BY December 15, 2019, the four-year tenure of Dr. William Babatunde Fowler as the Executive Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS, will officially wind up. The question is: should President Muhammadu Buhari renew Fowler’s tenure or shop for a replacement?
The FIRS was wracked by instability when Mrs. Ifueko Omoigui-Okauru’s tenure as Executive Chairman ended in 2012. Fowler not only stabilised the Service but also positioned it firmly to shoulder the burden of helping pull Nigeria out of oil-dependency.
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The economy was already hurtling towards recession and the nation had to turn to non-oil revenues, especially taxation. For the then newly-elected All Progressives Congress, APC, Federal Government, Fowler was the obvious man for the job. He was called upon to do for the nation what he did in Lagos.
During his tenure as the Executive Chairman of the Lagos State Internal Revenue Service, LIRS, between 2005 and 2014, Fowler played a leading role in weaning the Lagos State’s economy from dependency on Federal revenue allocation and growing its internally-generated revenue from a paltry N600m per month in 1999 to N20bn in 2015.
Fowler again did not disappoint in his new job as the FIRS’ tax haul (oil and non-oil) which was N3.2trn in 2015 rose to N5.3trn in 2018. This helped in no small measure in marginally rescuing the economy from recession. Similarly, the non-oil revenue grew from N832.95bn in 2014 to N2.852trn in 2018.
The bouquet of reforms at the FIRS has placed the Nigerian economy in a much stronger position to regain its pre-civil war ability to thrive without oil revenue and shield it from the unpredictability of crude oil’s boom/bust cycles.
This was made possible through the innovative Taxpayers’ Identification Number, TIN, which by December 2019 is expected to bring 45 million taxpayers into the nation’s tax net, up from 10 million in 2015. These included 6,772 bank accounts with balances between N1 billion and N5 billion whose owners were not filing tax returns. FIRS also widened the scope of Value Added Tax, introduced the Voluntary Assets Declaration Scheme, VAIDS, the electronic tax certificate and others.
Nigeria’s phenomenal improvement in tax collection during the past four years earned for Fowler the presidency of the African Tax Administrators’ Forum.
We are strongly of the view that continuity and stability are needed at this time at the FIRS. Let’s stay the course with the tax reforms and institution-building.
We expect President Buhari to extend his trait of keeping good performers on the job to Fowler to enable him and his team restore Nigeria, once again, as a country which lives mainly on the taxpayers’ money rather than oil rents.