The last official public outing of the immediate past Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Tunde Fowler, before he was removed from office on Monday was the launch of the financial transparency policy/open treasury portal by President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja.
At the Monday event, heads turned as the compere for the occasion, Eugenia Abu of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), introduced Mr Fowler among the special guests in attendance.
Since last Sunday, speculations became rife that Mr Fowler’s tenure as the chairman of the revenue agency had ended, as it was gradually becoming obvious he may not get a second term.
In a telephone interview with PREMIUM TIMES on Monday, the FIRS spokesperson, Wahab Gbadamosi, said only President Muhammadu Buhari could replace his principal.
Asked to confirm the information, Mr Gbadamosi said: “Who said his (Fowler’s) tenure ended on Sunday? You know the FIRS did not appoint him. They have no power to say anything. It is only the President who appointed him that can make a pronouncement about it.”
In August, Mr Fowler had told PREMIUM TIMES, there could be two dates that could be said to be the end of his tenure “depending on where one stands”.
“It depends on how one looks at it. Some count it from the date the Senate confirms my appointment. If one counts from that date, I will be four years by December. If from the date of resumption, then it will be in August,” he said.
Mr Fowler, who was the chairman of the Lagos State Inland Revenue Service, was appointed FIRS chief on August 20, 2015.
His appointment was confirmed by the Senate on December 9, 2015, in line with the FIRS Act, which requires the appointment of the executive chairman to be confirmed by the Senate.
The law says the chairman and other members of the FIRS board, other than ex-officio members, shall each hold office for a term of four years, which is renewable once only.
From the date, indications were that Mr Fowler’s tenure should have ended rightly on December 8, 2019.
Having completed his first tenure, with visible achievements, in terms of increased generation and reforms in the system, not a few Nigerians felt that Mr President could renew his mandate for another tenure of four years.
As of last Sunday, there was no glimmer to suggest the president would renew Mr Fowler’s tenure.
Perhaps, the dampener of the hope was August 8 this year when the presidency, through the Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari, issued Mr Fowlers a query over “observed significant variances between the budgeted collections and actual collections for the period 2015 to 2018.”
In 2015, FIRS had set a N4.7 trillion revenue target, but could only realise about N3.7 trillion in actual collection out of the N4.2 trillion target.
Similarly, in 2016, the actual collection was about N3.3 trillion compared to its revenue target of N4.8 trillion, while in 2017, actual collection was about N4.0 trillion against the target of about N4.8 trillion.
In 2018, about N5.3 trillion was realised as revenue collection lower than the N6.7 trillion target it set for the year.
Mr Fowler acknowledged that the actual tax collection by FIRS since the coming to power of President Buhari’s administration was lower than the 2012-2014 regime under former President Goodluck Jonathan.
He said in general terms, under his leadership, the FIRS performed better regarding specific non-oil tax types, such as value-added tax (VAT) and company income tax (CIT).
Debunking the contents of the presidency’s memo, Mr Fowler said Mr Kyari observations did not reflect all the facts.
Highlighting the revenue collection figures, he said out of about N14,527.85 trillion target for the period 2012 and 2014, oil revenue accounted for N8,321.64 trillion, or 57.28 per cent, while non-oil accounted for N6,206.22 trillion, or 42.72 per cent.
During the period between 2016 and 2018, out of the N12,656.30 trillion, oil revenue accounted for N5,145.8 trillion, or 40.65 per cent, while non-oil revenue accounted for N7.510.42 trillion, or 59.35 per cent.
Mr Fowler’s explanation did not, apparently, sway the president.
As the Monday event was coming to an end, a quick study of Mr Fowler’s downcast mien appeared to have given him away as a man who knew it was his last day in office as the head of the largest revenue agency in Africa.
When top officials who graced the occasion were invited to a group photograph, Mr Fowler could only manage a space behind other officials as the curtains gradually fell on his four years at the helm of FIRS.
Shortly after the event, the presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu, issued the statement to announce Mr Fowler’s successor and the reconstitution of a new board for the FIRS.
Mr Shehu said the president approved the appointment of Muhammad Nami, a tax consultant, as the new chairman of the tax agency.