Muhammad Nami – Buhari’s Change Agent at FIRS

The Nami factor in Nigeria’s fiscal equation

Tax revenue-led economic recovery is ranked the most feasible option for Nigeria. It is expedient for government to fill up revenue gap arising from volatile oil prices, provide for huge debt servicing budget and yet find resources for development spending.

President Muhamadu Buhari has given his word to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty. By World Bank’s calculation, this isn’t going to happen with tax to GDP ratio of 6 percent –one of the world’s lowest.

The President needs aggressive fiscal injection in public services and infrastructures to make that happen – which oil earnings are no longer putting on the nation’s table. Crude oil prices have not returned to their 2012 highs for close to 10 years and that has starved Nigeria of the much-needed fiscal space.

Increased non-oil income, led by tax revenue, became imperative to secure a reasonable dose of fiscal injection. Muhammad Mamman Nami, executive chairman, Federal Inland Revenue Service [FIRS] with his team is the man to produce the money needed to power stimulatory spending.

The fate and the future of the nation now depend on the extent tax revenue could empower government to gear up fiscal stimulus. Between 2015 and 2019, tax revenue targets were consistently missed. This has elicited a chorus of calls by the IMF and other international organizations on Nigeria to raise tax revenue to close its fiscal gap, support rising debt level and fix broken down infrastructures.

The situation underscores the critical nature of the task that Nami has been called on to handle. His mandate is to change the direction of the tax revenue graph from climbing down to running upward. It is a task in which he and his team cannot afford to fail the government and the nation.

He tested the waters in his first full year in office in 2020 and narrowed down the gap between actual and target tax revenue from 40 percent in 2019 to 2.5 percent. This seems to usher in the new momentum on which the hopes for averting fiscal crisis revolve.

Without a jerk up in tax revenue, fiscal crisis is only one step away for Nigeria. That could lead to massive spending cuts with devastating consequences on output and consumption, income and employment.    

Nami quite understands the high stake for the nation that is loaded on the job in his hands. It is quite clear to him that total revenue available to the federation accounts allocation committee is nowhere close to what is needed to spur economic recovery and growth.

Further undermining the modest government revenue is huge debt service projected to gulp over N3 trillion in 2021. With debt to revenue ratio as high as 538 percent and rising, the prospects for Nigeria defaulting in debt repayment obligations aren’t that far-fetched any more.

The situation on ground became clearly one of emergency! Somebody who understands what should be done must be plugged into the fiscal equation without further delay. The nation urgently needed an economic physician, with specialist training in fiscal therapy on the tax collection machinery.  

Nigeria has found the specialist in Nami, a tax administrative general, who is weaned on the highest professional practice standards imaginable. He has given his diagnosis and defined the task ahead.

His target is to take Nigeria’s tax-to-GDP ratio from 6 percent to the World Bank-recommended threshold of 15 percent – at which economic growth and poverty reduction may be expected to begin. He is set on a mission to slash Nigeria’s VAT gap from as high as 70 percent – one of the highest even by African standard.

Nami wants all hands-on deck to realize his overriding objective of improving revenue mobilization to ensure that Nigeria heads off potential debt crisis that could worsen insecurity and political unrest. He has built a team of seasoned experts with whom he has set out to deliver a great mandate – which is to make Nigeria’s tax administrative engine run at a new speed.

What makes a tax specialist?

Nami is groomed on the full cardinals of professional practice from which a versatile tax administrative specialist could be produced. He went through the needle and thread of every professional practice that has anything to do with building up to how much tax should be paid.

His all-rounder background makes him a searchlight beamed to the nation’s tax administrative system, extending the tax base and extracting the best. His professional credentials cover the entire waterfront of knowledge needed to make a big difference at FIRS.

From Sociology to Business

Nami’s educational training cuts across a number of professional corridors from which he gathered a mix of knowledge and experience that have made him an authority in fiscal governance. He was trained as a sociologist at the Bayero University Kano, where he graduated in 1991. From sociology, he crossed over to business at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria where he obtained a Master’s degree in Business in 2004.

A Professional Accountant

Nami is a professional accountant, qualified as an associate member of the Association of National Accountants of Nigeria. The body is one of the two professional accountancy associations with regulatory authority over accounting practice in Nigeria. His qualification as an ANAN-certified professional accountant involved a rigorous training at the Nigerian College of Accountancy – which isthe training arm of the accounting body.

An Auditor

Nami extended his accounting knowledge with practical working experience in auditing. He has served on the statutory board audit committees of many companies. He was appointed a member of the Presidential Committee on Audit of Recovered Assets in 2017 by President Mohammadu Buhari. The committee was set up to recover looted funds in Nigeria. During the one-year period he served in the committee, recoveries of about $2 billion were reported.

A Management Services Professional

Nami is an expert in rendering advisory support services to investors, covering business start-ups as well as existing businesses. He has been a major player in rendering outsourced services to clients in trading services and manufacturing operations. He established a strong footing in professional management as an associate member of Nigerian Institute of Management (NIM).

A Tax Consultant

Nami rose all the way in the ranks from a tax trainee to become a tax consultant. He is reputed for his normative professional ethics in tax administration. He is a fellow of Chartered Institute of Taxation of Nigeria (CITN) and Institute of Debt Recovery Practitioners of Nigeria (Chartered). He headed a firm of Chartered Tax Practitioners and Business Advisers.

