SITUATING NAMI’S MANAGEMENT TWEAK

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Muhammad Nami

The retirement of some directors in FIRS is in the best interest of the service, writes Louis Achi

According to the notable American author and leadership guru John Calvin Maxwell, “The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The leader adjusts the sails.” Quickly moving beyond pessimism and idle optimism, Muhammad Nami, the executive chairman of the Federal Internal Revenue Service (FIRS) appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari, in December 2019, settled for active, informed realism.

Beyond pushing innovative, proficient domestic tax revenue generation, through efficient and accountable processes and templates, the new unassuming tax chief also boldly incepted progressive administrative tweaks in the revenue agency.

Weighing the unfolding global picture with its market volatilities and product vulnerabilities, Nami, an astute certified tax, accounting and management professional with privileged credentials, immediately incepted novel governance measures to produce impactful results. A core focus area was in human resources including a significant shakeup in top management.

It could be recalled that the board of the FIRS in a meeting held on Friday, March 20, 2020 took the decision and approved that all directors who had served in the agency for eight years and above should be retired.

The nine affected directors include – Victor Ekundayo (Career and Skills Development), Kemi Odusanya (Facility), Emmanuel Obeta (Chairman’s Office), Chiaka Okoye (Programme Office, Non-Tax), Kola Okunola (ICT), Asheik Maidugu (Planning and Statistics), Innocent Ohagwa (Human Capital Development), Ezra Zubairu (Programmes and Policy Monitoring) and Olufemi Oluwaniyi (Team Lead, Tax Operations Group).

The agency took the decision in line with Paragraph 10.1(a)(iii) of Human Resources Policy and Programmes (HRPP)” of the FIRS after considering a number of career progression complaints by some staff in the Service.

Further, FIRS Establishment Act, 2007, Section 7, empowers the FIRS board to take certain far-reaching decisions in the interest of the service and by extension, the country. Section 7 (d) states that the board shall… “employ and determine the terms and conditions of service including disciplinary measures of the employees of the Service”. Section 7(J) states that the board shall “do such other things which in its opinion are necessary to ensure the efficient/performance of the functions of the Service under this Act”.

It was in the discharge of such responsibilities that the board approved the retirement of the nine directors who had spent eight years and above as directors, as provided by the FIRS statutes.

In retiring this category of personnel, the FIRS board considered subsisting issues in the service which have to do with career progression. The agency had noted that there was stagnation in career progression because some directors had served for about 10 years while younger members of staff who also possessed requisite expertise could not progress in their career line.

Some staff had taken a number of promotion examinations and passed but could not be promoted. The affected staff and the staff unions had complained to the management to intervene in the situation.

Significantly, some of the retired directors were given new appointments on a contract basis. These include – Chiaka Okoye (group lead, Digital Support), Olufemi Oluwaniyi (coordinating director, Tax Operations), Asheikh Madugu (acting coordinating director, ECFIRS), Innocent Ohagwa (acting coordinating director, Support Services), and Ezra Zubairu (acting coordinating director, Compliance Support). Faosat Oguniyi became group lead, Enforcement Support, while Kola Okunola and Auta Mohammed were retained as special advisers on ICT and Administration respectively; Nneka Ofekwuna is the board secretary.

Interestingly, in a milieu where sectional sensitivities rule the roost, this human resources tweak provoked a storm in a section of the media and ranks of some stakeholder alleging nepotistic, religious and tribal biases.

Good a thing, the agency came out with specific clarification on the in-house administrative measures. A statement issued by Director, Communications and Liaison, Abdullahi Ismaila Ahmad, noted that “management had observed that there was stagnation in career progression in the service because some directors had served for about 10 years while younger members of staff who also possessed requisite expertise could not progress in their career line.

In the agency’s words: “Some staff had taken a number of promotion examinations and had passed but could not be promoted. The affected staff and the staff unions had complained to the management to intervene in the situation…In doing that, the FIRS Board considered subsisting issues in the service which have to do with career progression.

“Consequent upon the appointment and inauguration of the new executive chairman together with the board by the Federal Government, the career progression issue was tabled before the board on March, 20, 2020.

“In its wisdom, the board used its prerogative to direct the nine directors to be retired immediately. The retirement of the directors was a selfless and courageous decision taken in compliance with the laws. It was done in good faith and in the best interest of the service.”

To rest the frenzied allegations of sectional agenda swirling around the top management staff retirements, the FIRS executive chairman himself spoke very clearly and indeed eloquently on related, fundamental issues.

According to Nami, claims in a section of the media alleging appointments and retirements along ethnic and religious lines at the FIRS “are very far from the truth in relation to publicly available evidence. The FIRS is one national institution which any Nigerian joins and is assured of rising to the very top in the hierarchy based on his or her individual competence and hard work on the job, and not on the basis of any tribal or religious affiliation.”

“If any FIRS worker had been a victim of tribalism or religious discrimination in the past, I say to such marginalized worker: Not anymore and not on my watch at the FIRS.”

Perhaps understandably, some miffed retirees alleged the new appointments negated the federal character policy and are the executive chair’s allies. But these sour gripes apparently fly in the face of further specific clarifications by FIRS. According to the tax agency, its actions were in sync with extant related rules.

“The FIRS is not part of the civil service, but part of public service. The FIRS, Central Bank of Nigeria, Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, are part of public service, not civil service. This informs, for instance, NNPC, CAC, whenever there is a leadership change, most of the senior officers are usually retired to pave way for their subordinates because they have separate boards to authorise such actions,” the Director of Communications and Liaison Department, Abdullahi Ismaila, clarified in a statement.

He added that “The FIRS is governed under the FIRS Establishment Act 2007, which has given it autonomy to hire and fire without recourse to Civil Service Rules, but to its own rule and therefore not part of civil service.” Ismaila further stated that the FIRS was only accountable to its board, adding that the retirement of the directors was approved by the board.

As things stand, only few can claim that the new FIRS boss has not brought bold and novel governance direction to the agency. He has imaginatively adjusted the sails of the agency’s ship. This is Nami’s forte.