By Wahab Gbadamosi
Newspaper columnists are special specie, a gift to journalism, to their country and to the human race.
Week after week, columnists engage in the lonely labour of pounding out thoughts.
Not for lucre or for their ego. But most of the times for a people and for humanity’s common good.
Columnists peer beyond the ordinary, telling the remainder of humanity their beauty, their ugliness, their shortfalls, their oddities, their wisdom, their foolishness and the possibilities locked in humanity. In a sense, newspaper columnists and their abiding labour of love are prophets of the truth.
Which is why insights of Nigeria’s respected newspaper columnists ought not to be dismissed. Writing is lonely. And the least a nation or a people could do is to applaud the uncommon insights which columnists offer at no fee, to their nation. To dismiss the insights or thoughts of a columnist, simply because such might not accord with one’s own position, is disservice.
When a columnist is a veteran journalist and is as experienced in the media as in a nation’s public sector, thoughts flowing from such minds, enjoy a dual advantage: the critic in a journalist, who treats every fact with some circumspection and a participant in the public sector, who has access to cold facts, policy processes and how our nation works.
Which is why an opinion piece by Eddie Iroh, veteran journalist, former contributor to Newswatch newsmagazine in the early 1990s, former Director-General of the Federal Radio Corporation, FRCN cannot be dismissed by anybody that is anybody in Nigeria, who has the faintest acquaintance with what is wrong with the public sector in our country.
Eddie Iroh, we must remember, is not your run of the mill columnist, who babbles about parties with this minister or that governor, all to embrace the gallery.
Less than a decade ago, Eddie Iroh’s intervention, spirited former Anambra governor, Dr. Chris Ngige from the claws of kidnappers at the Government House, in Awka. But for Iroh’s historic intervention and courage to run a live interview with Ngige--marooned in a solitary confinement at a hotel in Awka, at the instance of fixers of the state then (one of the Ubahs)—the world might not have been privileged to see an Ngige in action as the state governor, least of all a Senator.
It is correct to assert, that Iroh’s courage, eventuated in the emergence of a Peter Obi and the gradual liberation of that state. Eddie Iroh’s guts to promote democracy, free speech, due process and the Rule of Law, during the Ngige-Ubah saga—moreso against the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP led centre-- set the Oyibo man apart. Thus, Eddie Iroh’s words are weighty and must not be dismissed by anybody.
It is against this backdrop, that one notes, with concern, some misrepresentation and inaccuracies in Eddie Iroh’s piece, published on the back page of Thisday Newspaper on Tuesday February 28, 2012.
While responding to an earlier piece, published by Olusegun Adeniyi, former spokesperson to late President Umar Yar Adua and Chairman, Thisday Editorial Board, Eddie said inter-alia:
- 1. ...Segun decried the abysmally low revenue yield from non-oil taxes in the past year, but l found no link between a failed tax system and the role of negative critics of Nigeria who should be candidates for exile(sic)
I found no evidence that these critics were the ones who failed to pay or collect proper taxes
- 2. I have never met the Federal Inland Revenue boss, Mrs. Ifueko Omoigui Okauru, who Segun eulogises as “perhaps the effective reformer in public service”… But I believe any honest critic would judge her performance by the fact that tax revenue from non-oil sources fell under her watch. That cannot be explained away by the disparity between subsidy and tax revenue which is a totally different issue
3. The fact remains that Nigeria is the only populous country which does not derive its main revenue from income tax, not as largesse from government as in the case of some Arab oil countries, but because of failure of our taxation system, where only workers constrained by deduction at source (PAYE) are the main income taxpayers
While Eddie Iroh—like any other columnist, is free to express opinion on every subject under the sun, we wish to state that his claims in 1-3 above are not founded on facts.
The claim that non oil revenue collapsed under her (Omoigui’s) watch, is what the South Westerners will call an Iro (a lie). No pun intended. Figures available in the public space, published in several newspapers and had over 100 online mention, show that non oil revenue has grown tremendously in the last eight years. It is a notorious fact that non oil collection of taxes grew by over 70-80 per under Ifueko Omoigui’s watch.
By 2001, FIRS receipts (collection) from non oil taxes were N163.3 billion. Oil did N407.1 billion. In 2002 non oil receipt was N204.4 billion. Oil did N224.4. In 2003, non oil collection was N55 billion. Oil receipt was N438.0 billion.
The following year 2004, Non oil receipt was N316.2 billion. Oil netted N878.6 billion. In 2005, Non oil fetched the nation N389.2 billion. Oil receipt was N1, 52.2 trillion. In 2006 non oil collection was N513.7 billion, Oil: N1,352.5 Trillion. The following year (2007) non oil collection was N716.3 billion, oil receipt was N1,132.0 trillion. In 2008, non oil collection of N911.3 trillion was almost half of oil collection’s N2,060.9 trillion and almost doubling the previous year’s figure. In 2009, non oil collection of N1147.2 trillion, actually surpassed oil collection of N939.4 billion. In 2010 the non oil collection of N1,359.1 trillion almost attained parity with the oil collection of N1,480.59 trillion.
By 2011, non oil collection hit N1.557.8 trillion against the N1,359.1 trillion recorded in 2010. This is a difference of over N200 billion. FIRS cumulative collection was N4,628.5 trillion in 2011, while oil did N3,070.59 trillion the same year.
Going from the above, Eddie Iroh’s claim is an Iro (a lie) as they are not premised on available facts.
All Eddie Iroh would have done was to google non- oil taxes in Nigeria for an idea of Nigeria’s non-oil collection under Ifueko Omoigui Okauru. He could have proceeded to confirm such media stories /data with official position from the Federal Ministry of Finance, National Planning Commission or from the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN.
