“Great spirits have always encountered opposition from mediocre minds. The mediocre mind is incapable of understanding the man who refuses to bow blindly to conventional prejudices and chooses instead to express his opinions courageously and honestly.” – Albert Einstein. The above statement captures the current experience one of Nigeria’s finest financial administrators, Muhammadu Nami, the Executive Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), is facing at the moment.
One of the greatest burdens in the life of any man is to bear leadership responsibility to lead and manage human and material resources. For those who understand what this means, leadership is an enormous weight which entails the onerous of solving problems, no matter how daunting, and no matter the antagonism and distractions of mischievous critics.
It is thus understandable that as executive chairman of the revenue collecting agency of Africa’s economic leader, Nigeria, your job becomes unenviable, if not pitiable, especially at a time of COVID-19 global pandemic that has brought global economy on its knees.
National revenue drive of the most powerful countries is in quandary. Oil price at the international market has crashed. Where would government such as Nigeria whose budget is bench-marked by oil revenues get fund to finance capital projects and strategic programmes to cover up for the drastic revenue shortfall?
This is the hydra-headed problem that Muhammadu Nami, Executive Chairman of FIRS, is being confronted with. These challenges require tough decisions that are sometimes unpalatable. All COVID-19 affected countries have taken and are still taking the most critical decisions in order to safeguard their economies. This is what Mr. Nami is painstakingly doing at the FIRS. So far, the results of the effective reforms and the avalanche of accolades he has been receiving are testimonial to his competence, professionalism, experience, transparency, openness and above all, his undiluted patriotic commitment to the country in fulfilling the mandate of FIRS and the high standard or target he has set for FIRS to achieve at this critical period.
This gifted professional who assumed office December last year came with a mindset to establish a legacy that not him, but the entire country will be proud of as far as revenue generation goes. Thus in just six months in the saddle, he exceeded remarkably the target he unrolled before the staff of FIRS and relevant stakeholders.
Mr. Nami set three months goals towards repositioning the FIRS for optimal performance in line with global best practices. In this light, a transition management was set up to ensure full implementation of the transformation drive. The outcome has been outstanding. For instance, one month window was provided in January for quick and unfettered processing of Tax Clearance Certificates (TCCs) so that tax payers could compete for relevant jobs. This process was cumbersome before; however, with this innovation, thousands of TCC were issued and are still being issued if not the COVID-19 factor that slowed down the pace of economic activities.
Also, automation solution has been introduced in the hitherto clumsy issuance and remittance of Value Added Tax (VAT) and Stamp Duty working closely with relevant agencies and other partnering industry players. Liens on client bank accounts of those with genuine cases were lifted, tax administration and remittances are now faster with the introduction of modern technology, empowerment of relevant department such as investigation and legal have reinvigorated key operations. This was further bolstered by creation of sixty-eight new offices as well as digitization drive.
But one more major component of the transformation drive at the FIRS was the retirement of nine directors, a decision solely taken by the board of the FIRS and implemented by the service. It would be recalled that there was a strong need to create way for career progression for other senior staff who had taken several promotion examinations and had passed; however, they could not be promoted because some directors had spent eight to ten years in the Service beyond legally required time limit. Therefore, in order to correct the abnormality, the board followed due process diligently and decided to recommend them for appropriate retirement.
But none of these lofty efforts and achievements impressed the roguish elements that are out to distract the Nami-led FIRS towards creative revenue drive so as to make up for the acute shortfall in oil revenue in meeting this year’s deficit budget funding. They cook up stories with malicious intent to misinform the public and change the colourful narrative of Mr. Nami’s laudable achievements within a short period of time.
But like the English writer and politician, Joseph Addison said, “there is no defence against criticism except obscurity”. Certain forces uncomfortable with the new waves of the all-inclusive progress at the FIRS that has brought excitement to staff and management, are spewing out lies, fabrication and are obscuring the narrative along ethnic and religious line.
One of the most inevitable things to execute in public governance system is reform. Public service institutional reform embodies a change of strategy, ideas, plan, structure and system of doing things from the old ways to new ways for the purpose of achieving set objectives. That is why it is said often that the only thing that is unchangeable in life is change itself. This is because it is the only inevitable occurrence in life.
What makes reform or change very difficult and delicate at the same time is the fact that it is disruptive to the traditional or regular ways of doing things. Yet, a wise man once said that it is foolish to be doing one thing using the same method and expect to get a different result.
But in the context of what Nami is doing at the FIRS, it is a positive operational reorganisation that is producing good results. rather than vilification, Mr. Nami should be applauded for the patriotism and unrelenting efforts in seeing that Nigerian 2020 budget does not suffer unduly as a result of shortfall in oil revenue by introducing such creative measures towards boosting non-oil revenue generation.
Bitrus is a public affairs analyst based in Kaduna