We have a grim reminder from Africa of the perils that risk assurance professionals face while fighting corruption: the chief auditor of the government of Liberia was found dead under mysterious circumstances over the weekend, and is the fourth Liberian government auditor to meet a suspicious end in two weeks.
According to local news reports, Emmanuel Barten Nyeswua, director-general of the Liberia Internal Audit Agency, was discovered in the yard of his residence at roughly 2 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 10. Nyeswua had been out with friends earlier in the evening; some reports said he later had visitors at his home in Monrovia, the capital city.
At least one article says the cause of death was a fall from a door on the third floor of Nyeswua’s house, which seems mysterious because it’s a narrow door with no porch or ledge outside — so why would Nyeswua have stepped through that door himself? (See photo, below, from the Liberian Observer.)
We do know that Nyeswua had just finished an audit of how the government was spending money to fight Covid-19, although the contents of that report haven’t been released. Then again, Liberia routinely ranks near the bottom of the Corruption Perception Index and similar measurements of government corruption, so we can venture a guess that Nyeswua probably did find problems other people would rather be kept hidden.
The Liberian National Police say they’ve launched an investigation to determine the exact circumstances of Nyeswua’s death. The Liberia Internal Audit Agency doesn’t seem to have a functioning website (although it does have a Facebook page). Nyeswua had been director there since 2018.
Fourth Deaths in Two Weeks
Nyeswua’s death is troubling enough, but he is the fourth government auditor to turn up dead in Liberia in two weeks. According to Front Page Africa, two employees of the Liberia Revenue Authority were found dead in a car the week of Oct. 3. One was Gifty Lama, acting manager for tax services; the other was Albert Peters, assistant commissioner for audit. Their respective spouses both say they suspect foul play.
And on Oct. 4, another auditor at the Revenue Authority, George Fanbutu, died in a car accident when driving home from a business meeting. So far police have only said that Fanbutu lost control of his vehicle and died in a collision; but a local talk-show host in Monrovia broadcast that two assailants on motorbikes had been chasing Fanbutu, forced open his door while the vehicle was in motion, and then bashed him in the head with machetes. The talk show host did release a video showing Fanbutu with a grievous head injury, but not video of any attack itself.
To be clear, we have no idea whether these four deaths are all related; or some are related but not others; or all have reasonable explanations. Liberia is a corrupt, dangerous country, and accidents can happen anywhere — so we’ll have to wait, see what happens, and hope law enforcement delivers justice for these four people.
These stories are also reminiscent of the crime against Thami Zikode, chief audit executive of the South African Broadcasting Corp. He dodged an assassination attempt last year, in what was believed to be retaliation for Zikode investigating corruption that had been happening at SABC for years.
Compliance and audit executives routinely talk about the pressure and retaliation they face just for doing their jobs well, and these are extreme examples of that danger. Our thoughts are with the loved ones of the Liberian auditors.