Fowler has been on borrowed time for a while. When Buhari refused to extend his tenure as the nation’s chief tax administrator this week, the president was only acting out a script.
Fowler, 63, was appointed to oversee affairs at the tax office by Buhari on December 9, 2015, after confirmation by the senate.
A seasoned tax administrator who rose through the ranks at theLagos State Internal Revenue Service(LIRS)from 2005 to 2013, Fowler is credited with boosting the tax office revenue of Lagos, from one that generated N3.6 billion a month in 2006 to one that would average over N20.5 billion per month in 2014.
The tenure of the executive chairman of the FIRS can be renewed by the presidency, but President Buhari has sincenamed Muhammad Namias Fowler’s replacement, even after Fowler begged for a second stint on the saddle.
“President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the composition of a new board for the Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS, subject to senate confirmation.
“The president nominated a renowned tax consultant, Muhammad M. Nami as the new chairman.
“The board is composed of a member representing each of the six geographical zones and statutory representatives from a select number of ministries and government agencies.
“Chairman of FIRS, Babatunde Fowler, whose term of office expired on Monday, 9th December, 2019 is expected to hand over to the most senior director on the board, who will take charge, pending the senate confirmation of the new board,”the presidency announced in a statement signed by Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity,Garba Shehu.
Fowler arrived the nation’s tax office with plenty of goodwill and a track record of taking tax revenue in Lagos to record highs.
It also helped that Fowler was a childhood friend and a former classmate of Nigeria’s Vice PresidentYemi Osinbajo.
By firing him–in a manner of speaking–President Buhari is making a statement of some sort to the Southwest base of his party which Tinubu controls.
Shortfall in revenues
However, Fowler’s sack has been imminent for a while. On August 8, 2019, President Buhari queried Fowler for worsening tax revenues since 2015.
In the query signed by Chief of StaffAbba Kyari,Buhari told Fowler:“Accordingly, you are kindly invited to submit a comprehensive variance analysis explaining the reasons for the variances between the budgeted collections and actual collections for each main tax item for each of the years 2015 to 2018.”
According toPremium Times,“In 2015, FIRS set N4.7 trillion target but was only able to make N3.7 trillion in the actual collection. In 2016, 2017 and 2018, the target collections were N4.2 trillion, N4.8 trillion and N6.7 trillion but the actual collections were N3.3 trillion, N4.0 trillion and N5.3 trillion, respectively.”
In his October 1, 2019Independence Day address,and without mentioning him by name, Buhari warned Fowler that he’s got to sit up.
“Our revenue-generating and reporting agencies will come under much greater scrutiny, going forward, as the new performance management framework will reward exceptional revenue performance, while severe consequences will attend failures to achieve agreed revenue targets,”Buhari said.
It was a paragraph that should have signaled to Fowler that his tenure was never going to be renewed on Buhari’s watch, hard as he tried.
Presidency sources who spoke toPulseon condition of anonymity accuse Fowler of a lavish lifestyle, bankrolling extravagant parties and concerts in Lagos, poor corporate governance structures at the FIRS, poor audits at the FIRS, high handedness in office, diversion of funds, brazen corruption and awarding contracts to stooges and cronies.
Pulsehas been unable to reach Fowler for a response to some of these allegations, with calls placed to his smartphone returning unanswered, before this story was published.
While handing over to the Coordinating Director, Domestic Taxes Group,Abiodun Aina,on Monday, Fowler did admit that he was a difficult, if unpleasant boss to work with.
“For people who have known me for a while, some of them refer to me as a shark. I like to keep people on their toes. Some of you might have thought that I don’t appreciate your contribution. But some of you… might have been able to do things better. And part of my role is to bring out that potential in you. And I hope I have been able to do that. I am content.
“Some of you might have thought that don’t like you. But I assure you it was work. But I believe in this room, we have got a lot of talent regardless of what happens, keep the flag flying,”Fowler said during his valedictory address.
Fraud touching friends
In April,Premium Timesreported that nine FIRS officials were in the custody of theEconomic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC)for“alleged multi-billion naira fraud.”
The report from the online news platform had read in parts:“It is still unclear to EFCC officials, whether or not Mr. Fowler is involved in the scandal. Premium Times has no evidence of the involvement of the FIRS chief.
“Details of the scandal are still sketchy as at the time of this report. However, Messrs Auta and Hena are being investigated for allegedly diverting about N6 billion tax funds that should have gone to the Nigerian government, anti-corruption officials said.”
Pulsewill update this story with Fowler’s response as soon as we have one.
Fowler begged for another term
Fowler did make a last ditch case for a second term in office in a letter addressed to Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF),Boss Mustapha.
The letter reads in part:“I wish to present myself for reappointment for a second term. This is consistent with the provisions of the FIRS Establishment Act 2007 and would grant me the opportunity to consolidate and build on the achievements we have recorded in the past four years.
“Please find attached the highlights of my achievements during my first tenure in office.
“I would like to put on record my gratitude to Mr. President for the opportunity to serve the nation. I am also thankful for your support in the course of the discharge of my duties. Please accept as always, the assurance of my highest regards.”
The letter was dated December 9, 2019–the same day President Buhari pulled the rug from under Fowler’s feet by announcing Nami as his replacement.