How FIRS recruited four new directors in breach of rules

MEDIATRACNET

The recent appointment of new directors by the Federal Internal Revenue Service (FIRS) was done in defiance of a subsisting presidential directive and violation of the public service rules, a review by PREMIUM TIMES has shown.

Last March, the tax agency under its new chairman, Mohammed Nami, recruited four directors in controversial circumstances.

The recruitments were not advertised as required by the public service rule. The FIRS also ignored a controversial presidential directive since 2016 that ‘suspended’ the tenure limit policy of two terms of four years for directors and permanent secretaries in the federal public service.

Mr Nami, appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari on December 9, 2019, took over from Tunde Fowler on December 19, 2019.

While the new management insists the decision to rejig its team members was to strengthen its capacity to deliver its mandate, PREMIUM TIMES’ found it was clearly in defiance of a subsisting presidential directive on the issue.

Also, the decision ignores the provisions of both the public service rules and the FIRS Human Resource Policies and Processes (HRPP) handbook.

Retirements and appointments

On March 24, Mr Nami began the rejigging process via a memo seen by PREMIUM TIMES in which he informed staff about the retirement of directors who attained eight years in service and above.

The memo said the decision was taken by the FIRS Board at an emergency meeting on March 20.

About eight directors were affected by the announcement. But, PREMIUM TIMES found four of the affected directors were later given new contracts under conditions that remain unclear.

The four retired directors given fresh contracts included Asheikh Maidugu, appointed coordinating director and head, executive chairman’s group; Chiaka Okoye, appointed group lead, digital support group; Auta Mohammed Bello appointed special assistant, administration to the executive chairman; and Kolawole Okunola, named special assistant to the executive chairman, information & communications.

The other four retired directors include Kemi Odusanya, Victor Ekundayo, Emmanuel Obeta and Gbolaga Oshiga.

In the memo, Mr Nami said the board also approved the appointment of four new coordinating directors, along with two group leads, and special assistants in acting capacities for a six months’ period.

The new directors included Ahmed Musa (head, finance & accounts department); Abdullahi Isma’ila (head, communication & liaison department), Aisha Hamza Mohammed (head, office of executive chairman department), and Ahmed Ndanusa (head, internal affairs & efficiency department).

Mr. Ndanusa is the former Director-General and later Chairman of the Board of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). 

The coordinating directors are Asheikh Maidugu (executive chairman’s group); Olufemi Oladeji Oluwaniyi (tax operations group); Innocent Chinyere Ohagwa (general services group), and Ezra Usman Zubairu (enforcement support group).

The new group leads are Faosat Oguniyi (compliance support group) and Chiaka Okoye (digital support group). Mustapha Ndaijiwo was named the new special assistant (technical) to the executive chairman. Several dozens of staff were also redeployed across all segments of the organisation.

Appointments in breach of law

Mr Nami said all decisions were guided by its internal procedures and procedures as an autonomous public entity.

He said the Board relied on paragraph 10.1(a)(iii) of the FIRS’ HRPP staff handbook, which deals with FIRS staff exit policy and compulsory retirement, to take their decision

But, the appointment of the four new directors was done without any official vacancy advertisements as required by the public service rule. It also breached the FIRS internal policy guidelines, HRPP, on external hiring for senior officials.

Chapter 2, Section 2 of the public service rule on “Authority for appointment” (Rule 02101) demands that Permanent Secretaries/Heads of Extra-Ministerial Departments are authorized to make appointments to public offices on the authority of the Federal Civil Service Commission.

Again, Rule 02102 on “Appointment of Senior Posts” says such appointments shall be made into available vacancies after due advertisement in the national dailies in consultation with the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation.

By implication, the rule says appointment of persons into directorate positions can only take place where there are no qualified and competent personnel within the Service.

Besides, Section 2.22 (1) of the HRPP says: “Contract appointment shall only be made where the required skills and competence are not available within the Service.”

The Section 1.8.2 of the HRPP reads: “All extant circulars, directives, notices, orders and other documents amending, giving further details and/or explanations to the provisions of this policy document (HRPP) hereto shall form part of the HRPP and shall equally be binding.”

Also, Section 1.8.3 of the HRPP states: “Where any matter is not provided for, or covered by this document (HRPP), recourse shall be made to the provisions of the Public Service Rule (PSR) in respect of such matter.”

 Apart from not following the due process of involving the Federal Civil Service Commission and the Federal Character Commission, there is no evidence the FIRS management carried advertisements any national newspaper for the vacant positions of the four directors before they were appointed.

