The Muhammad Nami led Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS is making the rounds again. This time, not for its record-breaking revenue returns, many reforms, policy formulation to addressing modern tax challenges, or even its novel move for full digitalization of tax processes but for damning accusations pointing to especially its digital migration moves through the TaxProMax as a cover-up for aiding and abetting corrupt practices.
Workers with the revenue-generating agency under the aegis of the Nigeria Civil Service Union, NCSU is behind these allegations accusing the management of offenses that include illegal recruitment, re-engagement of retired directors and other categories of staff, secret recruitment of about 2000 staff within a record period of 18 months, issuance of cash palliative to only senior officials, exaggerated procurement among other damning revelations.
The back and forth continues
Since the outbreak of dispute between the management of FIRS and the union group representing its workers, it has been a case of washing dirty linen outside and suspension of the union’s operation by the management of FIRS as the allegations keep pouring in. Here are the key arguments from NCSU and responses from FIRS through its Director of Communication and Liaison, Abdullahi Ismaila Ahmad.
- NCSU alleges Muhammad Nami’s leadership for flying a chartered private jet to Kigali and Dubai through a travel agent and other locations for retreat contrary to both federal government and FIRS policies; purchase of used busses at exorbitant prices; secret recruitment of over 2000 staff within 18 months.
- The FIRS denied the above allegations. On chartering of a private jet, it said Members of the Board and Management did not charter flights to Dubai but only took advantage of an available chattered flight which was boarded and individually paid for. FIRS also confirmed the purchase of second-hand busses due to the paucity of funds. The procurement of 50 Toyota Hiace Buses according to the agency was needed for operation by the Tax Controllers for Tax drive at reduced costs.
- The union also pointed that 2,000 new staff were employed unannounced despite having difficulty paying salaries. Also, it alleged that management decided to re-instate retired Mr. Mathew Gbonjubola and Faozat Ogunniyi as Coordinating Directors, retaining them on the payroll.
- The management of FIRS has responded that over one thousand of those purportedly employed by the current Management were those employed by the immediate past Management, stating that the employment done by the current Management was informed by the need to fill newly created offices, especially in the Tax Audit function.
- On allegations of illegally reinstating retired directors, the FIRS’ communication desk explained that a common practice in government circles is that retiring experienced staff are retained to pass on their experience and expertise.
- Management purchased Zinox computers at the exorbitant price of about ₦900,000 per unit.
- The FIRS’s spokesperson described the above allegations as “rather ridiculous”, stating that some computers cost more than the alleged amount. But for the avoidance of doubt, the laptops were procured from HP through its accredited Dealers in Nigeria. The laptops were customized to meet FIRS requirements, to address the challenges of freezing screens, low ROM and RAM, crashed system, etc).
The FIRS has decided to keep mute on other allegations like fragrant abuse of power; indirect award of supply contracts to certain female staff; purchase of Zinox computers at overinflated sums; production of ₦1.7 billion souvenirs contrary to extant regulations; and declaration of pseudo-vacancies for 2021 promotion examination as a decoy to recruitment without due process.
Issues of legality
In the preamble to a congress held on June 17, 2021, NCSU noted
“Federal Inland Revenue Service as a Tax Authority in Nigeria has been facing a myriad of problems recently. These problems are much more pronounced and imparted on the collection target which has been dwindling. The Nigeria Civil Service Union as a stakeholder in FIRS has been in the vanguard of proffering solutions to these problems facing the Service. The Union plays a vital role between the Management and staff. It is in her attempt to discharge its duty that Nigeria Civil Service Union (NCSU) called for a Congress of all staff members (NCSU) of the service on 17th June 2021.”
“that the right of workers to decide which union to belong is not absolute but must be exercised within the limits of Trade Unions Act CAP T14 LFN 2004. This position was confirmed in the Judgment of the National Industrial Court – NCSU vs ASCSN (2004) 1NLLR Part 3, 427.”
Still on legality, FIRS had also approached National Industrial Court to restrain the union from embarking on either strike or picketing. In its ruling, the court granted the request but also restrained management from dissolving the union.
Recall that the management of FIRS, however, went ahead and sealed off the offices of the union and withdrew the two vehicles officially assigned to it.
Muhammad Mamman Nami, DG, FIRS In a letter to FIRS signed by its President, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLS) insisted that
“an employee is free to join any trade union specified under the Third Schedule of the Trade Unions (Amendment) Act 2005. This freedom to choose cannot be subjected to constraint or restriction as provided by Section 9(1) (a) of the Trade Union Act 2005.
What the workers are demanding
As it stands, members of NCSU, FIRS Unit are demanding a phased implementation of TaxPro-Max; payment of general performance bonus for the year 2020; disclosure of the status of the first quarter 2020 performance bonus and mandatory insurance intervention to staff members; release of modalities for payment of 2019 and 2020 promotion arrears; payment of one percent each of consolidated annual salary of meal subsidy allowance, children education grant, and furniture allowance; and release of a blueprint for the conduct of 2021 promotion exercise.