FIRS AND ITS CRITICS

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Oluwole Osagie – Jacobs argues that FIRS has not done anything arbitrarily
“Be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow,thou shall not escape calumny” – William Shakespeare.

The above dialogue between Hamlet and Ophelia in one of Shakespeare’s matured tragedies, Hamlet, depicts the experience of the Executive Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service, Alhaji Mohammed Nami, with critical commentaries of his actions at this time. It is noteworthy that in the first quarter of this year, the Service under his leadership surpassed the revenue of the previous year for the same period. It is a great feat by any metric of measurement. This is in spite of the COVID -19 pandemic lockdown which had an adverse effect on generated revenue. It is indeed sad that such a bright effort is subjected to unfair commentaries in the press.

The article captioned “FIRS Chairman ignores Buhari’s directive, retires nine directors” written by Samson Folarin and published in the Punch of 18th May,2020 is indeed in bad taste. The caption is tendentious and it is apparent it has its roots from within the Service. There are some staff both past and present who felt they have been undermined by the reforms instituted by the current chairman. These invincible enemies are now out for him to take their pound of flesh.

Previous to the present attack in the press, the chairman had been barraged by strident criticisms for his call for an advanced payment of tax during the COVID1-9 lockdown. He had called attention to the series of palliatives given by the federal government and the FIRS to relieve the burden of tax payers. He then appealed to the patriotic instinct of tax payers that are still making taxable profit to reciprocate this gesture and remit such in advance to the FIRS to assist the government. He became a butt of criticisms of those who saw his appeal for advance taxation as insensitive and careless at this time. But what he said was nothing but the truth. The village idiot knows that the COVID1-9 lockdown would affect differently the businesses of a telecoms service provider and a hotel. While the hotel is closed to customers the telecoms service is unfettered. In fact many have spent more on GSM services during the lockdown.

In the newspaper article under reference, he was accused of the unlawful retirement of nine directors of the agency to pave way for his cronies. It was indicated that he relied on an old civil service rule to retire the directors. This rule made it mandatory for directors to retire after eight years in service. He argued that this rule had been suspended vide a circular from the office of the Head of Service of the federation.

What his accusers are not aware of is that the FIRS is not part of the civil service but of the public service. Some of the agencies in this league are the Central Bank of Nigeria, Corporate Affairs Commission and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation. It is self-deceit to think that same rules apply to the civil and public Service. If that is the case then it should affect salaries and other remunerations. A new graduate entrant into the CBN has a take home pay more than that of a level 14 officer in the Civil Service. I know of many middle level staff in the NNPC who earns more than directors in the Civil Service. The salary a new graduate employee will earn in 20 years of service in NNPC will be more than the 35 years salary of a director who has just retired from the Civil Service. Also, these agencies operate under a different act which governs their operations. For example, the FIRS is governed by the Establishment Act 2007 with oversight on the engagement, remuneration and firing of staff. The FIRS will only be bound by Public Service Rule for any matter not covered by FIRS Human Resources Policies and Processes.

The chairman cannot unilaterally retire a director without approval by the board which is constituted by the federal government. I was prompted to write this piece by the tissues of lies in the newspaper article under reference. The writer mentioned that the four newly appointed directors and the special assistant appointed are Nupes. Coincidentally, the director, Finance and Accounts, Ahmed Musa is known to me. He is a pure Fulani man from Bauchi State. If he is now a Nupe then I am a Gwari. I will declare this at the risk of being ostracized by my people. People should treat facts as sacred. Also, some of the new staff under reference had been appointed some months before the retirement of the nine directors.

The truth is that the appointments were contract appointments for two years to carry out specific assignments in line with extant FIRS guidelines. A very important information omitted by the article under reference is the fact that five of the nine directors retired were reengaged by FIRS as coordinating directors or as special advisers. There are six coordinating directors in FIRS and they are next in line to the chairman. Some of these retired directors had been directors for more than eight years.

From my enquiry, the retirements are in the interest of the organization for the reason that it enhances career progression. Some young promising staff had stagnated in a particular position for many years. This issue of career progression was exhaustively discussed by the new board before a decision was taken to retire the directors.

The Chairmen of Agencies answer the first and the last question in their agencies and take full responsibility for failure. It is the practice to bring in those staff that will be strategic to their success. Most of these appointments are contractual and they are regularized in line with applicable guidelines. It is not happening for the first time in the FIRS.

The claim that the new appointments negate the federal character is very laughable. I wished The Punch had asked for the list showing the state distribution of over 10,000 staff in the FIRS. He should have also asked how many Niger State indigenes among who are the Nupes are included in the 750 Chartered Accountants he was told were in the Service. If he had done that I am convinced he would join in the clamor for better representation of northern minorities in federal appointments.

Osagie – Jacobs, an Economist and Chartered Accountant, wrote from Abuja