A Journey to the top

From Trainee to Consultant at Pfk

Nami’s practical working experience that spans three decades (1993-2019) is marked with a trend of beating the mark all the way. This covers his professional stint that began with PKF, an audit firm that has presence in over 100 countries. He joined the company in 1993 and rose through the ranks to become a Senior Consultant in charge of tax management and advisory services.

Giant steps at KEL Group of Companies

He joined KEL Group of Companies as general manager in 2004 and led the company until 2006. The outfit is a consortium of three manufacturing companies.

The solutions provider at Mainstream Energy Solutions Ltd

He later joined Mainstream Energy Solutions Ltd as a Statutory Board Audit Committee Member from 2014. Here, he served clients across sectors including banking, manufacturing, services, public sectors as well as non- profit organizations.

Entrepreneurship at Manam Professional Services

In 2018, Nami went into private practice with the establishment of Manam Professional Services. He positioned the company to undertake tax and business advisory services. A wide mix of knowledge and experience gathered from different professions and industries were called into play to build the company.

Auditor of recovered assets

Nami has functioned as a veritable instrument in the battle to recover public looted funds. He was a member of the committee on audit, which the President appointed in 2017. The setting up of the committee was part the resolve of President Mohammadu Buhari’s administration to pursue a strong anti-corruption policy and to trace and recover stolen assets using all legal and diplomatic resources at his disposal.

Coming to FIRS

For five years running from 2015, tax revenue targets were missed by wide margins. The climax was in 2019 when the highest margin of deviation at over 40 percent was recorded. The actual tax revenue of N5.26 trillion for the year was a marginal decline from the preceding year and only slightly ahead of the N5 trillion-mark generated as far back as 2012.

In view of Nigeria’s dismal fiscal reading, it became quite expedient to let in a fresh hand with a mandate to recharge the nation’s tax collection machinery. The key requirement for the job is ability to extract growing tax revenue from non-growing/declining economy.

The candidate for the job required to demonstrate superior knowledge and unequalled ability in fiscal conduct to change Nigeria’s long dependence on oil earnings to tax revenue almost overnight. To accomplish that, he needs to possess professional knowledge and experience that cut across several sectors and industries to be able to drive tax revenue in both existing and extended bases.

The job description at FIRS clearly didn’t get a mass application. Not many candidates could fit into the professional shoes that earned Nami the job as executive chairman of FIRS. When he appeared before Senators in defense of his appointment, he stated that that his diversified qualifications have placed him in good stead for his assignment.

“As a Fellow and Associate Member of these reputable professional institutions, I was weaned on the best standards of practice in accounting, management, and tax administration that anybody can possibly hope for, and therefore I am endowed with the normative professional ethics and rubrics required to drive tax administration in a developing economy like Nigeria’s”, he said. 

Nami easily stands out as one of President Muhammadu Buhari’s most important, flagship appointments since the onset of his administration in 2015. He was appointed by the President as executive chairman, FIRS at the end of December 2019 for a term of four years. 

He takes on a daunting task of knitting together the operations of a 10,000-staff-strong organization to deliver on the critical national goal of funding the entire machinery of government. He has assured the President that he and his team are resolute in their commitment to uphold the trust.

The import of his job as the FIRS’ helmsman is to hold up tax revenue as the critical fallback option to fund government budget in a disappointing oil revenue situation. Thus, the development of efficient and accountable processes and templates for a proficient domestic tax revenue generation became an imperative task before him.

To the chief tax officer of the nation, the task defined is clearly daunting but he has tapped from a backlog of strengths to provide the leadership. These include his privileged credentials that bespeak top-tier professional practicing licenses, his close to 30 years of practical working experience in accounting, auditing, management and tax advisory and management services. Further to those is his inner conviction of a man who has practiced taxation for the better part of his life.

Nami has been on the saddle for the first year in 2020 as Nigeria’s number one official responsible for assessing, collecting and accounting for tax and other revenue accruing to the Nigerian federation.

He inherits some milestones attained by Mr. Babatunde Fowler in tax reforms on which to build upon. These include enlargement of tax base with the incorporation of more than 800,000 new corporate taxpayers. Another supporting framework he met on ground is an integrated tax administration system that can speed up the process of easing tax assessment and payment.

As well, the new FIRS’ boss faces the counter currents of economic recession that caused the actual-target revenue relationship to falter in recent years. Further clouding the environment is the coronavirus pandemic that forced a downward revision of tax revenue target for 2020.

No matter how tough the situation, Nami is assuring the nation that the tax administrative machinery will stream at a new momentum as long as he governs FIRS. He understands that his job is to add the stabilizing forces that would see Nigeria’s economy through the prevailing internal and external turbulence. He assures the nation of FIRS’ determination to do everything possible to insulate the Nigerian economy from downward slide into recession.

He sees the nation’s revenue structure already changing with tax revenue accounting for growing proportions of federally collected revenue. He is determined to drive this trend to the highest margin ever attained by Nigeria over the four years of his term in office.

Nami has a unique strategy to get the job done and to make the results manifest to the good of the nation. He is applying the tactics of a master craftsman to transform the length and breadth of tax administration and compliance landscape in Nigeria. His ultimate goal is to create as fast and as much as he can the fiscal space that the President urgently needs to fulfill his promises to the nation under the Next Level Agenda.

