In this interview, Dr. Victoria Enape, spoke to The News Chronicle’s Ekpedeme Umoh, Victor Gai, and Shirley Okonkwo, Editor, Assistant Editor, and Business Development Manager respectively…
TNC: A month ago, you called on the Federal Government to enlist the Forensic Professionals in the fight against corruption, cybercrimes, etc… Since the call, have steps been taken to ensure this is done or is more money being spent to retain the services of expatriate forensic and investigative professionals?
VE: Our first port of call was the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and no Act of the National Assembly contained Forensics and Investigative Auditors. I went to the National Assembly and submitted the Bill as Association of Forensic and Investigative Professionals. Our mandates are to give skills to professionals on the use of science and technology to prevent fraud as well as to detect fraud.
When we talk about forensics in totality, we are looking at what, where, who, why and how. In the association, we also train people free of charge, and we were given the EFCC Academy; that was where we started. Now, the people at the National Assembly heard about us and called so, I was called to the National Assembly and asked to change the name from the Association of Forensic and Investigative Auditors to Chartered Institute of Forensic and Investigative Professionals, I welcomed that.
The reason we were called an ‘association’ was that we wanted to have it as original as it was from Canada. Although the Bill stayed in the National Assembly for a long time, the Chairman of the House Committee on Public Accounts was impressed by the idea and said if we have this thing in Nigeria; EFCC would have less work to do but we told him that it is good for us to be proactive rather than reactive.
The reason many people who were involved in high profile cases of fraud in Nigeria have not been convicted is that we have been reactive in our approach.
For this, forensics is there to make sure we put in some sophisticated mechanisms in place to prevent fraud from taking place in the first place, and if it eventually happens, because no matter how smart you are people may outsmart you and still commit fraud; we will eventually get them apprehended, prosecuted with forensics and we will be able to come up with a report that is tenable in a court of competent jurisdiction. One of the reasons people get away with fraud is because of the lack of evidence and this evidence cannot be gotten without forensic experts.
We have trained people on how to gather and preserve evidence because it is one thing to gather evidence and it is another to preserve it since you can’t preserve evidence, it would be destroyed. Forensics is a very wide area: we have forensic audit, forensic accounting, forensic toxicology, forensic linguistics, etc. What we are doing is for the future generation of Nigerians nevertheless people are taking their families out of the country; but what about those that can’t take their families out?
Our bill was passed by the Senate and the House of Representatives and was later transferred to the President for assent on June 17th, 2019. In an ideal situation, the bill is supposed to receive an assent immediately, because it is the need of the hour. The current government says it is fighting corruption and we have the tools that can aid in this fight. The government also noted that if we can have the opportunity to talk to Mr. President without the interference of any self-interest group that has been manipulating the bill signing process, and explain the details of this bill, Mr. President will not waste time in giving his assent.
Currently, the bill is being delayed at the presidential level because of some group of people who have skeletons in their cupboards and they don’t want the government to know about their hidden agenda.
TNC: The CIFIPN Bill was recently passed by the House of Representatives. What does this mean for the company bearing in mind that the Association of Professional Bodies of Nigeria back in May 2019 made a publication against the passage of the CIFIPN Bill?
VE: The Association of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria were the people actually fighting the bill from the beginning. They alleged that the CIFIPN Bill was a duplication of their function and that was when the bill was still called the Chartered Institute of Forensic and Investigative Auditors of Nigeria; the Bill was passed by the Senate and transmitted to the lower house. Ordinarily, the bill is supposed to be passed immediately but politics was brought into play because of the interest of the Chartered Accountants.
When the bill was brought up again for debate, they argued that the word ‘Auditors’ refers to the field of an accountant so, the sponsor of this bill emphasized that to ‘audit’ means to analyze and in this aspect, we are talking about forensics. We were however told by the House of Representatives to change the name to something else. For this to be done, we had to start from scratch after the bill had passed through the first, second and third reading, as well as a public hearing and we, needed to change the word ‘Auditors’ to Professionals and start the process afresh.
Even after the name was changed, the Chartered Accountants still came back to fight but this time through the Association of Professional Bodies of Nigeria arguing that their members ICAN and ANAN are doing the same job.
CIFIPN has nothing to do with the preparation of financial statements; neither do we have anything to do with the checking or auditing of financial records but we only come in when there is suspected fraud in an organization and there is no explanation for such fraud.
TNC: In October 2019, the nine governors of the Niger Delta states met with the President and requested a forensic audit of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC. This was as a result of the fact that they have not had value for the money expended in the commission since inception. The Federal Government has ordered a forensic audit of the NDDC without including CIFIPN and you also mentioned that the audit has no legal backing. Can you shed more light on this NDDC audit matter?