Presidential directive

The retirement of the directors defied ignored a controversial presidential directive to ‘suspend’ the tenure limit policy of two terms of four years for directors and permanent secretaries in the federal public service.

The policy introduced under the public service reform by the then Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration was to enable qualified public servants to rise to the peak of their careers as directors and permanent secretaries.

In 2016, President Buhari via letter No. SH/COS/100/A/1462 of June 17, directed the immediate “suspension” of the tenure policy in the federal service.

On June 20, 2016, the then Head of Service of the Federation, Winifred Oyo-Ita, issued memo No. HCSF/428//S.1//139 to inform heads of federal ministries departments & agencies of the development.

The memo drew attention of all MDAs, Chief Executives of Parastatals, agencies and Heads of Extra Ministerial Department, Mrs Oyo-Ita drew attention to the presidential directive on the immediate suspension of the “Tenure Policy in the Federal Service.”

Controversial as the decision was, a law lecturer/Researcher, Faculty of Law, Nasarawa State University, Keffi, Elijah Okebukola, insists presidential orders or directives contained in Federal Establishment circulars convey equal force of law binding on all government agencies.

FIRS speaks

But, he insisted the FIRS Board was not in breach of either the public service rule or any law for that matter, in the employment of the new directors and retirement of others, as they were based on the provisions of the HRPP approved by the FIRS board.

 “The fact of the matter is that the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) is not a part of the Civil Service, even though it is a Public Service,” he said in a response to enquiries from PREMIUM TIMES on the matter.

“It (FIRS) operates like its sister organizations, like the NNPC (Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation), CBN (Central Bank of Nigeria), CAC (Corporate Affairs Commission), etc. The Act establishing it gives it autonomy to hire and fire,” he added.

Mr Isma’ila said the retirement of the directors was also “in the public interest, to create vacancies for the existing staff in the Service who have remained stagnated.”

But, those familiar with the FIRS system described the argument as “patently flawed”.

For instance, PREMIUM TIMES learnt after taking office on December 19, 2019, Mr Nami appointed Mr Isma’ila as a deputy director and special assistant to the executive chairman on communications on a contract basis.

Mr Isma’ila confirmed he, like the other three new directors, were contract staff prior to their latest appointments.

By virtue of Rule 02202(c) of the public service rule on appointments on non-pensionable contract to a non-pensionable post, all first appointees to the pensionable establishment are on probation.

Rule 02301 defines probation period as “two years” before confirmation in service, or “not less than six months” in special circumstances.

Curiously, by March when the new directors were appointed by the FIRS Board, Mr Isma’ila was one of the appointees after barely four months in the FIRS.

“Rather promoting the then head of corporate communications department, Wahab Gbadamosi, who was already a deputy director for many years, redeployed to the FIRS Training Institute, while Mr Ismai’ila, a fresh PhD English graduate at the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, with no cognate experience, was appointed a director and head of communications and public affairs department,” one senior FIRS official told PREMIUM TIMES. He requested that his name should not be revealed to avoid victimization.

Legal experts disagree

An Abuja-based legal practitioner, George Ukaegbu, who is also the Managing Partner,

Ukaegbu Ukaegbu & Co., disagrees with Mr Isma’ila.

“As long as a Federal Establishments circular of general application to all Federal Government workers does not exempt the FIRS, it is bound by it, despite having distinct rules of engagement. If the circular wanted to exempt the FIRS, its content would have said so.

“The circular by the Head of Service of the Federation on the tenure policy suspension was expressly copied to the FIRS. So, any action taken contrary to that subsisting circular is illegal,” Mr Ukaegbu said.

Onyema Omenuwa, the principal counsel of an Abuja-based law firm, Okwubedo-Utchi Chambers, insisted the appointment of the four new directors were in utter disregard for due process.

“FIRS does not exist in a vacuum. It is a creation of statute. Being so, the law setting it up always provides for the extent of its powers.

“The new directors were external appointments because they were contract staff. Even if there no qualified personnel within the service, due process was flouted by non-advertisement of the vacancies,” Mr Omenua said.

The lead director, Centre for Social Justice, Eze Onyekpere, said the FIRS Board may have misled itself to have relied on the HRPP alone, saying unpopular as Buhari’s directive to suspend the tenure policy it remains the law until reversed.

He called on the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, to call the FIRS management to order, while President Muhammadu Buhari should direct the immediate reversal of the controversial appointments.

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