He understands that the responsibility placed on his shoulders is critical to the smooth operations of the various tiers and arms of government and by extension the well-being of all Nigerians. “We cannot therefore afford to fail in this regard”, he assures.

Nami is not moved by the enormity of the task ahead though it might appear like a big mountain to cross in a bad weather. “We shall do everything within our powers to achieve our collective goals to justify the confidence reposed in us”, he said. He is counting on a united action with his team to deliver on mandate.

He is determined to put in place a tax administrative system that would elicit optimal benefits to the nation. He defines the key to this as the provision of excellent service to the people of Nigeria.

He identified two principles – integrity and proven knowledge in tax matters as the key ingredients his team is putting on the table for meeting the expectation of providing a leeway for the nation out of the present economic difficulties.

His style of leadership is one of shared vision and responsibility for which he calls on all Nigerians for support and constructive engagement for a common goal of striving towards a stronger economy with bigger benefits.

Action Line – Structural Overhaul

On assuming duties as Nigeria’s chief tax man, Nami found both excitement and challenges. His excitement is “because I am practicing what I have been doing for almost three decades and here I am also interacting with some of the best brains there are in the sector”, he said.

The challenge is that the structure he needs to accomplish what he wants to do has to be built. “When I came on board, I found that the entire structure of the service had keeled over. So, I had the daunting task of piecing together the pieces.” He said.

Given his strategic approach for the job, the high speed at which he has to run to deliver critically needed revenue and the huge revenue target of N8.5 trillion set for his first year in office, he said, “it appears I am having to build the entire structure of the service again from the scratch.”

Nami also found that the channels for operations were also affected. He explained that some of the e-platforms on which the operations of the service depend were having one issue or the other which required fixing. He had to embark upon a lot of preliminaries to cobble together the structure, fix the operating platforms and introduce automated solutions before launching out to drive the revenue collection process. 

He recalls spending the first 100 days in office basically trying to rebuild the system and prop up the confidence of staff in the operations of the service. The solid groundwork has paved the way for narrowing the gap between revenue target and actual collection recorded in the past years.

He is not in any way belittling the accomplishments of his predecessors in office but rather intends to build on their achievements. By adding value to what has been achieved, Nami is set on building a tax administration that would be a model for other nations to copy.

The unveiling of tax-driven solution

Nami has unveiled an agenda of tax-driven solution to Nigeria’s earnings volatility caused by over dependence on oil earnings. Early in his coming to office, he embarked upon a grand policy reform and institutional re-organization with a focused objective of making a positive intervention in government finances.

His target is to cut a revenue structure for the nation that prevents changes in crude oil prices from affecting budget performance and implementation of development projects.

The agenda revolves around the application of technological innovations in the tax administrative machinery. This is in line with the global trend where deployment of appropriate technology has become an effective means of enhancing tax revenue. 

Four-point agenda for FIRS

Nami described FIRS as a work in progress, which needs a continuous improvement. He understands his position as an opportunity to make a visible contribution in this regard. “It is our duty at this point to strengthen it to be able to withstand and overcome the challenges that are ahead”, he said.

To set the ball rolling forward, he set the machinery in motion to completely rethink and revamp the way FIRS operates and fulfills its mandate. He has constructed four cardinal pillars around which the effort to reposition the service for enhanced performance are anchored.

The four-point agenda are rebuilding FIRS’ institutional framework, robust collaboration with stakeholders, building a customer-centric institution and making FIRS a data-centric institution.

Rebuilding FIRS’ Institutional Framework

This involves strengthening the capacity of departments and units of the organization to deliver on their mandates on a long term and sustainable basis. Nami envisions a structure built to function effectively and efficiently at all times irrespective of who is in charge anywhere in the operational flow.

Robust Collaboration with Stakeholders

A tax friendly environment that Nami is designing requires robust interaction with stakeholders. Unhindered collaboration between FIRS and key stakeholders in the Nigerian tax system and economy was therefore recognized as a key element that defines the extent of success. The aim of the engagement, according to Nami, is to provide a unified view of FIRS’ services through proper planning with a view to eliminating critical bottlenecks.

Building Taxpayer-Centric Institution

Nami’s leadership has a fundamental approach to making tax compliance and collection easy by empowering the businesses of taxpayers. ” When we make doing business easier for taxpayers, our collection target will be easy to achieve”, he said.

He therefore plans to build FIRS into an institution that would drive Nigeria’s quest to become a major investment destination. The objective is to move the nation’s economic environment up the global ranking on ease of doing business. “We can only do this if we focus on efficient service delivery to taxpayers and provide a positive customer experience on all tax compliant processes”, he said.

Nami is highlighting the ‘service’ component in FIRS’ name and is determined to lead the institution to live up to providing high quality service to taxpayers. “If we don’t do our work professionally, with integrity, on time, efficiently, we would miss the SERVICE essence of our name”, he warned.

Data-centric Institution

The Nami-led leadership of FIRS has identified information as key to operational effectiveness. He is therefore stepping forward to make the service data-centric. The aim is to bring about an operational status in which people, processes and technologies are geared towards a clear goal of generating and utilizing relevant data for efficient revenue generation.

In pursuit of data-centric agenda, he initiated across the board update of the system in 2020. That is a strategic step that has positioned his leadership to rid the system of artificial hurdles and place it on the path of global best practices as envisaged by the 2019 Finance Act.

