FIRS: Making National, Regional and Global Impact

By LEKAN BILESANMI

The Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) is attracting increasing recognition to its impressive tax and revenue administration records, a state of affairs that has seen revenue collection rise to record levels and its staff occupying important positions in national, African and global tax bodies.

Oladapo: Executive Secretary, WATAF, Fowler, FIRS Chairman, ATAF Chair and member UN International Experts Committee on Tax and •Gbonjubola: Vice Chairman, Inclusive Framework

In spite of falling oil revenues, which have imposed a huge strain on Nigeria’s financial resources, the last three years have seen the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) post impressive revenue

The year before that, the FIRS collected N3.3trillion. The steady rise in collection figures, in the opinion of analysts, is attributable to the increased focus on tax revenue generation in the face of dipping oil revenue and a wave of reforms initiated in the sector by the FIRS.

In March at the 13th General Assembly of the West African Tax Administration Forum (WATAF) in Abuja, the Executive Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Mr Tunde Fowler, gave a hint of what has assisted FIRS’ make progress.

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“In the past two years, Nigeria has taken the route of increasing the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in facilitating taxpayer’s compliance and has introduced initiatives to improve inter-agency collaboration, all with view to enhancing tax administration and reducing tax revenue leakages. Our efforts in this regard have made an impact and contributed to an increase in the taxpayers roll by an additional four million taxpayers (companies and individuals) and an increase of over N700 billion (equivalent of $2billion) in tax revenues in 2017, above the taxes collected in 2016,” Fowler said.

The continuous progress has not escaped the attention of the African and global tax/revenue communities. In July, a WATAF delegation visited Fowler in Abuja. On the occasion, the representatives of the regional body requested an opportunity to understudy the FIRS model in view of the progress it is making despite the country’s economic challenges. Similarly in September, the Chartered Institute of Taxation, Ghana (CITG) invited Fowler to address tax chiefs from across the West African sub-region. The topic was “Strategies for Revenue Mobilisation in Contemporary Times: Challenges in Tax Legislation”.

In his presentation, the FIRS Chairman explained how continuous review of tax laws, effective communication, creative engagement with taxpayers and political will among other things could help tax administrations on the continent.

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Recognition of the strides made by the FIRS under Fowler manifested in his election, in October 2016, as the third Chairman of the African Tax Administration Forum (ATAF), the first Nigerian to occupy the position and for which he was re-elected last month.

Today, ATAF gives Africa a voice on the global tax table, with the Fowler pushing the African position at the United Nations, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on Illicit Financial Flows (IFF), re-ordering of the global VAT equilibrium and other major key tax issues.

A little less than a year after he was elected ATAF Chair, Fowler was made a member of the 25-man United Nations International Experts Committee on Tax Matters.

Another FIRS staff, who has played a crucial role in ATAF is Mr. Femi Edgal, a Commonwealth Association of Tax Administrator (CATA) Correspondent seconded to the Forum. He has expressed FIRS’ position on ATAF, UN International Experts Committee on Tax Matters and other multilateral institutions. He also coordinated the participation of over 200 FIRS staff at various tax-related capacity development programmes organised by international bodies such as ATAF, WATAF, CATA, OECD and UN.

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Also flying the FIRS flag on the global stage is Mr Mathew Odusanya Gbonjubola, FIRS Director (International Taxation), who occupies the position of Vice Chairman, Inclusive Framework (IF). The IF is a global network of over 120 tax jurisdictions established by the G20 to present a common front in the fight against Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS).

Nigeria joined the body at inception in 2016 and was one of the jurisdictions that attended the inaugural meeting held in Kyoto Japan, where Gbonjubola was elected member of the Steering Group of the body.

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The Steering Group was reconstituted this year and Gbonjubola was elected the 2nd Vice Chairman for a two-year term. In addition to his role at the IF, Gbonjubola also chairs the Cross-Border Taxation (CBT) Committee of the ATAF, represents both Nigeria and ATAF on the Working Party 6 of the OECD and is a member of the UN Subcommittee on Transfer Pricing.

