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People of the Year: Despite it All... They Made a Difference - Ifueko Omoigui-Okauru
By Laurence Ani
The most common challenge in selecting individuals and issues that had the most definitive impact in a receding year is that each individual and their roles in shaping the society often seem to eclipse the previous considerations.
So, for instance, it appeared early in the year that the general elections would be the defining issue of 2011 and the helmsman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Professor Attahiru Jega, the inevitable Man of the Year.
That was the predominant thought until Aliko Dangote was announced as Africa’s richest man by Forbes. Still, a few other names worthy of inclusion on this illustrious list would emerge – each name a product of painstaking deliberation by the THISDAY Board of Editors. It was through this process a stellar cast of individuals were chosen. Of course, there was the resigned shrug signalling regrets for a name that might have been on the list but could not owing to the intensely scrupulous benchmark.
Yet, there is no one on the list whose accomplishments are undeserving of some worthy mention or do not resonate on a national scale.
The list for THISDAY’s People of the Year include Jega, Dangote, former managing director of Guaranty Trust Bank Plc, the late Tayo Aderinokun, managing director and chief executive officer of Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria, Mustafa Chike-Obi, and chairperson of the Federal Inland Revenue Service, Ifueko Omoigui-Okauru.
Ifueko Omoigui-Okauru: Changing the Face of Tax Collection
Until her appointment on May 3, 2004, as the executive chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service, the agency was just another government parastatal with all the notoriety associated with many of such agencies. However, Mrs. Ifueko Omoigui-Okauru, within a short time of assuming office, changed the face of the organisation responsible for collecting revenues on behalf of the federal government.
She brought to the job a unique leadership style that encouraged management staff and other lower rung staff to bare their minds without fear of punishment, thus inspiring self-confidence in them.
Her capacity for hard work is as legendary as her intelligence. She engenders a team spirit that makes it easier for the achievement of set targets that have significantly affected the effectiveness and efficiency of FIRS. In her capacity as FIRS helmsman and chairman of the Joint Tax Board, comprising representatives of all taxing tiers of government in Nigeria, she was behind the institutional changes in the tax system at federal and state levels that grew annual tax revenues to over $15 billion.
She oversaw the implementation of a tax reform agenda that enhanced tax administration in the country as well liaising with other stakeholders to ensure the passage of four laws: FIRS (Establishment) Act, 2007, Value Added Tax (Amendment) Act, 2007, Companies Income Tax (Amendment) Act, 2007, and National Automotive Council (Amendment) Act, 2007. She also supervised the implementation of a national tax database, including the Tax Identification Number, that gives each taxpayer a unique identity that easies transactions.
In addition, a clear, well articulated national tax policy encapsulating the principles guiding taxation in the country has been developed under her. The new national tax policy is aimed at better planning and consistency.
She reorganised the operations of the FIRS which successfully led to the merger of offices and creation of one-stop-shops for improved service delivery to the tax payer. This has lessened the burden of taxpayers who can now transact their tax business at a single point instead of going to different tax offices for different services. The merger of offices has also provided improved career opportunities for FIRS staff to be more rounded tax professionals.
The reorganisation of FIRS under her watch has created jobs and career opportunities of over 2,000 in specific skill driven areas.
The result of her reform initiatives has manifested multiple-fold, as under her leadership, she increased tax collection from N1.194 trillion in 2004 to N2.839 trillion in 2010 through the upgrade and automation of the tax collection system. With this, she also increased the number of registered tax payers from 100,000 to 700,000 during the same period.
Last year, she exceeded the revenue target set by the federal government when FIRS collected N3.72 trillion between January and October revenue as against the N3.63 trillion revenue target the government set for it for 2011.
She is also vigorously pursuing a regime that will allow taxpayers to assess themselves, a system that has been abandoned since its introduction in 1998.
Omoigui-Okauru has said repeatedly that the focus of the tax agency is to grow job opportunities as required to improve service delivery. Staff without the required skills are encouraged to acquire the necessary skills through both institutional support for training as well as counselling staff to recognise the need for them to personally improve their competence levels.
She has said that the challenge of the FIRS and indeed all revenue authorities is to get more of the skilled staff required to drive improved performance. With the requisite complement of staff, properly aligned to their areas of strength and interests, her goal is to ensure that the performance of the FIRS and state internal revenue boards are significantly boosted.
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