FIRS boss deserves higher office

I had never met her before, but had seen her picture gracing the pages of many a newspaper in Nigeria, and seen her on TV, and admired her professionalism from a distance.  So when about three weeks ago, a slightly-built woman walked past my seat in Economy Class in further back on a flight from Abuja to Port Harcourt, I could swear that it was Mrs. Ifueko Omoigui-Okauru, and I made a mental note to “accost” her when we got to Port Harcourt. 

If it was her, I meant to introduce myself, and also thank her  for giving me a cold call (at the instance I presume of her husband (and a friend of mine) AB Okauru, DG of the Governors’ Forum, who I knew way before they became married not too long ago) on the recent passing of my father.

I had to run outside the baggage claim hall to catch up with her outside the very scraggly (and being refurbished) PH airport because my luggage had not arrived and hers had.  She was surrounded by some armed escorts as she made her way to her jeep, but I tapped her on the shoulder and asked :”Ifueko, I presume?” to which she said “Yees….”  “This is Bolaji Aluko…”.I said, ..to which she suddenly exclaimed “Ah, such resemblance to your late Papa……AB, AB, this is Bolaji!” pointing to and hailing her husband who  they had travelled together, and who I had not even noticed was walking way in front of her.

I thanked them both for the call, and they once again paid their condolences.  The next question Ifueko asked – after congratulating me on my appointment as Vice-Chancellor of the Federal University Otuoke was “I hope your new university is paying your taxes o, because universities in this country are notorious for not paying proper taxes!”  “Ah, I said, we are just starting…”.

A digression:  The fact of the matter was that my university had not remitted personal income taxes to Bayelsa State Government and the other  to FIRS (witheld from companies doing business with the university) since the uni inception – or paid witholding taxes and VAT due to the Federal Government since its inception due to the fact that we had not been given Tax Identifcation Numbers (TIN) until December 2011.  So beginning in February 2012, I got my Financial Officer (we don’t have a Bursar yet) to pay ALL the arrears of ALL OUTSTANDING taxes, including my own, from June 2011 – well over N5 million total I believe –  and to pay it promptly every month thereafter.

All these belated FU Otuoke tax payments were not due to the prompting of Ifueko, but it shows her professionalism, which she brought to her tough job as FIRS  boss….for no one likes to pay taxes, or likes tax people!

Moving on…

One of her MOST important legacy is the tenacity with which she pursued the passage, in December 2011, of PITA – The Personal Income Tax Act –  which had gone through 3 Presidents, 4 National Assemblies and four ministers before eventual passage under President Goodluck Jonathan.

If it is true that she has stepped down – and one hopes that it is not another “premature” announcement of her departure – then perhaps the other important legacy is that she showed that despite the difficulty of living a righteous life in the corridors of power in Nigeria, it is NOT impossible.  You will/may be buffeted with lies and threats – as she was recently when some people wanted her out of her job –

But if you keep your head high and are focused on the job – and keep your hands out of government till while making a reasonably good legal living as a high government official – you should be fine, despite all caterwaulings.

Kudos to Ifueko Omoigui-Okauru!  You should be proud of yourself – and you are an inspiration!  You deserve a good rest – for some time – if in fact your time is voluntarily up at FIRS!

And there you have it.

Bolaji Aluko wrote in from Bayelsa State

 

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