Technology-driven solution

Nami considers the deployment of technology in Nigeria as obligatory for FIRS in the effort to step up to the worldwide trend in revenue collection and reduction of tax revenue losses in the system. His strategy is to deploy cutting-edge technology to level up the hurdles on the path of compliance as well as address red tape on the other side of administration.

Through the use of technology-based intelligence-gathering and information-sharing, he plans to plug the loopholes usually exploited by individuals and businesses to evade taxes. He has deployed technology in tax collection through innovative links to business premises using a central server.

The innovative step has lifted the agency’s tax revenue capacity, as all transactions that bear on taxes payable are captured directly as per the globally accepted standards. The task, Nami said, is to have everyone who wants to benefit from the nation’s commonwealth become contributors to the wealth of the nation.

The FIRS’ boss is therefore leading a major campaign aimed at turning tax evaders into national wealth builders. Early in 2020, he launched a national intelligence gathering system designed to track tax evaders nationwide. It is an ICT-based application launched in partnership with the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC).

Other anti-corruption agencies and financial institutions are also part of the implementation process for tackling tax evasion and other economic and financial crimes. Nami assures that the move will assist FIRS to thwart tax evasion by collecting data that will expose defaulters and bring them to book.

He affirms the efficacy of the technology in curbing tax evasion and blocking leakages in the system. He cited the case of FIRS’ investigation of a tax agency in Lagos in 2020, which revealed billions of naira of indirect taxes collected but not remitted.

Nami has brought new ideas into the service that ensured the realization of 98 percent of revenue target in 2020 despite the disruptive effect of the coronavirus pandemic. It is also despite the waiver of federal taxes for companies with revenues below N25 million. The performance is interpreted to mean a huge success in closing many loopholes in the system.

It was Nami’s top priority programme in his first year in office to detect and block tax avoidance schemes by multinational corporations. His expectation that this would go a long way to improve tax revenue collection has been confirmed.

This is considered a demonstration of the efficacy in Nami’s deployment of technology to plug revenue loopholes in the system. The effort has been supported by the President’s directive to all government agencies and business enterprises to grant FIRS access to their systems for seamless connection.

TaxPro Max

The steps taken to block system leakages have been complemented by easing filing of tax returns at the front end. FIRS, under Nami, has launched TaxPro Max, which is a major milestone attained in digitalizing tax administration in Nigeria.

The online portal for tax filing and administration became operational in June 2021. It is the latest automated administration solution that the Nami-led FIRS has deployed in line with the strategy of application of technology to drive tax revenue growth.

The portal offers enhanced features and capabilities compared to earlier modules. It is intended to provide taxpayers with a seamless return filing and tax remittance process.

The TaxPro-Max website was designed with the sole purpose of online filing of various taxes – value added tax, withholding tax, withholding VAT and companies’ income tax as well as remittances and a database for evidencing taxpayers’ withholding tax credit position.

The portal enables taxpayers to carry out seamless registration, filing tax returns and payment of taxes as well as access to withholding tax status. They can file all naira-denominated returns due to FIRS through the TaxPro Max e-filing portal.  It includes automatic credit of withholding taxes and other credits to taxpayers’ accounts.

Human capacity building

A good part of the capacity building for the job involves the empowerment of personnel. Nami has so far demonstrated that he isn’t going to accomplish the task at FIRS single handedly. He took steps early to have a dependable team on ground. Whatever held staff commitment and morale down before, he has addressed it and is convinced that the spirit of accomplishment has been reborn within the workforce.

He has invested time and money in rebuilding the system’s operational framework and propping up the confidence of the staff in the operations of the Service. He has undertaken a major capacity building initiatives for the staff of the institution, employing a motivational strategy to raise the workers’ morale. This is part of comprehensive reforms and business process re-engineering that he has carried through in the service.

Are the steps in this direction paying off? Nami’s answer is ‘yes’. To him, the success the agency has recorded so far under his leadership is traceable to the enhanced capacity and motivation of the personnel. “They [staff] are quite excited now and willing to work harder than before because I have taken steps to return the functions previously given to the consultants back to them so that they can perform optimally”, he said.

Having built the team, Nami has rolled out the task ahead for the four years of his mandate. He has with his team set on a mission to improve the performance of the service on a long term and sustainable basis over the four years to 2023. “We have given ourselves a minimum target of $5 million staff-to-revenue ratio and 10 percent tax-to-GDP ratio over the next four years”, he said.

Building tax friendly environment

The Nami-led FIRS considers giving a human face to tax administration a strategic imperative in in a difficult economic environment of the present time. He has therefore unveiled a series of palliative measures designed to cushion the burden of tax compliance on taxpayers.

A major element of his programme roll-out in this direction is the opening of a new window in January 2020 for taxpayers having outstanding liabilities to take advantage of an extended payment period. The extension applies with a waiver of penalties and interests through this extended period. The final extension ended in August 31, 2020.

Nami is still considering further regulatory enablement to empower tax revenue collection. He is pressing for a review of the country’s tax laws, most of which he said dates back to pre-independence times. He expects that actions in this direction would further reinforce the reforms underway to improve tax returns filing and payment compliance, re-activate dormant taxpayers and block tax revenue loss channels and leakages.

