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How we raised Edo IGR from N300 to N2bn - Oseni Elamah

Mr. Oseni Elamah who turned 60 years on March 24, is the executive secretary of the Joint Tax Board / Photo credit: Elamah
Mr. Oseni Elamah who turned 60 years on March 24, is the executive secretary of the Joint Tax Board / Photo credit: Elamah

Chief Oseni Elamah is a man of many parts. He is the Executive Secretary of the Joint Tax Board (JTB); the Okaoivbiore of Benin Kingdom; the Gimba of Auchi Kingdom, a Knight of the Order of Saint Mulumba in the Catholic Church, and an alumnus of the Nigerian Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies. Until his present appointment, he was the Executive Chairman of the Edo State Revenue Service. He turns 60 on Sunday:

You rose from very humble beginnings in Auchi in Edo State to become a successful accountant on the national stage. Share some of the memorable milestones with us and the values that propelled you to success?

I give gratitude to God Almighty for his grace upon my life. I also pay special appreciation to my dear parents, my father Alhaji Nasiru Dodo Elamah and my mother Alhaja Salamatu Mary Elamah.

I was born in Auchi, born a twin with a twin sister and I started my primary school at a very early age. Just before the Civil War in 1966, I was separated from my parents and went to live with my uncle, Chief Patrick Sule Salawe.

I started school all over again, from primary three. From there, I went to secondary school. But one remarkable thing was that by the time I finished my West African School Certificate Examination, I was given an appointment to work with the then Bendel State Audit Department where my uncle, Chief P. S. Salawe, was the Auditor General.

I had previously had an interest in reading Architecture. I had in fact gotten admission to the University of Nigeria Nsukka, but my uncle wanted me to study Accountancy. He wanted me to follow his own career path.

I think he was also instrumental to my being able to secure in-service training from the Bendel State Government when I got admission to Auchi Polytechnic to read Accountancy. On that basis, I spent about two months in Nsukka before I came back, because I now had in-service training to read Accountancy, so I proceeded to Auchi Polytechnic.

On completion of my diploma in Accountancy in Auchi, since I was on in-service training, whenever I was on holidays, I went to work.

But on completion, I now decided to take a step further by undertaking the professional exam to qualify me as a Chartered Accountant.

So, I proceeded to Lagos to work with a close family friend, Mr. Sam Afemikhe, who was managing an Accounting Firm, S. S. Afemikhe & Co.

That’s where I did my articleship and did my exams both Foundation, Professional I and Final Professional II. I got Chartered in 1992, and while working there I rose to the rank of an Audit Senior in S. S. Afemikhe & Co, and because of my diligence and commitment at work, I was then seconded to a sister Company, Geomesaf Nigeria Limited where I became the Financial Controller.

I was there in Geomesaf till 1993 or thereabouts and proceeded to another sister company that was just being set up, Sheltercare Mortgage Finance.

The mortgage banking industry was just coming up then and I was the head of finance and administration. It was from here that I proceeded to set up my own consultancy outfit, Patriot Consultant and also Patriot Investment.

It was from Patriot Investment that I teamed up with a friend of mine, who was a stock broker then, Mike Itegbuoje, to resuscitate a stock broking firm that had long been registered by my uncle and some of his close colleagues in Benin.

And in 1994, I became the executive director in charge of finance and administration of TRW Stockbrokers and I went on to also qualify as a dealing clerk on the NSE floor. I was there till 1998.

In 1998, during the administration of General Abdusalami Abubabakar, I was with the pioneer Group Managing Director of NNPC Chief Aret Adams, who was a mentor to me, when he was called to take up the position of the Special Adviser on Petroleum to the Head of State and he requested that I go with him to Abuja.

On getting to Abuja, I was then appointed a Senior Special Assistant to the Head of State on Petroleum under the Office of the Special Adviser on Petroleum.

Chief Oseni Elamah was executive chairman of the Edo State Revenue Service, during Comrade Adans Oshiomhole's administration / Photo credit: Elamah
Chief Oseni Elamah was executive chairman of the Edo State Revenue Service, during Comrade Adans Oshiomhole's administration / Photo credit: Elamah

So, I worked closely with the late Chief Aret Adams in the Petroleum Ministry until the transition to civilian rule ushered in the Olusegun Obasanjo administration in 1999.

