On Thursday, August 20, 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) through his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina announced Dr. William Babatunde Fowler’s appointment as the Executive Chairman of the Board of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS). Following the appointment, Fowler assumed duties on Tuesday 25 August, 2015 without Senate’s confirmation. For Fowler to take over office without the approval of the Senate portrays him as either ignorant of the law, or where that is not the case, acting with impunity. Let us look at the FIRS Act before one is accused of crying wolf where none exists. Section 3(2a) of the FIRS Establishment Act, 2007, states that: “the Executive Chairman of the Service is to be appointed by the President and subject to the confirmation of the Senate.”
Where does Fowler derive his authority with which he now presides over the Board of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS)? He has since assumed office and and carrying out the duties of the office. Do we let him go in view of the present financial quagmire in the country? I don’t think we should be swayed by arguments that we have gotten a czar to dress our financial wounds. It is like a poor man whose daughter had the fortune to marry a wealthy merchant. Despite such crippling poverty, the suitor must first comply with all necessary traditions and customs regulating marriage. He must first pay the bride price. The poor man cannot give out his daughter pro bono just because a wealthy suitor is in the bargain. The bride price is mandatory. In this case the law must be followed.
Undoubtedly, Fowler knows the law. He is a man of great learning. However, he has chosen rather to bend the rules for his immediate gain. His showing so far since assumption of office doesn’t not collocate with the present change agenda, where the rule of law and due process are priced above rubies. The job has has been assigned requires the strict application of applicable laws. The organization he now heads was established according to law. These laws were made by the National Assembly for which the Senate is an integral part. Not submitting self to the scrutiny of the senate before resumption is not only a breach of the constitution but a direct slap on the 109 members of the Senate who he has contemptuously regarded by assuming office before clearance.
The Executive, by not calling Fowler to order so far also appears complicit. A complicity that unwittingly undermines or usurps the powers of the National Assembly, especially the Senate. This is a new dispensation. Nobody should deliberately underrate the institution of the legislature as we cannot be said to operate a democracy without a virile legislature. Just like the powers of the Judiciary and the Executive should remain sacrosanct, that of the National Assembly must not be eroded under any guise. The Tribune newspapers had in one of its reports, quoted an anonymous Senator to have said that: “It is wrong for an appointee, who is supposed to be confirmed by the Senate before appointment, to assume office and then come for confirmation. In such situation, the man is already enjoying the pecks of office and the confirmation is being made to look like a fiat accomplished.” The lawmaker continued further by saying that those who have assumed office have disqualified themselves.
“What we are seeing concerning these appointments amount to an offence and gross breach of the constitution. I am aware that senators are peeved by this conduct and there is the thinking that some of those who have assumed office might have disqualified themselves. The lawmakers consider the development as an abuse of their respect for Buhari and that the act is undermining the Senate. They will also be asked what legal grounds they relied on to assume duty when the Senate was yet to confirm them,” he stated. I totally agree with the lawmaker.
My call is for Fowler to step aside and wait to be screened and confirmed by the Senate as stipulated by law. Should he fail to do this I will be compelled to seek judicial remedy against this rape on our democracy and extant laws. Even though our nation is currently in dire straits financially and revenue from taxes are urgently required to complement oil earnings, that is not to say that the laws of land should be sacrificed on the altar of economic expediency. Let Fowler fulfill the law before administering the law. As far as Nigerians are concerned, all his actions since he illegally assumed office are not only null and void but actionable. For this, I shall go to court whether Fowler is cleared or rejected by the Senate. He has violated the Constitution and he knows that. Let him step aside to prove to Nigerians that his assumption of office in such flagrant manner was done inadvertently. To continue to cling to the office and expect the Senate to forgive him his sins would amount to grave impunity.
As it stands today, with Fowler firmly in office, the Senate would only be acting as rubber stamp should it clear Fowler in the face of this gross violation of the Constitution. The Senate would also be setting a bad precedent should it decide to overlook Fowler’s infractions and clear him still.
Fowler is not the only one caught in this illegal ticket. Other appointments so far made without recourse to the Senate include, Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Engr. Prof. Umaru Garba Danbatta, Managing Director, Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON), Ahmed Lawan Kuru, Kola Ayeye, Eberechukwu Fortunate Uneze and Aminu Ismail – all Executive Directors of AMCON. Also named is the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on acting capacity. The institution of the Senate must be respected. We cannot compromise and undermine it and expect that things will remain the same.
The dream of every Nigerian, moving forward under the present administration led by President Muhammadu Buhari, is to have a government and country where the rule of law is supreme. Buhari has done well by searching out Fowler – a tax administrator of repute – to oversee the activities of the Board of the FIRS. However, I don’t think the refusal to wait for confirmation by Fowler can be blamed on Buhari. The onus lies on Fowler to retrace his steps now as he cannot claim not to know that he is assumption of office on Tuesday 25, August 2015 is in breach of the law. We cannot afford to break the laws at will only to administer the laws on citizens who may be in breach of the law in relation to taxes.
Again, in this column penultimate week, I had called on Fowler to resolve all issues concerning his alleged bogus Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree having been awarded to him by an unrecognized and unaccredited University in the UK. I had admonished Fowler to clear his name before it is too late. I still want to repeat my advice to Fowler when I stated that “Fowler must clear himself to prevent the tax administration system now under his care from falling into the snare of the fowler. To whom much is given much is also expected. Let Fowler talk now, otherwise, let PMB probe the allegations in the interest of this country. Need we go about with a lamps in search of honest men to take his place? ….Those who come to equity must come with clean hands. It is better to remove the alleged log in his eyes before attempting to remove the spec in the eyes of tax payers. He must not allow room for cheap blackmail with the present controversy surrounding his PhD degree. It is also important that Fowler to as a matter of urgency to douse the growing hubba-hubba about his credibility. Failure to take act is capable of making PMB’s drive to enthrone probity in governance become a case of the more you look the less you see. Let this storm in the teacup not turnout to eclipse all he plans to contribute to raise the nation’s finances because as they say: ‘if gold rusts what shall iron do?” Unfortunately, Fowler has failed to heed this timely advice. This is the more reason he should now step aside until he acquits himself properly.
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