In a letter dated August 8, 2019, Abba Kyari, chief of staff to President Muhammadu Buhari gave Babatunde Fowler, then chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service a query. Kyari wanted a response within a few days.
In the query, Kyari wrote: “Your attached letter (FIRS/EC/CWP/0249/19/027 dated 26 July 2019) on the above subject matter, refers.
“We observed significant variances between the budgeted collections and actual collections for the period 2015 to 2018. Accordingly, you are kindly invited to submit a comprehensive variance analysis explaining the reasons for the variances between budgeted and actual collections for each main tax item for each of the years 2015 to 2018.
“Furthermore, we observed that the actual collections for the period 2015 to 2017 were significantly worse than what was collected between 2012 and 2014. Accordingly, you are kindly to explain the reasons for the poor collections.
“You are kindly invited to respond by 19 August 2019.
“Please accept the assurances of my highest regards.”
The government observed that in 2015, FIRS set N4.7 trillion target but was only able to make N3.7 trillion in the actual collection.
In 2016 the target collection was N4.2 trillion, but the actual was N3.3trillion.
The same happened in 2017 when the tax revenue estimate was put at N4.8 trillion, but only N4trillion entered the treasury.
In 2018, the government also noted that N6.7 trillion was estimated for collection, but the actual collection was N5.3 trillion.
The gravity of the letter and its timing made many observers believe that Fowler was being targeted and that his tenure didn’t stand a chance of renewal.
The former Lagos chief taxman, a classmate of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo at Igbobi College in the 70s, was appointed by Buhari in August 2015. But the Senate did not confirm him until December 2015.
Some analysts believe that Fowler’s shoving aside by Aso Rock may also have something to do with Osinbajo, as he falls out of favour with the cabal in Aso Rock.
Around the time that Abba Kyari’s query was circulating in the social media, a group that called itself “Concerned Staff of FIRS”, also petitioned President Muhammadu Buhari over what it called “the atrocities and infractions” allegedly perpetrated by Fowler.
In an open letter, the group advised President Buhari not to re-appoint Fowler because the FIRS boss had “unimaginably taken it back to the old dark period of inefficient and ineffective days.”
It also recommended that the activities of Fowler from the day he was appointed up to his last day in office should be investigated and brought to book for all infractions he had committed while holding sway as the Executive Chairman of FIRS, SR reports.
The group wrote, “One would have expected that his appointment would improve the hallmark achievements he met on the ground but the reverse is the case. The first seven months of his tenure as the chief executive of FIRS has led to a series of abuse/violation of laid down processes and procedures, a flagrant disobedience to established rules, policies and laws, a total disrespect to the leadership in various coordinating groups, departments and other positions within the service and a total collapse of the entire system.
“The noble and professional institution (FIRS) which was left behind by his predecessors has completely been politicized and has now become a Mecca or Jerusalem of some sorts to politicians and parasitic contractors.
“This rascality was further heightened by the claim that the current Vice President is his (Fowler’s) friend and a school mate and for this reason, he could abuse the due process and get away with it. In saner climes, his relationship with the vice president must propel him to respect all known processes, procedures, laws and constituted authority while discharging his duties and responsibilities as a public officer who would be held accountable for his actions and inactions. Sadly enough, the reverse is the case in FIRS.”
Other allegations against the FIRS boss included extravagant weekly spending on concerts and parties in Lagos, Port Harcourt and other major cities within and outside Nigeria, frivolous donations to organizations while staff entitlements for official engagements would take a long time to settle.
The FIRS staff claimed that Fowler had got away with what it termed corporate and institutional lies about FIRS performance, adding that while Fowler announced N1.5 trillion as tax revenue in the first quarter of the year, the sum of N1.07 trillion was the actual collection for the same period.