It has been a fulfilling journey – KWIRS Chairman

Executive Chairman of Kwara State Internal Revenue Service, Professor Muritala Olakitan Awodun

Professor Muritala Olakitan  Awodun is a man who believes he should make positive impact wherever he serves and later move on to explore new grounds. Though, he is not a professional Tax man, the Entrepreneurship Educator who resumed as the Executive Chairman of Kwara State Internal Revenue Service (KWIRS) in October 1, 2015 has proved his worth as the Head of this very important government agency. Before his appointment, Awodun was the Dean of the School of Business and Governance, Kwara State University, Malete. In this exclusive interview with Sunday Oyinloye, Publisher of Green Savannah Diplomatic Cable, the Executive Chairman says he has put in place a robust structure at KWIRS that would outlive any Executive Chairman. He also speaks about his successes on the job, challenges and plans for the future

Excerpts:

You have been on this seat for some years. How would you describe your journey so far?

For the records, I have been the Chairman of the Kwara State Internal Revenue Service since 1st October, 2015, so I am more or less in my last lap in the four- year tenure that will end in September 2019. I was given the mandate to create a brand new Revenue Service based on the Kwara State Revenue Administration Law of June 22, 2015. That mandate requires building from the scratch. So, if we look back to me been handed over just the law to create something out of nothing, and taking into consideration what we have been able to do, then one would say, it’s a fulfilling journey. The journey that started with only me recruited by the state government, is now with a total staff of 944, all employed as a result of government engaging me. The inherited structures all have been transformed to modern structures to provide the required infrastructure to do the work. The logistics in terms of vehicles, the technology, the processes of getting the work done, all have been reformed in conformity with international best practices. That had made us to be ISO certified last year. And the accolades that have come here and there, the increase in revenue generated by the state has moved from N7.2 billion that we met in 2015 to N23.1billion that we generated in 2018 and the cooperation in terms of what we have received from the taxpayers of Kwara though not without any resistance but at least the strategy that we put in place in the first two years of startup worked excellently. It gave us the required result and the reforms strategy for growth that we started applying in2018 has so far worked in line with our expectation. That is notwithstanding the fact that we have to bend backwards and adjust to accommodate the political players or the political environment for the period of politicking. But as I said earlier, it’s been a very fulfilling and even rewarding journey in the sense that I was required to do something and I have been able to do it to the glory of God.

Sunday Oyinloye, Publisher of Green Savannah Diplomatic Cable (left) and Awodun during the interview

Your background is Economics, how were you able to perform since you are not really a Tax man?

My first and second degree is in Economics. My PhD   is in International Business, but I pride myself as an Entrepreneurship Educator. What was required of me was to start an organization which is in my area of expertise. I am an Entrepreneurship Educator teaching people how to start organizations. I have started organisations myself; I have seen organisations start from scratch .GTB started with us at the very beginning. So, those experiences here and there about startup plus the academic background that supports one with knowledge of how to start and run an organization. What was required was to start a Revenue Service and more of what is required to do that, I am properly equipped with, not to be a professional taxman. A professional taxman may not be able to do what I have done because, his is just about the law to collect money but I am an all-rounder, looking at the society that you want to collect the money from and what their feelings are. And that is why we have to introduce things like Community Impact progremmes which is novel to us because we feel that there must be some kind of interface between the community, the government and the people if this reform must succeed. So it’s because of my background that I was able to do that. It’s also because of my background that I was able to ensure that we have conducive environment for collecting tax. Otherwise, if I was probably brought up in a rowdy, un-kept ministry-like environment, I would probably not see anything wrong in the structure we met. But you know that it is who we call ourselves that people we call us. So we have to present a ground that is serious to the taxpayers, a brand that they can trust because if you come into our environment, you probably will  be happy to pay your tax unlike what exists before  where they had an environment where you probably don’t  even trust the person you are releasing your money to. You probably don’t trust the person you are releasing your money to because of the environment. You don’t know who is a tout or who the correct tax man is. That has been eliminated and has become a thing of the past now, all because of the experience and the background that I have. The work requires more of somebody who can actually help start the organization than somebody who can professionally collect tax.

Since you came on board, the Internally Generated Revenue of the state government has improved. A new administration will soon be sworn in, if you are not retained as the Chairman of KWIRS, do you think the person coming to take over from you can make the kind of impact you have made?

The organization that we have created in the last three and half years, going to four years now is an organization that we have tried to build for sustainability. That is why we subjected ourselves to the ISO certification for quality management and for business continuity. Trying to put in place processes that will ensure that service delivery is of quality and processes that will ensure continuity irrespective of who is there, so it’s not about me. Yes I have provided what I can call good leadership, I have been a good driver, a good manager of resources and all that , but somebody else will come in and even provide even half of what I have provided  in terms of leadership and will still sustain  this place. The person doesn’t have to be extra-ordinary to sustain this place. You need an extraordinary person to grow this place, not to sustain it. The processes are clear, so the people know what to do and at every point in time they know how to go about doing it. Now, we have two billion averages that can be done successfully irrespective of who is in charge. The challenge is looking for somebody who will be able to grow it to almost its full potential of N5billon monthly because that requires different strategies  to accomplish but if it is just to maintain and sustain what is on ground, the system and the processes in place will maintain and sustain what is on ground. So the incoming administration will therefore be requested to look for somebody who has the capacity to grow this place. They will also be requested to at least sustain what they have met. If it cannot be improved upon, it should be sustained. Why do we have to sustain it? Because it has become a flagship and a reference point in the country to the extent that several states have come into Kwara to understudy what we are doing.  And the results of the understudy that was done in the last two years by some states had actually shown that coming to look at our model and adopting it can work. I will give you an example of states that came to Kwara. Kogi came to Kwara, consistently over a period of two years to understudy us and go and replicate what we have done. That resulted in their 2018 performance moving from about N11 billion   to N19 billion which is substantial.  Bauchi State came to Kwara, in the last one year, and that resulted in their revenue moving from N5billion to or N10.9billion. So what we have done is beyond Kwara, other states are coming to see how we are doing it. So what has happened here is something that could be replicated in states that have similar economy like Kwara. And I believe sincerely that even if it’s that alone, one is happy that you have done something that other people have seen as good enough to copy.

