Right from instigation, fate had orchestrated events to bring him to God’s divine alignment for his creation. No wonder when he deviated in his thoughts, his father’s counsels re-routed him on the path. Bringing to fruition, his search for peace placed him face-to-face with God. Today, Pastor Ituah Ighodalo, is the Chairman, Fina Trust Microfinance Bank, the Chairman UniCourage; Managing Partner, SIAO, a chartered accounting and auditing firm, and the Pastor-In-Charge, Trinity House, in this interview with selected journalists he spoke on his career, priestly calling and sundry issues. ORUKPE NELSON was there.
One boiling issue in the country today is the Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN) N35M capitalisation for BDC, as a chartered accountant, how do you think this would affect the economy?
I want to believe that CBN had thought through the policy before embarking on it and I believe also that BDC business is a way of bringing foreign currency down to the people. If the CBN makes it difficult for people to enter the business, it becomes thorny to ensure free flow of foreign currency throughout the country.
But I guess the CBN would have their reports to necessitate such policy. Perhaps, they have done that to attract more serious minded people to the business but I’m not sure if the N35million capitalisation requirement would make financial sense for the people except they increase the volume of supply to each BDC operator, especially now that the operators would be reduced.
More so, BDC is a business and everybody looks at his business model to see how it can reward him financially. I’m not sure that CBN wants to interfere too much on how a person runs his business.
Again, the approach should be more of regulation than making BDC another symbol of job creation. It should be seen more of regulatory, fiscal and monetary policy issues rather than driving employment control for it.
Many states of federation are taking Federal Government Bonds, as a business strategist and tax adviser, what are the implications of bond-taking to the economy?
Bond-taking is good. There is almost no serious government that wants to make serious impact in the life of the people that does not borrow at one point or the other, or take some bonds to finance one project or the other.
But the key to that bond is that, it’s well-thought out and tied to a project or a set of projects that have economic and social values, of which its repayment is tied to the ability of the revenue generating capability of the government overtime.
If all these parameters are there, it’s a welcomed development because, if these infrastructures borrowed for are not done, the state of the country might not be worth living in.
If for instance, you want to build an airport to open up economic activities in a particular area, you need to do it immediately because in 10 years time, that opportunity in such environment might not be there again and you might never catch up with it.
When there is no money, take bonds, plan well, and within short period of time, you get the reward from such project. This is how responsible governments are able to repay their bonds.
Some projects are self-funding. By the time you build a nice road, and a million cars pass on it on daily basis, taking N10 from those cars as toll, which they are not bothered about, the project recoups the money within few years. But if you don’t do the road, the economic and social implications of the people might be terrible.
There is an increasing concern over unbanked money in Nigeria, yet banks are whittling down their branch networks in the rural areas against CBN’s policy on rural banking, how could this be harnessed for developmental projects in the country?
The unbanked money in Nigeria runs into trillions of naira. Nigeria is still a cash based economy even as the CBN is trying hard to make it a cashless society. The reason the CBN is doing this remains the fact that the cost of cash handling is expensive, whether minting or otherwise.
The CBN must bring out a realistic policy. If you asked banks to open a number of branches in a community with about 3000 people, of which their economic activities worth N1 million, asking five banks to go and scramble for 3000 people would be a big challenge.
There has to be certain rebates or subsides by CBN to encourage banks to provide partial social services in the rural areas for a certain period of time, say, first four years of the projects until they break even. The banking activities in such areas would also promote the economic activities of the communities, which eventually lead to the viability of those branches themselves.
If these are not induced or supported, either by the CBN or Federal Government, it would continue to affect the economy adversely. May be, as a way out, if it costs a bank N1million to open a branch in the village, the CBN and the bank may share the cost just to encourage them for a certain period of time.
When the banks know that their losses are mitigated or reduced by CBN, they would move into these areas and get the unbanked. Also, the banks would now have money to lend to people, thereby, increasing economic activities of such areas. With this, we could harness the unbanked money and put them to work.
Lack of planning and bankable projects are said to be responsible for low access to funds for developmental projects in the country, as a project developer and planner, how would Nigeria wriggle out of this?
To be honest with you, there is no project that is not bankable. It’s just the way it’s structured that either makes it bankable or non bankable. If you want to build a house that can take three years, it can be done for within three years, if you want to lend somebody a six-month loan to build a three years house, of course, you can see that the project is not bankable.
We have to match the project with the kind of funding it requires. Some projects need two months gestation and others, five years gestation and so on.
The issue of bankability does not arise if there are proper structure and funding, except there is adverse fraud. But the issue remains, are the products in the right quality and quantity needed, are they available in the right proportion and proper manner? If these are answered, the bankability becomes the issue of structuring finance to meet production.
How would indigenous accounting firms help in solving these problems?
For instance, in SIAO, we try to give financial advice and evaluate the project itself to see the best structure that would make the project survive, in terms of finance, equity and debt, tenure longevity and others. One thing is to make sure that the person driving the project has the required experiences, knowledge and skills to execute it.
Having done this, we consider the managerial infrastructure to ensure there are no fraud, leakage and abuse of the entire process. Once you can guarantee that, you do not have any problem, the project will rest well.
Also, when necessary, we suggest and advise on the best personnel for the project, because one of the challenges that might be encountered is lack of skilled personnel to handle it, due to absence of training and retraining for good exposure. This is where the government should be fully in charge, especially in our educational and technical trainings that have gone rest.
We need a proactive and thinking economic atmosphere and leaders who can think ahead and help to manage the economy, without which, we would just be fishing in the dark.
How much storm did you weather to get to where you are in the accounting profession?
Perhaps, we are the leading Nigerian indigenous auditing and accounting firm in Nigeria today. One of things we do is working to develop local content in the auditing firms, encouraging accounting profession in Nigeria.
