BusinessDay
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FACT CHECK: Is it FIRS chairman’s constitutional right to get tenure renewal?

The aftermath of President Buhari’s replacement of Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) chairman left a slew of questions on the minds of many Nigerians. This was especially true for several social media users who debated over the justification to the end of Babatunde Fowler’s four-year reign.

While BusinessDay’s publication laid the groundwork in answering key questions such as Muhammad Nami’s credentials– Fowler’s replacement, it is perhaps other headlines such as, “BREAKING: Buhari fails to renew Fowler’s tenure, names Muhammad Nami as successor,” that left many with mixed reactions and interesting statements. A notable example was the statement made by President Buhari’s Personal Assistant to new media, Bashir Ahmed.

He claimed it was not a constitutional right to renew the appointment of FIRS chairman in Nigeria. He added that with the expiration of Fowler’s appointment as the chairman of the country’s tax agency, the president was not obligated to renew his appointment.

“‘Buhari fails to renew Fowler’s tenure’: this is a misleading headline. It is NOT a constitutional right to renew someone’s appointment after his or her term of office expired. Mr Fowler’s tenure expired today,” Ahmed said in a tweet which he posted via his verified Twitter handle.

The tweet has been liked more than 866 times and shared by more than 282 Twitter users since it was posted at 7:44 PM Nigerian time on Monday, December 9.

Failed FIRS Targets & the Buhari’s Administration

President Buhari appointed Babatunde Fowler as FIRS chairman in August 2015, the same year the tax agency began to record shortfalls in tax revenue collections after years of surpassing its annual targets.

The shortfalls in tax collection were sustained for a period of four years to 2018, implying the Buhari-led administration continually failed to meet its tax revenue targets since inception under Fowler’s leadership.

These consistent shortfalls by the FIRS were the reason for Abbah Kyari’s query. We recall in August how the President’s Chief of Staff issued a query to Fowler.  The query was premised on the accumulated shortfalls in tax revenue (cumulatively N3.98 trillion circa 2015-2018) and their role in the country’s failure to achieve its annual spending objectives within the past few years.

But Fowler in his reaction to the query blamed the recession as well as lower oil prices in the international market for the variances in revenue targets and actual collections within the four-year period.

Meanwhile, it is in the light of the unimpressive tax revenue remittances that the federal government plans to amend dozens of its existing tax policies through the 2019 finance bill, which has been passed into law by both chambers of the National Assembly, but yet to be signed by President Buhari.

Among the tax amendments is a review of the Value Added Tax rate which was raised to 7.5 percent from 5 percent in a bid to help the government generate additional revenues to fund the budget.

While some may fear Fowler’s inability to meet tax revenue shortfalls may have led to his replacement, there are separate concerns that the replacement could have some political inkling ahead of 2023 presidential election.

The assumption was premised on several reasons not excluding the fact that Fowler is a long-term friend of Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, and denying him a second tenure as FIRS boss could reduce Osinbajo’s influence within the government.

He is entitled to a single four-year renewal!

In order to ascertain the veracity of Ahmed’s claim, BusinessDay obtained the Federal Inland Revenue Service (Establishment) Act, 2007 from the service’s website. The Act establishes the FIRS and charged it “with the powers of assessment, collection of, and accounting for revenues accruable to the government of the federation; and for related matters.”

Section 4 of the Act provides that “the chairman and other members of the Board, other than ex-officio members, shall each hold office for a term of four years renewable only once.”

Fowler was first appointed as the chairman of FIRS on August 20, 2015, but his appointment was not confirmed by the Senate until December 9, 2015, implying his first four-year tenure ended on December 8, 2019.

Nonetheless, it remains the President’s prerogative

Based on the provision of the FIRS (Establishment) Act, 2007, Fowler’s tenure is renewable for another four years at the discretion of President Buhari. Hence, Ahmed’s claim that the renewal of the FIRS chairman was not a constitutional right is TRUE!

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