Tribute to Omoigui Okauru

Ifueko-Omoigui-OkauruOnce you ask Ifueko Omoigui to speak about higher values, you cannot fail to be swayed or moved by her altruism- an altruism that is true and touching, the passion for her job and people and her unrelieved optimism that humanity could get a better deal from our existence on this plane. There is a sense, in which you cannot but be ensnared after listening to Omoigui for five minutes, once you stoke her underbelly on higher values. She waxes eloquent, almost like one inebriated by higher values and common good.

It was Omoigui Okauru’s higher purpose response to the union’s carping about conditions of work and more goodies in a year when the Service had exceeded its target and the Federal Government to earn almost N3.97 trillion in 10 months.

Only God knows from whence she draws her strength. One day, in 2008—and this is routine—she ran three disparate meetings for eight straight hours, without standing up to exercise her legs. Once in a while, you could catch her peck at a cup of honey laced tea, one small carrot or orange. A few days before Nigeria’s independence anniversary in 2011, she worked till about 11  pm, only to surrender to the October 1, 2010 recording for a TV commercial that ran for another one hour.

And do not be surprised to leave her at the office 11pm on  a Friday, only to be told she made a Sunday Babarinde (Union Chairman) wedding in Jos the next day, a Saturday or catch her wriggling  to the rhythms-even if its only for three minutes– at the wedding of one of her personal staff: Ikechukwu Ashioba. She is a bundle of energy laced with human feeling. She is forever bothered about what the next person and her 6000 staff know or should know, their skills, their experience and what they could take away from seminars, conferences and such re-tooling opportunities.

“Stay focused on your goal,” she always advises.

Throughout a 35/40 minutes flight on a trip to Ilorin to make a presentation on the reformation of the civil service-she was glued to a copy of The Economist.  The only time, she cared to look up or notice her surroundings when a storm ruptured the rhythm of the small plane. Even, she was an oasis of stability and calm.

Once in 2007, she summoned a consultant to review a Project budget on the Documentation Project. For the first two months when the consultant resumed work, old staff warned that he exercise care about financial matters. “Don’t ask for money from her. Or if you do, don’t ask for big money.” Her issue with finances was that her standards for financial approvals and processes could be exacting.

Apart from her work, she is very passionate about her husband, AB Okauru, former Director of the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) whom she describes as “I married a friend who is my worst critic and my best admirer. “

It is to her credit that she has led institutional changes in the FIRS and the Joint Tax Board leading to the gradual emergence— in perception and reality—of the FIRS as a modern institution.

Today, a corporate taxpayer can no longer open a file in say Apapa or Ikeja Integrated Tax Office, abandon it after failing to file his returns and pay his tax and lie to the Tax Controller at the Wuse Integrated Tax Office and lie that the company has not done business with the company since it was registered. Just a click, on the mouse, or a tap on your ipad and seconds search of the FIRS portal will reveal such a corporate tax taxpayer’s status and records. This is courtesy of Project FACT and one of its product: the Taxpayer Identification Number, TIN.

Though automation of processes in FIRS is multilayered and is ongoing, but FIRS under Omoigui Okauru has reached a point that even in London or any part of the world, she or any authorised member of top Management could ascertain FIRS’s daily collection from all taxes and each categories of taxes, know what bank brought in what, ascertain a pattern and advise the minister, the President or whoever needs such information

A replication of TIN through the Unique-Taxpayer Identification Number, (U-TIN) is afoot in the states. This will give federal and state authorities real time, to the minute and near accurate information about taxpayers, slicing openings for tax-shopping and outright tax evasion.

And once FIRS’ Integrated Tax Administration System (ITAS), and the democratic Self-Assessment regime comes on stream, along with TIN and U-TIN, national and state tax-based revenue will soar.

Without crowing too much about her attainments, Ifueko led the push for the financial and administrative autonomy of the FIRS eventuating in financial and administrative autonomy of the Service with the implementation of the Federal Inland Revenue Service Establishment Act, FIRS Act 2007.
She also drove the development and driving of institutional changes in the tax system at Federal and State levels leading to growth in annual tax revenues, amounting to over 15 billion US dollars
($15,000,000,000.00)—(by 2009) to reduce dependence on mono product (oil) revenues; development and implementation of a Tax Reform agenda to improve the funding quality and effectiveness of tax administration in Nigeria.  She facilitated the drafting of a comprehensive legal framework and the passage of four Acts namely: FIRS (Establishment) Act 2007, Value Added Tax (Amendment) Act 2007, Companies Income Tax (Amendment) Act 2007, National Automotive Council (Amendment) Act 2007. She is coordinating the implementation of a national tax database, including the Tax Identification Number, TIN. Four other bills-including the Petroleum Profits Tax Act-now being considered as part of the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB are before National Assembly.

With better funding, improved remuneration, the FIRS was able to attract new staff and other professionals from other elite government agencies, the private sector and multinational companies. There is probably no federal agency in Nigeria that has pulled in multifaceted professional numbering about 2000 at a go like in the FIRS in its history.

FIRS is collaborating with several federal agencies to share data, just as it has signed and is negotiating several Double Taxation Agreements, DTAs with other countries.

Under her watch, FIRS collaborated with Uganda, South African and other African countries to establish the first, continental Tax body: African Tax Administration Forum, ATAF and her regional leg: the West African Tax Administration Forum, WATAF. This came on the heels of successful hosting of the Commonwealth Association of Tax Administrations, CATA.