He has taken steps to fix the issues identified with some of the e-platforms on which the agency’s operations depend. Further strengthening the structure are automated solutions introduced to drive the revenue collection process.

He has also rolled out other e-platforms to ensure efficient service delivery. This involves the springing up of new audit offices, segmented tax returns filing and organized stakeholder sensitization programmes. FIRS has also created 35 new tax audit units to combat illicit financial flow across the country.

Nami’s style of leadership is geared towards creating conducive environment for ease of doing business. This is the guiding principle that informed his lifting of the lien placed on taxpayers’ bank accounts by the erstwhile management of the agency. His aim is to build new enforcement strategies based on incentives for compliance. He is therefore leading the way to a new course that eases payment of taxes willingly.

Bridging the fiscal gap is to Nami a task that must be done. He has vowed to scale the huddles and double up the efforts to collect all taxes due to the federal government. He appreciates, no doubt, that the purchasing power of Nigerians has dwindled as well as a general reluctance of the people to pay taxes.

Nami is pressing as strongly as he can the need for total compliance on every side – tax payers, collecting agencies and tax administrators for his aggressive revenue drive to yield the desired fruits. He stresses that this is the means to overcome fiscal crisis in the face of volatility in oil revenue.

He takes his public enlightenment campaign to the grassroots, explaining to the masses the ripple effect of paying taxes. “What you pay as tax goes round and comes back to you in many forms such as salaries, capital fund for businesses, infrastructural development and the provision of social amenities. If you don’t pay your tax, you draw back our country many years. But if you pay your tax, you have the basis to demand for better living condition from your government”, he said.

He balances the obligation on the part of the citizens to pay tax with the responsibility on the part of the authorities to apply tax revenue for the benefit of the nation and its people. “I can only plead with the authorities that as taxes are paid, they should please use it judiciously to fund budgetary projections, including timely payment of salaries to workers, provision of social amenities to citizens, fight insecurity to secure lives, property and businesses and support ordinary Nigerians in this difficult time”, he said.

Changing the tax culture in Nigeria is one of the items on Nami’s agenda at FIRS. Application of diligence in collecting taxes, particularly indirect taxes such as VAT and stamp duty are also top on his agenda. He is confident that these steps would enable FIRS to generate sufficient revenue for government to fund its budgetary provisions at minimum fiscal deficits, provide key infrastructures, enhance security and put an end to further borrowing.

Nami’s capacity building strategy

Nami isn’t just out to collect taxes from anywhere he can to meet targets: he is building a big capacity for it for the medium term. His strategy is to extend the length and breadth of tax revenue capacity for the nation and create an environment of friendliness in the tax collection machinery.

Tax revenue collection is therefore taking on a more fundamental approach than hitherto under the new helmsman at FIRS. He acknowledges that his approach has been significantly aided by the provisions of the Finance Act designed to enable businesses build capacity for tax revenue with time.

A number of important palliatives contained in the Act, especially for small businesses, have come quite handy for Nami to implement his medium-term capacity building strategy for tax revenue enhancement.

The survival of small businesses is aided by the exemption of companies with turnovers of less than N25 million from payment of company income tax. This is made to enable them plough back their resources and accelerate growth towards contributing to the system that enabled them to grow.

Also, the Act stipulates a reduced income tax of 20 percent for companies with annual turnovers ranging from N25 million to N100 million. The purpose is to provide a grooming period for these medium enterprises to assume greater capacity for tax payment in the future.

Again, the provision of incentives for tax payment by the Act reinforces Nami’s vision of a tax friendly environment. Early payment of tax attracts a bonus of 2 percent of tax payable for medium sized companies and 1 percent for bigger companies under the Finance Act.

Also, minimum tax computation has been reduced to 0.5 percent of turnover. Withholding tax rate was reduced from five per cent to 2.5 per cent in some sectors and pre-operational levy was lowered from 7 percent to 5 per cent.

High stakes on stamp duty

A major milestone attained by Nami’s leadership of FIRS in 2020 is his grand design to reposition stamp duty as the next major revenue growth driver for Nigeria. A good part of tax revenue capacity building strategy is billed to happen with stamp duty under Nami’s tenor at FIRS.

He has underscored the collection of stamp duties as highly important in recognition that revenue collection from it can rescue the economy from a possible downward slide. It has the potential to yield tax revenue in trillions of naira, he said.

He has been empowered on this mission by Finance Act 2019, which amended the existing Stamp Duties Act, recognizing FIRS as the sole authority to assess, collect and account for stamp duty relating to matters between a company and an individual or group of individuals in Nigeria.

The new law also extended the list of dutiable items and also reviewed the amount payable in line with current realities. Nami is set to extract the best possible revenue growth possibilities from the new stamp duty regime.

FIRS’ tax revenue statistics for 2020 shows that stamp duty target for the year was massively exceeded. The climax was in the second quarter when the agency raked in N62.6 billion in stamp duty against a quarterly target of N4.3 billion.

The FIRS’ executive chairman is a key member of a high level inter-ministerial committee on the Audit and Recovery of Stamp Duties set up by the federal government in June 2020. FIRS wasted no time in rolling out its new adhesive stamps, which have now replaced the use of postage stamps for stamp duties.

