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THE NEED FOR AN ETHICAL FRAMEWORK IN THE ACCOUNTING PROFESSION IN NIGERIA

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THE NEED FOR AN ETHICAL FRAMEWORK IN THE ACCOUNTING PROFESSION IN NIGERIA
According to Ikhariale 2000, in Obadan and Oshionebo, (2000)
It has been argued that “millions of Nigerians are honest and trustworthy but the few that
claim leadership power over them are the ethical disasters… Our 'bigmen' (surely not the
ones here) have failed the nation and Nigerians must now resolve to stand up for something
or be prepared to fall for anything. Corruption is a cancer and it kills.
Similarly, Saturday Punch (9th September, 2000) regrets “that abject poverty occasioned
by decades of misrule has diminished human values and norms in the Nigerian society”.
In a paper delivered at an ANAN Annual National Conference, Jos, November, 2000,
Obadan and Oshionebo said:
“Whatever criteria we may use, 'Corporate Executives,' 'Public Servants' and Accounting
Practitioners' and, indeed, all technocrats and professionals belong to “the few” “big men”
that have “leadership power” which has been used to “misrule” Nigeria. What is even more
scathing is that we are the “ethical disasters” that have, in the course of time, created a
Nigerian society with “diminished human values and norms”. In our estimation, the attitude
is not to plead alibi in our never holding a public/political office or serving at such levels of the
hierarchy of our organizations to have free access to corporate resources but to accept that
the ethical foundations of society, including members of its professional classes, need a
positive jolt. After all, we represent the state (including “public services”), the civil society
(including “Accounting Practitioners”) and the private sector (including corporate
executives) which should constructively interact in the interest of good governance. As is
well known, a society is as good as the aggregation of its professional and corporate
competences and the extent to which these abilities are applied to create higher value to
push the frontiers of development.
At no other time in our national history did we crucially need an ethical re-birth than at this
period of moral decadence and corruption-induced economic decline. This underscores the
imperative of an ethical framework for us and our professional colleagues.
Strategies to fight corruption vary from country to country. Countries opt for strategies that
are most appropriate to their economic, cultural and socio-political situation. Some fight
corruption indirectly through general provisions in their Constitutions or through regulations
relating to areas that are susceptible to corrupt practices. Some others use informal rules of
conduct without the force of law. Most countries, however, use a combination of these
approaches to fight corruption, particularly in view of the fact that corrupt practices occur in
various situations and require a variety of responses.
To combat corruption, therefore, we can use curative and/or preventive instruments.
Curative instruments consist of anti-corruption laws proper which seek to provide
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appropriate remedies to sanction acts of corruption that have occurred. From international
experience, it is known that legal initiatives alone cannot make a difference since they are
mere tools in the fight against corruption. Preventive instruments, on the other hand, consist
of upstream rules and norms of behaviour conducive to creating a corruption-free
environment. While curative laws seek to deal with corruption on an ex-post basis,
preventive instruments operate ex-ante. Agreements or regulations relating to ethical
conduct operate ex-ante and are preventive.
Perhaps, we should also canvass that the most successful initiatives to fight corruption and
abuse of office have been those that have been backed up by the necessary political and/or
managerial will, coupled with the required level of resources needed to engage in and sustain
the fight. No amount of rhetoric, declarations or even legislation can substitute fittingly
As enunciated above, ethical values impact on society generally and 'transform our minds,
psyche, thinking, and conscience, to more positive and purposeful endeavour”. Society
must therefore of necessity fight un-ethical behaviour “which no doubt are the anti-thesis
of development and progress”. (Justice M.M.A. Akanbi, P.R.E.V in Nig., 2004).
Ethical values have universal coloration - they are not confined and should not be given
section or regional treatment. As Chief Ufot J. Ekaette, erstwhile Secretary to the
Government of the Federation in Nigeria, once said: “some of these values include
honesty, sincerity of purpose, transparency, accountability, hard work, empathy, respect
for leaders and institutions, discipline, courage, courtesy love, etc.” (P.R.E.V. in Nig., 2004),
17). These core values abound in the plethora of cultures across national boundaries as
