BABATUNDE FOWLER: THE INDESTRUCTIBLE RECORDS OF A DUTIFUL TAX COLLECTOR

By Godspower Oshodin & Seunmanuel Faleye

Notwithstanding recent orchestrated media trials and allegations lacking merit hauled at the administration of Tunde Fowler, the Executive Chairman, Federal Inland Revenue Service, Fowler’s records in revamping the nation’s tax collection system, remains indestructible in the court of public opinion and fact.

Recently, on account of the abuse of the Duty Tour Allowance DTA, by some officials of the tax agency and the invitation of such officials by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, some hack writers have voted to stand truth on the head by hauling all manners of lies and unsubstantiated allegations at Fowler.

Until his screening and appointment as the substantive chairman of the agency in December 2015, by the Red Chambers under the Muhammadu Buhari government, FIRS since 2012, did not have a substantive head, thereby making tax collection and revenue aggregation in the country simply average.

Whatever the tantrums that creeping seditionists could throw at Fowler, in order to soil his public reputation and deface his incredible scorecard in public service is dead on arrival.

It is simply laughable, to attempt to enmesh a man of proven competence, character and capacity like Fowler in such sham tales as financial misappropriation, money wiring to proxies and car gift purchase to girlfriend. Frankly, the shame is certainly on rumour mongers.

Fowler is noble enough to reckon that investigation by another agency, an independent agency, this time the EFCC, helps the integrity of the entire findings: Staff should not investigate staff, he once noted. Its in fidelity to the ageless dictum: don’t be a judge in your own case.

Apart, from the apparent fact that these stories –by day old websites- are premised on lies and fabrications, the public who have kept tabs on Fowler’s antecedents, especially from his days as Chief Executive Officer of Lagos State Internal Revenue Service, LIRS between 2005 to 2015 know better.

Despite the prevalent recession ravaging the country in 2015 when he was appointed, the agency under his watch generated N3.3 trillion in 2016. The following year, FIRS witnessed a 20 percent increase in collection margin, to generate N4.03 trillion in 2017.
Monday, January 7, 2019, FIRS disclosed that it generated about N5.320 trillion in 2018, the preceding year. This record thumbs Fowler as an history maker, leading the agency to set a new record of highest revenue generation FIRS as against the 2012 record of N5.07 trillion. The agency shows promises of improvement in the years ahead; as the FIRS boss has tipped that his target revenue haul for 2019 has been benchmarked at about 8 trillion naira.

All of this with oil doing between $60 and $70 dollars. Oil was between $100 an $120 dollars in the N4/5 trillion collection years of 2012/2013.

And Fowler is not just increasing collection. There is some style and definitive character to the growing tax figures: oil collection of the N5.320 trillion is N2,467 trillion (46.38 per cent), while non-oil is N2.852 trillion (53.62) per cent. For all of nation’s tax history, oil collection had always dominated non-oil collection. Moral: Fowler is pointing the way that it is possible that Nigeria is weaned of its dangerous dependence on mono product: oil.

For ignorant propagandists who failed to understand the workings of an agency like FIRS, before circulating tales of taxpayers’ money gone missing, their attention must be drawn to a few basic facts. No tax is paid directly to Fowler’s account, or that of FIRS at that. Taxes are paid into the Federation Account through the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN. The agency’s operations are funded by an appropriation of the National Assembly through monthly remittances by the Federation Accounts Allocation Committee, FAAC.

Fowler initiated the deployment of ICT to enable taxpayers pay taxes from anywhere around the world, even from the comfort of their homes. With the e-payment channels-deployed about two years ago- tax payers can pay taxes, file returns online, pay Stamp Duties, obtain their Withholding Tax Credit Notes, download receipts online. Taxpayers can also e-Register and obtain that all powerful document: Tax Clearance Certificate, TCC online, without going to wait at a tax office as was the case in the past.

The FIRS is automating the collection of Value Added Tax (VAT) in key sectors to facilitate reduction in compliance costs in the long term, apart from system to system integration between banks and the Service. This is yielding fruits: in 2018, VAT crossed the N1 trillion mark.

Furthermore, before they peddle stories of misappropriation, there is the Government Integrated Financial Management Information System (GIFMIS), which links FIRS to the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation OAGF for real-time exchange of information and data. What this does amongst others is that it gives the FIRS and the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation, bird’s view of taxes paid by all Federal Government Ministries, Department and Agencies, MDAs. It also allows FIRS to ascertain which agency of government is complying on tax payment and which one is not. Plus, it gives MDAs to the minute data about the tax status of companies who are doing business with the Federal Government. This institutes verifiable data, transparency, checks and balances.

Since Fowler made it easier to request for and process Tax Clearance Certificate (TCC) through FIRS online portal, from the comforts of the home, about 60,000 tax payers took advantage of this online channel in 2018 alone, up from 9574 Nigerians who collected their TCC online in 2017.

Under the tax amnesty program initiated in 2016, over 3000 applications for waiver of interest and penalties were attracted, resulting in payment of over N68 billion, out of about N96.2 billion liability established by the exercise. The Volountary Assets and Income Declaration Scheme, VAIDS, — which FIRS ran in conjunction with the Federal Ministry of Finance and the State Government-turned in almost a similar amount: N93 billion with about 5122 applications.

In Corporate Social Responsibility, CSR the agency under Fowler has innovatively identified with the creative industry providing support to enable them unleash their talents and contribute more to Nigerian economy.

There are so many good things to say about Fowler. So many to fill volumes. He hugs public, the Organised Private sector, OPS, the Small and Medium Scale entrepreneurs in a manner no head of the federal tax agency has done.
Fowler explains explains and explains.

There is huge improvement in Audit circle from 90 to 63 days. FIRS and JTB are trying to do away with multiplicity of audits from state and federal tax authorities audit teams; there is predictability in Transfer Pricing codes, regulations and administration. Taxpayer population countrywide has grown from under 10 million, since Fowler became the Chairman Joint Tax Board, JTB,
to over 20 million. Just last week, Fowler, promised that the national tax roll will hit 45 million before the end of the year.

There is improvement in Nigeria’s rating in the World Bank global ranking on the Ease of Doing Business. Fowler’s efforts on Ease of paying taxes, Nigeria moved up 14 places in one year alone.

From within and without the shores of this continent, Fowler is accumulating landmark plaudits on the international plain: He is the Chairman African Tax Administration Forum, ATAF. So confident about his leadership were heads of tax authorities in Africa were, that they asked him to lead African tax practitioners for a record second term as ATAF Chairman, in October last year. That was in faraway Botswana.

Fowler is also the first Vice Chairman of the United Nations International Committee of Tax Experts. There are only 25 of such tax eggheads in the world. And it is not for nothing that the United Nation Secretary General named Fowler as one of such global tax thinkers, who shape tax practice and administration on the planet!

Fowler has proven himself one of the best minds in President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, and has justified his appointment by all standards. He is a dutiful tax collector, who has assisted the federal government in providing the funds through which elected officials could provide predictable revenue to bring dividends of democracy to Nigerians.

For those eyeing his seat, or attempting to throw spikes on the way to deter his possible promotion for other appointments within the federal system in the soon to be named cabinet of Mr. President for his second time in office, the joke of their media trial is on them. Babatunde Fowler is a material to be proud of anywhere and at anytime.

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