Accounting Ethics and Unethical Corporate Governance: Evidence from Nigerian Banking Industry

Accounting Ethics and Unethical Corporate Governance: Evidence from Nigerian
Banking Industry
* Ileleji, P. A. and **Aniefor S. J.
*Department of Accountancy, Delta State Polytechnic, Otefe-Oghara, Nigeria
**Department of Accountancy, Delta State Polytechnic, Ozoro, Nigeria
E-mail: philipileleji@gmail.com
Abstract
In recent times, there has been renewed emphasis on accounting ethics consideration
and the role unethical corporate governance can play in a firm. However, this paper
investigated the nexus between accounting ethics and unethical corporate governance
among selected Nigerian banks so as to see if unethical governance dynamics of
executive remuneration, external auditors and shareholders role circumvent
accounting ethics. Questionnaire was administered to employees of the selected banks
and both descriptive (mean and standard deviation) and inferential (Lawley’s Chisquare)
were employed in the analysis of data. Findings of the study revealed that
accounting ethics can be circumvented by unethical corporate governance. This
indicates that unethical corporate governance should be discouraged. On the basis of
the findings of the study, it was recommended that the accounting regulatory body
should as a matter of urgency enhance ethical issues in accounting by way of revising
accounting ethics that should guide organization’s management in area of disclosing
accounting numbers.
Keywords: Accounting ethics; Unethical corporate governance; External auditor
Introduction
In modern organizations, accounting ethics and
corporate governance play a dynamic role
towards a firm growth process. Corporate
governance literature (Salaudeen, Ibikunle &
Chima, 2015; Adegbie & Fofah, 2016; and Jiang
& Zhang, 2018) suggests that the board of
directors, external auditors and managements are
key performers in stiffening governance
structure of firms. Perhaps, this is one of the
reasons why firm’s governance structure when
not strengthened are likely to make board
members, external auditors and more
worrisome, management engage in sharp
accounting practices. The show of governance
mechanisms unstiffened, coupled with sharp
accounting practices has made researchers and
other key industry players describe corporate
governance sometimes as ‘unethical’.
Unethical corporate governance according to
Rohmawati, Unti, Gugus and Aji (2016) is sharp
strategic practices by board members, auditors
and management or those saddled with the
responsibility of running the affairs of a firm;
and that these sharp strategic practices usually
erode the best interest of stakeholders. In the
views of Enofe, Utomwen and Danjuma (2016),
unethical corporate governance makes board
members, management make value-maximizing
investments, and financing decisions
unrewarding for stakeholders. Thus, unethical
corporate governance portends earnings
management, which is harmful to stakeholders’
wellbeing.
Unethical corporate governance tends to corrode
accounting ethics by way of misusing
accounting loopholes as well as circumventing
accounting principles and practices, which
should have acted as guide to controlling a firm’s
financial affairs (Charles, Frank & Rajdeep,
2016). Given the fact that firms engage in some
sorts of business transactions, they require
disclosure in annual reports and accounts. In
accounting, it is expected that firms must act in
an ethical manner in disclosing business
transactions in annual reports and that such
disclosure must faithfully represent the
underlying economic transactions of the
business entity. Conceivably, this has not been
the case or practice of some firms due to
weaknesses inherent in governance structure and
in enforcing accounting ethics by firms.
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NIJMRD, Vol. 1, Number (1):
Perhaps, may have brought to bear, the need and
emphasis on accounting ethics and unethical
corporate governance.
On the other hand, accounting ethics entail the
study of ethical dimensions of a firm in
systematically and faithfully disclosing
economic activities of firms in annual reports
and accounts. Accounting ethics focuses on what
is good and right in a particular economic
activity, where a firm engages in a moral
analysis and assessment of such economic
activity. In the views of Carey and William
(2012), unethical corporate governance
circumvents accounting ethics. However,
circumventing accounting ethics through
unethical corporate governance mechanism has
usually resulted in the collapse of corporations.
For instance, in the wake of diverse corporate
scandals and amid snowballing concerns about
unethical corporate governance issues, there has
been a great deal of debate regarding the
applicability of accounting ethics in the modern
business age. This has been heightened with the
failures of corporations like Enron, WorldCom
and Parmalat, and in Nigeria, Diamond, Skye,
and Oceanic Banks, which were believed to be
orchestrated due to unethical governance.
