Mr. Mbobo Erasmus is the coordinator of the ICAN Study Centre sponsored by the Akwa Ibom State government, a former chairman of ICAN in Akwa Ibom and a university lecturer. In this interview, Mbobo, an erudite scholar told DOMINIC AKPAN, our Business and Special Projects Editor how the centre has helped many Akwa Ibom people to realise their dream of becoming chartered accountants, pointing out that in less than two years, the centre has qualified 75 candidates. Excerpts:
Is the ICAN Study Centre in Uyo, which started in 2018 still running? Absolutely. It is true that the centre started in 2018 even though it would have started since 2017, which was the year Gov. Udom Emmanuel wanted us to start the programme, but it was not possible, because before we could conclude the documentation with the Institute of chartered Accountant of Nigeria, we were already in 2018. So, the first examination was done in November 2018 and 14 students made became qualified as chartered accountants. The second examination was held in May, 2019, and 32 candidates made it, showing an improvement in the quality and content of the programme. The third examination was held in November 2019. Interestingly, we used to conduct the examination two times in a year and in 2019 examination, 29 students qualified as chartered accountants. Akwa Ibom ICAN Study Centre has qualified 75 chartered accountants in less than two years. The next examination was scheduled for March this year, but the global pandemic, COVID -19 has affected it and we had to shift it. I'm sure that by the time we clear that examination, we should record over 100 chartered accountants. And I want to use this opportunity to sincerely thank the governor, for approving the centre for us, because as a chartered accountant, the governor knows the importance of a chartered accountant in the society. What is the nature of sponsorship of the centre and the programme? The centre is fully sponsored by the state government. Let me give you an insight into the establishment of the centre. Sometime in 2017, the ICAN President visited Akwa Ibom State and I was the chairman of the society in Akwa Ibom then. As is the practice, when the president visits, he must pay a courtesy call on the governor. Before we went on the visit to the governor, we gave the president a list of what we wanted and they included a secretariat, vehicles, empowerment, and the study centre project. They were included in the president's address. When Gov. Emmanuel responded after the president's address, he said of all the things we requested for, the one that attracted his attention most was the study centre project, because he benefited from the training when he was in PriceWater HouseCoopers. He said the firm paid the tuition and examination fees, and bought books for candidates it sponsored for ICAN examinations and added that by the time our people have that kind of gesture and training, there is no way they will not pass the examinations. It is sad that many candidates cannot make it through in ICAN examinations, because they are not exposed to quality lectures and preparations required for an examination of that magnitude. Aware of this impediment, ICAN said if any state government outside Lagos collaborates with it by providing the facilities, ICAN will send lecturers to coach the students and prepare them for examinations and our governor was interested and wanted it to start that year, on November 17, precisely. But we needed to do documentation, have a Memorandum of Understanding and all of that, which took us up to November 2018. The programme is fully sponsored by the state government. The arrangement is that the money is paid to ICAN headquarters, and the society pays the lecturers, and gives us funds to run the centre. So, all we do for the students, I can say is 100 per cent free. What the students do is to register at the centre and they have free lectures, free textbooks and free examination fees. What has been the response of Akwa Ibom people to the programme? I can tell you that the response has been tremendous and I can also say that this programme also keys into the Dakkada mantra, because so many people who before now could not continue with their ICAN programme; some had abandoned it more than 10 years ago, because of lack of funds have come back to continue the programme. On the other hand, those who had the desire to become chartered accountants, but don't have the money for the ICAN programme have woken up and are now pursuing their dreams. So far, we have 1,500 students that have passed through the centre in terms of receiving lectures. The sum total is that the response has been quite tremendous and we have good facilities to accommodate the students. Is the centre still at Modern Training Institute in Uyo? Yes, it is still at Modern Training Institute, opposite the Crunches, on Aka Road, but the administrative office is at Udotung Ubo Street, the top floor of Food Affairs building. What are the qualifications for registration in the ICAN programme? One must be a graduate in any discipline, but the advantage an accounting graduate has is that there are exceptions in the examinations for them. The examination is in three stages, but a graduate of accounting is exempted from the foundation courses. An accounting graduate starts as a skilled labour and then moves to the final stage. If you come in as a graduate, you are registered. That is the beautiful thing about ICAN; the society does not discriminate on the basis of what you studied at the first degree level, because ICAN believes that your first degree is a foundation and you may choose to build anything on it. Some people wanted to study accounting, but they didn't have the opportunity and ICAN says there is no problem about that. Once you finish your first degree, enroll in the programme; we are going to train you, but you are going to start from the foundation and move