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Why Babatunde Fowler will change the face of taxation in Nigeria

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Babatunde FowlerThe Nigerian tax system has faced several challenges in recent times. Under current Nigerian law, taxation is enforced by the 3 tiers of government, i.e. federal,

state, and local governments, with each having its sphere clearly spelt out in the Taxes and Levies (approved list for Collection) Decree, 1998.

Several contentious issues have plagued taxation in Nigeria in recent years, among them is the issue of the appropriate tax authority to administer several taxes, also there is the issue of multiple taxes administered by all the three tiers of government which sometimes imposes welfare cost.

 Furthermore, the issue of the paucity of a data base, which contributes to tax avoidance in the country. The issue of corruption is still a perennial issue in the country; this reduces the confidence and trust of the taxpayers in discharging their civic duty. The issue of infrastructural development is also a crucial issue, in Nigeria, the level of infrastructural facilities is in a deplorable state, most of the facilities are often privately sourced, thus a number of people wonder what the taxes collected are  used for, hence the tendency to evade tax payment. Furthermore, the problem of the tax language that is legally codified makes it difficult for an average Nigerian to understand.

The tax collector

A tax collector is a person who collects unpaid taxes from other people or corporations. Tax collectors are often portrayed in fiction as being fierce and cruel people, who collect taxes by all means, but in the real sense, most people do not like to pay taxes, others need a fierce and cruel tax collector who will compel them to do their civic responsibility.

 For many people living in Lagos, the name Tunde Fowler sends jitters through the spines of individuals and corporate concerns in the State.

But a closer look reveals that Mr Fowler is disarmingly harmless, unassuming and charming; sharp contrast to the fiercesome look, usually the trademark of tax collectors by the way.

However, you will let down your guard at your own peril if you underrate him.

Mr. William Babatunde Fowler who was the Tax Collector- in- Chief for Lagos State Government was on Thursday, August 20, 2015, appointed by President Buhari as the Executive Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS).

Mr. Fowler was the Chief Executive Officer/Executive Chairman of the Lagos State Board of Internal Revenue from 2005 to 2014.

Fowler is taking over as chairman with an enviable Resume. Under his leadership, the Lagos State Board of Internal Revenue reportedly achieved a sharp increase in internally generated revenue from an average of N3.6. Billion per month in January 2006, to an average of about N20.5 billion per month in 2013.

How Fowler changed the game

An average Nigerians does not believe in taxation, he/she thinks the government will not put their money to good use, so they find it difficult to part with their money in the name of taxes.

But with the Lagos example, Fowler changed the game; Lagosians have since seen what their taxes have delivered in terms of development and are more encouraged to pay taxes.

Lagos State have also gotten to the point whereby even the pepper seller or bus conductor paying taxes understand and see what the taxes are doing for them, through the several infrastructural developments under the Fashola administration.

 Lagos State currently receives an average of N8billion from the Federation Account on a monthly basis. Out of this, N6billion is spent on the payment of salaries, after salaries are paid, Lagos State will be left with only N2billion, but through Fowler Lagos state was able to generate an average of N20.5 billion per month, just imagine what Lagos will be without these taxes.

Imagine the recent Ebola outbreak in Lagos and the way the Lagos State Government successfully dealt with it. Imagine a Lagos State without the financial might to curtail the virus?

Imagine a Lagos state being listed among the states that owed salaries of workers?

Imagine the effect it will have on the socio-economic development of Lagos.

Lagos State’s Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) of N384.25 billion in 2013 exceeded the total sum generated by 19 states put together, analysis of data released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) has shown.

A recent updated data released by the NBS on IGR at State level showed that a total of 20 states generated about N671.32 billion in 2013 out of which Lagos State had the lion’s share.

The analysis showed that the total IGRs of Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bauchi, Bayelsa, Benue, Delta, Edo, Enugu, Katsina, Kebbi, Kogi, Kwara, Niger, Ondo, Plateau, Rivers, Taraba, Yobe and Zamfara states was N287.07 billion. Lagos is about N97.18 billion ahead of the total IGRs of the19 States combined, followed at a distance by Rivers States with a total of N87.91 billion.

Further analysis showed that Lagos generated a total of N722.62 billion from 2008 to 2011. Comparatively, Kano generated a total of N23.11 billion over the same period.

So, every government needs funds through taxes, the fall of oil prices is affecting the economy of Nigeria, so, the only way to sustain development is to depend on taxation, which the government can plan with.

Fowler was able to serve Lagos state by generating revenue for the state and empowering the government as the Chief Executive Officer/Executive Chairman of the Lagos State Board of Internal Revenue from 2005 to 2014.

Considering the fact that many people don’t want to pay taxes, Fowler developed a tough skin and no friends and tormented the ‘Big Men’ in Lagos by making sure they paid their taxes.

He was despised by many, just like many tax collectors, but it was indeed very rare to see a tax man being liked by so many people.

 In fact, if a tax man is well liked then it means there is something wrong somewhere.

Today, Lagos is held up as a model in tax administration, Fowler indeed changed the game.

What should we expect from Fowler?

In these trying times for Nigeria, when the fall in world oil prices has reduced Nigeria to a broke nation, we therefore need to look inwards and generate revenue.

With the success from The Lagos Internal Revenue Service, Babatunde Fowler is no doubt the most experienced man for the job.

Fowler will also ensure mutual cooperation among different government agencies and parastatals; this collaboration should enhance exchange of information, and reduce the incidence of tax evasion as well as fraudulent tax practices.

To elicit voluntary compliance, the government should be more responsive to the welfare needs of the citizens. The Nigerian tax system can effectively generate more revenue when the citizens have trust and confidence in the authority. Lagos state under Fowler generated huge revenue due to the fact that many corporate bodies and individuals feel that they can visibly feel the development impact of their contributions.

 In most developed countries, tax payment is considered a moral and civic responsibility, thus tax avoidance is frowned upon. This implies that once the new government starts to give citizens dividends of democracy, they will in-turn demonstrate patriotism through timely payment of their taxes and discharging other civic duties.

In Nigeria, most of the citizens are religious and faithful people. Thus, with religious provisions that explicitly support fulfilling religious obligations, tax payment could be enhanced. For instance, the Biblical saying of “Give unto Caesar, what is for Caesar and to God what is for God” is apt and relevant to the Christians while the Qur’an calls on the Muslims thus: “O you, who believe, fulfil all obligations” (Q5:1).

Not many people know that there is much more to the new  Executive Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Babatunde Fowler‘s life or daily activities beyond tax or revenue collection.

Fowler divulges the secret that stands him out amongst others as a unique being in a recent interview to a Christian-based magazine, Harp Applause.

Fowler spent 21 years in the banking profession, holding various managerial post before leaving the banking hall as a general manager to take up the challenge being thrust at his feet by former Lagos State governor, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu to drive the tax revenue of the state, having being a specialist in revenue generation.

The silent philanthropist does not embark on any mission or accept any challenges without consulting and hearing from God. It is his believe according to his words “The truth is that when God changes your direction, he changes it for a purpose. I have found myself in the position where I could directly impact positively into the lives of people, because when you collect revenue for government, you are empowering the government to do more for the people. Today, I can tell you that I am fulfilled in what I am doing. I can feel and see the impact of what I am doing in the lives of the people than when I was a banker.

The once upon a time wannabe teenage chorister, who later became an usher at the Redeemed Christian Church of God before being ordained pastor, traced the secret of his success to a special request he made for the wisdom of Solomon. Not only did God grant his request while still a boy in the secondary school, he has remained his Consultant.

He did it for Lagos; he can do it again…

Daramola Babalola writes from Lagos, Nigeria

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