Moreover, this has led to a renewed emphasis on
accounting ethics consideration and the role
unethical corporate governance can play in a
firm. In the context of a worldwide recession
caused by excessive credit expansion, central
governance elements like executive
remuneration, internal control, risk
management, board of directors, independent
non-executive directors and shareholders’ roles
are currently reconsidered and closely analyzed
in tandem with accounting ethics (Cottell, Philip
& Terry, 2014). This study uses governance
measures of executive remunerations, external
auditors and shareholders’ roles so as to see if
they can be used to circumvent accounting
ethics. However, the study is limited in scope to
one hundred (100) research subjects who are
employees of some selected banks in Delta State
of Nigeria.
Review of Related Literature
Accounting Ethics
Accounting ethics refers to set of beliefs and
practices that professional accountants hold
about their jobs. Accounting ethics pertains
specifically to accounting and used to assess
whether accountants adhere to ethical standards
which are designed to ensure that accountants
behave in a way which is ethical and consistent
(Hoffman, 2006). In some regions, in order to be
certified as an accountant, one must indicate
agreement to comply with ethical codes, and
people can be stripped of their certification if
they fail to abide by these codes. For most
professional organizations of accountants, in
order to be members, people must agree to
uphold ethical standards, and they will be
removed from the organization if they fail to do
so.
Furthermore, accounting ethics have developed
via government groups, professional
organizations, and independent companies.
These various groups have led accountants to
follow several codes of ethics to perform their
duties in a professional work environment.
Accountants must follow the code of ethics set
out by the professional body of which they are a
member (Davis & Andre, 2010). In Nigeria,
accounting societies all have codes of ethics, and
many accountants are members of one or more
of these societies. According to Samanthi
(2014), there are seven goals of accounting
ethics, which are to relate accounting standards
to moral issues, recognizing issues in accounting
that have ethical implications in firms,
developing a sense of moral obligation or
responsibility, developing the abilities needed to
deal with ethical conflicts or dilemmas in an
organization, learning to deal with the
uncertainties of the accounting profession,
setting the stage for a change in ethical
behaviour. And appreciating and understand the
history and composition of all aspects of
accounting ethics and their relationship to the
general field of ethics.
Carey and William (2012) argued that in order to
uphold strong accounting ethics, accountant
must have a strong sense of values, ability to
reflect on a situation to determine the ethical
implications, and a commitment to the wellbeing
of others. Thus, accounting ethics
recognize that ethical dilemmas may occur;
identify parties that would be interested,
determine alternatives and evaluate its effect on
each alternative on the interested parties; and
then select the best alternative. These accounting
ethics have metamorphosed into the principles
and rules of accounting. In the views of Carey
and William (op.cit), accounting ethics has been
deemed difficult to control as accountants and
auditors must consider the interest of the public
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(which relies on the information gathered in
audits) while ensuring that they remained
employed by the company they are auditing.
They must consider how to best apply
accounting standards even when faced with
issues that could cause a firm to record a
significant loss or even be discontinued.
Due to several accounting scandals that have
rocked firms, critics have stated that when asked
by a client “what does two plus two equals?” the
accountant would be likely to respond “what
would you like it to be?”. This thought process
along with other criticisms of the profession’s
issues with conflict of interest, have led to
various increased standards of professionalism
while emphasizing accounting ethics in business
(Cheffers & Michael, 2007). Thus, the role of
accounting ethics in firms is critical to the
survival of businesses. Accordingly, accounting
ethical improprieties by firms can be detrimental
to corporate governance. One of the most widely
reported violation of accounting ethics involved
Enron, a multinational company, which for
several years had not shown a true or fair view
of their financial statements. Thus, accounting
ethics is fundamental to ensuring corporate
governance.
Unethical Corporate Governance
Corporate governance according to Cadbury
(1992) is a system through which firms are
guided and controlled. Corporate governance is
seen as actual demarcation of rights and
responsibilities of each group of stakeholders
within a firm. Oluyemi (2005) considered
corporate governance to be of special
importance in ensuring stability of the economy
and successful realization of firms’ strategies.
The consequences of ineffective or unethical
governance systems have perhaps, led to
corporate failure.
Unethical corporate governance according to
Enofe, Utomwen and Danjuma (2016), makes
board members, management make valuemaximizing
investments, and financing
decisions unrewarding for stakeholders.
