On the Spot with Eric Teniola

December 18, 2018

FIIRS – Collector of taxes by force in an era of poverty(1)

FIIRS – Collector of taxes by force in an era of poverty(1)

Babatunde Fowler

By Eric Teniola

THE  Chairman of Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS, Dr. Babatunde Fowler (62) is a man who takes his job seriously.

Babatunde Fowler

At every opportunity, he tells us of the success of the organisation which he has led since August 20, 2015. In a way his robust stature and good parenthood background matches the success of the Federal Inland Revenue Service.

The Yoruba have two words for the type of job he is doing “AGBOWOPA” and “AGBALOWOMENI” which means collector by force and collecting from the have-nots respectively. Just recently, the Federal Inland Revenue Service announced that it realised N2.5 trillion (N2,529,615,174,601.25) from various taxes from January to June 2018. The amount shows that the service has realised 75 per cent of its target for the year, which is an improvement over what was realised at the corresponding period in 2017.

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A report on the revenue performance by the agency, submitted to the (former) Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, confirmed that the N2.5 trillion has an increase of N746 billion (N746,107,323,247.26) representing 42 per cent, when compared to the N1.8 trillion (N1,783,507,851,353.99) total tax revenue realised in the corresponding period in 2017.

Dr. Fowler is a childhood friend of the present Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo and they both attended Igbobi College, Lagos, founded in 1932 whose motto is OMNES UNUM IN DOMINO meaning All are one in the Lord.

The school has produced the likes of the former Head of State, Chief Ernest Adegunle Oladeinde Shonekan, Dr. Taslim Olawale Elias, Chief Samuel Oluyemi Falae, Chief Subomi Balogun, Professor Oye Ibidapo Obe, Professor Shoga Sofola, Dr. Kinsley Ozumba Mbadiwe, Babatunde Raji Fashola, Michael Ibru, Alex Ibru, Folorunsho Phillips, Professor Ade Ajayi, Cornelius Tay, Professor Tolu Ogunkoya, Billy Lawson, Segun Adesegun, Chudi Ubosi, Bishop Ranti Odubogun, Deji Hasstrup, Seyi Akinwunmi, Yomi Badejo Okunsanya, Oscar Ibru, Kanyinsola Ajayi (SAN), Adewunmi Ogunsanya, Femi Gbajabiamila, Kunle Tuyo of Defacto Bread, former governor Gbolahan Mudashiru, Muyiwa Adetiba, Lanre Tejuoso, Shofolu Oluseye Babajide, Onimole Mobolaji, Dosu Joseph, Femi Kuti, Abiodun Baruwa, and others.

No doubt Dr. Fowler has achieved a lot personally in his own lifetime and also his organisation, the FIRS, which he now heads. But when Dr. Fowler tells us the success of his organisation, one is tempted to ask, at whose expense? Right now businesses are closing down and there is rampant poverty in the land.

New companies are opened at a slow rate compared to twenty to ten years ago. When we were young, in western Nigeria, T.A. Oni & Sons, L.A. Banjoko & Sons, Akin Taylor, Akinyede & Sons were names in the construction industries that we heard often. No more. Most construction companies operating in the country today are either Chinese or Arab owned – encouraged and patronised by our government especially state governments, thereby increasing the flow of capital flight.

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It is not that the indigenous companies are not good. Far from it. They are dying for lack of patronage. Even common drainage contracts very few are awarded to indigenous contractors. The Chinese government will encourage Chinese companies in Nigeria while the Federal and State governments will not patronise the indigenous contractors in Nigeria. In the face of it all, Dr. Fowler will come with his taxation drive in order to ‘meet target or surpass target’ leaving us helpless like poor orphans. Target, Target, Target without considering the human aspect. The government must realise that over taxation discourages business and when there is no business, there is no employment. And the tragedy is that state agencies like LASAA are copying FIRS in over taxing some indigenous companies thereby rendering them financially impotent. There is danger in  pushing people to the wall.

A cousin of mine, Olumide Oolor Akintan sent a text message to me recently that said “if you save N1 every day for a year you’d have saved exactly $1. This information still hurts my brain”. That is how sad the situation has become. No one is against the collection of taxes but over taxation can make situations chaotic.

Dr. Fowler can help in releasing the tax collected by federal governments, state governments by state governments, local governments by local governments and organisations. Maybe trophies would be given to states and local governments that have paid the highest as a way of encouragement.

Dr. Fowler’s job should not end by collecting revenue alone, he should go further by making suggestions on how jobs could be created. Experience tells me that in this country, governments, federal, states and local are more interested in collecting revenue than providing infrastructure.

Since we have a very docile society, our leaders get away with anything – just anything. Whatever Dr. Fowler has achieved today, he is reaping on the past achievement of his predecessors, especially people like Mrs. Ifueko Omoigui Okauru, Samuel Ogungbesan, Kabir Mashi and others.

More so are the efforts of the former Secretary of the government of the federation, Alhaji Shehu Ahmadu Musa (1935-2008), who was also late Makama Bida and also Professor Chukwuma Edozien (81), who was a member of the sub-committee on the Economic, finance and divisions of power of the 1977 Constitutional Drafting Committee, who was also former President of Nigerian Economic Society and Dr. Sylvester Ugoh (87) from Umuokrika in Imo state who was deputy director, Economic Development Institute, University of Nigeria, 1966-1972, executive director, SKOUP and Company (Management Consultants), 1973, member, Constituent Assembly, 1977-1978, Minister of Science and Technology, 1979-1982 and Minster of Education, 1982-1983.

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It was the task force on Tax Administration (1978) headed by Alhaji Shehu Musa which led to the introduction of the withholding tax regime, imposition of 10 per cent special levy on Banks’ excess profits and the imposition of 21/2 per cent turnover tax on building and construction companies.

It was also the Study group on Nigeria Tax System & Administration (1992) headed by Professor Emmanuel Edozien which resulted in the establishment of FIRS as the operational arm of the Federal Board of Inland Revenue (FBIR) and setting up of Revenue Services at other tiers of Government (States & Local Governments). Equally it was the Study group on indirect taxation (1992) headed by Dr. Sylvester Ugoh which culminated in policy shift from direct to indirect/consumption tax (VAT evolved).