The FIRS’ boss is no doubt visiting stamp duty scenario with a searchlight to trace and to seal off all loopholes of losses. This is his response to claims that unremitted stamp duty on chargeable transactions by collecting agencies from year 2000 are as much as N20 trillion. Nami is keen to investigate because according to him, the figure is more than double the fiscal 2020 budget of the federal government.

He has commenced his fact-finding mission in the banking sector where the figures of stamp duty and the value of transactions appear to be way out of alignment. He has found from the initial analysis carried out by his organization that in 2019 alone, total value of transactions of over N613 trillion produced only N52 billion of chargeable transactions. “We are currently carrying out analysis of these transactions to determine the actual chargeable transaction”, Nami assured.

The position of the law vesting the authority to collect stamp duty on FIRS on behalf of the federal government has powered FIRS’ leadership to optimize this line of tax revenue. The stamp duty basket has been enlarged and covers transactions executed between companies and individuals, groups or bodies of individuals. It is a tax on legal documents, deeds of agreements and contracts, electronic money transfers and electronic receipts on transactions of N10,000 and above or transfers in like sum from one bank current account to another.

The coast is therefore made clear for Nami to press forward with a somewhat stamp duty revolution in Nigeria. His aim is to make stamp duty the goose that lays the golden egg for the government of the federation. “It is one key tax we intend to focus on going forward”, he said.

He is quite clear as to what he plans to do. “We are going to be diligent in collecting stamp duty as applicable under extant laws. We are very determined to make sure that all collecting agents of stamp duty – that is the money deposit banks and MDAs remit it promptly to the FIRS’ account with the Central Bank “, he assured.

Nami has outlined a step-by-step approach in pursuit of an aggressive resolve to turn the table on stamp duty in favour of the three tiers of government. FIRS has rolled out automated solutions for stamp duty collection. Well ahead of the roll-out, Nami took a strategic step to secure the support of bank chief executive officers towards achieving a100 percent compliance in stamp duty collection.

The next step is the development of a workable remittance solution designed to effectively block leakages and rake in more stamp duty revenue to the government than ever before. He has engaged the relevant stakeholders in providing the remittance solution.

Nami is yet making greater promises ahead. He plans to deploy cutting-edge technology to drive the process of stamp duty collection in the years ahead. He has taken appropriate steps in consultations to put all relevant bodies and stakeholders on notice of these up-coming process changes. The broad-based steps and effort are to ensure that all hands everywhere are on deck to achieve compliance and actualize the overriding tax revenue objective.

“Every stakeholder is urged to be fully prepared and ready to adopt the new compliance programme we are rolling out. With this, I can say without mincing words that the federal government did not make any mistake in entrusting stamp duty collection to the FIRS.

“In the months and years to come, this capacity would be demonstrated in the use of the stamp duty as a flagship tax to rescue the economy from the looming downward slide” Nami said.

The vision of a task accomplished

In spite of some progress that has been made in recent years in improving Nigeria’s tax administrative system, the Nami-led leadership of FIRS still met enormous challenges on ground. The state of affairs facing the tax authority still depicts sub optimal conditions of operation.

Nami stepped into the system as a positive intervener, willing and determined to tackle the challenges that constrain the system and to optimize the conditions under which the tax administrative function is performed. Moving from the state of the tax system at the point of his entry to attainment of new highs in key indicators defines the vision of where he wants to place the organization in four years.

Over the four years of his mandate, the changes already embarked upon by his administration are expected to produce transformations in the tax administrative system in a number of areas.

Building efficiency into tax collection process

Nigeria’s tax collection process is ranked overly expensive – which underscores an inefficient process of collection. The cost of collection of non-oil revenue is comparatively high and the overall rate for all taxes is about double the international standard rate of 1 percent. Nami’s resort to robust application of technology in tax collection is expected to inject efficiency into the nation’s tax system and save money on the revenue collection process.

Taxpayer friendliness

Introduction of taxpayer friendly policies is one important area where Nami is bringing in his versatile knowledge and deep experience in tax matters to the benefit of the nation. Tax collection approach has lacked courtesy for a long time in Nigeria and information that would help taxpayers for voluntary compliance have not been readily provided. Also, the processes of refunds, rulings and TCCs tend to be prolonged by red tape.

For Nami to be moving decisively in the area of taxpayer friendliness quite early in his tenure indicates that he knows where the shoes pinch in the system. His emphasis on the ‘service’ part of the tax agency he is leading depicts his clear understanding of a transformation that needs to happen expeditiously in its operations.

It is therefore expected that in four years of his leadership, FIRS would wear a new orientation of quality service providers in a clear understanding that taxpayers need to be served, promptly and efficiently in order to empower them to comply.

Integrated technology application

The benefits of technology have not been optimized in tax administration due to disjointed application and poor functionality of platforms in use. This has not permitted an expanded use of the online facilities for tax assessment, filing of tax returns and payment of taxes.

Nami has demonstrated a clear understanding of this technology linked operational disadvantage and has made the use of integrated technology a cardinal point of his strategy implementation. It can be expected that technology-led fast tracking of collection process will be one of the biggest interventions of the Nami’s administration in the four years of his mandate.

Streamlined tax audits

Taxpayers are subjected to a multiplicity of tax audits and menace of various revenue agencies and their consultants. The result is distrust on the part of the taxpayer, who would prefer to compromise with fraudulent officers just to keep them off their premises. The practices explain the use of high cost to collect little revenue on the average.

