Sierra Leone was once the Athens of West Africa because of the calibre of academic brains and the level of excellence attained by its academics. The country has a population of only five (5) million people but rich natural resources that could be used to develop its human resource.
|Dr. Dante Alie Bendu in his full academic regalia
However, its high rates of illiteracy and death coupled with other dismal macroeconomic indicators, have persistently rendered Sierra Leone to the bottom of the Human Development Index of the UNDP. Also, the high Ďbrain drainí and unequal access to employment for highly skillful and experienced Sierra Leoneans have helped to worsen the countryís development agenda including its educational sector which has lost the lustre it once glossed with. Although Sierra Leoneans in the Diaspora regularly make the country proud with their show of excellence in academia at Universities around the World, it is a rarity to see academic excellence on display inside the country. Not withstanding these disequilibria, Sierra Leone still has patriotic nationals with high ethical and moral values to help the country experience the needed big push to rapid and sustained economic growth and development. This is even more important when we find unique Sierra Leoneans in the oldest educational institution, Fourah Bay College.
This importance is why when the news of the ascendancy to another height of academic excellence of famed University Lecturer, Dr. Dante Alie Bendu broke out earlier this year, I desired to publicise his academic success so that our upcoming young students can have a role model they can aspire to become like. Since Monday, 18th August 2008 when the results of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCAs) exams were released, I had been working on getting this otherwise very shy gentleman to grant me an interview whereby I could showcase his talents as exhibited in his results which he passed with excellent grades.
I finally met with Dr. Dante Bendu last week and asked him key questions that are germane to all his academic successes to date and Accountancy Education and practice in Sierra Leone.
Dr. Bendu has been lecturing the Accounting and Finance courses at Fourah Bay College (1986 to date) and the Institute of Public Administration and Management (October 1993 to February 2005), both of the University of Sierra Leone and many other institutions in Sierra Leone (1986 to 2002). All of these are in addition to his consulting assignments.
The following are the key questions that I asked Dr. Bendu from which he provided the answers.
Awareness Times (AT): Sir, what are your qualifications?
Dante Bendu (DB): I have the following qualifications:
B.Sc. Economics (Honours in Accounting and Finance (1982-1986)
M.Sc. Economics (Specialism in Public Sector Accounting and Financial Control) (1990ó1992)
MA. Marketing and Management (2000-2002)
PhD (Accounting and Strategic Management) (2002 Ė 2005
FeICM (Fellow of the Institute of Commercial Management) From the United Kingdom) (2007)
Successfully passed the ACCA Ė August 2008
(AT): People have wondered aloud why is it that you have always stayed at the University instead of taking full-time Accounting jobs elsewhere.
(DB): Many of the higher educational institutions in Sierra Leone lack full-time lecturers in Accounting and/or Finance who hold at least a Mastersí degree. Many lecturers are on part-time and associate lectureship. Most highly qualified Accountants are in the industries working for high pay perks.
I strongly believe that my stay at Fourah Bay College since 1986 to date has been a call from the Almighty God. When God calls you, He will equip you to withstand the storms of life. I have sincerely answered to this call and used the principles of godliness, good governance, equal opportunity and good corporate governance to prepare my Accounting and Finance students for their future by divine guidance.
I always enjoy not only teaching but disciplining the students to face the challenges for post-war Sierra Leoneís economic recovery, growth and development. I also help them find holiday jobs and permanent jobs.
(AT): Can you estimate the total number of Accounting and Finance students that you have taught in Sierra Leone?
(DB): I cannot. However, at least seventy (70) percent of all practicing Accountants (even those with ACCA only or combined ACCA/B.Sc/B.A etc) practising in the various institutions (Public and Private) in Sierra Leone (aged between 24 to 49 years) have been taught by me in key courses.
I started preparing them in 1986 from the Albert Academy Secondary School, the Annie Walsh Memorial School, Cardinal Educational Enterprise during the days of Prof. Newman Smart and other educational institutions.
(AT): Why did you have to attempt the ACCA examinations after getting your academic degrees?
(DB): This is to fully equip me to successfully withstand the Accounting heavy weights in Nigeria and Ghana and outside the African Continent. These heavy weights have Doctorate degrees in Accounting and hold the ACCA qualification. Nigeria has at least six (6) professors in Accounting who hold the ACCA or ICAN (Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria) qualification. Sierra Leone has none. Hence, I decided to take the challenge as some of them regularly encourage me to learn more and join them in undertaking joint researches, consultancies and external examinations. I have been quite submissive to their mentorship and I thank the Almighty God for his favour upon me.
(AT): How do you rate the capacity of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Sierra Leone (ICASL) to fully execute their mandate?
(DB): ICASL is a legal entity and is fully committed to regulate the Accounting practice in Sierra Leone. The Governors of ICASL are people with high integrity and love for the profession. Their charges for promoting Accounting education in Sierra Leone are very minimal.
(AT): How do you hope to use your qualifications to help promote Accounting education and practice in Sierra Leone?
(DB): I have always served as a consultant to many Public Sector Projects. I have been the Lead Consultant to prepare the current (2007) Financial Management Regulations of Sierra Leone and the Procurement Handbook (both sponsored by the Commonwealth), several Project Implementation Manuals, Business Plans, Strategic and Implementation Plans and organize staff training and workshops and so on.
I shall continue to provide these services and work with my international peers and superiors to help bring and update best practice in Accounting to Sierra Leone.
I have a consulting firm called Sarante Consultancy Unit together with other Sierra Leoneans. We have stood the tests of time. My colleagues in that Unit are not only ACCA holders but also near to completing their Doctorate degrees (some by distance learning with the USA and UK Universities). We are trying to encourage other Sierra Leoneans to join us promote the tenets of professional accounting practice both within and outside Africa.
(AT): How long did you take to study and pass the ACCA?
(DB): I started it soon as I got my doctorate (PhD) degree in June 2005. I have been taking the subjects with only exemptions from my First (B.Sc.) degree courses. I was challenged by having to start it almost all over a long shot and I have used my experience in taking those exams with my past students (from FBC, IPAM, etc) to tell others that no matter the age, and the other limitations, learn to become a key player in the labour market. I had to study only when it remained a week or two to the exams, as I believe that my degrees have already made me learn most of the topics, by Godís grace.
(AT): What pieces of advice do you have for all aged Sierra Leoneans who want to undertake studies?
(DB): First, let them commit their plans to the Almighty God through Jesus Christ, believe that God can direct and protect them, always try to please God alone, be fair to all mankind, budget their time and resources, be committed to their studies, be prayerful and occasionally fast for their exams. For me, I had heavy schedules, but had to spare at least two (2) hours per night for the studies. Every course cannot be taken lightly. It has not been easy by me to go to the WAEC halls and sit exams with my past students. But God helped me put all pride aside for which also I give Him all glory, honour, thanks and appreciation. As for me and my household, we will continue to serve (i.e. worship, praise and work) the Father and God of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Let no rejection from any loved one discourage you from your focus or your plans. Do not wait on your employer or government to sponsor your studies, but use whatever limited income you gather to sponsor yourself, knowing fully well that a genuinely earned income will earn greater returns in future once invested in education (an instrument of liberation from poverty, ignorance and diseases).
My financial background has not always been that appealing but Jesus Christ came to this world to seek people like me and my family that is why we are unreservedly grateful and love Him!!!
(AT): Thank you very much Sir for your time and I urge you to continue to keep the flag flying as a Role Model in this society.
(DB): Thank you too. Your newspaper is also a source of pride and inspiration to many in this country and I am proud to feature in it.