I then went back to Lagos and with my friend, Femi Osunde who was then working with Captain Hosa Okunbor in a comapny called Hoselyn Oil and Gas and with my assistance we were able to secure a $12million contract to build the Oredo flow station facility in Benin, and I was then made the Executive Director in charge of Business Development.

It was from there that the late Chief Aret Adams requested that I should join him at Multinational Expertise, and I was asked to develop a new business line.

In doing that, we had a joint venture relationship with an international oil field supplying Company, Craig Energy Services based in Aberdeen Scotland and with that we formed the company called Multinational Craig Energy Services and I was appointed the pioneer managing director and chief executive.

In 2002, we moved to expand the capital base of Multinational Craig Energy Services, and we had just finished a board meeting before proceeding on a family vacation with my family to the United States.

The most critical factor was that we were able to build internal capacity, getting the requisite quality manpower, train them and empower them in delivering those results

But about two weeks before I travelled, I had gone to Abuja on the instruction of the late Chief Aret Adams to submit a proposal to the then National Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF) where Comrade Adams Oshiomhole was the Chairman and also the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) President.

The proposal was on how to assist the NSITF to better grow its membership contribution so that they could deliver more services to workers.

I went on that mission and on getting to submit the proposal, I met with the Managing Director of NSITF, Alhaji Abba Aji, and the then General Manager, Finance and Investment, Ahmed Rufai, who later became the managing director.

By the time we finished the meeting, I then met with Comrade Adams Oshiomhole who noted that the proposal looked so convincing but that the only challenge was that the company may not have the people to translate the proposal into reality.

He then asked if I would want to come on board and take up an executive position. I told him there and then that I was not in a position to give him an answer but instead he should speak to my mentor who sent me.

He put a call through to Chief Aret Adams who told him they would meet on his next visit. I went back to Lagos to honour a meeting and after the meeting, Chief Aret Adams personally dropped me off at the Airport from where I proceeded on my scheduled vacation with my family.

But, the next week after I got to New Jersey, I got this call, a very sad news, to the effect that Chief Aret Adams, had a stroke on his way back from Port Harcourt where he had gone to flag off a community Trust Fund for the first indigenous Marginal Field Development Company, the Niger Delta Development Resources.

Unfortunately, by the next morning, he had transited. This was a devastating incident, one of the saddest moments of my life.

I cut short my trip, my family vacation, left my family and took the next available flight I could find through Paris back to Nigeria.

When I got to Nigeria, by the time they did the burial, it was then that Comrade Oshiomhole informed me that the late Chief Aret Adams after the meeting they had, had given his go ahead that I should proceed to join the NSITF.

After the burial ceremonies, I resumed at the NSITF in September of 2002 as an executive director finance and investment.

I was there until the new pension reform started, and given my active contribution on having been able to grow the investment portfolio of the NSITF by over 400 per cent to N120 billion in assets, and then with the pension reform, I was appointed the pioneer managing director of the Pension Fund Administration company, Trustfund Pensions Plc, that was formed by the NSITF, the NLC, TUC, Afribank, Niger Insurance and Denham Management Limited.

I was there till 2007 when Adams Oshiomhole ran for the Governorship of Edo state. Initially, the mandate was denied him, but he was able to recover it through the court.

Immediately he recovered the mandate, I was the first to be appointed under the Edo State Government of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole to head the Assets Verification Committee which was charged with the responsibility of ascertaining the assets and liabilities of Edo State as at when he took over, and also to help chart a way for the new government that was coming into place to ensure that there was value for money for Government money spent.

This was to ensure that there is transparency and accountability in all Government transactions. At the end of that exercise, I was appointed a special adviser on Fiscal Governance and Project Monitoring.

I was there till July 2011 when I was made to take up the position of the Chairman of the Edo State Revenue Board.

That was where we started the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) reforms, where we put together the Legal Framework that was eventually passed by the Edo State House of Assembly and signed into Law, giving birth to the Edo State Internal Revenue Service and I became the pioneer Executive Chairman of the Service.