Nami has raised hopes for wide consultations and information sharing with stakeholders in the tax administrative system. It should be expected that this move would streamline the tax policy and collection process, avoid multiple taxation and create a single window for tax assessment. This can be expected to prop up trust and confidence among taxpayers and raise the proportion of revenue collected per naira of collection cost.

Improved tax to GDP ratio

Tax revenue to GDP ratio for Nigeria is 6 percent – which is one of the lowest in the world. It is lower than the average of 17 percent for African countries compared to leading ratios of 31 percent for Tunisia, 28 percent for Morocco and 26 percent for South Africa.

Subject to the operating difficulties that have constrained corporate earnings and households’ incomes, it is expected that the fundamental steps and innovations introduced by Nami would help to push up Nigeria’s tax to GDP ratio to the region of 10 percent he has set, as economic activity regains momentum.   

Ease of tax payment

Going by global ranking, Nigeria is one of the most difficult places in the world for tax payment to happen. It ranks 159th out of 190 countries on the ease of paying taxes index. It is far behind regional leaders including Mauritius 5th, Zambia 17th, Morocco 24th, Rwanda 38th and South Africa 54th.

The ranking was based on three sub indicators – which are overall tax rate, compliance time and number of payments. Nigeria’s worst performances are in respect of the last two indicators – which are under the control of the tax authorities.

Driving a major turnaround in these poor performance records is the task ahead for Nami over the four years of his mandate. His decisive steps to overhaul the administrative machinery of FIRS are expected to remove the clogs on the wheel of progress towards enhanced status on the ease of tax payment.

Trace tax revenue to economic/infrastructures development

A widely stated reason for reluctance to pay taxes in Nigeria is lack of trust that it would be applied for social and economic development. The mounting cases of corruption in government lend a heavy weight to this reasoning. It therefore follows that one effective way of encouraging taxpayers in Nigeria is to show how tax revenue has been applied to their benefit.

Nami has scratched this move on the surface by his appeal to the authorities to ensure that the hard-earned tax revenue is used transparently to improve the living and operating conditions of people and businesses respectively. It is expected that he would fine-tune and raise his voice in this regard over the four years of his tenure to the point that government should understand clearly that it is its actions more than FIRS’ that determine how much revenue can be collected.

Publication of tax fraud cases

The authority to enforce tax collection has for long not been matched with responsibility to communicate the successes and failures in the operations. Some agencies of government such as NDIC normally publish fraud cases annually together with associated losses involved.

It is expected that Nami would take FIRS to this level of disclosure over the four years of his mandate. Nigeria’s below average performance on tax revenue is linked to considerable internal inadequacies. It is expected that the Nami-led FIRS should beam a searchlight on the tax system to expose and report regularly fraudulent cases with attendant losses, disputes and resolutions, recoveries and tax waivers. This will enable stakeholders build and sustain confidence in the system in the years ahead.      

The Executive Chairman

Nami heads a team of seasoned professionals and tested hands with outstanding records of performance in tax administration, accounting, auditing and consulting. The process of assembling the high executive capacity presently at his command involved the retirement of some coordinating directors in a reorganization exercise and the appointment of four new coordinating directors and two group heads in acting capacity.

Following the internal policy of the agency, directors, who had served for eight years and above as directors were retired. The engagement of fresh hands in their places and redeployments were part of the effort of the new leadership to reposition the service towards maximizing staff potentials and achieving its revenue target.

Ohagwa, Innocent C
Coordinating Director, General Services Group

Mr. Innocent C. Ohagwa is in charge of general services group of FIRS as coordinating director. He is a chartered accountant by profession and a seasoned tax administrator of over 23 years of outstanding records. He is also a certified information system auditor (CISA).

Ohagwa has a track record of outstanding academic records all the way from secondary to tertiary institutions he attended.  He made four advanced papers in HSC/GCE and was awarded certificate in basic studies advanced level, conducted by the University of Cambridge, London.

His outstanding academic record earned him direct admission to the University of Lagos in 1981, where he studied accountancy. He finished the course in 1985 with 2nd class honours upper division.

He joined Messrs. Akintola Williams & Chartered Accountants as a national youth service corps member where he commenced training towards qualifying as a professional accountant. He worked in the firm between 1985 and 1990 and qualified as a chartered accountant in 1989.

He joined Century Merchant Bank Ltd where he worked at both their Lagos and Kano offices from 1990-1997. While working in Kano, Ohagwa pursued a Master’s degree in business administration on part-time at Bayero University, Kano.

He earned the following professional certifications/affiliations:

Associate and fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) – ACA (1989), FCA (2000);

Associate and fellow of Chartered Institute of Taxation of Nigeria CITN – ACTI (1990), FCTI (1999);

Certified Fraud Examiner – University of Portsmouth, UK – 2007/2008 and

Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) of Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA) of Illinois USA – 2017.

He also worked briefly with Muktari Dangana & Co. Chartered Accountants, Kano before joining the Service of Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) in June 1997.

He lectured on part-time basis at Kano State Polytechnic and Post-graduate School of Bayero University, Kano and was course facilitator at the Tropical Commercial Bank Training School, Kano. In his 35 years working career between 1986 to March, 2021, he has put in twenty-four years in FIRS. Over these years, he has served the agency in various capacities across many states of the federation.

He held the position of Director, human capital management department as at March, 2020 before his new appointment as coordinating director, general services group for a contract period of three years.

