Major economies across the globe have managed to remain afloat through deft innovative approaches to managing their economies. one clear factor that has remained a constant is the fact that nations with robust economies have latched on a diversified productivity/earning base at a near self sufficient level on several fronts of productivity. Thus it was no strange coincidence when Nigeria’s economy went into recession sometimes in 2016 recording a growth of -1.5% largely due to a fall in global price of crude oil (The very first in more than 2 decades since 1191). Oil has been the mainstay upon which Nigeria’s economy has been anchored. Nigerian economy is oil base and oil revenues contributes for over 60% of government revenue and 90% of foreign exchange.
In the late 2016 and early 2017 the recession bit harder making life unbearable for the masses. Doubtless, this was a resultant effect of the several years of neglect of successive governments and a solution was required irrespective of how we found our way to such a sorry state. This gnawing challenge spurred the President Muhammadu Buhari administration to look inward to find an alternative to oil through diversification of the economy towards other sectors such as manufacturing, Agriculture and Tourism. This paid off as things began to pick with such novel introductions as the CBN FUNDED Anchor borrowers programme, Bailout programme, Growth-enhancing fiscal policy amongst others. However, the masterstroke by the President Muhammadu Buhari administration was the appointment of Mr. Babatunde Fowler as Executive Chairman of Federal Inland Revenue (FIRS). Upon assumption of Office he quickly introduced far reaching reforms that are largely the catalysts that propelled Nigeria out of economic recession.
At the risk of sounding immodest, a scrupulous look at the records reveal that no FIRS Boss since its creation has achieved half the achievements of Mr. Fowler on the various indices of internal reforms, deployment of innovative technology in tax collection/management, emplacement of failsafe transparency measures amongst others which culminated in a major leap in non-oil tax remittances. Mr. Fowler took over the reins of leadership in FIRS at a time when our country was going through economic depression amidst dwindling oil revenues. It was on the plinth of his sheer ingenuity as a seasoned tax administrator primus inter pares and a trailblazing social reformer that he led the FIRS Team to significantly raise Nigeria’s non oil revenue base on many fronts that brought the nation out of the recession. Between 2016 to 2018 the non-oil revenue collection grew by over One trillion naira (about 21%). This is a record first for our country at a time when there is a global shift away from oil revenues towards economic diversification in non oil sectors. Indeed, Mr. Fowler has demonstrated that beyond being a vocal voice against Nigeria’s over dependence on oil revenue he could match his advocacy with result-evident actions.
As reforms are bound to be resisted particularly when it strips the elite of some privileges, those who felt threatened by Mr. Babatunde’s water tight policies on tax collection and whose businesses were hitherto tax free in the previous regime are now restless and will stop at nothing in trying to throw dirts at the sterling records of the Fowler led management. What some naysayers would have us believe is that the present FIRS regime is the worst ever when realities on ground point contrariwise. The taxation arena no longer makes room for sacred cows who hitherto benefited at the detriment of our government. Indeed, Mr. Fowler can aptly be described a fervid adherent and practical representation of President Muhammadu Buhari’s vision for a corrupt-free Nigeria where a few should no longer rob the nation and go scot free.
Premised on these empirical self evident facts of the positive attainments of the FIRS, it becomes imperative to harp on the need for the present FIRS management ably led by Mr. Babatunde Fowler to be accorded the deserved accolades for raising the non oil revenues to an all time high and for rising up to the occasion to reverse the then economic recession whilst playing a significant role in steering our country’s economy to an era of boom and progress. These recorded progress can be linked to far reaching reforms introduced by Mr. fowler in areas of regular and continuous taxpayers education, ICT innovation drive and taxpayers enlightments amongst others.
Public service in Nigeria however seems to be a thankless job particularly when you roll up your sleeves of patriotism and give it your best. This has not deterred Mr. Fowler and his like in the Buhari government who feel strongly that the legacies and dreams of our heroes past should be upheld for the birth of a greater nation. The odds are in favor of an even geometric increase in tax revenues with Fowler in the saddle with his magic wand that boast a rich mix of experience as Chairman of the African Tax Administration Forum and First Vice President of UN International Committee of Tax Experts. As we look forward to even brighter days for our economy and an upliftment in the standards of living of the average Nigerian, it is our hope and prayer that President Muhammadu Buhari will once more deploy the services of this world renowned taxation expert in shoring up our nation’s tax revenue accruals to the Next Level.
Dr. Muhammad Bashir writes from Kano