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.