These are outside a renewed Enforcement drive that in a year  yielded  as much as close to N37 billion, the passage of the National Tax Policy, foundation work for a new and befitting headquarters, FIRS owned offices across the country, a new Tax Academy, housing and car loan for staff, engagement with taxpayers and potential taxpayers through the Student Tax Advocacy Initiative, STAI, a robust tax education programme, encouraging taxpayers to hold FIRS  for its  operations and the government on how it spends  collected monies, accountable fora, new self-assessment regime, training that has seen  6000 FIRS staff enjoy over  15,000 training slots/openings—with over about 1500 offshore in six years, a robust Performance Management System, about, 17 ongoing Modernisation Projects and trial of tax offenders.
Along with her some of her ‘generals’: Coordinating Directors: Osy Chuke Corporate Development Group, CDG, Alhaji Kabir Mashi: Support Services Group, SSG; Tax Operations Group: Samuel Ogungbesan
and his predecessors: Dr. G. Opara, Alhaji E. S. Sulu Compliance and Enforcement Group, CEG Onyekachi Ihedioha and his predecessor: Teju Somorin, several committed directors and foot soldiers, Omoigui Okauru has repositioned the FIRS.

And with continuous support from the highest quarters in the land, the FIRS—like we often say in-house may soon become one of the, if not one of the most pivotal institution(s) for sustainable funding in the land. And like Samuel Ogungbesan said at a retreat last year: “We (FIRS) have left Egypt.

The truth is, you might like Omoigui Okauru. You might even loathe her testy impatience for result and excellence, her rigour and insistence on Due Process, her altruism, her insistence on relentless pursuits of skills, training and her ruthless decisiveness, once she spots mercantilist opportunism. But you cannot fault her motives, her altruism for her work, her hunger for institutional building and the abiding love for mother country.

For exemplary service to her country Nigeria, she has been conferred, national awards by the Nigerian President twice in seven years. First as Member of the Order of the Niger, MON, in 2000 for amongst others, leading the technical team for the Vision 2010 effort for Nigeria -Nigeria’s effort at developing a long-term strategic plan, the first of its kind in the country. The second national award was that of Member of the Federal Republic, MFR in December 2006, for her achievements in championing tax reforms in Nigeria. In February 2007, she was named the Government Personality of the Year, by the Thisday newspapers. Governor of the Central Bank, Professor Charles Soludo shared the award with her.

In November 2007, Omoigui, along with other women who blazed the trail in their fields, was admitted into the Women Hall of Fame by the National Women Centre, Abuja. The FIRS Chairman is the first woman to be Chairman, Federal Inland Revenue Service. In December 2007, she was named as one of the 50 outstanding graduates of the University of Lagos, UNILAG. The following month, the Benin National Congress, honoured her, along with few prominent Edo state indigenes, with an award for Excellence. Early in 2008, students of Kuti Hall-the oldest hall in University of Ibadan- named Omoigui Okauru as the Government Personality of the Year.

In January 2009, the FIRS, under her leadership was named as the Government Agency of The Year, by Thisday newspapers at an award ceremony attended by former American President, Bill Clinton. In December 2009, she was awarded a Doctorate degree (Honoris Causa) by the Benson Idahosa University, BIU Benin, the sole recipient of such honour for the year, for her exemplary contribution to tax reform and administration in Nigeria and on the global level. Shortly before this, the Secretary General of the United Nations, named her as one of the global tax experts that would advise him on taxation and shape its global practice.

As one watched her navigate the slippery slopes of the Nigerian bureaucratic-political landscape during the Senate confirmation days (2007-2008), one wonders how she was able to  identify and walk through these landmines and still remain herself. Years from now, Nigeria’s political, Public service and Management literature will be richer, if she could pull apart and document the foxy bureaucratic and high-wired political intrigues of those testy days.

Born on December 10, 1962, Omoigui Okauru attended Queen’s College, Yaba and Federal Government College, Warri for her secondary school education and obtained a First Class degree in Accounting from the University of Lagos and a Masters of Science Degree in Management Science from the Imperial College, University of London. She was valedictorian of her graduating class in the University of Lagos, with the highest number of prizes ever won by any individual in the Faculty of Business Administration and was recognized as a Global Leader of Tomorrow by the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. She is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Accountants of Nigeria, ICAN, and a Chartered Tax Practitioner.
The only female in a family of five, Okauru is a Made in Nigeria success story. She scoffs at the option of living outside Nigeria. Her four brothers are all based in the United States. One owns a cardiovascular clinic in South Carolina, another plies his trade as a doctor in Los Angeles. The fourth child is a lawyer who works with Intel Corporation in California. The last left Microsoft as a Computer software specialist to establish his own private practice.

To Omoigui, staying abroad is not an alternative. From her birth, she never loved staying outside Nigeria. “ I believe home is here in Nigeria. Anytime I am outside the country, I feel a strong pull to be here. There is a lot to do to make the country better. When individuals travel out of their country to stay elsewhere, they are implementing what someone or some people had stayed behind in their country to create, I want to be a contributor for what others would benefit from. I have never felt better anywhere else. I am here because this is where I should be.

 Wahab Gbadamosi, is Assistant Director, Corporate Communications Department, Federal Inland Revenue Service

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