When Muhammad Nami was being nominated by President Buhari as the Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service, in December 2019, little did he know that just ahead lay a pandemic that would significantly impact alter the course of his settling down into the new role.
Of course he came to the office prepared, after a career in auditing, tax advisory and financial consulting (and most recently a stint as a member of the Presidential Committee on Audit of Recovered Stolen Assets), but no one could truly have been prepared for what the pandemic symbolised. Entire economies around the world, from the developing to the developed, faced unprecedented shutdowns and restrictions of movement.
Nigeria was not left out, with the commercial hub of Lagos being the epicentre of the pandemic. Businesses, flights, social activities and so on all ground to a halt, especially in April and May 2020, sending the economy into a contraction.
It is absolutely correct to say that Nami hit the ground running, right from his confirmation as FIRS Chairman by the Senate. At the inauguration of the new FIRS Board on January 16, 2020, he rolled out his four-point agenda for the FIRS, as follows: Rebuilding FIRS’ Institutional Framework; Robust Collaboration with Stakeholders; Building a Customer-Centric Institution; and Making FIRS a Data-Centric Institution.
A bold and ambitious agenda, but also one fully in keeping with the role and significance of the FIRS to the Nigerian economy. He had barely started to implement the agenda when the pandemic struck. In February 2020, he organised a Corporate Plan Retreat for the management of the Service, the first in the life of the FIRS under his leadership. At that retreat, he disclosed an N8.5 trillion target for 2020, broken down into oil tax target of N3.7 trillion and non-oil tax target of N4.8 trillion.
In a year badly hit by a global pandemic, achieving these targets will require a ‘business unusual’ mind-set. Nami is fully aware of this and has already set the machinery in motion to completely rethink and revamp the way FIRS operates and fulfils its mandates. His strategy includes a focus on intelligence-gathering, information-sharing, plugging the loopholes exploited by individuals and businesses, and reducing the red tape and other obstacles that affect compliance. All of these, he argues, must be underlined by the deployment of cutting-edge technology.
But there is also the imperative of giving the FIRS a human face amidst a difficult economic environment. To this end the Service unveiled a series of palliative measures aimed at cushioning the burden of tax compliance on taxpayers.
For example, the FIRS under Nami’s directives opened up a window for taxpayers with outstanding liabilities, allowing them to enjoy an extended payment period while enjoying a waiver of penalties and interests during this extended period. The original extension period of June 30, 2020 was further extended to August 31, 2020.
A review of Nami’s efforts and achievements would not be complete without a look at the Stamp Duty matter – one of the major issues that has dominated the airwaves this year and generated a lot of discussion. The Finance Act 2019, a landmark piece of legislation that amended the existing Stamp Duties Act, among others, makes it unambiguously clear that the FIRS is the sole competent tax authority to assess, collect and account for stamp duty relating to matters between a company and an individual or group of individuals in Nigeria. It also expands the list of dutiable items, as well as reviews the amount payable, to bring it in line with modern realities.
To appreciate the impact and seriousness of the reform set in motion by the new Stamp Duty regime, one only has to compare the Stamp Duty revenue from the entire 2019 with the figure from the first half of 2020. Between January and December 2019, the total Stamp Duty collected in Nigeria was N18 billion. In the first half of 2020 alone, that figure leapt to N66 billion, a more than 3-fold increase.
And that’s not all. In line with the seriousness of the Federal Government’s revenue efficiency drive, it set up an Inter-Ministerial Committee on the Audit and Recovery of Stamp Duties, which was inaugurated by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Boss Mustapha, in June 2020. The Committee is made up of a wide range of senior government officials, including the Chairman of the FIRS.
At the inauguration of the Committee, the FIRS under Nami’s leadership seized the opportunity to launch the FIRS’ brand new Adhesive Stamps, to replace the old system of postage stamps being used to symbolize Stamp Duties.
On that occasion of the launch, Nami announced his vision to “reposition Stamp Duties as the next major revenue source for Nigeria.” Looking at his track record, he will pursue this vision with the same seriousness and focus he has demonstrated since assuming office.
Nine months into his tenure as the Number 1 Tax Officer of the Federation, Nami has left no one in doubt as to his determination to transform the tax administration and compliance landscape in Nigeria. And he will do this without noise or drama, and without playing to the gallery in any way. Nigeria will definitely be the better for it, as the increased tax revenues will come in handy for the fulfilment of President Buhari’s Next Level Agenda for the country.
–––Olusanya writes from Abuja and can be reached on Olusanya.firstname.lastname@example.org.