A position I occupied till I proceeded to the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, Jos.

On my completion of the study, I came back to Edo State and at the end of my tenure as Executive Chairman of Edo State Internal Revenue Service, I was in Benin for a while.

During the interregnum, I was involved in assisting to carry out some major reforms and also to put some institutional framework for the new Oba of Benin, by helping to put in place the requisite manpower to man his private Secretariat and also the reform of the adjudication administration of the Kingdom, which culminated in the Benin Traditional Council Dispute Resolution Committee.

It was on the verge of the inauguration of the Committee that I was called upon by the Executive Chairman Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) and Chairman Joint Tax Board (JTB), to take up the position of the executive secretary of the JTB so as to strengthen the administrative structure of the Board in order to make sure that it delivers on its core mandate under the Personal Income Tax Act, and till date, we have put a lot of institutional framework in place towards the realization of this objective.

It’s on record that chieftaincy titles in Benin are so documented that once a title is given, it’s not repeated anywhere unless the holder is no longer alive

How does it feel to be 60?

Well, I think honestly, I don’t feel anything different now. Sometimes when I look at some of my pictures. I just see 60 as just a number.

I feel it is just looking at the fact that there’s still a to be done. I just see it as a very short period given all that I’ve narrated.

I believe that God has given me a special calling and endowed me so much with good health and some unique talents that I believe he wants me to use in being a blessing to my fellow human beings and also impacting the society.

And I believe that as one attains this age, I want to try as much as possible to give back to society from the blessings that I’ve received myself from God.

I believe that I’m just a vessel and a conduit for those blessings that God has given me to impact society positively for the good of mankind and to the glory of God.

So, I look forward to the years ahead to be of greater service to mankind, being in a position to carry further the passion I have for mentoring young people and also in the service of God.
I derive happiness in creating happiness in other people’s lives.

Do you have any regrets?

I think at 60, it’s a lot of gratitude and thanksgiving to God. What experience or what I’ve gone through in life is something that has already been ordained by God and I have found no regrets whatsoever.

If I were to live my life again, I believe that the way I live it will equally be in the hands of God. So, like they say, we human beings are just like pencil in the hands of God.

He will use us as he has so destined to. The only thing that is left is for us to be very prayerful so as to be able to access that which God has destined for us.

So, I have no regrets but instead I have so much of gratitude and so much of appreciation and so much of thanksgiving.

By Benin tradition, the Obaship is one. The Oba is not made, the Oba is born. So, from day one that the Crown Prince was born he was destined to be Oba

Can you please share with us the secret of your youthful looks?

I start everyday with prayers and thereafter I also am addicted to working out, engaging in early morning exercise and getting fit. I go to the gymnasium.

I have a very regimented routine. When I finish doing that, I do my morning preparation, take my bath, get ready for work. Like I always say to my wife, I feel so amazed and I’m so blessed that I’ve never really been admitted in a hospital or taken ill.

I just thank God for the gift of good health, and I try as much as possible to maintain the kind of habits that will not put me under unnecessary stress.

You spearheaded the bold reforms that catapulted IGR from a mere N300m a month to close to N2b in Edo State within a relatively short time as the chairman of the State Internal Revenue Service. How did you do it?

You call it a feat, but I think it is something that you should plan and work for. Whatever you achieve is what has been envisioned, so one was very clear as to the vision that one wanted to attain in going to the Edo State Internal Revenue Service.

Having had the opportunity of serving as the Chairman of the Assets Verification Committee and also as the Special Adviser on Fiscal Governance and Project Monitoring under Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, it was very clear that I wanted to demonstrate that it was possible to make Edo State work for the citizens of the State and to add value to their lives.

Therefore, the government needed all the resources it could muster to execute so many of the laudable social and infrastructural programmes.

Starting from one’s experience in the previous assignment that one had had both in the private and public sectors, I believe that it was those experiences and given the enabling environment that was provided by the Governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole and the confidence and trust that he had in me as a person, enabled me.

Furthermore, working closely with young men and women who were fired to building a career for themselves and making their own little contribution towards the development of Edo State, we were able to achieve the results we achieved.