VE: In the NDDC, there are different sections that carry out auditing on a daily basis yet there are some things the president suspected to be fraudulent which is why he ordered a forensic audit of the NDDC.
Currently, nobody is doing forensics in Nigeria because you cannot practice what has not been signed into law. The only forensic we have in Nigeria is the Chartered Institute of Forensic and Investigative Professionals of Nigeria which the bill has not been assented to. Whoever is going to do this audit would be brought from outside the country, making the government spend our scarce foreign exchange to pay them. The government may, of course, be hoodwinked into using people that have transformed themselves from traditional auditors to forensic auditors because it is a lucrative area and if such people are used, they will do so without any form of training or qualification; whatever they do now without signing this bill into law is quackery.
This is why I mentioned that the NDDC audit has no legal backing. A Chartered Accountant is expected to carry out the normal compliance and assurance audit. Compliance audit means looking at the financial records of an organization to make sure that they comply with rules and regulations that guide accounting practices while assurance audit involves looking at the financial standing of an organization.
Even at that, the people that call themselves traditional auditors have failed this country a lot of times and that is why we are where we are today. Corporate organizations are collapsing; the latest being Diamond Bank. If we had a forensic body in Nigeria, the red flags would have been spotted on time and the collapse avoided. In Nigeria, accountants are not given the mandate to investigate fraud as it is not contained in their Act which is why the law is silent when most of these corporate bodies collapse.
These are the same people that claim they do forensics. Everyone is being thrown into a state of confusion while those who are supposed to understand are myopic and have their own selfish interest as well as skeletons in their cupboards. But I believe that one day, the truth will come out.
TNC: Back in September 2019, the Chartered Institute of Forensic and Investigative Professionals of Nigeria (CIFIPN) announced plans to build a training center and a well-equipped forensic laboratory in the country. How far has the project gone and when do we expect the training center to be ready?
VE: This organization is funded through the contribution of members. In January, members paid their annual subscription, and we brought up this proposal during our dinner and award night so our members could donate to build a standard forensic lab. We have not done it yet but it has not been ruled out. The most important thing we are waiting for is the assent of our bill, once this is done we would receive help from the USA and Canada as well.
My call is that whoever has the interest of this country at heart having explained to them what we do for the sake of our future generation, should come on board and join forces with us to make sure the bill is assented to. We encourage philanthropists to donate willingly to the organization to enable us to get our forensic lab and a bigger training center.
TNC: Let’s talk about gender discrimination: Dr. Anape, in your experience as a Lady Protem President of this august body, have you ever had to deal with gender discrimination or gender inequality issues? Do tell us some of the most painful experiences so far and how you overcame them.
VE: I experience discrimination but not from my members, I overcome them with my knowledge and intellect. Most men would want to look down on women for one reason or the other and because of that, I have armed myself with the technical know-how and I am also an authority in this field. In Nigeria, I happen to be the only person that has written a book on forensic auditing and fraud investigation hence, it has become so hard for anyone to discriminate against me. The only people doing that are the opposition; they feel that a woman should not come up with this kind of gigantic project (i.e. forensics) which could attract the attention of international bodies.
But my members have been very supportive and every time I get discouraged, they remind me that I am a visionary. So, this is the edge I have and how I have been able to overcome discrimination.
TNC: About the upcoming New York, USA International Strategic Forensic Conference/Training which comes up on 24th -27th March 2020, what would the attendees hope to take out of this training?
VE: The training in New York is a strategic international forensic conference/study/talk and we are going to talk about the prevention of fraud, corruption, cybercrime and white-collar crimes. In this training, we are going to make sure that our members and people that care to attend should be equipped with knowledge and skills that would help them to prevent fraud in their various organizations and countries.
Cybercrime and white-collar crime is a global problem and we are building people up to join the fight against these crimes. This program is going to start on the 24th and end on the 27th of March; last year, it was held in New Jersey.
We have equipped our members and they have what it takes to do forensics in Nigeria and make the country a better place.
TNC: When you look back on this journey, taking stock, and you look ahead to your set goals, are you satisfied that you are on the right track? Can you really say “so far, so good”? Or are you likely to say: “Not yet Uhuru”?
VE: I am happy with where we are today because the journey has started and we are moving every day. I cannot say we are there yet but we have come a long way and we will continue to work hard to make sure we get to our promised land.
I am happy with my members, they have been so co-operative. I have been able to come up with a research book that people can use and through this book, I am able to leave a legacy. The legislative process through the National Assembly was full of challenges, but I am thankful to God that at the end of the day He made us scale through all the hurdles.
It is on record that our bill has passed through the two chambers of the National Assembly and I am happy about that.