Babatunde Fowler’s Implausible Taxation Credentials, By Eben Joels

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Section 3(2) of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) Establishment Act 2007 creates the Chairman of the FIRS and specifically states that, “the Executive Chairman shall be a person experienced in taxation; to be appointed by the President and subject to the confirmation of the Senate.” There is no description of what constitute “experience in taxation.” However, for those who know the historical section of the old Companies Income Tax Act, it read that the President shall appoint a person from within the Service to head the FIRS. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo deliberately chose to ignore that provision for all the appointments he made into that office and it was for this reason that the 2007 amendments removed the necessity of requiring that the Chairman be appointed from within the Service. It is important that we understand that the “experience in taxation” now required in the current Act has historical precedence.

As I continue to struggle with the announcement of Mr. Babatunde Fowler as the new FIRS Chairman, I decided to review his curriculum vitae to see whether he qualifies for the office. I am struggling to agree that he does.

First, prior to Mr. Fowler’s appointment as the Chairman of the Lagos State Internal Revenue Service (LIRS), I can see no experience whatsoever in the field of taxation. It will appear that his fellowship of the Chartered Institute of Taxation of Nigeria (CITN) is a honorary award given to him by virtue of a political appointment and not because he has any prior professional expertise in the field of taxation.

Second, and of greater significance, is the quality of experience in taxation that Mr. Fowler will be bringing to the FIRS. His entire experience in taxation is limited to his stint as Chair of LIRS. Almost all of LIRS taxation activities are exclusively within the purview of Personal Income Taxes or more succinctly, Pay as You Earn (PAYE) enforcement.

On the other hand, less than one percent of the taxes collected by the FIRS comes from Personal Income Taxes or PAYE. Most come from corporate taxation and administration of the Petroleum Profit Tax. It is therefore manifest that Mr. Fowler’s taxation experience is limited to one percent of the activity profile of the body he has been appointed to head. Hence, Mr. Fowler could not have been appointed to chair the FIRS on the strength of his experience in taxation. His experience profile is extremely thin for the office for which he has been called to lead.

Why then was he appointed? Mr. Fowler’s only qualification may be his closeness to Mr. Bola Tinubu who gave him his only tax job so far – the LIRS chair.

If this assertion is true, then President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) has betrayed the cause of Change for which we elected him. I want to believe that PMB cannot relegate competence and expertise in the appointment of the head of the most important revenue generating agency in preference for political exigency.

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1 Comment

  1. Sometimes it baffles me when people just sit down somewhere and criticise some actions or decisions of government without coming up with a better option (s).

    Firstly, the writer of this piece started out by quoting a portion of the Act establishing FIRS and still went further to inform his readers of some portions of the Act which has been amended. The main reason for this I still don’t know, is he implying that the amended portion should still be taken into cognisance in the appointment of the new headship of the organisation?

    Secondly, he also stated that Fowler’s fellowship of Chartered Institute of Taxation of Nigeria (CITN) is just an ordinary honorary award given to him by the virtue of his political appointment and not because of a prior qualification or experience. I am not sure if it was stated in the Act that established FIRS that only members or fellows of CITN are qualified to be appointed as chairman of the services. If it not so stated, why the reference of the CITN fellowship, whether awarded as honorary or by academics. From the little I could say I have read about this gentleman, before his appointment as the Chairman of LIRS he was indeed an accomplished banker of about 20 years within the financial industry.

    Thirdly, the award of a fellow of CITN did not come to him immediately he was appointed as chair of LIRS, it was given to him after several years of dedicated service and transformation of LIRS. The award was a reward of hard work, expertise and dedication.

    Fourthly, the impression that Mr. Fowler’s stint at LIRS is just what he is bring on board FIRS is really laughable. How can you describe a career that lasted over 9 years with global accolades from within and international organisations as just a stint. It is a know secret that when he took over as chair of LIRS the total IGR of Lagos state was just a little over 2 billion naira per month and by time he was leaving the service it had rose to about 25 billion naira per month. My question is “do you call that achievement a failure or a success?” During his tenure as chair of LIRS I am aware that almost all the states of the Federation sent their officials to Lagos to come and understudy the system that has worked perfectly in the state. Even though it only covered income from PAYE as the writer has said. Another question is that if such an individual who has transformed the IGR of Lagos to the level that made it self sufficient and the best in the country, shouldn’t that individual be given a higher responsibility to help transform the nation’s tax system that is in comatose? May I also add this, it is much more difficult to collect tax from individuals including artisans, traders and the informal sector operators (PAYE)than to recover from the formal sector and the big corporations etc. Therefore his experience as a chair of LIRS is a major advantage in his new national assignment.

    The assertion that the only qualification of Mr. Fowler is his closeness to Ashiwaju Bola Tinubu is wicked and malicious. It is a fact that Mr. Tinubu gave Mr. Fowler a job to do, he must have seen in him the competency to deliver on the job, the writer may also be reminded that it was not only Mr. Fowler alone that was given jobs to do for Lagos state whether he calls it political appointment or not. He should be told that the current Vice President of Nigeria Professor Yemi Osinbajo (SAN) was once an appointee of Mr. Tinubu. He did very well and he got recognised and then promoted. It may interest the writer to know that so many were appointed like these 2 examples given above and they did not do well or deliver on the job and they were fired or not promoted. It should be emphasised here that hard work and diligence should be rewarded irrespective of your connection or non connection,that’s the only way this country can move forward.

    Lastly, it is often said that success has so many relations while failure is an orpan. The impression that the writer voted for Buhari or Change cannot be proved and ascertained.If the votes had gone the other way round, i am sure people will say that’s the way they have voted. I have seen a lot of people who were totally against the emergence of PMB, who I also know voted against him now claiming they voted for change. They should say the truth and not claim what they are not.

    Finally, I will Like to state categorically that I do not know Mr. Babatunde Fowler in person nor have any dealings with Ashiwaju Tinubu, I am only compelled to write this piece because of the myriad of criticism that greeted the appointment of Mr. Fowler who had impressed everybody in Nigeria with his achievements while at FIRS. May God bless Nigeria and empower our leaders with divine wisdom, knowledge and understanding to take our country to the promise land. They need more of our prayers and not more of criticisms, but that will not mean that we cannot engage in constructive criticism. Father! Guide Our leaders right. Again God bless Nigeria.

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