30th March, 2012
The Chairman, Benue State Internal Revenue Services, BIRS, Mr. Andrew Ayabam in this interview with UBONG GEORGE in Makurdi gave an account of his achievements, challenges and what the future holds for BIRS
How has it been since you took charge of Benue State Internal Revenue Services?
Well, it has been both challenging but in the overall analysis I think it has been worth the while.
What are the major challenges you have encountered since your appointment as Chairman of Benue State Internal Revenue Services?
Our major challenge was public enlightenment; the average person in Benue state was not well informed about taxation, so we set out to overcome that challenge. When people are not informed there is a limit to how they can embrace an idea. There is a limit they can appreciate efforts or anything done even if it is in their own interest.
So what were the things you put in place to tackle the challenges you encountered?
Well, we engaged the media to sell our message or send our massage across to the people. We also do and still do a lot of word of mouth strategy; we also engage churches, religious bodies, schools and associations to drive home our massage.
What would you say have been the achievements of BIRS since you came into office?
I think awareness creation. If I were to assess myself, one of the areas we have not done badly, is creating awareness for the average adult in Benue who earns a living to pay tax. Issues of taxation have come up a lot more during the one year, than I think in the entire history of the state. We also engage a lot of young graduates of Benue origin to work at BIRS that has really also helped to turn around our fortunes. We have also increased revenue generation by blocking leakages, as well as coming up with new strategy to collect funds and ensuring that all funds are banked. We have done a lot in the area of staff welfare and training.
It is rather startling that you have been able to achieve all these feats within this short period, what is the driving force behind your success?
Well, as I said earlier the staff and their commitment have helped a great deal. People make an organization whatever it is or turns out. We have also received tremendous support from Governor Gabriel Suswam. We received tremendous support from the state House of Assembly, particularly the sixth assembly, Because it was during the life of the Sixth Assembly that the revenue bill was passed into law and I think the Benue people too deserve a lot of commendation because day by day they continue to receive our message and positively respond to the message of taxation for development of Benue state.
Before now what the state was generating as IGR was less than a billion annually. Now where are we?
Well, for 2010 which was at least inconclusive and which has been made public by way of the approved estimate for 2011, we made about N6.7 billion for 2010 and for 2011 we were netting on the average about N1 billion monthly and we hope to hit at least N15 billion in 2012.
Tax evasion seems to be a way of life for Nigerians generally including Benue state. What is BIRS doing in areas of enforcement and instituting a culture of prompt tax payment?
As I mentioned earlier tax payer enlightenment education has always been the key selling point for us at BIRS. Part of what that has achieved is to help have no more voluntary compliant taxpayers in as much as the law provides for enforcement penalties and all of that. We always prefer that tax payers voluntarily turn up and pay what is due to them. Force is always the last option, if at all an option. So tax payer education under the circumstance is key and what we want to drive.
Are you getting the necessary support from all the stakeholders?
Yes, we are getting very commendable support from all stakeholders.
To what extent is BIRS collaborating with other agencies like EFCC and ICPC to bring tax evaders to book?
Yes, in some cases a few instances we had to engage them and their services too make recovery. We have engaged them and they supported us when some major construction companies that abandoned sites sometime ago in Benue state but were owing in regard to PAYE and followed up and got our cheques for us.
Yes, I want to believe you will want to surpass your target for 2011, how do you intend to position BIRS for efficiency in 2012?
Yes, targets are set to be met and surpassed that is what we at BIRS have come to believe. We will continue with some of our strategies. We have already started to build on that to build on our successes, cut down some of our weaknesses and strengthen internal control, improve on staff morale, welfare, and also increase our public enlightenment campaign. Where need be we also engage consultants to support our drive.
What are your future plans for BIRS?
We will continue to do our best to ensure that all that is needed to be done are done in the overall interest of the agency as well as the state, as well as ensuring that the staff members are comfortable and delivering optimally what is expected of them.
Benue is like a sleeping giant economically. What do you think can be done to turn the fortunes of the state around?
Well, these are my personal views, once power is fixed, I think Benue will exceed any expectation. Now, we are basically an agrarian state with huge potentials, with very extremely huge potentials. I am encouraged by some of the decisions and action of Governor Suswam, particularly in the areas of Agriculture. I am hopeful that more will be put in that area, so that we can do more of mechanised farming and a lot of processing of produce so as to add or enhance the value of what is produced in Benue state and then in return provide more for the farmers out there. Because over the years, poor power supply and the challenge of storage have continued to affect the average Benue farmer. He ends up not selling at a price that is commensurate with what he had invested and this in turn reduces the value of his investment and this could be demoralising. But I think steps are being taken to address this predicament by the Suswam-led administration and Benue certainly will become a giant to reckon with in the next two to three years by my own estimation.
What are your beliefs?
My belief in life is taken straight out my faith, which is also the creed, I believe in God who is the Father Almighty, the Creator of Heaven and Earth and my Lord Jesus Christ. I believe in baptism, I believe that there is life after death.
What are the things that motivate you?
Well, success and the determination to make my little impact felt within my immediate community.
How will you want posterity to judge you?
Well, that I did my under the circumstance I found myself.
Given the of success you have attained since you came into office less than two years ago, supposing your people beckon on you, to come and serve them at another level by contesting for an elective office, will you yield to this clarion call to serve them at that level.
I will gladly turn it down
I don’t know, maybe because I am from a family that has not been so much into politics and so growing up I have never been really attracted to politicking. At least not to the extent of contesting an election, I doubt it very much.
Don’t you see it as another call to service?
Well, yes but there are other calls to service and platforms on which one can impact positively on the society. I did not contest any election to become the chairman of BIRS, I don’t have to be a member of any political party to become chairman of BIRS, I was basically doing my thing and opportunity came my way and I gave a shot at it. In this life, I think you have to do your best under any circumstance and whatever endeavour you find yourself and leave the rest to God and the people to judge you. It is not mandatory that I must belong to any political party to occupy this position.
How you do spend your leisure, taking into consideration that you stay late in the office. Do you really have time for your family?
The average civil service work closes at 4pm, but at BIRS because we do a lot more than just the normal civil service work, we close maybe slightly beyond that time, that does not suggest that it is not how long some one stays in an office that translates into how much work he has put in. Yes we have to work, yes the office is demanding, so I have to work at odd hours sometimes here. Yes for leisure, sometimes what I do is ride my bicycle or play golf. My family is not resident in Benue, my family is still in Jos, Plateau state, my last duty post, before I took up this challenging and exciting assignment.
How would you describe Benue State Governor Gabriel Suswam?
Well, I admire his courage, I also admire his personality, his large heartedness. I have come to trust and believe in his vision that he will leave Benue a better place than he met it and with all due sense of humility and respect, I think he has done very well, judging from where we are coming from, particularly in provision of certain basic infrastructure like roads, drainages and beautification of the major towns, the water works which is perhaps one of the single largest in this geo-political zone and the completion of the teaching hospital, renovation of schools, timely payment of salaries and allowances. And also his plan for the immediate future particularly tackling challenging issues of industrialization, completion of the Wannue tomatoe factory and turning around the plant that are in the pipeline to be delivered soon. I am also optimistic that the agricultural sector will witness a boost and transformation and based on the foundation he has laid for mechanized farming. And so, by and large, that is what informed my optimism that Benue will truly be great in the next two to three years. You can bet me on that. I am a firm believer in his vision.