Newly appointed Chairman of Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Mr Muhammad Nami, on Monday launched a veiled criticism of his predecessor in office, Mr Babatunde Fowler, accusing his management of superintending a steady decline in revenue collection by the service since the inception of his tenure in 2015.
It was meant to be the new chairman’s first Christmas message and felicitation to the revenue service staff since his assumption of office on December 19.
But, he used the message to carry out a performance assessment of Fowler’s management, accusing it of failing to maintain the “impressive performance” the agency recorded since 2011, with 2012 as the benchmark year for outstanding performance.
Reviewing the performance and workforce of the service between 2011 and 2019, Nami took a jab at Fowler, saying “despite the rise in Service workforce, the engagement of consultants, the rise in inflation and the exchange rates, the tax revenue collection (of the FIRS) continues to dwindle.”
Commending FIRS staffers for “displaying the spirit of steadfastness, resilience, perseverance and deftness in the discharge of your assigned responsibilities,” he urged them to use the yuletide holiday to ponder over the past and resolve to resume refreshed and better prepared to serve.
He also made reference to 2012, three years before Fowler’s appointment, as the best year for the FIRS.
“As a result of your uncommon commitment to duty, 2012 especially, you were able to raise Five Trillion, Seven Billion Naira even without active participation of consultants and with moderate inflation and exchange rates. I want to be positive that this impressive performance is achievable again,” the Chairman reminded the workers.
Fowler was appointed the Chairman of FIRS in August 2015. On assumption of office, he introduced the use of tax consultants in the collection of tax revenues and other services, a policy brought forward from his time as Director of Lagos State Revenue Service.
Despite the controversy that trailed the use of tax consultants to carry out services thousands of regular FIRS staff were competent and qualified to render, Fowler sustained the policy till the end of his tenure on December 9, 2019.
On August 8, the presidency, through Chief of Staff to the President, Mr Abba Kyari, queried Mr Fowler over “observed significant variances between the budgeted collections and actual collections for the period 2015 to 2018.”
The presidency accused Fowler of consistently not being able to meet his collection target since assumption of office in 2015.
The query indicated that in 2015, although FIRS set a revenue target of N4.7 trillion, it was only able to make N3.7 trillion in actual collection.
In 2016, 2017 and 2018, the presidency said from target collections of N4.2 trillion, N4.8 trillion and N6.7 trillion, the actual collections were N3.3 trillion, N4.0 trillion and N5.3 trillion, respectively.
A presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu explained that the reason Mr Fowler’s tenure was not renewed as the chairman of FIRS was that the poor performance of the service under his management irked the president, who queried him over insufficient tax collection since 2015.
Revenue performance between 2011 and 2019
The new FIRS Chairman said a review of the revenue performance of the service between 2011 and 2019 showed that although the agency had fewer staff in 2011 (6,445), its actual revenue collection (N4.629 trillion) exceeded set collection target of N3.639 trillion by about 127.2 per cent.
However, since 2015, despite a higher number of staff (7,182), FIRS was unable to meet the revenue target of N4.572 trillion, realizing only N3.7 trillion in actual revenue collection.
Also, in 2016, a FIRS revenue collection target of N4.9 trillion, could only realize N3.3 trillion, using equally larger number of staff (7,182).
In 2019, although revenue collection target was about N8.802 trillion, FIRS was only able to realize only N5.008 trillion, despite using the largest number of staff (9,448).
Nami also urged FIRS staff to embrace the virtues of integrity, probity and accountability by resolving “not to negotiate with taxpayers and pocket the revenue due to the Federal Government,” apparently making a veiled reference to what may have been the practice under the immediate past management.
“I therefore urge you all to take advantage of the current staff-friendly environment now in place to redouble your efforts to reverse the obvious downward trend, and to ensure that the current target is not only achieved, but also doubled before the end of 2020.
“No doubt, the task is daunting. But, with dogged spirit, integrity, probity and accountability as well as the resolve not negotiate with taxpayers and pocket the revenue due to the Federal Government, the current challenges can be surmounted and our ambitious target achieved or surpassed,” Nami told the staff.