This is most probably not the best of times for the former FIRS helmsman, in the person of Mr. Babatunde Fowler, who had reigned supreme at the ‘Federal Inland Revenue Service’ during the first term of this current administration of Major General Muhammadu Buhari rtd as President and his Deputy, Vice president, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo. Mr. Fowler was thought to have done meritoriously well in his 1st term in charge as the boss of the FIRS, but unfortunately his tenure wasn’t renewed as was expected neither was he promoted to a higher office maybe as a Minister or the Governor of the CBN as some had also expected. One of the speculated reasons why his tenure wasn’t renewed then for another term was because of the alleged poor revenue collection between the periods of 2015 to 2018. Which even brought about a query for him signed by the then Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, now late, that was titled “RE: Budgeted FIRS Collections and actual collections”.
Reason for the jitters that may have enveloped his camp, especially some of the those top officials of FIRS and that may be causing them to want to shit in their pants as we speak, is the fact that the much dreaded graft commission, the EFCC under its new warden, who is supposedly bent on making a name for himself has again shifted it very powerful searchlight beam on those officials, some who had been investigated before over some missing money said to be in the region of just N4.5B Naira!
Though the award winning former tax czar himself- ‘Babatunde Fowler’ has not been accused personally of any case of graft by anyone and is not undergoing any probe whatsoever, the fact is that those presently under scrutiny by the EFCC and now facing court cases all worked under him as the he was the chairman of the FIRS then. So what is most probably happening is a search on his time as the helmsman of the service.
On Thursday, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had arraigned Peter Hena, ex-FIRS Coordinating Director and eight others before Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu of a Federal High Court in Abuja.
They are Mohammed Bello Auta (Director of Finance), Amina Sidi (Finance and Account department), Umar Aliyu Aduka (Internal Audit), Mbura Mustapha (Deputy Manager), Obi Okeke Malachy (Services Group), Obaje Napoleon Adofu (Head of Budget), Udo-Inyang Effiong Alfred (Officer II) and Benjamin Jiya (Assistant Director) .
Two years ago, Hena and Auta were arrested but later released by the EFCC, over a multi-billion naira scandal.
The officials were grilled for allegedly diverting about N6billion tax funds that should have gone to the Nigerian government.
Today, the EFCC docked them on a 42- count charge bordering on corruption, fraud and criminal misappropriation of funds to the tune of N4,558,160,676.
One of the charges read that between January, 2017 and December 2018, the defendants and some other FIRS staff conspired to conceal funds which are proceeds of an unlawful activities to wit: Corruption, Fraud and Criminal Misappropriation of Funds.
“You thereby committed an offence contrary to section 18 and punishable under section 15(2) (a) and (3) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011 ( as amended by Act No. 1 of 2021)”, it read.
The defendants pleaded “not guilty” when the charges were read to them.
Prosecuting counsel, Ekele Iheanacho asked the court for a date to commence trial. The defendants, through their counsel, prayed the court to grant them bail.
Justice Ojukwu granted bail in the sum of N100million each and sureties in like sum.
The sureties must be Nigerians residing in Abuja, must have a landed property within the jurisdiction of the court and provide evidence of Tax Clearance.
The defendants must deposit their travelling documents with the court and to must seek permission before travelling out of the country.
The matter was then adjourned until June 14, 15, 23, 24, 28, 29, 2021 for commencement of trial.