existed between the Federal Government and ASUU.
It was reported that Prof. Abubakar’s accusations included that the Accountant General insisted on the enrolment of University staff on IPPIS only because he will gain N16, 000 per each lecturer so enrolled. He further alleged that Alhaji Idris owns multi billion Naira Gezawa Commodity Market and Exchange. He also bought Sokoto Hotel in Kano which he demolished to build a mall.
Under normal circumstances, one will find it extremely difficult to believe that such wild allegations could emanate from a University Professor. This is because Scholars are known for research, analysis, making references to their sources of information and for deductive reasoning, particularly on issues worthy of their attention and public comments.
For instance the allegation that the Accountant General of the Federation receives financial benefit to the tune of N16, 000 on the enrolment of each staff into IPPIS clearly portrays misunderstanding of IPPIS administration.
IPPIS is an Information Communication Technology (ICT) driven programme initiated by the Federal Government of Nigeria to improve the storage of personnel records and administration of payroll for Federal Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).
The IPPIS department in the OAGF operates strictly in accordance with extant rules, regulations and government directives. The staff of the department are professional civil servants drawn from across the country; they are not employees of the AGF. Moreover, the Federal Government does not release cash to the OAGF for payment of salaries and wages of the staff of federal MDAs captured under the IPPIS. Salary payments and other financial transactions are carried out electronically.
On the alleged acquisition of properties worth billions of Naira citing Gezawa Commodity Market and Exchange, and Sokoto Hotel, while this writer is not holding a brief for the AGF on the matter, he believes that as a high ranking civil servant who steadily progressed to the peak of his career in the service, Alh. Idris ought to be very conversant with the public service rules, financial regulations and such other guidelines provided for the official and personal conduct of serving federal public officers.
Research reveals that Gezawa Commodity Market and Exchange is a limited liability company registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission of Nigeria. This, therefore, does not require spurious allegations aimed at damaging the image of any person over ownership of the property. The records of ownership, value, etc of the company could have easily been cross checked with the Commission.
Any interested person could have equally followed the procedures laid down by the Kano state government for tracing ownership of landed properties through relevant establishments such as the state Ministries/Agencies responsible for lands, housing and urban development. Findings would have availed access to proof of ownership of the property (by Ahmed Idris, if his claims were correct), date of purchase, actual cost and even the approved building plan and architectural designs for the said proposed mall.
These are simple and harmless steps expected to have been taken in order to obtain accurate facts and evidences before going to the press.
Again, after a careful examination of all the arguments bandied on the media, notably on his retention as the AGF by President Muhammdu Buhari after attaining the age of 60 on November 25, 2020, unlike the apologists of the hasty campaign to forcefully boot him out through the back-door, Alhaji Idris had relied on the provisions of the constitution, which makes both the appointment and renewal of the tenured appointment of AGF a prerogative of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Report has it that the AGF had on October 2, 2020, written to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Mr. Boss Mustapha, seeking clarification on his status ahead of November 25, 2020, when he would clock 60 years old.
The letter titled “Re, Renewal of Appointment as Accountant-General of the Federation”, reads in part:” I most respectfully inform the Secretary to the Government of the Federation that I will be Sixty (60) years of age on 25th of November 2020, while my length of service will be Seventeen (17) years.
“In the light of the foregoing, I wish to most obediently seek for SGF’s guidance and clarification accordingly.”
It is common knowledge that the AGF is currently serving as a political appointment and not a civil servant that should retire at the age of 60. It logically follows, that his appointment in 2015 was projected as a civil servant who served within the age bracket of a mandatory retirement age of 60 years, and enjoyed the tenure within the mainstream civil service guidelines supervised under the office of the Head of Civil Service.
His re-appointment for a second term on June 25, 2019, was predicated under Section 9(1),(2), (3) of the 1999 Construction where the President is empowered to appoint any person into any position of authority regardless of the age bracket, and therefore prompted the second appointment through the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation.
Beyond this, Section 171 of the Constitution empowers the president to exercise discretion in appointing persons into some extra-ministerial offices. The same constitution spelt out the offices in the category, to which the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation fell.
The Constitution, the supreme law of the land, is the grand norm, all other laws rose from it and any law that is in conflict with the provisions of the constitution doesn’t stand, it’s struck down.
When it was clear that Mr. President had exercised his powers under Section 171 of 1999 Constitution as amended in reappointing Mr. Ahmed Idris with effect from June 25, 2019 for another tenure of four years which by terms of appointment elapse June 2023, political opportunists resorted to campaigns of calumny aimed at tarnishing the image of the AGF.
The question begging for an answer is this: what is the underlying agenda of this broad daylight sinister efforts to malign an appointee who has been passionate about his responsibility, to the excitement of The Presidency, which (in the first place) has the prerogative of appointing, removing him; reappointing him or replacing him out rightly?
It is not surprising then that the effort these political jobbers are making to destroy the image of Mr. Idris Ahmed is a lost battle and their sponsors are chasing shadows and leaving the substance.
If they are not out for cheap recognition or hiding behind a questionable campaign of calumny to secure the AGF’s office for their kinsmen, they are against the AGF presumably under the guise that he wants to be governor in his state of origin.
The Office of the Accountant General of the Federation is a sensitive position that deals with financial issues the President feels he can work with Alhaji Ahmed Idris. This is because he is not working for himself, but for the nation and has to get the best of hands, trusted persons.
That Mr. Idris has been kept in Office in the midst of these rumours and half-truths is a testament that he is doing a good work and the President having realized that these are plots meant for distractions wants to continue with him.
*Miss. Onwughalu, Project Director at the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA), Abuja.