The Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service, Muhammad Nami, has been accused of unlawful retirement of nine directors of the agency to pave the way for his allies.
It was gathered that Nami relied on an old civil service rule, which had been suspended to remove the directors.
The PUNCH gathered that the government of late President Umaru Yar’Adua had instituted a civil service rule which made it compulsory for directors to retire after serving for eight years.
However, the regime of President Muhammadu Buhari, rescinded that directive.
According to new regulations, civil servants are to leave service after attaining the retirement age of 60 or spending 35 years in service.
A circular was said to have been issued to indicate the suspension of the earlier order.
A copy of the document, obtained by our correspondent and dated June 20, 2016, was also addressed to the FIRS.
“With reference to letter No. SH/COS/100/A/1462 dated June 17, 2016, I write to convey Mr President’s directive that the tenure policy in the Federal Civil Service is suspended with immediate effect. This notice is for the attention of all concerned for compliance,” the letter, signed by a former Head of Service, Mrs Winifred Oyo-Ita, said.
The new regulation was reportedly upheld by the former Chairman of the FIRS, Mr Babatunde Fowler, as no director was retired as long as they had not crossed the retirement benchmark.
However, after Nami assumed office in November 2019, he was said to have instructed that directors who had served for eight years be retired.
Nine directors received retirement letters in March 2020.
A copy of the letter, signed by Nami read in part, “The board of the Federal Inland Revenue Service at its emergency meeting No.2 held on March 20, 2020, approved the retirement of all directors who have served eight years and above as directors in the service in line with Para 10: 1(a)(iii) of HRPP. Accordingly, you are hereby notified of your compulsory retirement from the service with immediate effect.”
The affected directors were Victor Ekundayo (Career and Skills Development); Mrs Kemi Odusanya (Facility); Emmanuel Obeta (Chairman’s Office); Chiaka Okoye (Programme Office Non-Tax); Mr Kola Okunola (ICT); Dr Asheik Maidugu (Planning and Statistics); Mr Innocent Ohagwa (Human Capital Development); Mr Ezra Zubair (Programmes and Policy Monitoring) and Mr Olufemi Faniyi (Team Lead Tax Operations Group).
A few days later, the FIRS chairman issued another memo to announce the appointment of new directors and a special assistant.
The new appointees included Director, Finance and Accounts, Ahmed Musa; Special Assistant Technical to the Executive Chairman, Mustapha Ndajumo; Director, Internal Affairs and Efficiency, Ahmed Ndannusa; Director, Communication and Liaison Department, Abdulahi Ismaila; and Acting Director, Executive Chairman’s Office, Aisha Mohammed.
Aside from the new appointees not being members of staff of the FIRS, they were reported to be Nupes, the same ethnic group with the Niger-State born Nami.
The PUNCH observed that Paragraph 10:1(a)(iii) of the FIRS Human Resources Policies and Processes (HRPP) on which the retirement decision was based stated that directors who had attained eight years in the position should be retired.
However, Paragraph 1.8.1 of the HRPP said whatever was written in the book was subject to the amendment of extant circulars.
“All extant circulars, directives, notices, orders and other documents amending, giving further details and/or explanation to the provisions of this policy document hereto shall form an integral part of the HRPP and shall be binding,” it added.
One of the retired directors alleged that the chairman had a plan hence his decision not to comply with the government circular which had already suspended the paragraph 10.
“Without taking recognition of the circular, the chairman just asked all the nine directors to retire. He quoted Paragraph 10, but ignored the Paragraph 1,” he added.
Our correspondent learnt that there was disquiet among some of the senior staff members who were sidelined for the contract staff.
The PUNCH was told that the HRPP forbade the appointment of contract workers where the available slots could be filled by experienced workers in the system.
Paragraph 2.22 of the rule stated that contract appointment should only be made “where the required skills and competence are not available within the service.”
Another retired director claimed that there were 750 chartered accountants in the FIRS.
“You are bringing in a contract worker as an internal auditor when there are a lot of qualified people in the system? You are bringing somebody from outside as the director of finance and account when there are many chartered accountants? You are bringing in people as directors of communication and chairman’s office when there are people with the skills.
“The danger is that you are the executive chairman and you brought in your friends to man critical positions. You want to control the entire financial transactions of the organisation. They will take direct instruction from you without questions. They could collude with you to defraud the organisation. Where is transparency, accountability, integrity in these appointments?” he queried.
A retired director said the appointments also negated the federal character policy.
“He appointed four directors as contract staff; no advertisement of the positions, nothing. No other ethnic group was represented in violation of the federal character policy. They are all his allies,” he added.
The directors lamented that they were retired “unceremoniously and illegally” despite having several years before attaining 35 years in service.
They demanded that the FIRS chairman acknowledge his wrongs and remedy the situation.
The FIRS, however, said its actions were not in defiance of the presidential directives suspending tenure policy in the Federal Civil Service.
The Director of Communications and Liaison Department, Abdullahi Ismaila, in a statement, said the government parastatal acted within its powers.
He said, “The FIRS is not part of the civil service, but part of public service. The FIRS, Central Bank of Nigeria, Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, are part of public service, not civil service. This informs, for instance, NNPC, CAC, whenever there is a leadership change, most of the senior officers are usually retired to pave way for their subordinates because they have separate boards to authorise such actions.
“The FIRS is governed under the FIRS Establishment Act 2007, which has given it autonomy to hire and fire without recourse to Civil Service Rules, but to its own rule and therefore not part of civil service.”
Ismaila said the FIRS was only accountable to its board, adding that the retirement of the directors was approved by the board.
He noted that the board was also kind enough not to recover the salaries and allowances earned by directors who had spent above the legal eight years.
According to him, the FIRS will only be bound by the Public Services Rule for any matter not covered by the FIRS Human Resource Policies and Processes.
“The retirement of the directors by the FIRS board is in accordance with the HRPP and in the public interest and to create vacancies for the existing staff of the service who have remained stagnated,” he added.
On the appointment of the new directors and special assistants, Ismaila said due process was followed, adding that they were contract officers engaged for two years to carry out specific assignments.
“The four directors are employed on a contract basis in line with Section 2.22 of the FIRS HRPP and approved by the FIRS board.
Ismaila, however, declined comment on the ethnic group of the new appointees and did not respond to an enquiry on it.
A former director said the FIRS was a Federal Government parastatal and circulars by the government remained binding on it, hence Eyo-Ita’s decision to copy the FIRS in the 2016 memo.
The Director of Communications, Head of Service, Mrs Olawunmi Ogunmosule, said she had not joined the unit when the memo was issued.
According to her, whenever ministries, departments and agencies are copied in memos, it means the document is for their “information or action.”
She referred our correspondent to the overseeing ministry.
The Director of Information, Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mr Hassan Dodo, asked our correspondent to write a letter and bring it to his office in Abuja.
“I hope to see the permanent secretary with the questions. At his discretion, he either answers them or he refers the questions to a director to do that,” he wrote in a text message.