FIRS Charged With Aggressive Education, Media Partnership

Chief Femi Adesina, OON, FNGE, Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, delivering his speech during the training programme
Chief Femi Adesina, OON, FNGE, Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, delivering his speech during the training programme

For the Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS to further improve on its achievement on collection of tax for development in Nigeria, the Service must increase its drive for education, as well as its partnership with the media. This was the consensus at a one-day training programme for editors and financial correspondents in Lagos over the weekend. Experts, stakeholders and media practitioners at the event agreed that whatever had been done in the past to educate the people on the reason for them to pay tax was inadequate. They, therefore, said, in the communique released after the training, that the FIRS should embark on a “sustained and result-driven education and enlightenment initiatives that will encourage Nigerians to be tax payers.”

In the effort to educate the populace on the need for them to pay tax, participants at the training held at Safron Hotel, GRA, Ikeja, Lagos also implored the Service to “constantly engage with and mobilise the media” to assist in creating awareness for payment of tax and debunking the belief that it is some sort of forceful seizure of wealth of individuals or corporate bodies by the government. They agreed that payment of tax is compulsory, the failure of which attracts punishment.

They charged the Service to see and appreciate media practitioners as partners “with shared interests in a well-informed, properly educated and enlightened tax-paying populace”, while also fashioning out a relationship with the media with a purpose to arriving at “mutual benefits and rewards.” Though Charles Ode, a manager with the Service who represented Mohammad Nami, executive chairman of the Service, said that it has undertaken some form of engagement with the media, he said the suggestion would be put forward for consideration by the management.

Aside from proper and sustained programme of education, the Service was also implored to ensure that administration of tax should not be so cumbersome or opaque as to discourage investment or act as disincentive to saving. Participants want the Service to demonstrate equity and fairness in the tax system that will promote convenience such that ‘collection and payment are not encumbered in any way.’

These recommendations issued from the observations that include the pervading ignorance about tax in Nigeria, the poor and un-coordinated publicity of what the government does with tax collected from the people, the belief that the rich benefit more from the use of tax than the poor, apart from the fact that people are naturally resentful of payment of tax many of them are ignorant of the fact that it is a civic duty they must perform and that Nigeria is one of the top non-compliant nations when it comes to the payment of tax. Ode, in responding to the suggestion about government making known to the people what it does with the tax collected, said this was not within the purview of the FIRS. “Our job at FIRS is to collect tax and remit to the government. We are not in a position to determine what the government does with it, and so cannot explain to people how the tax they pay is used”, Ode explained.

In his presentation, Ademola Adedoyin, Marketing communication specialist had said that Nigeria is the third least responsive in tax payment in the world. It is beaten to that position by Bolivia and Brazil. He said the Service is not to be envied when it is considered that it takes a longer time for people to respond to tax payment in Nigeria than in most other economies even in Africa. For instance, he cited a study that states that it takes 908 hours for Nigerians to respond to tax payment, while Ghana gets her citizens to do that in 224 hours, kenya in 202 hours and South Africa in 200 hours. That sort of makes the job of FIRS an uphill task. Which also drives home the need to engage in constant education and also involve the media in this task. Adedoyin had said that the media being the bridge between the Service and the tax payer, the Service need to do regular training and information sharing with media practitioners so as to sustain the tempo of tax education.

Philip Folarin of the department of Commercial and Industrial Law at the University of Lagos had said in his paper that payment of tax should be based on fairness and equity, where people on the same level are expected to pay the same amount of tax while those on different levels should pay different amount of tax. Though he said a tax payer may be prosecuted for failure to make honest declaration or pay his/her tax on time, the law also gives an aggrieved tax payer the liberty to file an appeal. Folarin said one good development in the area of taxation in Nigeria in the last decade is that there has been a lot of transformation in the area of legal instrument. But other facilitators said that the transformation was not limited to the enabling law, there are other areas where changes have been made resulting in the quantum leap in the amount of successes recorded in recent years.

In his presentation, Gbenga Badejo, GBDC Reanda, Chartered Accountants and Practitioners said progress was also being made in the area of digital and property assets as well as in game, betting or lottery business. Olusola Agbeluyi, vice president of the Chartered Institute of Taxation in Nigeria, CITN added that the Service, in phasing out the involvement of consultants in tax collection, enhanced the drive among staff, thus projecting them to put in a lot of effort to galvanise the collection of tax. He said, though this was originally painful to the consultants (who were owed consultancy fees by the former administration at the Service), the result has been beneficial to the consultants. This, according to Agbeluyi, “When FIRS chases tax defaulters, they run to us.” The consequence is that the Service and the consultants are the better for it. That is reflected in the increasing amount realised from tax progressively in recent years.

Adedoyin said that there was the need to build on this by increasing the campaign for awareness, using the media as partners, so that the tax net can be expanded to bring in more people. If the testimony of Femi Adesina, special adviser to President Muhmmadu Buhari on media and publicity, that FIRS was a major federal revenue agency that bailed Nigeria out during the pandemic, is anything to go by, then Nigerians must take payment of tax very seriously. That was the point on which Shola Oshunkeye, Managing director of OMNIMEDIA and coordinator of the training drew a curtain on the programme, as he said the Service would be made to consider suggestions for regular updates and briefings to media practitioners on development at the tax house, so they can regularly reach out to the public. He also echoed the call on the government to engage the people on how money collected as tax is spent.

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