Nigeria 2017 | ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Tunde Fowler, Executive Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), on consolidating fiscal policy, boosting transparency, and increasing non-oil revenues.

Tunde Fowler
Tunde Fowler holds a bachelor of science in economics from the University of Wisconsin–Whitewater. He completed a second bachelor’s and an MBA at California State University. He started out as a marketing intern with Avon Products Inc. New York. Thereafter, he was transferred to Johnson & Johnson Nigeria. He moved from marketing to banking and joined Commercial Bank (Credit Lyonnais Nigeria Limited). He joined Chartered Bank in April 1990 as a Senior Manager and worked there for 14 years. Upon leaving the banking industry in 2004, Fowler joined the Lagos State Government and was appointed as the pioneer Permanent Secretary/Executive Chairman of the Lagos State Board of Internal Revenue in 2005.

What have been the main achievements of FIRS in the last year?

In the last year, we have reached 99% coverage in terms of administering taxes. Within this period we have been able to identify a large number of corporate organizations that were not on the tax roll. In 2015 alone, we added roughly 100,000 new taxpayer accounts. Many of these new taxpayers have a backlog of fines and interest. To address this and ease their burden of tax payment, we came up with a tax amnesty scheme in which we waived fines and interest for late returns and late tax payments for 2013, 2014, and 2015 for all taxpayers. The tax amnesty scheme will also provide companies with an opportunity to make installment payments for outstanding taxes after an initial payment of 25%. We have also signed an MoU with State Boards of Internal Revenue Service and have agreed to work together on joint audits, joint taxpayer education, and enlightenment programs, training, and data sharing. In addition, we have deployed the use of technology and this has increased the level of compliance and transparency. What we utilize presently is a technology that directly sweeps VAT from the aviation and power sectors into the federation account. We have also installed systems in all of the state governments, so that any federal tax that is due from any state government can be directly swept to the federation account. We have also reorganized FIRS to be more customer-oriented, and taxpayers have the opportunity to choose the location of where they file their returns. We have deployed communication campaigns on VAT in all the major Nigerian languages of Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, as well as Pidgin English on radio and television.

You are the Chairman of the African Tax Administrations Forum. How can the collaboration between African Tax bodies impact taxation on the continent?

The mandate of ATAF is first to promote taxation in Africa; it is there to build capacity among all the African tax administrators. Presently, it is made up of about 38 African countries; we also have council members and an elected chairman. At the last General Assembly Meeting, Nigeria was elected for the first time. Being the Executive Chairman of the FIRS, I was elected on behalf of my country. Collaboration is key to improving awareness.

What role does FIRS play in the socioeconomic development of the country?

Our main focus is on revenue generation. When it comes to current expenditure, Nigerians know that the present government has their best interest at heart. What we do is provide revenue, particularly non-oil revenue, to enable the government to fund its programs and provide the dividends of democracy. Nigeria is a federation. There is the Joint Tax Board (JTBan), an umbrella body for all the tax authorities in the country. The FIRS Chairman is also the Chairman of JTB. FIRS worked with the State Boards on Internal Revenue, under the JTB, to add about 3.4 million new taxpayers to the individual taxpayers' roll for all states. These new taxpayers are for states. This JTB did it in under six months.

What reforms will you implement in 2017?

Our objective is to make taxation the financial bedrock of Nigeria such that we no longer rely on revenue from oil or other oil sources. Currently, we have been able to derive 70% of our revenue from non-oil resources and believe this will increase to 80% in 2017. In terms of our relationship with the taxpaying public, we intend to work so that they will accept us as a service-oriented organization that is mandated to fund the government.