Dr. Asheikh Maidugu
Coordinating Director,Digital Support Group

Dr. Asheikh Maidugu oversees digital support group as coordinating director after he was redeployed from executive chairman’s group in September 2020. He has responsibility for digitalization and modernization of tax administrations business processes in FIRS – a key strategic function under the present leadership.

He is an economist and a tax administrator. He is a member of the Nigerian Economic Society (NES), a fellow of Chartered Institute of Taxation of Nigeria (CITN) and a member of National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, Jos, Senior Executive Course 40, 2018.

He attended the University of Maiduguri from where he obtained a B.Sc. in economics in 1991 and a Masters’ degree in money, trade and finance in 1998. He proceeded to Usmanu Danfodio University, Sokoto from where he obtained a Ph.D. in development economics in 2004.

Maidugu started his working career with Yobe State Scholarship Board as an internal auditor. He resigned his appointment in 1994 and joined University of Maiduguri as a graduate assistant. He lectured the economics department for 13 years and rose to the position of senior lecturer. In 2007, he resigned from the university and joined Debt Management Office and later joined FIRS in 2010 as director in charge of planning, research & statistics.

He served briefly as special adviser to the honourable minister of state for finance, Federal Ministry of Finance, Abuja from 2011 to 2014 on secondment. On his return to FIRS, Maidugu was made director, career & skills development department and was redeployed later to the department of planning, research & statistics.

Before his appointment as coordinating director in March 2020, he doubled as director in charge of planning, research & statistics and special assistant on special duties to the executive chairman.

Maidugu has attended several leadership courses and workshops both locally and internationally, including Royal Institute of Public Administration, London, United Kingdom and the prestigious Harvard Kennedy School, Boston, USA. He is also an author and publisher of articles in local and international journals.

Dick Irri
Coordinating Director, Compliance Support Group

Mr. Dick Irri is in charge of compliance support group of FIRS as coordinating director. His function is strategic under the present leadership of the agency in enforcing the standards set for meeting its revenue targets.

He has supervisory responsibility over five (5) departments, which are tax policy and advisory department, tax audit department, special tax audit department, policy and programme monitoring department and taxpayer services department.

He holds B.A. (Accounting & Finance) from University of Derby UK and M.Sc. (Public Sector Accounting) from Nasarawa State University, Keffi. He also obtained MBA (Financial Management) from Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Ogbomoso. He is presently a Ph.D. (Accounting & Finance) candidate in Nasarawa State University, Keffi.

He is an astute professional and an experienced tax administrator. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (FCA), the Chartered Institute of Taxation of Nigeria (FCTI) and the Association of National Accountants of Nigeria (FCNA).

He is also a fellow ofthe Association of Corporate Governance Professionals of Nigeria (FCGP) as well as an Associate member of the Nigeria Institute of Management (AMNIM). Irri has over three decades of professional experience spanning banking, audit, insurance and tax administration.

He had earlier served the agency as director/head, technical department, state coordinator, tax controller and special assistant to erstwhile executive chairman of FIRS. He is a recipient of several awards among which is the recognition by former ECFIRS (Mrs. Ifueko Omoigui-Okauru).

As special assistant to then executive chairman, his immense contributions to the preparation of FIRS reforms in 2004 resulted in the enactment of FIRS Establishment Act 2007 and amendments to a number of tax laws in Nigeria.

Before joining FIRS, Irri worked as assistant manager, treasury operations in the defunct Allied Bank of Nigeria Plc as well as audit senior and supervisor at D. O. Dafinone & Co. (Chartered Accountants) now known as Horwath Dafinone. Through his service years, he has built a track record of leading different initiatives and developing innovative solutions to achieve strong results. He is an advocate for building the next generation of leaders.

Irri has taken part in many foreign and local management/leadership trainings, covering tax administration, business and investment, African development and managing diversity in the workplace. Others are executive leadership development, change communications, management potential and managing people for strategic advantage.

Femi Oluwaniyi
Coordinating Director, Tax Operations Group

Mr. Femi Oluwaniyi heads tax operations group as coordinating director. The position places the supervisory responsibility of over about 80 percent of FIRS workforce on his desk.

He is a fellow of both the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) and the Chartered Institute of Taxation in Nigeria (CITN). He is also an associate member of Chartered Institute of Stock Brokers of Nigeria (CIS) and holds a Master’s degree in public administration.

He qualified as a chartered accountant in 1987 and had a stint with the private sector for about seven years before he joined Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) in 1994. He rose through the ranks and operated in all the critical areas of tax administration.

Before his current appointment, he has served in various capacities in the agency, including the roles of tax controller, regional coordinator and director, government business tax. He was also director, collections and director, debt management.

In the course of his career development, he has undergone several training programmes both locally and internationally, including the Lagos Business School’s Leadership Development Programme, Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC)’s Advancing Management Potentials (AMP) in the United Kingdom and the Canadian Revenue Authority.

Ezra Usman Zubairu
Coordinating Director, Enforcement Support Group

Ezra Zubairu, a graduate of Business Administration from the Ahmadu Bello University Zaria is an experienced tax administrator with over 24 years’ experience, having joined the services of the Federal Inland Revenue, FIRS in June 1997. He is one of the most experienced hands who has served under many other former chairmen of the organization before the coming of the present chairman.