upward. So, many people have taken that advantage to cross over to the accounting profession. We have lawyers, doctors, journalists, engineers as chartered accountants. So, that is the beauty of ICAN for you. So, for one to become a chartered accountant, one must pass the stages of the examinations? I will say yes; those are the stages one needs to pass through to become a chartered accountant. However, there is an arrangement ICAN has put in place and it stipulates that one does not need to pass through the first foundation scheme. One can go straight to the final level. If one starts the accounting programme, there is the ATS; which is designed for students, so that as they start their 100 level in the university, they are doing their regular academic programme and also doing the foundation programme of ICAN and they would be writing the ATS examinations. By the time they finish in school, they go to the final stage of the examination. So many people are doing that and some of them qualify before they finish their B.Sc programme and that is very fantastic. Apart from making for easy qualification as a chartered accountant, it also helps to boost their academic performance as undergraduates. So, it is very fantastic and we are trying to also market that in this part of the country so that our people can take advantage of it. How soon will you bring that to Akwa Ibom? We have introduced it to some of the higher institutions here. It is called Mutual Cooperation Agreement With Tertiary Institutions (MCATI). With the arrangement, higher institutions will allow their 100 level students in accounting or even economics to register with the foundation programme of ICAN, while also receiving training for their academic programme. It is designed in a way that they receive the training for professional ICAN examinations on weekends and public holidays and continue like that till they get to their final year, by which time, they must have covered a lot of grounds in accounting programme. Such people are qualified to write only one stage of ICAN examination and they become chartered accountants. How are you able to cope with the number of students at the centre? One good thing about the centre is that the institute has big halls and that has reduced incidence of crowding in classrooms. But don't forget that this is not a WASSCE or NECO, where examination fee is about N10,000 or less than that, but it costs about N75,000 to N80,000 to register for ICAN examinations and the cost for lectures for each student is N60,000. Every student is required to pay the fees before being allowed to write examinations. To ensure that our students have the chances of passing the examinations, we introduced the mock examination. We use that to know the students we are going to pay examination fees for. What this means is that students must score 50 per cent in the mock examination, because that is the pass mark in ICAN examinations, before we pay examination fees for them. That has instilled seriousness in them, knowing that it is not just to put their name down and we pay fees for them. I want to use this medium to commend the accountantgeneral of Akwa Ibom, Pastor Andew-Essien Uwem, who has been very generous to us by ensuring that we get what we want always. However, we had to reduce the pass mark for the mock examination from 50 per cent to 40, because we realized that those who scored 40 per cent could make the pass list in ICAN examinations. That way, we only pay fees for people we are sure will make it through in the examinations. Another good aspect of the mock examination is that it enables us to manage the crowd in terms of funding. What is the time schedule for lectures? The lectures hold on Mondays to Fridays, from 5pm to 8pm, but start from 7am on Saturdays and Sundays Lectures On Sundays! Yes, we hold lectures on Sundays. ICAN believes that if you spend a month or two to pursue your ICAN programme, when you qualify as a chartered accountant, even your pastor will like your testimony and that one, or two months will not make you to miss heaven. So, because of the need to cover the wide ICAN syllabus, I appeal to students to go to their pastors and let them understand that during this time, they will not be regular in church. What will you say is the main impact of the promgramme on Akwa Ibom People? That is a very good question. I want to say that providing the opportunity for Akwa Ibom people to qualify as chartered accountants is the best empowerment programme of this administration. If you train one chartered accountant, you have settled that man or woman for life and in my assessment, it is better than giving a young man or woman a contract of N10 million. A young man or woman, who has N10million, if he is not careful, could spend it on frivolous things, but a trained chartered accountant will stand on his or her own tomorrow and has the potential to be anything in his life. I want to tell you that many years after this governor must have finished his tenure; this programme will speak for him, because the people that have been silently trained to qualify as chartered accountants through this programme would have moved on in life. By the time these people move up the ladder in life, they will always recall that it was through this programme; it was through the benevolence of Gov. Udom Emmanuel that they were able to be trained as chartered accountants. And just like the governor says always, he is a product of this programme and the qualified chartered accountants from this programme will always say that they were trained by the benevolence of Gov. Udom Emmanuel. For me, the impact has been tremendous in terms of numbers that have qualified as chartered accountants. Do you have plans to sustain the programme after the tenure of Gov. Udom Emmanuel in 2023? Thank you very much for that question. Let me start it thiway. Many years ago, during . the tenure of Obong Victor