On the morning of Wednesday March 18, 2015, news filtered into the headquarters of Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) that Alhaji Kabir Marshi who had acted as executive chair of the agency since the departure of Ifueko Omoigui in April 2012 was going to be relieved of the post later that day. Most senior directors especially those with less than two more years to stay before their retirement began to prepare their handover notes in the belief that a substantial chairman would be immediately announced. One of those in this category is Mr. Samuel Akin Ogungbesan, Coordinating Director, Standards and Compliance Group. He had just about 18 months before retirement on that morning.
A few hours later, Marshi invited Ogungbesan to his office, instructing him to begin to prepare to assume the office of acting chairman of the agency. The man could not believe it. He was practically dazed. And truly by mid afternoon, the official announcement came from the twitter handle of Presidential Spokesman, Reuben Abati that Mr. Samuel Akin Ogungbesan has been appointed by President Goodluck Jonathan as acting Chairman of the FIRS.
Ogungbesan, who holds a B. Sc in Economics, is a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Taxation and an associate member of the Nigerian Institute of Management. He joined FIRS as an inspector of taxes II and rose to his present level, having handled challenging responsibilities and assignments in various departments within the Service.
Apart from pioneering the administration of Large Taxpayers Unit in Lagos, Mr Ogungbesan had represented the FIRS in many tax conferences and seminars, both in Nigeria and overseas and served in Tax Policy Department of the Service for many years. He was pioneer director, Planning Reporting and Statistics Department.
A major player during the review of Nigerian Tax Laws in 2005, when he was appointed coordinating director, Tax Operations Group, in February 2010, Ogungbesan was until his appointment, Coordinating Director, Standards and Compliance Group, which delineates and articulates service-wide operational standards for tax practice in the FIRS.
Being a strong advocate of change, with focus on improvement in the tax administration system in Nigeria Ogungbesan said while being unveiled to senor staff of the Service “we are building a very good culture here. This is our country and we will work together to build a strong economy. I hope to enjoy all the support from all of you around the table.”
It is being said that in his new capacity as executive chairman of FIRS, Ogungbesan is likely to pay even greater attention to improvement in the tax administration system in Nigeria especially since he is coming directly from the Standards and Compliance group but the man appears to have a radical view of how things should and could be done to achieve better results.
At a meeting with finance correspondents, the Odogbolu, Ogun State born administrator said his approach would be to embark on meaningful engagement of tax payers both already inside the tax net and those still out of it.
He lamented that there was not enough collaboration among tax stakeholders vertically and horizontally. For instance, he wondered why ministries, departments and agencies that award contracts to individuals and corporate organisations will fail to cooperate with FIRS in the collection of taxes and also queried why some state governments will not participate in the Tax Identification Number (TIN) system.
He promised to work out a practical approach to tax administration by promoting staff efficiency, attitude and welfare while also developing an incentive regime for tax compliance and give enlightenment to those who are not yet convinced on the need to comply.
For years, FIRS has tried to enforce compliance by sealing off non compliant premises and tried defaulters and those who forge tax certificates in the law courts but there has not been any significant change of attitude. Ogungbesan explained that during his time, a softer approach aimed at convincing citizens rather than sealing off premises would be pursued. Also, the agency would seek better collaboration with other MDAs as well as the media to expand government revenue.
As an insider who had spent most of his working years at the agency, Ogungbesan is likely to receive maximum support from the general staff that prefer that chief executive officers should be appointed from within.