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Why Fowler failed to secure another term

FIRS Executive Chairman, Babatunde Fowler

A query the immediate past executive chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Mr Babatunde Fowler received, and a number of petitions, actually worked against him few months ago. Subsequently, he was replaced last week.

Apparently aware that his chance of clinging another term of four years as the country’s number one tax collector was very slim, Mr Babatunde Fowler wrote to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, stating why he should be given a second term.

Mr Fowler said that reappointing him would have helped in the consolidation of previous achievements in the tax sector.

A copy of the letter written by Fowler to the SGF was dated December 9, 2019, and titled: ‘Re: Notification of Expiration of Tenure as Executive Chairman, Federal Inland Revenue Service.’

The leaked letter read in part: “I write to notify the Secretary to the Government of the Federation that my first tenure as the executive chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) ends today, December 9, 2019.

“In view of the above, I wish to present myself for reappointment for a second term. This is consistent with the provisions of the FIRS Establishment Act 2007 and would grant me the opportunity to consolidate and build on the achievements we have recorded in the past four years.

“Please find attached the highlights of my achievements during my first tenure in office.

“I would like to put on record, my gratitude to Mr. President for the opportunity to serve the nation. I am also thankful for your support in the course of the discharge of my duties. Please accept as always, the assurance of my highest regards.”

However, the letter to SGF Mustapha could not save him: it came a little too late. His successor was announced to the media that very day he wrote the letter.

The query

A query Mr Fowler got in August and a lot of petitions against him before and after the query might have been responsible for his inability to get the top revenue collection job for the second time.

The Lagos-born tax expert was queried by President Muhammadu Buhari over variances between budgeted collections and actual collections between 2015 and 2018.

Multiple Presidency sources had confirmed the authenticity of the query, dated August 8, 2019, and signed by the Chief of Staff to the President, Malam Abba Kyari.

“We have observed significant variances between the budgeted collections and actual collections for the period 2015 to 2018.

“Accordingly, you are kindly invited to submit a comprehensive variance analysis explaining the reasons for the variances between budgeted and actual collections for each main tax item for each of the years – 2015 to 2018.

“Furthermore, we observe that the actual collections for the period 2015 to 2017 were significantly worse than what was collected between 2012 and 2014. Accordingly, you are kindly invited to explain the reasons for the poor collections.”

Fowler was, therefore, asked to respond by August 19, 2019. Some analysts said the query was a clear signal that Fowler’s tenure would not be renewed.

Dwindling revenue  

The FIRS is responsible for assessing, collecting and accounting for tax and other revenues accruing to the Federal Government.

In the years under review, the actual amount collected under Fowler as tax actually fell below the budgeted target and also low when compared with what was received before he became the chief executive of the FIRS.

In 2015, the actual collection was put at N3.7trillion, while the budgeted target was N4.5trn. A similar shortfall occurred in 2016, when actual collection was N3.307trn, less than the N4.95trn budgeted target.

Also, in 2017, the FIRS collected a total of N4.027trn, less than the set target of N4.89trn. In 2018, actual collection was N5.32trn, while the budgeted target was N6.7trn.

In 2007, the FIRS got financial and administrative autonomy with the passage of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (establishment) Act 2007.

Many petitions against him 

A staff of the FIRS had told our reporter that there were so many petitions against Fowler. The staff, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he also saw the query issued by the Presidency.

“Though I cannot confirm its authenticity, I know very well that there are many petitions against Mr Fowler, written by both insiders and people watching happenings in the establishment from outside,” he said.

“There is heightened grumbling within the FIRS on staff welfare and entitlements. There is also disaffection about budgeted allowances for staff that were supposed to go on training, but only privileged few were allowed to go, over the years.

“Many of us have been listed for certain mandatory trainings over the years but were not granted permission to go. And most importantly, though many FIRS offices have been opened across the country, they are not operating optimally,” he said.

The 63-year old Fowler, who is a tax administrator, had served as the executive chairman, Lagos State Board of Internal Revenue.

A childhood friend and classmate of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Fowler was appointed by President Buhari on August 18, 2015. His appointment was confirmed by the Senate on Wednesday, December 9 of the same year.

The new kid on the block

President Muhammadu Buhari, on Monday, replaced Fowler with Muhammad M. Nami as the new executive chairman of the FIRS.

The FIRS Board is composed of members representing each of the six geographical zones and statutory representatives from a select number of ministries and government agencies.

The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, said in a statement on Monday that Muhammad’s nomination followed President Buhari’s approval of the composition of a new Board for the FIRS, subject to Senate confirmation.

Mr Muhammad, a well-trained tax, accounting and management professional, with highly rated qualifications and professional practice and licenses from relevant professional bodies, has almost three decades of practical working experience in auditing, tax management and advisory and management services to clients in the banking, manufacturing, services and public sectors, as well as non- profit organisations.

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