Unethical corporate governance corrodes
accounting ethics by way of misusing
accounting loopholes as well as circumventing
accounting principles and practices, which
should have acted as guide to controlling a firm’s
financial affairs (Charles, Frank & Rajdeep,
2016). Thus, unethical corporate governance
portends earnings management, which is
harmful to stakeholders’ wellbeing.
In most firms, unethical corporate governance
pervades business operations and usually
interfere with their ability to maximize
shareholders wealth. Unethical corporate
governance becomes obvious when governance
mechanisms such as executives, external
auditors and shareholders connive and exploit
accounting ethics or loopholes.
Executive Remunerations
In management literature, vast majority of
empirical studies suggest that executive
remuneration circumvents accounting ethics in
that executives may decide to fix payment or
remuneration above what it should be. This
perhaps could be one of the reasons why
executive remuneration values breakdown are
undisclosed in the annual reports and accounts of
firms. Besides, there are no studies using
executive remuneration as a proxy for unethical
corporate governance in assessing its link with
accounting ethics in Nigeria. Given this
perspective, we therefore hypothesized that:
Ho1: There is an association between
executive compensation and accounting ethics.
External Auditors
External audit is a vehicle via which the
credibility of financial reports is reassured to
those that may have interest in the business
operations. External auditors disclose their
views of the financial statements in the form of
a report. External audit report is a fundamental
aspect of the auditing process. External audit
according to Akani and Ogbeide (2017)
demands reporting where there are cases of
unethical or sharp practices. Given the
fundamental role of external auditors in
resolving unethical issues, there is high reliance
on such report (Adeyemo, 2012).
With regards to external auditor, it is expected
that external audit will be inversely related to
accounting ethics. Prior research such as
Abdulrasheed (2012) and Adebisi, Okike and
Yoko (2016) have found that an increase in
external audit will help circumvent accounting
ethics. Given the above view, we thus
hypothesized that
Ho2: There is link between accounting ethics
and external auditors.
Shareholders Role
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The fact that stakeholders of a firm are not
considered the primary beneficiaries of a firm
should not lead to an overhasty judgment that
shareholder-oriented role has no place in
circumventing accounting ethics. Proponents of
the mainstream shareholder-centred role
approach to unethical corporate governance base
their argument on private property rights
paradigm (Bonaci, Strouhal, Mullerova &
Roubicova, 2013; Carey & William, 2012),
which implies that, as risk-taking owners and
providers of financial capital, shareholders tend
to prefer to promote their own interests over
those of other stakeholders. It is contended that
as primary owners of business, shareholders
should hold the management team accountable
to the primary goal of maximising shareholder
wealth. Thus shareholder-centred corporate
governance is premised on the view that
corporations exist purely to maximise profits,
within the legal limits (Cheffers & Michael,
2007).
Cheffers and Michael (2007) argue that
corporations have no moral obligation towards
any stakeholder, apart from making as much
profit as possible for the shareholders. Thus,
firms are governed primarily to benefit the
interests of shareholders, but other stakeholders
would automatically also benefit through the
trickle-down effects of the “invisible hand”. In
view of the above assertions, the study
hypothesized that:
Ho3: There is no association between
accounting ethics and shareholders’ roles.
Empirical Review
There is dearth of empirical evidence on the
nexus between accounting ethics and unethical
corporate governance. However, there is
avalanche of empirical evidence on the subject
of accounting ethics, corporate governance and
financial reporting quality. For instance, Jiang
and Zhang (2018) examined the effects of
corporate governance on accounting education
and enterprise value in China. Listed high-tech
industries in Shanghai were sampled and data
obtained from China Economic and Financial
Research Database. The results showed
significantly positive correlations between
corporate governance and accounting education.
Also, a positive correlation between accounting
education and enterprise value, between
corporate governance and enterprise value were
found.
Rohmawati, Unti, Gugus and Aji (2016)
assessed accounting and ethics in good corporate
governance in Indonesia by means of descriptive
statistics. Findings of the study showed that
accounting is still far from neutral nature, full of
managerial subjectivity to overstating figure on
the bottom line instead.
Similarly, Enofe, Utomwen and Danjuma (2016)
investigated the effects of ethics on accounting
practice in Nigeria and survey design was used.
