Muhammad Nami, Executive Chairman of the nation’s foremost revenue generation agency, the Federal Internal Revenue Service, FIRS, can surely not be one of the most tranquil and happiest of chief executives in the country today. Not with the gargantuan assignment that he must accomplish, the inclement weather militating against a smooth sail and, the cacophonous decibels of a myriad of fifth columnists, the covetous and detractors within and without.
For a start, for the 2020 fiscal year, barely two months into his appointment, FIRS was given the task of garnering a whooping N8.5 trillion into the national treasury. That is, tacitly demanding of him to bring to bear, all and every strand of his famed experience, wizardry and professional expertise on matters of taxation and auditing. Excitedly, unfazed and surefooted, Nami hit the ground running, exuding optimism and a single-minded commitment to the mission. He clearly had a vision of success.
Giving a window into his vision and style, Muhammad Nami had a rendezvous with staff of the agency during which he assured them that he would pursue a transparent, open door policy in his management of their affairs. Commending them for their years of “diligence, commitment and hard work,” he stressed the critical point of honesty, probity and accountability. He said the task was daunting but not beyond them. “With dogged spirit”, he said, “the current challenges can be surmounted and our ambitious targets achieved or even surpassed.”
In sync with universal convention and practice of new leaderships of organisations, Nami, on assumption of office, tinkered with the administrative structure. Dispositions, redeployments and retirements were carried out with the objective of putting square pegs in square holes or, ridding the service of certain personnel who were in any way, statutorily, due for retirement. He would also have carried out such a mild surgical operation because he would need to have trusted and compatible team mates. “Birds of a feather”, as the old saying goes, “flock together”.
Other bold steps taken early in the day to buoy the sail, included a parley with staff, who promised unalloyed commitment to meeting the N8.5 trillion target, this year; the restoration of staff’s functions in tax collection hitherto outsourced to consultants as well as, the reinstatement of earlier suspended Authority to Incur Expenditure (AIE), all of which rekindled morale and dedication in the workers. Other strategies to boost revenue generation by blocking identified loopholes and tax avoidances are what Nami named as an ongoing tax collection reform process “anchored on the four pillars of rebuilding institutional framework; robust collaboration with stakeholders; building a customer or, taxpayer centered institution and making the FIRS a data-centric institution.”
Alhaji Nami went to town in a nationwide enlightenment, sensitisation campaign on the new thrust in the country’s revenue drive. It was a two-way pronged exercise that also included an on-the-spot assessment of regional offices of the agency as well as meeting strategic stakeholders that included captains of industry, financial institutions, traders, SME operators, individuals and corporate bodies in the nation’s revenue generation scheme.
The voyage was a huge success in its first port of call in the Southwest region. At the Alausa Government House, Ikeja, Lagos, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu pledged his government’s support even more closely with the FIRS to enable the agency’s actualisation of its targets. He agreed with the executive chairman that Nigeria has the capacity to generate more than the 2020 mandate, “when we look at our economic indices”. Yet in the nation’s commercial and industrial hub of Lagos, the new helmsman at the FIRS was further welcomed by a broad spectrum of stakeholders with assurances of support for the unfolding reforms and focus being championed in the nation’s revenue generation. Especially exciting to the huge cluster of taxpayers in the sprawling city-state were the allure of the coterie of palliatives, incentives and ease of doing business in the taxation regime being hoisted by Nami.
Inspiring beacons that indicate Nami is sailing on the right course came in the form of an unprecedented feat of recording 15% increase in the revenue generated in the first quarter of 2020. That is barely a few months of his coming on the saddle and, in spite of the phenomenally reduced revenue from the oil sector and, the havoc on the nation’s economy by the Covid-19 pandemic. In the first quarter of 2020, FIRS recorded an unprecedented feat in the quantum of revenue generated that surpassed figures far more than those of the same period in the preceding 10 years.
If Nami was expecting a standing ovation from every quarter, then, he is yet to know that there lies in his path, spikes or thorns, banana peels and booby traps put in place by certain stakeholders and sundry interests. Regardless of the fact that a turnaround in the fortunes of the nation’s revenue generation is in the supreme interest of all of us, such avowed adversaries cannot be happy because the magic is being performed by a Muhammed, a native of Nami , a hitherto obscure village in upland Niger state.
Give a dog a bad name in order to hang it seems, clearly, the invidious game that has been unfolding ever since Nami’s assumption of office. For instance, even when it was a decision of the agency’s board, the new executive chairman of FIRS has been singled out, targeted and assailed for what, to the assailants, is the mortal sin of compulsory retirement of nine directors of the agency. The darts of venoms being thrown at Nami over the retirement is in total disregard to the fact that, having spent over eight years in that position the affected directors should, ideally, on their own, have exited the service in compliance with extant internal rules, regulations and conditions of service.
The shenanigans that the exercise was motivated by an agenda of “ethnic cleansing” is also, deliberately oblivious of the fact that those affected cut across the nation’s ethnic and regional divides. What is more, those behind the vicious campaign of vendetta mischievously overlook the point that six of the directors, largely from a particular geopolitical zone, have since been reengaged and elevated to the management positions of supervising directors.
As it is, nothing short of the removal of Muhammed Nami from office will satiate his army of traducers. Unlike those who rode on the crest of godfathers and political connections, he got his appointment purely and singularly on the bases of qualification, professional competence and track records of diligence, integrity and accomplishments in the competitive private sector. For those who perceive the FIRS as a cash cow, they cannot but be sorely pained by their loss to, “an interloper”.
The story can only be better and one sure way of guaranteeing that, is for Nami to continue to refuse to be detracted by the rabble rousers.
Ahmad, a Kaduna-based public affairs analyst, writes via [email protected]