Niger State governor, Alhaji Abubakar Sani Bello recently brought change in the leadership of state Internal Revenue Service (NIRS) with the appointment of Mohammed Madami Etsu as the Executive Chairman. In this interview, Mr Etsu reeled out his action plans to improve the state’s Internally Generated Revenue IGR. Excerpts
Where is the starting point for Revenue Generation in Niger State
On resumption here , I discovered that unfortunately Niger State revenue collection was five or ten years behind most of the state. We have commenced automation process and have also launched the Integrated Tax Administration System for Niger Revenue Service.
And within the next one to three months, we expect changes to start reflecting. We have started with the pilot project from assumed major sources of revenue in Niger State which are: Suleja, Minna, Bida and others to follows likewise. We are also short of staff. We are hoping to restructure this, so that we can have competent hands to actually drive what we are looking at, the vision we have for the state.
I am hoping that within the next six to twelve months, Niger State should climb up there with the first ten states that have the highest number of Internally Generated Revenue because we have no business being at the bottom of the ladder, considering the fact that we have the landmass, probably number three or four in population size.
So, we are going to explore all these potentials and we are very firm about this. We are going to make changes as we all know changes don’t come easy. We have already started seeing a lot of resistance which is common to all forms of change anywhere in the world, but once we are determined to carry on and with the backing of His Excellency, the executive governor of Niger State, I know that we can do it as we have done it elsewhere. Other states have taken cue from Lagos and the bigger states, and like I said within the next few months we would start seeing this result.
What is your target for revenue collection for the remaining period of this fiscal year?
Well, the state has been getting within the region of six to seven hundred million monthly in the last one year. I was actually appointed in May 2021, but I resumed officially on the 1st of June 2021, but before then I have started making a lot in conjunction with the overseeing Chairman at the time. I started making a lot of effort that will change the situation and I can say that as at today and by our last collection , we have already crossed a billion naira which is an improvement of three hundred million on the last collection within the first three weeks.
I know that Niger State has the potential, we have therefore left it at N1.5 billion and that was my first address to staff with the members of my team that I am looking at 1.5 billion monthly.
What strategies are you putting in place to modernise the system?
Yes, I said earlier that we had two days ago, on Monday launched the Integrated Tax Administration System in addition to what I meet on ground. The automation of some of the collection and the idea is that all streams of revenue from all sources within the state that are supposed to be collected by the Niger State Government as IGR will be fully automated.
We want to reduce to the bearest minimum, the element of human interface because that is where the leakages always come from. And within a few months of automation from experience you will definitely see an upward spring of revenue collection.
From your assumption, do you mean that there were leakages in revenue collection?
Yes, there have always been, even in the Federal Service even in all other states the tendency is always there, notwithstanding that some were untaxed, there are some tax head that are untapped probably that have not been utilised. You see, some states, they will give you a schedule of 100 items then you come to my state probably you are just collecting 40 of those items , a lot of them will say multiple taxation is a different topic entirely, but we are trying to modify this lost ground because we have issues of local government coming in to collect something.
The state also collects the same thing this is also applicable to state. A committee has been set up before I came in to harmonise this collection process and once everybody agrees that this IGR it is government money, I don’t think we will have issues with that but the issue of leakages is the major issue anywhere in all service in the country. So, it is a question of how secure is your system of collection and operation and with determination a lot of these leakages will be gravely reduced.
One area that needs to be looked into is personal income tax, where taxable persons are not taxed. What are you going to do you with that?
Coming to effective taxation like you said some people are not taxed. It is about building the tax base. Already, we have deployed some persons to do what we call mapping and in recent times we are taking Suleja and Minna as a case study, as pilot projects in that mapping strategies most businesses will be involved with their exact location and the nature of business will also be known with their names and phone numbers.
With mapping we will be able to do our interface and use it for the purpose of this tax compliance we are talking about.
What strategies will you have to attract payers? Some states use some community projects to attract payers.
Yes, this mapping I mentioned to the details are quite large in the area of this mapping. The chances are done in clause for different communities. At the end of the day from the mapping data we receive, we will include infrastructure in this location. Then, if we know how much collection from this location, we can tell government that this location gives us a lot. But they do not have boreholes, they do not have water, there are potholes on their roads. If such communities enjoy such amenities they will appreciate why they should pay tax.
With all these plans, what is your arrangement or package for your staff?
What I met on ground was that there is a monthly incentive to staff after every collection. We are working to improve it, but the most important thing is working environment. If you have gone round a lot of the state, the revenue agency always makes their staff comfortable because they relate with money issues the people have to actually have to be properly remunerated so that they don’t look elsewhere.
You made mention of Suleja, this is one area that is believed Niger State has not explored. I am aware that in around 2017, about ten consultants were engaged by the Niger State government after the signing of the harmonisation report of the tax administration in the state, what will you do about that ?
In Suleja we have the Abuja officers, like you said both for private and public office living in Suleja. For those in the public sector under the IPPIS platform, we are already talking to them and we are also interfacing with the FCT Internal Revenue service in that regards . Niger and Nassarawa are the one having such issues with FCT. Also we are working on that to build the database of those people coming here who go to work in Abuja everyday and come back to Suleja and so much pressure on infrastructure in Suleja.
What are your plans for enforcement to ensure that taxes are remitted promptly?
We will do our best especially with the new automation. And you know it is the law and it is very clear on what to do with defaulters. I understand there are cases in court as we speak. The enforcement process is one of the areas we will look into. There is nothing more than enforcement, if you don’t do what the law says, the enforcement is carried out and you are prosecuted. We hope to push this line too, but we hope we don’t have to push it yet. We would still persuade people with a lot of publicity, for the fact that people should realise that it is your responsibility. But where such persons or a lot of people don’t want to comply, we don’t have any option than to strictly apply the law.
You said you are short of adequate manpower, how do you make up?
When you say ‘adequate,’ it means the effectiveness and efficiency are all in that. You can have hundred persons, but only five persons are of value. It is a problem we are working on, a training and retaining of programmes. Some of them maybe because they have not had training for a very long time, it affects their work. We have a lot of graduates among them, so we don’t expect it to be a problem. But when and where there is a problem, we will definitely bring in people who will help us achieve our mission.
What is your advice to the staff and the stakeholders?
My advice is that every system over time is definitely programmed to change. People feel that change is difficult.
When I came here, a lot of people say Niger is this, Niger is difficult but I don’t think anywhere is difficult if you have come to do a job you have been given a mandate. If you believe I wouldn’t have taken this job, if I don’t believe I could do it but I want to do it differently from what others were supposed to have done.
So, my advice is that people should do the right thing if you don’t do the right thing you will have problem with me. But once everyone does his job, including staff, well I have already told my staff to leave the bad things they have been doing because as from 1st of June, if any staff engages in any untoward activity he would be prosecuted. That is the word I use for them because that is what the law says and am here to apply the law.