Eddie’ Iroh’s second claim that Nigeria has a “failed tax system” is as inscrutable, as it is unbelievable, to say the least. In the last seven years, any average newspaper reader, any taxpayer, who transacts business with FIRS tax offices—there are over 100 FIRS offices nationwide-- or who is familiar with the quiet but fundamental changes coursing through the tax system, knows that it is a misnomer to claim that Nigeria has a failed tax system.
While it is true- like Eddie Iroh noted that to an extent only P.A.Y.E. contributors (workers) pay taxes, this blanket cast of failure of tax system in all states is too sweeping and generic.
Even if Eddie Iroh, refuses to take into account developments at the FIRS, many states are changing the tax story in Nigeria. The most visible is Lagos. Other states are: Anambra, Edo, Adamawa, Sokoto, Delta, Rivers, Gombe and Cross River. Collection is on the ascent and state governors in those states are giving quality attention to tax issues.
Until the mix of resource for development, the finite character of oil and volatility in trouble zones across the world began to affect Nigeria’s earning, many states gave no damn about taxes in Nigeria.
This notwithstanding, that celebrated newspaper columnists like Olusegun Adeniyi, Simon Kolawole, Kayode Komolafe and Sam Omatseye are thrusting tax to the front burner as an important staple for public discourse and that tax and taxation is creeping into public lexicon and gradually, the nation’s consciousness, is itself a huge testimony to the changes that had taken place in FIRS and the Joint Tax Board in the last eight years.
Some footnotes on the tax system in Nigeria are in order.
One is that the FIRS does not solely administer Personal Income Tax, PIT in the country. State Governments through the State Board of Internal Revenue, SBIR are responsible. FIRS is responsible for collection of Personal Income Tax, only in the Federal Capital Territory, FCT and for members of the Armed Forces and the Police as well as staff of the Foreign Affairs.
Even at that, Ifueko Omoigui Okauru, has done more than any former Chairman of the Joint Tax Board, JTB to reposition tax and the PIT regime in Nigeria.
JTB-- about which many Nigerians, know nothing about nine years ago-- has become an instrument of change in Nigeria’s tax system. The latest testimony to this is the passage of the Personal Income Tax Amendment bill by the National Assembly and the signing of same into Law by President Goodluck Jonathan. Apart from giving more tax revenue to states and the FCT from Nigeria’s big income earners, it has sliced the tax burden of low income earners.
There is the Unique-Taxpayer Identification Number, U-TIN project – a country-wide, state, all taxpayer enumeration project--which will help data for tax purposes. Under Omoigui’s watch, all states have agreed to participate in the U-TIN project. All state governors and the National Economic Council, NEC are partners in the project.
Under the U-TIN project, tax shopping will be difficult and outright evasion might not be a tea party, as Nigeria will have a documented, online data of all taxable adults in the country, what they do, an idea of how much they earn. States will be able to cross-match and compare data.
Today, professionals and corporate institutions who open a tax file in Lagos, accumulate taxes of say N100 million and abandon their tax file, hop to Port Harcourt or Abuja, open another tax file, are scurrying for new tricks, with just the implementation of the FIRS TIN. While away in countries New York or Beijing, the FIRS Chairman and other top Management staff, could tell the finance Minister how much the Service earns in a day.
FIRS and the tax system could certainly improve. There are clear advances in the last seven/eight years though
A National Tax Policy that will lay the ground norm for tax business has been approved by the Federal Executive Council, FEC following buy- in by all states and other stakeholders. Once FIRS' Integrated Tax Administration System (ITAS) and the democratic Self-Assessment regime come on stream, along with the U-TIN, national and state tax-based revenue will soar.
There is the passage of the Federal Inland Revenue Service Establishment Act, FIRS Act 2007, with financial and administrative autonomy of the FIRS and the comprehensive legal framework as well as the passage of three other tax acts: Value Added Tax (Amendment) Act 2007, Companies Income Tax (Amendment) Act 2007, National Automotive Council (Amendment) Act 2007. Four other bills-including the Petroleum Profits Tax Act-now being considered as part of the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB are before National Assembly.
FIRS is collaborating with many federal agencies: Security and Exchange Commission, SEC, Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC, Federal Housing Authority, FHA, Abuja Geographic Information System, AGIS, Bureau of Price Monitoring and Implementation Unit, BPMIU, (Due Process), Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC amongst others to share data, just as it has signed and is negotiating several Double Taxation Agreements, DTAs with other countries.
Under Ifueko Omoigui’s watch, FIRS collaborated with Uganda, South Africa and other African countries to establish the first, continental Tax body: African Tax Administration Forum, ATAF and her regional leg: the West African Tax Administration Forum, WATAF. This came on the heels of a successful hosting of the Commonwealth Association of Tax Administrations, CATA 1n 2010 by the Service.
All these are outside a renewed enforcement drive which yielded as much as close to N37 billion in a single year, a Tax Academy, engagement with taxpayers and potential taxpayers through the Student Tax Advocacy Initiative, STAI, a robust tax education programme, encouraging taxpayers to hold FIRS accountable for its operations and the government on how it spends collected monies, new self-assessment regime, training-that has seen 6000 FIRS staff enjoy over 15,000 training slots/openings-with over about 1500 offshore in six years, a robust Performance Management System and about 17 ongoing Modernisation Projects and trial of several tax offenders.
What Iroh’s piece has shown is that the FIRS might not be doing enough to tell the world about her attainments, strides and interventions in the last one decade.
And for drawing attention to this, we cannot thank the veteran journalist enough.
- Wahab Gbadamosi, Assistant Director, Communications and Liaison Department, Federal Inland Revenue Service, writes from Abuja.