Right now, accounting profession in the country is dominated by so-called international firms, denying the local firms their jobs, resulting in capital flight; and using Nigerian resources to build another man’s economy.
Every industry has passed its own revolution. There was a time in Nigeria, when most of the architectural designs were handled by international firms. Over time, most of them were addressed and today, there are more local firms in it, same for engineering and the same we want to do for accounting, which has come of age.
It’s critical now because you don’t get enough business and you don’t get to employ the right quality of staff. Government has to embark on accounting support regulations for companies registered in Nigeria to be audited by the local firms.
But for SIAO, we are progressing, we have quality staff, we do a lot of training and exposure and we are doing well by God’s grace. We would do better if the government insists on that. Can you imagine that not one of the banks in Nigeria is audited by local firm?
We do not mind if the international firms come in but the work has to be shared between the international and the local firms so that the local firms can develop too. In China, there are certain works that the government insists must be done by local firms. Same can be done here.
Was accounting your childhood dream?
Not really, as a young child, I had wanted to be an engineer and later changed my mind to go into business and make money but my father advised me to have a profession before going into business. So, I looked for a business-related course, and my father being an accountant, I chose accounting.
Now, from accounting to being a pastor, how did you receive the goodness to the point of becoming a General Overseer of a church?
Well, I will like to refer to myself as ‘pastor-in-charge’ and not general overseer. But the point is, I never planned to become a pastor, I was trying to find my peace. Like I said, after my education, I got a job with PriceWaters House, where I was working but wasn’t working for me.
I lost my peace and I was frustrated in some degree. I went to God that I didn’t know so well and I said ‘God if you are there, help me and give me back my peace. I need peace’ and He visited me in a distinctive way and I regained my peace.
He encouraged me to join a church and I started with the Redeemed Christians Church of God, Apapa branch. I threw in whatever I had in that church and very soon, I started receiving celestial responses to my issues and I became a worker, joined ushering and became a minister. After a while, I started going for evangelism and foreign missions.
Afterwards, I was asked if I would like to pastor a parish, initially, I never wanted it because I thought I could be a minister, doing more of ministry support but God didn’t give me rest until I accepted and they gave me a parish.
Did you see the hand of God frustrating you, taking your peace, perhaps, to bring you close to Himself?
Well, you wouldn’t say that God tried to frustrate me, God just allowed me to go through the natural course of life without divine assistance to get the result I got. It’s like the law of gravity, which says that what goes up comes down. Certain things would happen to you if you do certain things.
If you drink and smoke, you are most likely to end up a smoker, addict and drunkard, there is nothing God can do about that. If you are sexually promiscuous, there is every tendency that you would pick up one form of disease or the other.
However, if you don’t live life according to God’s rules, you will end up making the mistakes of life that could make you lose your peace and it can happen to anyone. To some people, the situation is more and to others, in somewhat. But one day in everybody’s life, we will come back to the question ‘what is the meaning of life?’
Some people go through life issues without peace and believe such is life, but it isn’t normal. God said I have not given you the spirit of fear but of love and sound mind. But if you don’t do the right thing you will not get the proper result.
In other words, God allowed me to go through that progression of life to bring about the result that I got to make me know that I should seek Him for directions, and surely, I get direction from Him.
Above all, there is hell and there is heaven. If you live a certain trajectory of life on earth, you will get the result at the other side of great beyond. Is either peace here on earth and peace in heaven or war on earth and war in heaven.
As a young man, full of blood and vigour, how did you contend with the issues of evangelism?
Oh! This is an important aspect of Christianity. First of all, part of the things that make you feel and know that you are on the right track as a born again is that burning desire in you that everybody must hear the good news and join the fellowship of the brethren.
It’s unusual that people found a good thing, and look for others to enjoin them but Christianity affords you that opportunity, and for matter of compulsion, you must get them to come and join you in the good works.
So, what do you consider the funniest thing you have done for God?
Well, I can’t remember but I hold God very seriously. I don’t know if I have done anything funny for God but I will do anything for God.
What are your hobbies?
In those days, I enjoyed playing swoosh and played a bit of golf, watching soccer and others. But today, I do not have such time for these because I really run a very busy schedule. I still find time to enjoy a bit of soccer.
What do you do for pleasure?
Well, my business is my pleasure and I enjoy my pastoral calling. I have no other desire for any other kind of pleasure but when I need to relax, I relax, when I need to take it easy, I take it easy and when I want to rest, I rest or watch television or relax, talking with my wife or take a walk. Yes I do other things to balance my life.
What are your favourite meals?
I’m not a food person, I like salad and fruits.
Your guiding philosophy?
You must fear God and serve Him. You must have a clearly defined vision for life. You must have a passion to succeed. You must be truthful, straightforward and honest to people. You must do your best to ensure that as much as you succeed, you can help other people. Finally, you must prepare for heaven.
With the number of things you have in your hands, do you find time to sleep?
Most days, I get to bed between 1am and 2am. Between 4am and 5am, I’m up to pray. But sometimes, after praying at about 7:30am, I go back to have a light nap before going out. Sometimes, I sleep earlier. Moreover, any day I have sleep deficiency, I take a day or two out to make up for it.
On his family, marriage and early life
I am happily married and blessed with children, hails from Edo State. I grew up in Ibadan as the last of three children. My father was the one-time Chief Accountant of the Mid-Western Nigeria Development Corporation and my mother was the first female Permanent Secretary in Nigeria.
I attended King’s College, Lagos before going to England to study Economics and Accounting at the University of Hull, from which I graduated in 1981.
I worked at PricewaterhouseCoopers, after my National Youth Service programme and then took a giant leap and started my business in 1985.
Today, I have 20 years experience in providing auditing, accounting, taxation, human resources and financial advisory services among others.