As one of the government institutions that lays the proverbial ‘golden egg’ for our national treasury, the Federal Inland Revenue Service {FIRS} has over the years emerged from the doldrums of poor performance in revenue collection into the federation Account to become a first-rate example in global best practices in tax management and other related activities. Our General Editor, COBHAM NSA, who has a grasp of happenings in the nation’s tax regime, takes a cursory look at the intrigues that led to the ‘sack’ of Alhaji Kabir. M. Mashi and appointment Mr Sunday Samuel Ogungbesan as the new Acting Executive Chairman of FIRS.

Presidential Intervention

That there is a new helms man now manning affairs at the Federal Inland Revenue Service {FIRS} did not come as a surprise to many stakeholders of the Nigeria’s tax sector Quite early in Kabir Mashi’s administrative sojourn on the Service hot seat, strong signals emerged that government did not favour him as the “appropriate” candidate for the office on a substantive basis following the exit of Mrs Ifueko Omoigui Okauru in April 2012. The government’s adverse posture towards Mashi’s ascension to the exalted office first manifested in November 2013 when President Goodluck Jonathan forwarded to the National Assembly {NASS} for consideration the name of Mrs Mfom Akpan as the choice nominee for the FIRS Executive Chairmanship post.

Senate’s Hardline Posture

The President’s request, which was in accordance with Section 11 (a) of the FIRS Act 2007, however met a brick wall when some members of the red chambers of the National Assembly vested the power of approval for the presidential nomination opposed her choice citing the Senate Standing Rule 45 to justify their position. Accordingly, on Thursday, November 28, 2013, the Senate in a dramatic fashion dumped the President’s nominee over issue of federal character. Marshalling the position of those opposing the Mrs Akpan’s nomination, the duo of Senators Victor Lar and Kabiru Marafa explained that their colleagues, especially those from the northern part, took the hard stance in the spirit of federal character. According to their submission then, the longest serving Chairman of FIRS, Mr David Olorunleke, hailed from the South-west geo-political zone of the country, while the last occupant of the office, Mrs Ifueko Omoigui-Okauru, represented the South-south/South-east zone. With this in mind, the argument was therefore in favour of Kabir Mashi, who is from the North, to be confirmed or another northerner be appointed in the spirit of equity and fair play. Acknowledging that “President Goodluck Jonathan has the prerogative of office to appoint any competent person to administer any federal government agency in the country”, the lawmakers however posited that the “Senate also reserved the inalienable right to insist on appointment, based on fairness, equity and justice.” For those that thought the Senate obvious rejection of the nominee would paved the way for Mashi’s confirmation, how wrong were they as government had other plans that insiders maintained were based on very cogent reasons on why the appointment of a northern for the FIRS top job could not fly in spite of the upper legislative chamber’s submission.

Presidential Moves

In order not to suffer another humiliation at the Senate that obviously might have sealed the hope of Akpan getting the FIRS chairmanship, Forefront gathered that the presidency decided to lie low for awhile hoping that frayed nerves would have calmed down. Though many still refused to read any political undertone to government’s disinterestedness in confirming Mashi or his recent disengagement from the juicy post, competent sources insisted that he was only a victim of some powerful political intrigues and calculations within the presidency. Information pieced together by Forefront indicated that the thinking in government circles had been that it was not expedient to have the three key revenue generating agencies of government to be manned by personnel from a section of the country even though their supervising ministers are from the south. The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) and Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) are the threesome that earn money into the federation account on a monthly basis.

Heads of Revenue Agencies

At present, Dr Joseph Thalama Dawha an indigene of Biu in Borno State is the Group Managing Director (GMD), of he NNPC, while the Comptroller-General of Custom, Abdullahi Dikko Inde hails from Musawa in Katsina State same as Alhaji Mashi, who is also from Katsina State. That both Inde and Mashi are from Katsina, the home state of the All Progressive Congress (APC), presidential standard flag-bearer in the March 28, elections presented a most worrisome development for some individuals in President Jonathan administration. So, given that Dawha and Inde as northerners were already holding sway as confirmed chief executives, someone had to give way and certainly, the accident of his birth place effectively ruled out Mashi’s confirmation as the substantive FIRS Executive Chairman.

