OPINION: The Burden Of Leadership At FIRS

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If one has not occupied a position of leadership, one would not fully understand the truism of William Shakespeare’s wise words:  “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown”. But those who wear the crown know where it hurts. So it is with the leadership of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) at this inauspicious time.

Three factors make the leadership of FIRS quite challenging, even if burdensome, at this time. These are the onerous task of repositioning the Service and raising staff morale, meeting the revenue target amid a global economic lockdown, and having to deal with Janus-faced human nature. These factors combined to make the leadership of FIRS seems more like skating on thin ice, which is really a daunting task.

The task of repositioning the Service means setting it on the track of global best practices in terms of corporate governance and efficient service delivery. This consists of shuffling the staff and putting the right people in the right positions,  building staff capacity,  creating more vacancies and more offices, deploying cutting-edge technology to drive the processes,  and ultimately reestablishing the Service again as a veritable corporate entity to reckon with among its peers in the World. Daunting as this task may seem, it also requires quantum speed to achieve it.

Towards achieving the repositioning goal, the Executive Chairman of FIRS, Mr. Mohammed Nami, put together a three-month framework of action as he assumed office in December, 2019. This initial three-month project, tagged Short-Term Goals, is one of the three broad strategies outlined to achieve total retooling of the Service towards increased tax revenue generation.

Others are the  Medium Term and the Long Term Goals. The  Short Term Goals consists of eleven action points, which are: to hold a strategic corporate retreat to set target and unveil the corporate organogram of the Service; to put in place immediate mechanism to make activities of the Service technology driven; to make TCC processing easy henceforth ; to immediately re-position LTOs & MTOs; to henceforth make staff welfare and promotion a top priority; to re-position Audit & investigation units in order to achieve efficient performance; stop indiscriminate placement of lien on clients’ accounts; to take disciplinary action henceforth against staff who wittingly pocket tax revenue; to re-engineer  business processes; to continue the payment of 13-16 months salaries as bonuses in order to motivate staff and achieve greater tax revenue collection; and to strictly enforce dress code as provided  in the FIRS HRPP.

At the unveiling of these short-term goals members of staff at the FIRS applauded them as the long overdue changes they have all been looking forward to with bated breath. They enthusiastically acknowledged that the goals were spot on and the required quick fixes desperately needed to  reposition the Service for efficient and effective administration and optimal tax revenue collection.

Since the unveiling of the goals the management team at the FIRS ably led by  Mr. Muhammad Nami, has applied itself to implementing them diligently every step of the way. In January, the transition management provided a month long window for quick and unfettered processing of TCCs for taxpayers to enable them compete for relevant jobs. This led to the processing and issuance of thousands of TCCs which hitherto was difficult. This was immediately followed with the lifting of lien on clients’ bank account with genuine cases. Thereafter a corporate retreat was held with resounding success. At the retreat were most of the former chairmen of the Service, and an array of stakeholders who applauded the ECFIRS for daring to hold the retreat seven years after the last one was held. A circular was issued to staff emphasizing the need to comply with the HRPP provision on corporate dressing and the penalty that goes with its violation.

Also,  cutting-edge technological solutions have since been deployed to fast-track the processes involved in tax administration and revenue generation. Automation solutions have been put in place to ensure adequate remittance of Value Added Tax (VAT) and Stamp Duty in close coordination with relevant stakeholders. Staff redeployment and reorganization had been done meticulously, and members of staff are happier for it. The audit and investigation units have also been reinvigorated in the process of which about sixty eight new offices were created alongside new VAT offices.

All these steps are geared towards making the Service function optimally again as a corporate institution operated on veritable ethics rooted in probity, accountability, and propriety. These are best practices and values which aim to put the Service on the plinth of internationally accepted standards of corporate governance, which was thrown overboard hitherto, thereby turning the Service into a reeling ballroom. This feat was hard-won. It took a lot of planning,  complex thinking, series of meetings and consultations, and hard decisions. Of course,  this is what makes leadership burdensome, even more so if the leader’s good intentions and hard work are misconstrued or hardly appreciated.