guides to acceptable behaviour.
Corruption, the other side of the coin, has been defined severally. A simple definition given
in the Oxford Dictionary is, “widespread moral deterioration”. The World Bank and the
Transparency International, view corruption as “the use of one's public position for
illegitimate private gains”. Another agency of repute based in Lebanon says “Corruption
is the behaviour of private individuals or public officials who deviate from set
responsibilities and use their position of power in order to serve private ends and secure
private gains”. (Lebanon Anti-Corruption Initiative Report, 1999).
How to Comply With Professional Ethics
David Stewart (2011) noted that, Professional ethics is a moral code that has to be
adhered to consistently throughout life. Being conscientious, honest and constantly
striving to uphold the dignity of a profession by adhering to strict moral guidelines is the
ideal way to comply with professional ethics. The majority of professionals like lawyers,
doctors and accountants have clearly laid down codes of professional ethics. They are
under legal obligation to strictly adhere to these codes while discharging their
professional duties. Professional ethics is a moral code that has to be adhered to
consistently throughout life. He left us with the following instructions:
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i)
Get acquainted with the code of ethics for your job. If you are employed in an
organization ask the compliance officer or HR manager for a copy of that code.
Professionals such as lawyers can enroll in organizations like the Bar Association to
familiarize themselves with these ethics.
ii)
Follow the rules of conduct and observe the principles outlined in the codes for
your profession in thought, word and deed. Your actions should contribute to
the public good.
Enroll as a member of organizations such as the Society for Corporate
Compliance and Ethics. This will keep you updated with the latest ethical
guidelines and compliance-related issues concerning your profession.
Avoid taking undue advantage of the trust reposed by people who approach you
for help. This is unethical and amounts to professional misconduct.
Keep entrusted information private. You should not disclose it unless there is
compulsive evidence to prove that concealing it would be detrimental to the
public interest.
Treat your colleagues, subordinates and seniors with fairness, respect and
dignity. Do not discriminate on the basis of religion, race, age or gender.
Make sure that you do not use your position for private gain. Never seek
financial, sexual or other favors by misusing your position. This will permanently
scar your reputation and irretrievably damage your professional standing.
Refrain from using organizational property like office premises, equipment,
vehicles or staff for personal use. Maintain all records and accounts properly
and get them audited regularly.
How to Identify Three Sources of Professional Ethics
iii)
iv)
v)
vi)
vii)
viii)
ix)
Hannah Treagus (2011) said Judging whether someone is suitable for your team can
depend on the person's professional ethics. Professional ethics separate the wheat
from the chaff; specifically, it defines who the trustworthy, professional employees are
and who aren't. Employers value employees with a good work ethos and integrity. In
many professions, the understanding and use of ethics is a primary aspect of working life.
Psychologists and doctors, for example, must show an extreme devotion to their
professional ethics to demonstrate their level of professionalism and protect their
clients' best interests. In business, professional ethics demonstrate the same things:
looking after the clients and protecting the interests of the company. To find someone
with professional ethics is to find someone who you can trust. She left us the following
instructions:
1.
Discover if someone possesses professional integrity by investigating the person's
background. If he owns a company, do some research and ask questions. For example,
if it is an accountancy firm, is it chartered or is he certified? Look on the person's
website, résumé or social network profile to discover his history. Ask him why he left
previous jobs to see if there may have been unscrupulous or suspicious reasons.
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2.
Reveal a person's academic integrity by asking to view any certificates claimed on
his/her résumé. Sometimes applicants are untruthful on their résumés or applications
to make themselves sound better. Ask to see any certificates on the day of the
interview. If she can present them, this demonstrates her academic integrity.
3. Talk to the candidate to discover his personal ethics and attributes. An individual's
personality is just as important as his professional and academic achievements.
Discuss his family life, his previous employment and what he likes to do in his spare
time. Question whether you would like someone like him on your team.
How to Improve Professional Ethics
