Adedeji, a different kind of tax man

By: Aliyu Gaya

OVER dinner at the restaurant of the latest five-star hotel in upscale Lagos penultimate Saturday, there was a pervading sense of confidence in the tax ecosystem expressed among diners, a motley crop of corporate Nigeria captains. They had broken off from their meeting at a nearby highbrow club to serenade their mortal bodies with a sumptuous dinner. And my goodness, it was worth the time. The talk centred on Zacch Adedeji, the chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS). At 46, Adedeji, a First Class accounting graduate of the great Obafemi Awolowo University and a PhD holder to crown his scholastic pursuit, is rated as one of the best appointees of President Bola Tinubu. While a lot was said about FIRS, past and present, the industry captains praised Tinubu for head-hunting a young man who is at home with the rudiments of revenue management in the 21st century economy. Adedeji was spotlighted for a couple of innovations that he brought to bear in revenue management at his new job. He was said to have kept the books open; defined, with clarity, the rules that govern revenue collection under his watch; given a human face to matters of taxes and tax collection and shown a high sense of integrity which also governs the manner FIRS personnel now relate with tax-payers.

The undeniable undertone in their discussion was that in the past, the FIRS sees every business as an entity to be taxed, but now the same revenue service approaches every business with an attitude to help the business grow, make profit and in the long run pay more tax. This is the concept in modern revenue management. The tax man has ceased to be an unfeeling, stern-face collector. Not anymore! These days, the tax man (revenue man, as they should be addressed) helps to grow the business, sustain the business and collect more revenue from the same business that would have been forced out of existence with over-bearing tax attitude. One of the complaints of business owners in Nigeria is the knotty issue of multiple taxation. Adedeji is helping to navigate businesses out of this ‘complicated nest’, as described by one of the CEOs.

I was in the company of one of the CEOs of a major construction company in Nigeria and a huge tax payer too. We had arrived in Lagos from Abuja that afternoon for the meeting and I could notice how he was nodding in affirmation, without uttering a word, to the adjectives and kind words used to describe Adedeji. All I could take away from the conversation was that a star will always shine even in the darkest of nights. I felt a sense of pride for the FIRS chief as men older and far more experienced than him, with scars to show for their decades of entrepreneurship and hard knocks in the competitive corporate space, spoke glowingly about his exploits on the job in so short a time. All under-50s in Nigeria should be proud that one of their own is so well-spoken of by persons who, ordinarily, should be his most acerbic antagonists and critics. The tax-man is never loved by the tax-payer, they say. But here’s Adedeji being showered with encomium by the creme de la creme in the tax-paying community.

Adedeji is already a shining star and has entrenched himself as one of the veritable arrowheads that would help President Tinubu achieve his Renewed Hope mandate. A popular African proverb says that morning shows the day. While it may yet be morning in Adedeji’s four-year journey (which is renewable), his bold and expressive imprints these past months can only help us make the conjecture that the right man for the job is here, primed and fully prepped.

Now it shows. In first quarter (Q1) of 2024, the Service collected the sum of N3.94 trillion in tax revenue, representing a 56.7 percent jump compared to the figure recorded in the corresponding period of 2023. This is a new lease and it speaks to the leadership style of the man many address by his first name, Zacch. He is said to have no airs, not popped up by vainglory. He is said to lead from the front, a leadership template that he has effectively emplaced in the service. Adedeji is reputed to be an unobtrusive leader. Such leaders are not overbearing. They do not lord it over you and they are not the every-moment in your face leader. They give you enough leg-room to take your own initiative and navigate through the headwinds that assail you as you execute your daily brief. This is the type of leadership that births grand results. Adedeji has established this culture of leadership at FIRS and the impact is a workplace buzzing with innovation, devotion and fresh ideas; a rare meeting of commitment and capacity.

Already, he has set a lofty target for himself and his team: to achieve a revenue target of N19.4 trillion this year. For a service that grossed about N13 trillion last year, this new target appears unrealistic. But given the interplay of the fresh zeal and dynamics that now define FIRS operations, it’s safe to believe that they will crest the target. Staffers of the Service believe that with what Adedeji has engineered out of the  old order including migrating FIRS from the drudgery of annual filing of Transfer Pricing Returns, and Country-by-Country Reporting (CbCR) notifications from e-TPPlat to the TaxPro-Max Platform, using their regular login credentials, the cup is half full, not half empty. One of the highlights of the dinner discussion was the window Adedeji gave existing and prospective taxpayers to fulfil all pending filing obligations. That period of grace will last till about two weeks, precisely June 30.

This was considered another masterstroke to help businesses grow and not to kill them.

To make the business of tax collection more people and business-friendly, FIRS under Adedeji waived the administrative penalties as spelt out in the Income Tax (Transfer Pricing) Regulations 2018 and the Income Tax (Country-by-Country) Regulations 2018. This gave a human face to the process and duty of tax collection. With such gesture, more Nigerians are brought into the tax net. But more importantly, it demonstrates that paying tax is not punitive but a duty.

Adedeji believes there is a nexus between human capital development and effective tax collection. To connect the dots and achieve his set goal of improved tax collection, he has ensured the continuous upskilling of FIRS personnel and infusion of relevant digital tools into the management of the tax value chain.

It’s all too obvious that Adedeji’s experience is counting for him. A journey of public service spanning the subnational to the national. From Oyo State Ministry of Finance where he served as Commissioner (2011 to 2015) through the National Sugar Development Council (NSDC) where he was the Executive Secretary and CEO to the Presidency where he was Special Adviser to President Tinubu’s advisory team on revenue, he has been exposed to the whole gamut of public finance management. In him, Tinubu has found a worthy and competent enabler as he tries to build a badly damaged economy which he inherited.

  • Gaya, public finance expert, writes in from Abuja

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Source:

Tribune Online