The Chairman of Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Mr Muhammad Nami, has been accused of promoting tribalism and nepotism at the agency.
He approved the retirement of nine directors in the agency and allegedly replaced them with his kinsmen.
It was also reported that Nami made the removal based on an old civil service rule practiced during the government of late President Umaru Yar’Adua.
The old civil service rule which had been suspended, made it compulsory for directors to retire after serving for eight years.
However, President Muhammadu Buhari rescinded that directive and ordered that civil servants are to leave service after attaining the retirement age of 60 years or spending 35 years in service.
A copy of the document, obtained by Punch correspondent and dated June 20, 2016, was also addressed to the FIRS.
“With reference to letter No. SH/COS/100/A/1462 dated June 17, 2016, I write to convey Mr. President’s directive that the tenure policy in the Federal Civil Service is suspended with immediate effect. This notice is for the attention of all concerned for compliance,” the letter, signed by a former Head of Service, Mrs Winifred Oyo-Ita, said.
The former Chairman of the FIRS, Mr Babatunde Fowler, upheld the directive as no director was retired as long as they had not crossed the retirement benchmark.
However, Nami who was confirmed as FIRS boss in December, 2019, jettisoned President Buhari’s directive and decided to retire nine directors, relying on the old civil service.
Those forced to retire were: Mr Victor Ekundayo (Career and Skills Development); Mrs Kemi Odusanya (Facility); Emmanuel Obeta (Chairman’s Office); Chiaka Okoye (Programme Office Non-Tax); Mr Kola Okunola (ICT); Mr Asheik Maidugu (Planning and Statistics); Mr Innocent Ohagwa (Human Capital Development); Mr Ezra Zubair (Programmes and Policy Monitoring) and Mr Olufemi Faniyi (Team Lead Tax Operations Group).
The affected directors were fired in March, according to a copy of retirement letter signed by Nami.
A copy of the letter, signed by Nami reads in part, “The board of Federal Inland Revenue Service at its emergency meeting No.2 held on March, 20, 2020, approved the retirement of all directors who have served eight years and above as directors in the service in line with Para 10: 1(a)(iii) of HRPP. Accordingly, you are hereby notified of your compulsory retirement from the service with immediate effect.”
It was observed that few days after they were retired, Nami issued another memo announcing the appointment of new directors and a special assistant.
According to reports, the new appointees who are not members of staff of FIRS, are of the same Nupe ethnic group as the Niger-state born Nami
The new appointees included Director, Finance and Accounts, Ahmed Musa; Special Assistant Technical to the Executive Chairman, Mustapha Ndajumo; Director, Internal Affairs and Efficiency, Ahmed Ndannusa; Director, Communication and Liaison Department, Abdulahi Ismaila; and Acting Director, Executive Chairman’s Office, Aisha Mohammed.
We didn’t disobey Buhari
The FIRS has said its actions were not in defiance of the president Buhari’s directives suspending tenure policy in the Federal Civil Service.
Director of Communications and Liaison Department of FIRS, Mr Abdullahi Ismaila, in a statement, said the government parastatal acted within its powers.
He said, “FIRS is not part of the civil service, but part of public service. FIRS, Central Bank of Nigeria, Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, are part of public service, not civil service. This informs, for instance, NNPC, CAC, whenever there is a leadership change, most of the senior officers are usually retired to pave way for their subordinates because they have separate boards to authorise such actions.
“FIRS is governed under the FIRS Establishment Act 2007, which has given it autonomy to hire and fire without recourse to Civil Service Rules, but to its own rule and therefore not part of civil service.”
Ismaila said FIRS was only accountable to its board, adding that the retirement of the directors was approved by the board.
He noted that the board was also kind enough not to recover the salaries and allowances earned by directors who had spent above the legal eight years.
According to him, FIRS will only be bound by the Public Services Rule for any matter not covered by FIRS Human Resource Policies and Processes.
On the appointment of the new directors and special assistants, Ismaila said due process was followed, adding that they were contract officers engaged for two years to carry out specific assignments.
We’re unjustly retired
A retired director queried Nami’s action, while claiming that there were 750 chartered accountants in the FIRS.
“You are bringing in a contract worker as an internal auditor, when there are a lot of qualified people in the system? You are bringing somebody from outside as the director of finance and account, when there are many chartered accountants? You are bringing in people as directors of communication and chairman’s office, when there are people with the skills.
“The danger is that you are the executive chairman and you brought in your friends to man critical positions. You want to control the entire financial transactions of the organisation. They will take direct instruction from you without questions. They could collude with you to defraud the organisation. Where is transparency, accountability, integrity in these appointments?” he queried.
Another retired director said the appointments also negated the federal character policy.
“He appointed four directors as contract staff; no advertisement of the positions, nothing. No other ethnic group was represented in violation of the federal character policy. They are all his allies,” he added.
The directors lamented that they were retired “unceremoniously and illegally” despite having several years before attaining 35 years in service.
They demanded that the FIRS chairman acknowledge his wrongs and remedy the situation.
No tribalism in FIRS
Nami has said there is no tribalism in the organisation.
Nami made the claim in a statement issued on Monday by the Director, Communication and Liaison, Abdullahi Ahmad.
“The FIRS is one national institution which any Nigerian joins and is assured of rising to the very top in the hierarchy based on his or her individual competence and hard work on the job, and not on the basis of any tribal or religious affiliation.
“If any FIRS worker had been a victim of tribalism or religious discrimination in the past, I say to such marginalised worker: Not anymore and not on my watch at the FIRS,” Nami said in the statement.
He denied reports that appointments and retirements made in the agency were determined along ethnic and religious lines.
“The FIRS wishes to clarify that the recent staff retirement exercise which affected nine directors was done in full compliance with the law and in the best interest of the service and the country, contrary to insinuations in a section of the media.
“The board of the FIRS, in a meeting held on Friday, March 20, 2020, took the decision and approved that all directors who had served in the FIRS for eight years and above should be retired.
“The FIRS board took that decision in line with Paragraph 10.1(a)(iii) of Human Resources Policy and Programmes of the FIRS after considering a number of career progression complaints by some staff in the service.
“Worthy of note is that FIRS Establishment Act 2007, Section 7 empowers the FIRS board to take certain far-reaching decisions in the interest of the service and by extension, the country.
“Specifically, Section 7 (d) states that the board shall employ and determine the terms and conditions of service, including disciplinary measures of the employees of the service.
“Section 7(J) states that the board shall do such other things which in its opinion are necessary to ensure the efficient performance of the functions of the service under this Act.
“It is in the discharge of such responsibilities that the board approved the retirement of the nine directors who had spent eight years and above as directors as provided by the FIRS statutes.”
“The retirement of the directors was a selfless and courageous decision taken in compliance with the laws. It was done in good faith and in the best interest of the service,” the statement added.
However, the statement did not address the allegation that the five newly appointed directors were Nupe, the same ethnic group with Nami.