Anyway, Mr. Nami’s action roadmap is a clear demonstration of the kind of quality and proactive leadership that is required now at the FIRS. He has unmistakably demonstrated a mature leadership disposition that sends unambiguous signal, which is that it will no longer be business as usual at the FIRS. This is yielding dividends in restored taxpayers’ confidence and trust in the system, among other ample results.

Mr. Nami has also put together a competent, dedicated, and strong-willed management team with national spread to help him steer the course of the Service in the direction of his vision. This includes the Group Lead, Digital Support Group, Mrs. Chiaka Okoye, who is from the South East is a member of the management team; the Coordinating Director, Tax Operations Group, Mr. Olufemi Oluwaniyi, from the South West is also a member of the management team; Acting Coordinating Director, ECFIRS Group, Dr Asheikh Maidugu, from the North East is  a member of the management team; Acting Coordinating Director, Support Services Group, Mr. Innocent Ohagwa, from the South East is a member of the management team; Acting Coordinating Director, Compliance Support Group, Mr. Ezra Zubairu from the North West is a member of the management team; and Group Lead, Enforcement Support Group, Mrs. Faosat Oguniyi from the South West also a member of the management team.

Under Mr. Nami’s Administration at the FIRS, Nneka Ifekwuna from the South East was appointed the Board Secretary while Mr Kola Okunola from the South West and Mallam Auta Mohammed from the North West have been retained as Special Assistants on ICT and Administration respectively.

However, just when the management team under the leadership of Mr. Muhammad Nami seems to be gaining momentum and getting things right, the Covid-19 pandemic seized the world and shattered the global economy like the thin ice under the heavy foot falls of a skater. The economic shutdown is unprecedented in Nigeria’s, even global, history. Nevertheless, in the midst of this pandemic, the FIRS henchman is still expected to deliver on his mandate, which is to raise money for government to continue to meet its statutory obligations to the Nigerian people.

Without gainsaying, this pandemic has really compounded matters for the leadership at the FIRS. Businesses have virtually screeched to a stop nationwide and globally. There is a global oil glut as buyers have disappeared taking with them the expected oil revenue for the country.  Expected revenue from the non-oil sector has also dipped alongside the drastic drop in business and economic activities.

Despite this bleak economic outlook, the revenue deliverable benchmark for the FIRS remains at the pre-pandemic target of N8.5 trillion. Never mind that the Service was compelled by the current business realities to provide strategic tax palliatives to taxpayers. Yet, even at that, many continue to call on the FIRS to do more while retaining their expectation that the FIRS will still perform magic by raking in its targeted revenue to fund the 2020 Budget and rescue the economy from a downward slide. As irksome as this sounds, it is a further demonstration of the burdensome nature of leadership wherefore everyone drags you in the mud and expects you to still look spruced.

Yet, despite the pandemic and its economic consequences, the FIRS management ably led by Mr. Nami was able to post an  impressive Q1 performance by achieving an increment of 15% over the corresponding period in 2019 to the delight of all. This is a clear indication that the eggheads at the FIRS are up to the herculean task before them.

But just as the management team at FIRS is getting on with the onerous task ahead, Janus-faced human nature is poised to further make the matter insufferable for the crack team. A Janus-faced is intractable, never showing its true colour- whether a friend or a foe. Like a chameleon, it is a friend today and a foe tomorrow. Verily, Shakespeare reminds us that “there is no art to find the mind’s construction in the face”. That’s why the Janus-faced often gets away with its inveigle personality.

This time the Janus-faced is pushing for a census to determine which ethnic group populates the FIRS more than the others. And were this to be so it would be obvious which has the upper hand. But such cheap blackmailer will not distract the focused management team at the FIRS from pursuing its proactive policies in the best interest of the Service and the country. If anything, the time it would take to deal with such a deceptive constrictor will be an added weight to the burden of leadership for which the positively focused minds at the FIRS cannot afford to luxuriate in.

Abdullahi Ismaila Ahmad is the Director of Communications at the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS)

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