1.1. BACKGROUND TO THE STUDY
The auditing profession performs a role in giving reasonable assurance to the public and users’ of financial statements, specifically investors and creditors, of the reliability and credibility of a firms’ financial statements. To fulfill this role, there are several principles that auditors should espouse. One of the most important principles is independence. By demonstrating their independence, auditors’ opinions on financial statements will be valued by the users. In essence, auditor independence refers to an absence of interest by the auditor in the auditing assignment, thereby avoiding material bias that could affect the reliability and credibility of the financial statements. The auditing profession promotes the principle of independence to define, defend, and extend the profession. Auditor independence also refers to the independence of the internal auditor or of the external auditor from parties that may have a financial interest in the business being audited. Independence requires integrity and objective approach to the audit process. The concept requires the auditor to carry out his or her work freely and in an objective manner. Financial statements apart from stating the financial position of an organization, provides other information such as the value added, changes in equity if any and cash flows of the enterprise within a defined period time to which it relates (Iyoha and Faboyede, 2011).
This information is useful to a wide range of users making informed economic decisions. The quality of financial reporting is indispensable to the need of users who requires them for investment and other decision making purposes. Financial reports can only be regarded as useful if it represents the “economic substance” of an organization in terms of relevance, reliability, comparability and aids interpretation simplicity (Penman, 1984). Ahmed (2003), stated that useful accounting information derived from qualitative financial reports help in efficient allocation of resources by reducing dissemination of information asymmetry and improving pricing of securities. The user of financial statement which include: shareholders, government, creditors, investors, etc. All rely on the audited financial statement in other to make informed decision. Therefore the credibility and reliability of this statement is necessary. The basic purpose of financial statements in the view of Meigs and Meigs (1981) is to assist decision makers in evaluating the financial strength, profitability and the future prospects of a business entity. The basic objective for preparing financial statement is to provide information useful for making economic decisions.
The objective of an audit of financial statements is to enable the auditor express an opinion whether the financial statements are prepared in all material respects and also in accordance with auditing standard. In recent times, auditors have been put under pressure to ensure that their reports constitute assurance to investors that their funds are put into good use and properly accounted for. In Nigeria, every incorporated company is required to appoint an external auditor, who is required to render an independent opinion on the financial statements; whether or not they show a true and fair view. The Companies and Allied Matters Act (1990) states that every auditor of a company shall have a right of access, at all times, to the books, accounts and vouchers of the company and to such information and explanations as may be necessary in the course of an audit. The auditor shall make a report to the members of the company on the accounts examined by them. The auditor in performing his duties is expected to exercise all care, diligence and skills as is reasonably necessary in each particular circumstance.
Furthermore, there has been much discussion about the independence of Auditors; the leadership of the auditing standards board, the public oversight board, the independence standards board, and most recently the proposed independence rules promulgated by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) have all attempted to clarify and strengthen auditor independence. Also in the medieval era financial reporting were not necessary and hence financial statements were not prepared neither used to make decisions. But with the recent development every firm are expected to prepare and report their financial statement in order to know the financial position of the organisation so that stakeholders can make decisions. Audit report is the medium through which the auditor expresses his opinion on the financial statement examined by him.
Due to familiarity, threat of replacement of an auditor, provision of book-keeping services by the auditor and many other factors, the auditor may want to issue an unqualified audit report even when the situation on ground proved otherwise. This situation raises doubt about the independence of an auditor. Independence is the cornerstone of accountability. The challenge is that corporate management hires, fires, and pays both their internal and external auditors. Auditors, therefore, develop good relationships with management to keep the job of the client. They may not, therefore, be independent of the corporate management. Most studies on Auditor independence have concentrated on it as a financial reporting issue. But financial reporting is one aspect of the total impact of auditor independence. Much more significant is the impact of a set of standards on a company’s organisation, philosophy, business structure compliance to the standards, performance management, and internal control and so on.
1.2. STATEMENT OF PROBLEM
In Nigeria, there have been a number of audit failures, some leading to the restatement of figures in the financial statements. For example, Lever Brothers, African Petroleum and Cadbury, just to mention a few important ones. Although, it has not been proved by any detailed investigation that these audit failures were due to impairment of auditor’s independence it could reasonably be suspected to be a contributing factor (Adelaja, 2009). Financial reports as stated in Igben (1999) are meant to be a formal record of business activities and these reports are meant to provide an overview of the financial position and profitability in both short and long term of companies to the users of these financial statements such as shareholders, managers, employees, tax analyst, banks, etc. But in recent times, the financial manipulations, weak internal control systems, ignorance on the part of the board of directors and audit committee, manipulation on the part of the reporting auditor and other fraudulent activities that occur within companies, creating a negative goodwill to the general public.
A typical example of a financial statement malfunction is the popular case of Enron. Secondly, concerns have been expressed about the conflict of interest between the statutory role of the auditor and the other services it may undertake for a client (UK House of Common Treasury Committee, 2008). Also, a number of worrisome audit failures have been recorded across the world: Enron, in the US, Northern Rock in the United Kingdom, Metagelsha in Germany, Parmalat in Italy; Lever Brothers and Cadbury in Nigeria. Audit firm tenure has also been linked with fraudulent financial reporting. If empirical studies are not carried out with respect to specific environmental factors and necessary policies are not implemented to address shortcomings, the problem of auditor independence may be exacerbated with likely grave consequences for the nascent Nigerian Capital Market. Finally, it is widely accepted that independence is the most priceless asset in the auditing profession and the basic principle that underpins the reputation of the auditing profession in the public eye.
By conducting an auditing work independently, auditors protect the public’s confidence in such services. Despite this, several firms’ scandals, directly or indirectly involving auditors, have damaged public confidence in auditor independence. These scandals have taken place not just in one country but across the world, these scandals have caused the public suffering huge losses and have also damaged the reputation of the auditors and the auditing profession. Although these scandals cannot solely be attributed to the failures of the auditors, the public perceived that a large part of the responsibility lay with them. This is because the public expects the auditing profession to perform not just as watchdogs that give them reasonable assurance but also as bloodhounds that track out everything even when there is nothing to provoke auditors’ suspicion. Moreover, it is also widely believed that these scandals took place because of the auditors’ lack of independence, as a result of accommodating their clients’ interests during audits.