Do you foresee any sharp increase in the revenue of the state, say in the next four years?

The revenue will continue to go up. When we started in 2015, we conducted a study on the potential of Internally Generated Revenue of Kwara State and the figure was put at N5billion monthly, then we were just doing N500million .We took over, started and we have moved to N2billion in less than four years. In another four years, the target of the administration should be how to move to that potential of N5billion and that is where the challenge is for whoever will be given the responsibility

What incentives have you given the tax payers to ensure compliance?

There are no other incentives than judicious application of the funds collected. We are not the ones to utilize the funds, it’s the government. The moment the government applies the funds transparently, the tax payers will be more convinced to pay taxes.

You just attended a workshop on transparency in Abuja. How transparent is the Kwara State Internal Revenue Service?

The Kwara State Internal Revenue Service can be seen as the most transparent. I make bold with all humility to say that we are the most accountable agency of government in Kwara State. Reason been that since we started operation, every amount   collected has been accounted for on a monthly basis. We also hold press briefing on quarterly basis. So we are bold enough to say this is what we have done. We are bold enough to also make government to think towards the tax payers in terms of application of these funds. That was why they introduced the Infrastructure Fund in Kwara State so that some parts of the taxes collected could be used for infrastructural development,

Your organization is the first State Revenue Service to be ISO certified in the country, what does that mean to you as the Head of KWIRS?

Not even been the first, but being ISO certified means a lot to any organization. Number one, it means that you are doing things in line with global best practice which is a thing of joy. Number two is the fact that you are concerned about those that you are supposed to serve and you want to serve them the best way possible which is also a thing of joy for us and the people we are serving. Number three is the fact that you are perfecting the process of that service such that it will be without much problem when there is need to change people or there is a transition. That is why we can beat our chests and say ok, irrespective of whether there is a change in leadership or not, the system will still be running.

In terms of Corporate Social Responsibility, what have you done?

We have a programme on our budget line called Community Impact Programme which is an intervention, programme. It’s a budget line that is meant for us to intervene in the areas of environment, employment, empowerment and education.  We intervene just to make sure that the tax payers complain are reduced. Things that they are complaining about that we think we can intervene as a form of Corporate Social Responsibility which we call Community Impact Programme. It has actually helped us in terms of our relationship with the community because those who are down there have a lot of things they complain about and they believe that the government is not reachable but because we interface with them, they can reach us and then when they reach us, we find a way to solve some of those problems that are within our own intervention areas.  Those that are not within our intervention areas we link the people with other appropriate agencies of government. So, it has been a strategy for us to be able to reach out to people and let the people know that if they pay their taxes, it will be judiciously utilized.

What major challenges have you faced?

The major one is political, people saying what is not right and media hype. A lot of things surfaced on social media that are not true. Some untrue things were said about the government and the Revenue Service. And when you look at it, wrong signals have been sent to the tax payers which will require a lot of efforts to recover back. That is a challenge the incoming administration will face too because they will have to be the one to redeem those images. People see government as government irrespective of who is there. Very soon, the people you said are not good will go, the state is still there, the people remain and their expectations remain, and so they will now use the same measure and apply it unto you.

Are you fulfilled as the Chairman of KWIRS?

Looking at what we have been able to do, I am fulfilled. I give God the glory. I am more than fulfilled.

If the incoming administration asks you to retain your seat, will you?

There will be no need for me to retain my seat, my tenure ends in September. I have the latitude of getting a second term by virtue of this position by Law but I don’t desire it. Like I said, I am not a Tax man. I am an Entrepreneurship Educator, I am an academic person. I have come to lay the foundation for them to build on. The best I can do is to help identify or train whoever has been identified and guide him or her to succeed. I am like an evangelist in choir’s robe; I have my calling which is in academia where I think I will excel even more, far better than what I have done here.

What happens if they plead with you?

They will have to convince me better why I have to remain here. If it’s to run my tenure till September, that is not a problem. But a second term, no. Another term to do what?   If its ohh , we believe that you are the one that can do it, the terms and condition will probably have to change.  I took this job on a four year contract on specific terms and conditions and I think as far as those terms and conditions are concerned, I have delivered. Another four years to sit down here to me is like a waste of my life because what is required to run this place further will be an underutilization of my person. I still have energy, I have capacity, and I have skills to the glory of God that have to be burnt in developing other areas.

So your mind is off this place?

It’s not about my mind, but who you are. I worked in Guarantee Trust Bank; I didn’t stay there for four years. Once what I want to do there is done, I have to move on.  I worked somewhere else, I didn’t stay there forever. If I did not move on, I won’t get here. I moved on from GTB, that’s how I got to Lagos State University.  I moved on from Lagos State University, that’s how I came to Kwara State University and I moved on from Kwara State University to come and do this. Whatever I have learnt here needs to be applied elsewhere, so I need to move on.

What are you telling the Kwara tax payers and the incoming administration?

To Kwara tax payers, they should continue to pay their taxes because that is the part that they have to play. For the incoming administration, they should judiciously utilize the taxes paid because that is the part they have to play. And for the tax collectors they should continuously work out modalities of improving the tax collection.