Cleaning the Augean stable at FIRS, By Kayode Rahman Ogunlana

In the recent change of leadership at the Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS,  the present and the more rational question that should occupy our minds in the aftermath of Babatunde Fowler’s exit is, the antecedents and thereby, the capacity of Malam Muhammadu M. Nami, the Executive Chairman to deliver on the job. In other words, is President Buhari putting a square peg in a square hole in picking Malam Muhammadu Nami from among the horde that jostled and lobbied for the coveted office? From a cursory look at his curricular vitae and what transpired as he resumed recently, the picture depicted is that of a man eminently capable.

Born in April 1968, Muhamnad Nami is clearly coming on the job with much more than the vivacity, energy and drive required to cope with the rigors of the tasks of his new assignment. With a childhood rooted and wrought in the agrarian village of Nami in Agaie local government area of Niger state,  it tells much  of his innate sturdy and Spartan character traits of intelligence, perseverance, determination and vision to have gone the mileage to the point that he was found suitable for his latest  appointment. He is widely reckoned with as a renowned, thoroughbred consultant in matters of auditing and taxation.

While announcing his appointment, the Presidential Spokesman, Garba Shehu crisply  encapsulated Muhammad Nami as a man with highly rated qualifications and licenses from reputable professional bodies with, “practical work experience in auditing, tax management and advisory management services to clients in the banking, manufacturing and services in the private and public sectors as well as nonprofit organisations.” By virtue of his educational qualifications and professional practice, Muhammad Nami is today, either a fellow or a member of several professional bodies. For instance, he is a Fellow of the prestigious Chartered Institute of Taxation of Nigeria, CITN; the Chartered Institute of Forensic and Investigation Professionals of Nigeria, CIFIPN and, the Institute of Debt Recovery Practitioners of Nigeria, DRPN. He is as well, an Associate Member of the Nigeria Institute of Management and the Association of National Accountants of Nigeria, ANAN.

Beginning from 1993 when he  embarked on his chosen career in taxation and auditing as a trainee, Muhammad Nami has largely worked in the private sector, progressively as an employee, a partner in joint ventures, CEO of his own firms and as a consultant to individuals, corporate entities,  nongovernmental, local and international organizations as well as government Ministries and several public sector departments and  agencies.

In obvious recognition of his towering professional stature and reputation as a diligent Auditor of impeccable moral rectitude, the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari appointed him between 2017 and 2018, to serve as a member of the adhoc Presidential Committee on Audit of Recoveries made by government Agencies pursuant to the anti corruption campaign. Among others, the committee was mandated to carry out an audit of all recoveries made by the MDAs, provide a data base and inventory for all recoveries; establish a viable template or, an enduring framework to make for accountability in respect of future recoveries. The nearest that he came to formally working in the public sector,  Nami was said to have made very critical contributions to  the success of the presidential committee’s assignment.  His outstanding performance in that one year stint may have further highlighted the latent and untapped capacity of the self effacing professional and, as it has turned out, recommending him for the latest national assignment.

As it is, Mohammed  Nami is coming on the saddle at the FIRS at a time that the agency is, practically, in the eye of the storm. There is for instance, the widespread allegations of gross acts of financial improprieties by members of its previous management with  the attendant negative public perception of the place as a cesspool of heist.  This may of course appear as the least of the tasks at hand, but it is yet one that must be given urgent  and particular attention. It may well turn out that he will have to first and foremost begin his assignment at the FIRS by engaging in the odious task of cleansing the Augean stable.

The recent changes at the nation’s foremost tax collection institution and which resulted in the appointment of Nami arose from its ever declining quantum of revenue generation to the national coffers. At a time the government embarked on a vicarious, spirited and frenzied policy of diversification of its sources of revenue away from oil, much is understandably expected from the FIRS. Unfortunately, the revenue generation through the Agency has been cascading downward, consistently failing to deliver on set targets in recent years.

The displeasure of the government was manifested in the query issued Mr.Fowler in April this year by the President’s Chief of Staff and of course non-renewal of his tenure.

In the light of the above, the salient but pertinent ingredient in the mandate being given to  Muhammad Nami is that he is expected to turn the fortunes of FIRS around by urgently reinvigorating its revenue generating profile. With an unprecedented federal budget of N10.59 trillion Naira and an ambitious policy of funding it substantially from revenues generated from non oil revenue sources, which translates in other words,  into increased taxation,  the assignment of  Nami cannot be regarded as a tea party.

Various prognoses, remedial measures and suggestions have been advanced for enhancing revenue generation. There has been for example, the view that the country needs to enthrone a more robust regime of taxation based on the fact that a great number of taxable individuals and corporate citizens are currently either being under taxed or, are completely outside the tax net. Those with this view, go on comparative peer group analyses of taxation in Nigeria and other countries in Africa often with the conclusion that we have a very lax, or liberal tax administration.

We can therefore foresee the Federal Inland  Revenue Service under Muhammad Nami having to engage in the expansion of the tax net. A logical, sensible and inevitable panacea in the superior and long-term social and economic wellbeing of the country as it has been argued by exponents of such a paradigm shift, there is yet on the other hand, the strong imperative of taking cognizance of counter opinions. This, in a nutshell is the demand that caution should be exercised to guard against increased taxation giving rise to increased pauperization of the mass of citizens. Related, is the opinion that an unbridled taxation drive has the potential of scarring away prospective investors and of crippling existing industries, ventures and services.

As he steps into his new station, Muhammad Nami is being challenged to unleash the entire gamut of his experience, expertise and management skills. Unlike the usual trend in such high profile appointments, Nami is not known to be coming either on the crest of partisan political considerations and interest groups or, under the wings of a god father. He is expected therefore, to go about his assignment as a thoroughbred professional without the inhibitions and digressions of extraneous forces and interests. History beckons on Muhammad Nami, the otherwise village boy from Nami.

Kayode Rahman Ogunlana is a Lagos based public affairs analyst.

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