Attah, ICAN had introduced the programme and highlighted the need for Akwa Ibom State Government to run the centre. We were not even aware that Obong Attah had directed the then Secretary to the State Government to write to ICAN and express the state government's interest in the ICAN Study Centre programme . ICAN, in its reply stated that it was ready to collaborate with the state government to run this programme and a letter was written to us and we tried to follow up on it, along the line, we couldn't get that to happen, because of the bottlenecks in the system. Why I am saying this is that Obong Attah is not an accountant, but because he had vision of training our people to qualify as chartered accountants; because he knows their usefulness, he directed that we should have the centre in Akwa Ibom. So, every governor that comes in and understands this programme, will certainly embrace it. But let me also say that the awareness about this programme is high and successive governments will definitely want to make it a cardinal vehicle for the empowerment of the youths of Akwa Ibom State. How would you describe your tenure as chairman of ICAN in Akwa Ibom State, which ended few years ago? As the chairman of Uyo society of ICAN, Akwa Ibom State chapter, I had the singular privilege of having the state governor, commissioners, accountant-general of the state, three paramount rulers, among others as my members. And these are developments that are common in the West; that a paramount ruler is a chartered accountant, but it is happening in Akwa Ibom today. So, it is indeed a great privilege that we have these caliber of people, and I can tell you that soon, heads of many organizations will be chartered accountants. My greatest joy is that we have these people as ICAN members during my tenure. I must give good credit to the accountant- general of the state. He is the one that actually helps this programme to succeed by interpreting effectively the vision of the governor about the proramme. I have come to discover that as is said in Christianity that between thus says the Lord and it comes to pass, something must happen in between and that is prayer, but in government, between thus says the governor and it comes to pass, there must be somebody to run with that vision of government. Like I said the one that governor Attah initiated couldn't fly; I wouldn't want to say it was because the Secretary to the State government then was not a chartered accountant, no. There was nobody to interface to make it happen, But now, the current accountant-general has thrown his door open for me, I interact with him regularly about the programme. Anytime I go to his office, he gives me audience and if it is not possible, we meet at home to discuss and strategize about the programme. That is why you can see the programme working seamlessly and successfully as it is. The commissioner of finance, Mr. Linus Nkan, also gives us tremendous support, including the permanent secretary and many of our members that are there. The beauty of it is that we have somebody we run to and when we get to his office, he opens the doors for us and that makes the programme very successful. Why are you not practicing as a chartered accountant, but choose to teach in the higher institution? I am a chartered accountant, but also work as a consultant. I will also say that I am an accidental teacher or lecturer in the sense that I didn't really plan from day one to become a lecturer, but circumstances have made it happen and I love the teaching profession. Let me also be mindful not to say that I am an accidental lecturer altogether. The truth is that I came to do my MBA in the University of Uyo and along the line, Prof. Edet Akpakpan called me one day and said young man, I have seen your performance; what are you doing? I told him, and he said he would like me to come over and assist him in the university. He told me that he is out to recruit some brilliant students to help him run the faculty. Of course, he was brought from PortHarcourt by Prof Akpan Ekpo to help in that faculty. He said his plans was for me to finish my MBA, take up appointment and do my Ph.D, He also told me that he was going to introduce the Ph.D programme in the faculty, because for many years, there was no Ph.D programme in management. I told him that there was no problem, that I was going to run with him, but before I could finish the thesis, there was an opportunity to work in the Akwa Ibom State University. When I approached him for a letter of recommendation, he asked me why I was disturbing myself, when he requested me to come and help him, and he is recruiting. I told him that the opportunity was a big one. I succeeded in the interview in Akwa Ibom State University and I was processing my part time appointment just to keep to my promise to Prof Akpakpan to be a part time lecturer in UNIUYO. When that happened in Akwa Ibom State University, we were removed from office unceremoniously and while we were pursuing reinstatement, we had to perfect the arrangement to be a part time lecturer. Infact, because of that development, he converted me to what they called adjunct lecturer. So, I lectured there as an adjunct lecturer to do my Ph.D programme and it is about 12 years now. I have now fallen in love with lecturing. I love the work, because we affect more lives. We just don't teach; we mentor people, point the way for young people to follow. We tell them that if they do this or do that, they will be there tomorrow. And every successful person wants his child to be more successful than him or her. If I make money, it is not from the classroom, but from consultancy jobs for firms. Who is Erasmus Mbobo? He is a son of a late village head in Edemaya Clan in Ikot Abasi Local government and the 9th out of 15 children in the family. To stretch it further, I am a chartered accountant, accidental lecturer and above all, a child of God.