* More heads may roll as top FIRS staff are interrogated * Top Southwest politician got N3b * Concern mounts on how to recover 'stolen' fund
All is not well within the Presidency (comprising of the office of the President and Vice President over alleged misappropriation of N40 billion from the Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS, under the immediate past chairman, Babatunde Fowler.
Fowler who was appointed to superintendent Nigeria’s apex tax office was replaced on December 9, 2019, by a tax consultant, Muhammad M. Nami.
PRNigeria was informed by sources knowledgeable about the development that the ‘misappropriated’ money, which was purportedly used for ‘political campaign funding’ for 2019 did not sit well with the ‘Seat of Power’ as the top principal stakeholder has ordered investigation and prosecution of culprits.
While Fowler is said to be outrightly caught in the web of the said fund top officials in the Presidency are said to be angry and unsatisfied with the explanations on how the fund was ‘shared,’ and vowed to punish other collaborators including a powerful figure within the same presidency.
Also connected to the N40 billion sharing bazaar was the influential and powerful political gladiator in the Southwest who was said to have received a ‘paltry’ N3 billion which is less than 10 percent of the ‘campaign fund.’
Already, some top management staff of FIRS have been arrested and are being interrogated on corruption allegations by anti-graft agencies.
“Some senior FIRS staff, about nine of them who were arrested in connection with the money are being interrogated by an anti-corruption agency. Some are accused of being involved in a multi-billion naira fraudulent actions and contract awards. This is added to the extravagant lifestyle of these stooges and aides, poor governance structure, audit reports and general mismanagement at FIRS,” a source within the Presidency claimed.
Recall that the Chief of Staff to the President, Mr. Abba Kyari, had on August 8, 2019 queried the former top man of the Lagos State Internal Revenue Service (LIRS) for what the Presidency considers as unacceptably dwindling tax revenue since 2015 when the Buhari’s administration took the helm of governance.
Kyari ordered Fowler to explain why in 2015, FIRS set N4.7 trillion target but was only able to make N3.7 trillion in the actual collection. In 2016, 2017 and 2018, the target collections were N4.2 trillion, N4.8 trillion and N6.7 trillion but the actual collections were N3.3 trillion, N4.0 trillion and N5.3 trillion, respectively.
“…you are kindly invited to submit a comprehensive variance analysis explaining the reasons for the variances between the budgeted collections and actual collections for each main tax item for each of the years 2015 to 2018,” Kyari demanded in the query.
But Fowler in his response, defended the performance of FIRS under him citing the fact that what was considered a fall in revenue was not as a result of misappropriated funds but actually a reflection of the state of the economy within the years under review.
However, President Buhari in apparent signal that he fully backed his Chief of Staff’s actions against Fowler, did warn in his October 1, 2019 Independence Anniversary Speech saying: “Our revenue-generating and reporting agencies will come under much greater scrutiny, going forward, as the new performance management framework will reward exceptional revenue performance, while severe consequences will attend failures to achieve agreed revenue targets.”
Also, more damaging to Fowler and his benefactors who are said to be on the brink of complete humiliation was the allegations by the former Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Comrade Timi Frank against his person (Fowler) and that of the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.
Frank had in a claim that has robustly been debunked by Osinbajo and retracted by media houses, alleged that the travails of the Vice president and Fowler were due to corruption and have nothing to do with 2023 politics.
In the information that was said to have been leaked to him by a source within the Presidency, Frank stated that Osinbajo was being persecuted for alleged mismanagement of about N90 billion released by FIRS to prosecute the last general elections in favour of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
But this was quickly dismissed by FIRS, saying it did not make N90 billion available to Vice-President for the 2019 election campaign.
But PRNigeria gathered that these allegations which are still being investigated combined to stack up against Fowler whose fate was officially sealed by Buhari on December 9.
“Mind you that Fowler’s sack has not closed this chapter. Expect more casualties as more revelations are unravelled. More heads may roll including very top figures who are already roped in and cornered by the scandals,” the source said.
Also, what even rattled the Presidency the more was the desperation on the part of Fowler to retain his position at FIRS following his letter to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation in that regard.
Fowler begged to be retained in the letter with reference number FIRS/EC/CWOSGF/0476/19/006, titled, ‘Re: Notification of Expiration of Tenure as Executive Chairman of Federal Inland Revenue Service’ with an accompanying document detailing his achievements in office.
“…I wish to present myself for re-appointment for a second term. This is consistent with provisions of the FIRS Establishment Act 2007 and would grant me the opportunity to consolidate and build on the achievements we have recorded in the past four years.
“Please find attached the highlight of my achievements during my first tenure in office. I would like to put on record my gratitude to Mr. President for the opportunity to serve the nation. I am also thankful for your support in the course of the discharge of my duties,” part of the letter read.
But the Presidency sources said the appeal for reappointment was immediately rejected because of the gravity of the allegations against Fowler.
The source also disclosed that not only were the allegations being taken seriously by the Presidency but there are “concerns on how to recover the money”.
“Recovering the embezzled money is of top priority and believe me those found culpable will eventually pay the price,” the source said.