Alex Barski (2011) opined that Ethics act as a way to help many professionals make better
decisions. In a tough situation, making an ethical decision is often the result of a wellthought-out process, drawing together different schools of thought from several
different perspectives. A good ethical decision takes into account all aspects of an ethical
argument in search of the common good. According to the book "The Good Life: Ethics
and the Pursuit of Happiness" by Herbert McCabe and Brian Davies, much of ethics is
based on arguments made by early philosophers like Aristotle and Nietzsche. He
suggested that we:
1. Search for ethics guidelines within your profession. Doctors, journalists and lawyers
all adhere to a professional code of ethics. Introducing employees to these codes can
help them understand what is expected of them and how to conduct themselves as it
is related to their profession. Many such resources are available online.
2. Give employees a test and discuss the results. Take a real life example (relate it to their
profession) and ask questions about the situation -- is it right, fair or how will their
decision impact others? Their colleagues? Others in their profession? In the book
"Essentials of Management," author Andrew DuBrin suggests presenting a scenario
where employees must choose between two rights rather than a right versus wrong.
3. Explain the consequences of unethical behavior. As the old saying goes, "What's
ethical is not always legal and what's legal is not always ethical." In every profession,
certain acts produce consequences. A lawyer's cozy relationship with a judge who
then hands down a decision in the lawyer's favor can lead to that very lawyer being
disciplined -- even losing his or her law license. A nurse leaving a patient unattended
may lead to that patient becoming even more sick or remaining in hospital even
longer.
4. Conduct an ethics workshop. In a large conference room or auditorium, present
ethical cases and then split participants into smaller groups. Present a set of
questions, including setting out who are the stakeholders, who will be harmed or
helped by the decision and what are all possible outcomes. Since this is a group
discussion, workers are able to hear the ideas of their co-workers, learning from each
other.
5. Make ethics a part of the daily discussion. Pose a question to the staff via a daily email
or once a week post an ethical situation for workers to review during a break. Print an
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ethical theme, question or case in an employee newsletter. Getting people to talk
about ethics will help improve dialogue
How to Keep Personal & Professional Ethics Separate
Michael Davidson (2011) noted that, Ethics come up on a daily basis in life and in business.
Our ethics guide us through both our personal and business interactions and help define
who we are as people. Ethics are not always straightforward, and things you consider
unethical in your personal life may be completely appropriate in a business setting.
Keeping personal and professional ethics separate requires you to examine them on a
case-by-case basis to do right by your business while not selling out your personal beliefs.
He suggests that:
1. Review the law. If a certain course of action is illegal, it doesn't matter if your
professional and personal ethics are conflicting. You should not perform that action.
Consult with a superior at your job if you have an ethical dilemma. Give your superior
the details of the moral quandary and be honest about both what is best for business
and what your ethical issue is. Your superior can assist you in making the appropriate
business decision while keeping your personal ethics separate.
2. Speak honestly about the issue both with coworkers and with customers. Complete
honesty may hinder your business at times, but will help build customer trust and
loyalty in the long term. Maintaining honesty will help prevent you from having ethical
dilemmas about lying for a personal or business gain.
3. Determine the likely outcome of your actions from both a business and a personal
perspective. If a decision is beneficial to your business and doesn't violate any laws,
take that action under most circumstances. If the personal cost is not worth the
business gain, leave the situation if possible and get someone else assigned to the
project so you are not involved in the end result. This keeps your business and personal
feelings separate as much as possible.
4. Exit a job if your personal ethics are in danger of being violated while there. Find a new
professional environment where you can do your job without the risk of breaking any
personal code.
How to Balance Personal & Professional Ethics
Helen Jain (2011) said that ethics at work and in a personal life might sometimes clash.
He noted that the term "ethics" is a complicated word to define but the appropriate
definition is both a code to follow and a thinking process. Professional ethics are a set