The research unit comprised of accountants,
auditors and management of selected firms and
questionnaire designed on a 5-point Likert scale.
Chi-square result showed that ethics play a
significant role in accounting practice and
corporate governance enhances ethical
compliance of accounting professionals.
Adegbie and Fofah (2016) evaluated the place of
ethics and corporate governance in financial
reporting, especially with the transition to the
international financial reporting standards
(IFRS). The survey design with the use of
structured questionnaire and analysis of variance
were employed. Findings indicated that ethical
irregularities and poor corporate governance
have been the major dynamics affecting quality
of financial reports in Nigeria. In addition, it was
found that the supervisory role of regulatory
authorities in Nigeria was weak to discover and
rectify the problems of ethics and corporate
governance.
Salaudeen, Ibikunle and Chima (2015) examined
unethical accounting practice and financial
reporting quality in Nigeria. Questionnaire used
and regression analysis were used in their
investigation. Findings of the study showed that
extended audit tenure could impair auditor’s
independence and ability to employ professional
skepticism on matters at their disposal.
Moreover, non-adherence to the spirit and letter
of corporate governance was also responsible for
the corporate scandals.
Bonaci, Strouhal, Mullerova and Roubicova
(2013) focused on corporate governance debate
on professional ethics in the accounting
profession by means of descriptive analysis.
Findings of the study revealed that corporate
governance contributes to the endeavor of
aligning the profession’s performance with
society’s reasonable expectations.
Tan (2012) assessed the effect of governance
mechanisms on accounting education using
regression analysis in various countries. Result
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q5 100 4.22 1.654989
q4 100 4.37 1.661538
q3 100 4.06 1.710455
q2 100 3.75 1.57233
q1 100 3.78 1.709037
Variable Obs Mean Std. Dev.
indicated that governance mechanism in various
countries affects accounting education.
Vintila and Gherghina (2012) examined the link
between corporate governance and accounting
education via regression analysis. Findings
revealed that controlling shareholders might not
provide accounting education for reflecting real
transactions but consider self-interest when
agency problems existed in between controlling
shareholders and external shareholders.
Methods
In this study, the cross-sectional survey design
was used and the study subject comprised of
selected bank employees in Nigeria consisting of
top, middle and lower level management staff.
However, given the large nature of bank
employees in Nigeria, purposive sampling
technique was adopted to select one hundred
(100) respondents. The instrument of data
collection is primary data in nature involving
questionnaires. The questionnaire is designed on
a 5-point Likert scale of strongly disagree (SD),
disagree(D), neutral(N), agree (A) and strongly
agree (SA). The face and content validity was
used via expert judgment and critical
examination of content and study objectives
alongside the test items.
Furthermore, to ensure reliability of the research
instrument, the test-retest method is used to
establish the reliability of instrument and results
correlated using Cronbach Alpha test to check
for the internal consistency and reliability. A
sample size of thirty (30) respondents which are
made up of employees of other organizations
were used for test-retest and yielded correlation
coefficient of 0.70, which is appropriate for
assessing the reliability of instrument. In order
to measure the variables of unethical corporate
governance, research questionnaire was
designed and questions raised on unethical
corporate governance measures of executive
remuneration, external auditors and shareholders
role circumventing accounting ethics. The
Descriptive statistics (means and standard
deviation) were used to describe the nature of the
data while the inferential statistics by means of
Lawley’s Chi-square was used to validate the
hypotheses of the study. The statistical analysis
was conducted via STATA 13.0 version.
Results and Discussion
Table 1: Descriptive Statistics for Executive Remuneration
Source: Computed by Researchers via Field Survey, 2020
Table 1 presents the descriptive statistics of
executive remuneration and it shows that item 4
has the highest mean score (mean = 4.37) while
item 2 has the lowest mean score (mean = 3.75).
However, all the 5-items have their mean ratings
within the range of 2.50-4.50, which is above the
benchmark of 2.50. This implies that all the
questions raised on executive remuneration are
valid in explaining unethical corporate
governance. Moreover, the result suggests that
executive remuneration to a large extent
circumvents accounting ethics.
