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 from the old Companies Income Tax Act, that section use to read that the President shall appoint a person from within the Service to head the FIRS. The great OBJ (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 a historical precedence.
As I continue to struggle with the announcement of Mr Babatunde Fowler as the new FIRS Chairman, I decided to put sentiments aside and review his curriculum vitae to see whether he qualifies for the office in the first place. I struggle to agree that he qualifies.
Firstly, prior to Mr Fowler’s appointment as the Chairman of the Lagos State Internal Revenue Service (LIRS), I 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.
Secondly, but of greater significance, is that I examined 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 1% of the taxes collected by the FIRS come from Personal Income Taxes or PAYE. Most come from corporate taxation and administration of Petroleum Profit Tax. It is therefore very manifest to me that Mr Fowler's taxation experience is limited to 1% of the activity profile of the body he has been appointed to head. I conclude with all the authority of the gnosis I possess –whether from books or from other extraneous sources –that 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.
Why then was he appointed? Do I know better than President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) and the erudite “experts” advising him? In this instance, it appears so.
Mr Fowler’s only qualification may be his closeness to Mr Bola Tinubu (Jagaban) who gave him his only tax work so far –the LIRS chair.
If my assertion above is true, then I need no soothsayer to conclude that 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.
And I expect the many pseudo professionals in Nigeria to shout, “Yes sir! PMB has done well! Yes Sir!” We know the historical ancestor of all such –Esau who sold his birthright for a mess of porridge. May the Good Lord ensure that we all enjoy our comeuppance in this world as well as on our transition into the next.
Eben Joels is the Country Partner of the transactions and tax advisory firm, Stransact.