code that professionals in a variety of fields follow to meet certain industry standards.
Personal ethics are based on thinking processes that determine right from wrong
according to a personal standard or morality. Balancing the two types of ethics is usually
not challenging, as most personal ethics will follow similar professional codes. However,
some personal and professional ethics might clash, resulting in conflicts at the
workplace.
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1. Find the area of conflict between personal and professional ethics.
This differs
depending on the specific job. For example, a social worker's problem might arise when she
sets boundaries for clients she meets outside of work. For a business professional, the
problems may occur when personal morals conflict with the needs of the company.
2. Look for options to solve the problem without involving others if possible. In some
situations, the problems might be easily solved, such as avoiding a group meeting that a client
attends. In other situations, reorganizing or reevaluating personal ethics might be necessary
and require personal changes. For example, professional ethics requires diversity in the
workplace, but some individual's personal ethics might make him uncomfortable with
disabled individuals or minority groups. In this situation, adapting or changing personal ethics
is a necessity.
3. Focus on duties and responsibilities. In the professional world, an individual's focus is
on the duties and responsibilities she must follow. Put the focus on responsibilities rather
than personal opinions.
4. Get others involved. Sometimes, balancing professional and personal ethics requires
getting others involved in the situation. For example, a business professional might ask an
employer to rearrange job duties when her personal ethics conflict with the business code of
ethics in a particular situation. Other professionals, such as social workers or psychologists,
might need to make arrangements with clients, schools or other groups when personal and
professional lives collide.
The following, adapted from Shamoo A and Resnik D. (2009) is a rough and general
summary of some ethical principles that various codes address*:
Honest
Strive for honesty in all scientific communications. Honestly report data, results, methods and
procedures, and publication status. Do not fabricate, falsify, or misrepresent data. Do not
deceive colleagues, granting agencies, or the public.
Objectivity
Strive to avoid bias in experimental design, data analysis, data interpretation, peer review,
personnel decisions, grant writing, expert testimony, and other aspects of research where
objectivity is expected or required. Avoid or minimize bias or self-deception. Disclose personal
or financial interests that may affect research.
Integrity
Keep your promises and agreements; act with sincerity; strive for consistency of thought and
action.
Carefulness
Avoid careless errors and negligence; carefully and critically examine your own work and the
work of your peers. Keep good records of research activities, such as data collection, research
design, and correspondence with agencies or journals.
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Openness
Share data, results, ideas, tools, resources. Be open to criticism and new ideas.
Respect for Intellectual Property
Honor patents, copyrights, and other forms of intellectual property. Do not use unpublished
data, methods, or results without permission. Give credit where credit is due. Give proper
acknowledgement or credit for all contributions to research. Never plagiarize.
Confidentiality
Protect confidential communications, such as papers or grants submitted for publication,
personnel records, trade or military secrets, and patient records.
Responsible Publication
Publish in order to advance research and scholarship, not to advance just your own career.
Avoid wasteful and duplicative publication.
Responsible Mentoring
Help to educate, mentor, and advise students. Promote their welfare and allow them to make
their own decisions.
Respect for colleagues
Respect your colleagues and treat them fairly.
Social Responsibility
Strive to promote social good and prevent or mitigate social harms through research, public
education, and advocacy.
Non-Discrimination
Avoid discrimination against colleagues or students on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity, or other
factors that are not related to their scientific competence and integrity.
Competence
Maintain and improve your own professional competence and expertise through lifelong
education and learning; take steps to promote competence in science as a whole.
Legality
Know and obey relevant laws and institutional and governmental policies.
There are five general goals of ethics education for practicing professionals:
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
Stimulating and broadening the moral imagination – practitioners need to learn
about ethics, to understand ethical issues, to gain an empathy for people, and to
interpret contexts in moral terms.