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q10 100 2.21 1.713258
q9 100 3.15 1.659834
q8 100 3.52 1.731934
q7 100 4.05 1.60413
q6 100 4.31 1.631105
Variable Obs Mean Std. Dev.
q15 100 3.81 1.835096
q14 100 2.94 1.516375
q13 100 3.26 1.360481
q12 100 3.85 1.552938
q11 100 3.13 1.905097
Variable Obs Mean Std. Dev.
q20 100 4.02 1.421196
q19 100 3.3 1.94105
q18 100 3.3 1.94105
q17 100 3.21 1.865665
q16 100 2.98 1.825631
Variable Obs Mean Std. Dev.
Table 2: Descriptive Statistics for External Auditors
Source: Computed by Researchers via Field Survey, 2020
Table 2 captures the descriptive statistics of
external auditors and it shows that item 6 has the
highest mean score (mean = 4.31) while item 10
has the lowest mean score (mean = 2.21).
However, items 6, 7, 8, and 9 have their mean
ratings within the range of 2.50-4.58, which is
above the benchmark of 2.50. This implies that
most of the questions raised on external auditors
are valid in explaining unethical corporate
governance. Moreover, the result suggests that
external auditors circumvent accounting ethics.
Table 3: Descriptive Statistics for Shareholder’s Role
Source: Computed by Researchers via Field Survey, 2020
Table 3 reflects the descriptive statistics for
shareholders role and it reveals that item 12 has
the highest mean score (mean = 3.85) while item
14 has the lowest mean score (mean = 2.94).
However, all the items have their mean ratings
within the range of 2.50-4.54, which is above the
benchmark of 2.50. This implies that all the
questions raised on shareholders role are valid in
explaining unethical corporate governance.
Besides, the result suggests that shareholders
role circumvent accounting ethics.
Table 4: Descriptive Statistics for Accounting Ethics
Source: Computed by Researchers via Field Survey, 2020
Table 4 captures the descriptive statistics for
accounting ethics and it indicates that item 20
has the highest mean score (mean = 4.02) while
item 16 has the lowest mean score (mean = 2.98).
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Prob > chi2 = 0.0000
Lawley chi2(44) = 112.87
Test that correlation matrix is compound symmetric (all correlations equal)
Prob > chi2 = 0.0000
Lawley chi2(44) = 142.18
Test that correlation matrix is compound symmetric (all correlations equal)
Prob > chi2 = 0.0000
Lawley chi2(44) = 146.98
Test that correlation matrix is compound symmetric (all correlations equal)
However, all the items have their mean ratings
within the range of 2.50-4.59, which is above the
benchmark of 2.50. This implies that all the
questions raised on accounting ethics are valid in
explaining unethical corporate governance.
Ho1: There is an association between
executive compensation and accounting ethics.
Table 5: Lawley Chi-square for Hypothesis I
Source: Computed by Researchers via Field Survey, 2020
Based on the Lawley statistics (chi2=112.87 >
Prob.=0.0000), the null hypothesis was rejected
while the alternative hypothesis was accepted,
suggesting that there is an association between
executive compensation and accounting ethics.
Ho2: There is link between accounting ethics
and external auditors.
Table 6: Lawley Chi-square for Hypothesis II
Source: Computed by Researchers via Field Survey, 2020
Based on the Lawley statistics (chi2=142.18 >
Prob.=0.0000), the null hypothesis was rejected
while the alternative hypothesis was accepted,
suggesting that there is link between accounting
ethics and external auditors.
Ho3: There is no association between
accounting ethics and shareholders’
roles.
Table 7: Lawley Chi-square for Hypothesis III
Source: Computed by Researchers via Field Survey, 2020
Based on the Lawley statistics (chi2=146.98 >
Prob.=0.0000), the null hypothesis was rejected
while the alternative hypothesis was accepted,
suggesting that there is association between
accounting ethics and shareholders’ roles.
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Concluding Remark
In this paper, we examined the nexus between
accounting ethics and unethical corporate
governance among some selected Nigerian banks
so as to see if unethical corporate governance
dynamics of executive remuneration, external
auditors and shareholders role circumvent
accounting ethics. Findings of the study revealed
that accounting ethics can be circumvented by
unethical corporate governance. This indicates that
unethical corporate governance should be
discouraged. Besides, the accounting regulatory
body should as a matter of urgency enhance ethical
issues in accounting by way of revising accounting
ethics that should guide organization’s
management in area of disclosing accounting
numbers
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