Achievements of the Inclusive Framework include the successive development and execution of the Multilateral Competent Authority Agreement on Country-by-Country Reporting (CBCR), Multilateral Instrument on Tax Treaties, and the world-wide acceptance and implementation of other BEPS measures.

Equally shinning on the global tax stage is Mr Ajayi Julius Bamidele, former FIRS Coordinating Director (Tax Operations Group). He was a member of the UN Sub-committee that developed the Transfer Pricing for Developing Countries, a member of UN and OECD Tax Committee and a prominent resource person on tax to several tax authorities. He also speaks at local and international tax conferences. At the sub-regional level is Mr Babatunde Oladapo, who was appointed Executive Secretary, WATAF, in June 2016.

Oladapo is reputed to have pioneered knowledge sharing missions between and among WATAF members. These include that which sees the Liberia Revenue Authority and FIRS sharing knowledge on taxpayer services and e-payment solutions. He also brokered technical assistance programme on Transfer Pricing audit between FIRS, the Tax Inspectors without Borders (TIWB) and the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA). The LRA was able to raise Transfer Pricing audit assessments of over $7 Million to a multinational enterprise as a result of this intervention.

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On the national stage, there are men and women recruited from the FIRS as current Chairmen State Internal Revenue Services (SIRSs).

In this category is Alhaji Sani Abdulqadir Dambo, Chairman, Kano State Internal Revenue Service who, by 2016, had added 900,000 new taxpayers to the Kano State tax roll, the highest number of fresh taxpayers ever contributed by a single state to the taxpayer population under three years in the last 10 years. Under his chairmanship, the state Internally Generated Revenue rose from N13.6billion to N42.4billion, an increase of about 212%.  Also in the category are Alhaji Jibril Yusuf Kabibu, Alhaji Jibrin Hussaini Jibo, and Mr. Terzungwe Atser, who are respectively Chairmen of the State Internal Revenue Service in Niger, Bauchi and Benue.

Before them, there had been others such as Mr Pukat Shehu Barde, Executive Chairman, Plateau State Internal Revenue Service (2005-2007); Alhaji Muazu Mohammed, former Executive Chairman, Niger State Internal Revenue Service; and Mrs Mimi Adzape Orubibi, former Chairman, Benue State Internal Revenue Service and the first female state tax chief in Nigeria. She raised IGR of the state from N7.6 billion (2015) to N12.4 billion (2017).

In Kaduna State, two FIRS directors, Messrs Ango Liman and Thomas Isyaku are providing technical support for the Kaduna State Internal Revenue Service Chairman, Alhaji Muhtar Ahmed. Thomas Isyaku is Executive Director Standards and Compliance, while Liman is Executive Director, Operations.

With their support, the state IGR rose from about N12 billion in 2015 to over N23 billion in 2016 and over N26 billion in 2017. The state is hopeful that it will hit N30 billion by December 2018.

The standard bearer of the State-FIRS embrace is the FIRS Chairman, whose time as Chairman, Lagos State Inland Revenue Service (LIRS) was remarkably successful. Under the chairmanship of Mrs Ifueko Omoigui-Okauru, the FIRS, in 2010, had the humility to admit it needed to learn from the LIRS in key areas such as enforcement, taxpayer education, taxpayer registration and customer service. It sent a team led by a Coordinating Director, Teju Somorin went to sip of the offerings of the LIRS in those key areas for about three days.

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Eight years after the visit, Fowler, the former LIRS Chairman is FIRS boss. His former colleague from Edo State, Chief Oseni Elamah, is Secretary, Joint Tax Board (JTB). Under Elamah, Edo State modernised its operations, registered more taxpayers and reformed its tax collection system.

The story of State Internal Revenue Service men joining the FIRS, however, dates a longer time back.

Immediate past Chairman of the FIRS, Alhaji Kabir M. Mashi, was Chairman, Katsina State Internal Revenue Service, before joining the FIRS as a Directorate cadre staff.

Chief David Olorunleke, probably the longest serving Chairman of the FIRS, was Chairman, Kwara State Board of Internal Revenue in the old Kwara State, before the creation of Kogi State. Alhaji  Ibrahim Zukogi   joined the FIRS from Niger State Board of Internal Revenue and later became Chairman, FIRS.

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