Recognizing ethical issues – practitioners need to be aware of when and how
ethical issues occur.

Developing analytical skills – practitioners need to learn the vocabulary of ethics
and moral argument, and to develop skills in analysing and addressing ethical
situations.

Eliciting a sense of moral obligation and responsibility – practitioners need to
develop an understanding of their personal obligations and responsibilities.

Coping with moral ambiguity – practitioners need to be aware of and able to cope
with situations in which moral principles are in conflict with each other and/or
where there is no obvious moral choice. Decisions in these cases should be based
not on personal preference or vested interest, but on reasoned moral argument. The
potential for moral ambiguity also means that individual practitioners need to be
able to negotiate ethical judgements with others and be able to defend their
decisions and actions on moral grounds.
Professional Ethics would inculcate in the professional respect for fellow
professionals colleagues in all their interactions, including not judging them, not
discrediting them, ensuring that their views are faithfully given due consideration in
an assessment process.
Ethics will ensure:

No use of deception; Presumption and preservation of person’s identity; Right to
check and modify a document; Confidentiality of personal matters; Data protection
importance; Ethical governance; Grievance procedure – Good ethical governance
requires that professionals have access to a grievance procedure and recourse to
corrective action; Appropriateness of professionals methodology; Full reporting of
every material particular.
Our students will be provided with principles of the all-important ethical guidance to
professionals. Professional ethics is necessary to be taught in the College because:
i.
ii.
iii.
iv.
v.
vi.
Professional ethics will set out the ideas and responsibility of the profession to
our students.
It detail to the would be professional members how to protect both clients the
professional, and the profession
Professional ethics Improves the profile of the profession
Knowledge of ethics of the profession motivates and inspire practitioners
It provides guidelines on acceptable professional conduct
It will raise awareness and consciousness of issues
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vii.
It will Improve quality and consistency.
Potential actions to improve the ethicality of professional practice
The commitment and adherence to ethical practice rely on the efforts of practitioners,
as well as those of their client, organizations and professional associations. Professional
Accounting Organizations such as our ANAN can promote and provide active support
for ethical practice. Reintroducing this course into the College’s syllabus is a suitable
measure that can be undertaken to support ethical practice at the individual and
organizational levels.
Adequate knowledge of professional ethics will inculcate in students (our would-be
members):
 a participatory process for developing and reviewing a code of ethics for good
practice;

a commitment to communicating the code of ethics, regularly and in varied ways
so that it is reinforced amongst practitioners;

a commitment to ensuring that new practitioners become acquainted with the code;

opportunities for the open discussion of ethical dilemmas and case studies;

a commitment to the ongoing enforcement of the code by positive enforcement
rewarding or acknowledging practitioners who behave in an exemplary fashion
and by punishment of some kind for those who violate the code;

an organizational procedure for addressing code violations and providing
necessary support to monitor compliance;

a public commitment to the code, especially on the part of people who have high
standing in the organization.
The ethical performance of our association can be considered by using the criteria
above. For example, the ANAN can be evaluated against these criteria:

Criterion 1 - has developed and actively promotes its ethical statement amongst its
members.
While undergoing studies in the College, efforts are made to unifying conceptual framework
— the approach used by all professional accountants to identify, evaluate and address threats
to compliance with the fundamental principles and, where applicable, independence.
Reinstating professional ethics will ensure that the Course highlights:

Revised “safeguards” provisions to better align threats to compliance with the fundamental
principles;
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




Stronger independence provisions regarding long association of personnel with audit
clients;
Role of professional accountants in business (PAIBs) relating to:
o preparing and presenting information; and
o Pressure to breach the fundamental principles.
Clear guidance for accountants in public practice that relevant PAIB provisions are
applicable to them;
the importance of understanding facts and circumstances when exercising professional
judgment; and
how compliance with the fundamental principles supports the exercise of professional
skepticism in an audit or other assurance engagements.
REFERENCES
David Stewart (2011) Washington Independent Review of Books,
Ikhariale 2000, in Obadan and Oshionebo, (2000)
Shamoo A and Resnik D. (2009)
Michael Davidson (2011)
Helen Jain (2011)
Alex Barski (2011)
Hannah Treagus (2011)
Herbert McCabe and Brian Davies ,The Good Life: Ethics and the Pursuit of Happiness" by
Justice M.M.A. Akanbi, P.R.E.V in Nig., 2004
Ufot J. Ekaette, erstwhile Secretary to the Government of the Federation in Nigeria
Obadan and Oshionebo : ANAN Annual National Conference, Jos, November, 2000,
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