Elections Considerations

The obvious possibility that the March 28, 2015 Presidential and National Assembly polls outcome may favour the opposition as events have now confirmed, proved too cogent a reason to have Mashi axed urgently for a so-called balancing act in the polity. Hawks in government argued strongly that with General Buhari emerging as president-elect, doing away with Mashi after the elections would certainly raise lots of eyebrow. Armed with this excuse to cover their fears and machinations, not even his hard work and outstanding performance record on the seat as captured by the Director, Communications & Liaison Department, FIRS, Emmanuel Obeta in a recent press statement could persuade those in the corridors of power to have a change of mind about his ‘sack’.

Eulogies For Mashi

Obeta had in the flowery press statement stated that Mashi, who “took over from the former Executive Chairman, Ifueko Omoigui Okauru in April 2012” had FIRS recording a total of N14.529 trillion revenue under his watch. According to the Service image maker, other achievements of Mashi include, FIRS recording N5.07 trillion as its annual collection in 2012; N4. 805 trillion in 2013; and N4.714 trillion in 2014. Again, in 2014, he launched the e-filing programme under the Integrated Tax Administration System ITAS as well as other automation projects: e-tax pay and VAT auto collect. In addition, FIRS was also certified by the International Organisation for Standardization, amongst others.

Mashi’s Sins

However, amidst all these intrigues, there are those that believe Mashi’s many troubles may be connected to his being labeled by certain powerful forces as a ‘saboteur’ in government. These traducers readily point to what they touted as his “awkward approach”; seeming lack of “humaneness”; and “non-welfarist” attitude towards friends of government and even the staff.

Assuaging The South-west

Yet, some industry stakeholders have also posited that Mashi’s ouster and the eventual appointment of Mr. Sunday Samuel Ogungbesan, who hails from Ogun State, as the new Acting Executive Chairman, was part of the stop-gap efforts of President Jonathan to assuage strong feelings of marginalization being peddled by the South-west geo-political zone as a campaign issue ahead of the already won and lost presidential elections. According to proponents of this line of thinking, having made promises and given assurances that the perceived marginalization of the zone would be adequately addressed in his second term, the President wanted to take steps that would give his South-west zone campaigners the required verve and strong footing to further plead his cause. However, there are on-going arguments among political commentators whether these intrigues panned out favourably or otherwise for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential flag-bearer. But one thing remains clear, the government may not be in any hurry to appoint a new helmsman for the FIRS before May 29, 2015 inauguration date of the new APC administration in the country.

Enters Ogungbesan

In the midst of all these maneuverings, Mr. Ogungbesan, the Acting Executive Chairman, a seasoned and accomplished technocrat stand tall as the new man on the block with impeccable credentials to drive activities in the nation’s tax sector. Already, he has hit the ground running as seen by the unveiling of his strategic policy measures, assuring that tax administration in the country would be simplified and made easy for individuals and corporate organizations to embrace the culture of regular payment of their taxes. Giving hints about being professional and strengthening the economy through a robust tax administration with strong efforts at plugging all leakages in the system, Ogungbesan promised that his team would be led by “professionalism, integrity, efficiency”, in what he described as a “nation building” task , as the FIRS staff work towards raking in revenue to enable the government deliver on its development responsibilities. He declared; “I promise to run a professional, competent and 21st Century tax agency which every Nigerian will be proud of. We shall continue to be transparent and be candid in our interactions and relationships with all taxpayers and stakeholders. “I have a passion for professional tax work and all things that edify the human soul. I promise to discharge my duties with all the strength that God has given me. I am convinced positive personal values impact on all work, more so revenue collection”, he assured. The new helmsman also pledged to ensure a FIRS where requests for Tax Identification Numbers (TIN), Tax clearance Certificates and other such requests from members of the public would be processed without delay” just as there would be “timely closure to tax audits”.

Who is Ogungbesan?

The new Acting Executive Chairman holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics. A fellow of the Chartered Institute of Taxation and also an Associate member of Nigerian Institute of Management, he joined the Service as an Inspector of Taxes II and rose to his present level, having handled challenging responsibilities and assignments in various departments within the Service. He is associated with pioneering the administration of Large Taxpayers Unit in Lagos and has represented FIRS in many tax conference and seminars, both locally and internationally. Handling the administration of FIRS Tax Policy Department for many years, Ogungbesan was pioneer Director, Planning Reporting and Statistics Department as well as being a major player during the review of Nigerian Tax Laws in 2005. Appointed Coordinating Director Tax Operations Group by the Board on February 5, 2010, Ogungbesan was, until his appointment, Coordinating Director, Standards and Compliance Group, which delineates and articulates service-wide operational standards for tax practice in the FIRS. He is a strong advocate of change, focusing improvement in the tax administration system in Nigeria.

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