I believe that there is still a whole lot more that Edo State Internal Revenue Service is going to attain given the crop of committed and dedicated workforce that we were able to put in place that are leveraging on Information Communications Technology in delivering quality service not just to the Edo State Government, but to taxpayers and to other major stakeholders in Nigeria.

But for the traditional institutions and the traditional rulers, the country called Nigeria may not have been in existence today because they all were heads of various kingdoms that were republics in their own right, taking Benin for example

You are currently the Executive Secretary of the Joint Tax Board (JTB) which encompasses amongst others, all the revenue authorities in the Federation, including the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) and the various State Revenue Authorities, including the FCT Internal Revenue Service. What lessons do you think can be borrowed by these revenue authorities to deepen the tax net?

I think it is actually a rare privilege to collaborate and support one of those that I will call the prime movers and the pioneers at carrying out major reforms in Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) of various Governments.

The current Executive Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Mr. Babatunde Fowler, who also doubles as the Chairman of the Joint Tax Board (JTB) was the pioneer Executive Chairman of the Lagos State Internal Revenue Service (LIRS) where the IGR reforms were midwifed by the then Executive Governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, and he was at the forefront of carrying out those reforms.

It is on record that in Edo State when we came on Board, the entire Edo State Executive Council came to Lagos and had a one-week retreat with the then Executive Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola, and the Emeritus Governor, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, along with all the members of the Lagos State Executive Council, taking us through all what they had done.

It was the determination and resolve of the then Executive Governor of Edo State that whatever had succeeded in Lagos we would replicate in Edo and we went back to doing just that.

Over and above that, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole gave specific instructions and directed that I should go back to understudy the work that was being done by Mr. Babatunde Fowler in LIRS. \

With the Management of the then Edo State Board of Internal Revenue we came to Lagos and we had three days of understudying them before we went back. So, what we did in Edo State was to improve on whatever had succeeded in Lagos State.

But the most critical factor was that we were able to build internal capacity, getting the requisite quality manpower, train them and empower them in delivering those results.

We had also borrowed from wherever because in carrying out the reforms in Edo State Internal Revenue Service, we had invited the former Executive Chairman of FIRS, Mrs. Ifueko Omogui-Okauru, who then was pioneering the reforms at the FIRS.

She helped us in re-engineering the processes and also improve the manpower and personnel recruitment and putting an attractive remuneration package in place that ensured that we got the best from the staff that were now recruited to work in the EIRS, creating a Service distinct from the State Civil Service, more or less helping us to give reality to the provisions in the law for an autonomous revenue service, autonomous in administrative power and also financial support.

So, with that kind of experience, I will recommend same for all revenue authorities in Nigeria.

I think my wife has actually been the talisman. She is a source of happiness, she is a pillar of support, she is a bundle of joy to be with, she is selfless and above that, she is committed to serving God

You enjoyed a special relationship with the late revered monarch of the great Benin Kingdom, Omo N’Oba N’Edo, Oba Erediauwa, even though you hail from Auchi. He even made you the Okaoivbiore (head of the youths) of Benin Kingdom. What was the chemistry between you?

I think I was just a privileged. Like I said, whatever happens to me in life has already been destined by God; it’s just for you to be able to be get the key to it.

With prayers you get the key to what has been so destined. My first major encounter with our father the then monarch of Benin Kingdom, Omo N’Oba N’Edo Oba Erediauwa, was when I was an audit clerk.

He was then the Crown Prince of Benin Kingdom and also the Commissioner for Finance of then Bendel State, and I had the privilege of carrying out the cash audit at the Ministry of Finance under his office.

That was the first time we met. There was an incident that did occur when he referred to me as “my auditor”.

Many years later when I went in company of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole who was then contesting for governorship of Edo State, to the Palace and was being introduced, he recalled again and said, “Is that not my young auditor?”

I said I was the one, and he was wondering what I was doing in politics and I said I wasn’t actually in politics, that I only escorted a friend and brother to pay a visit to him at the Palace.

Of course, he recalled that first encounter as an audit clerk when I had come to do a cash survey and I requested for proper retirement of a certain amount which His Royal Majesty (His Royal Highness then) had already passed on to his Secretary for retirement, but who instead kept the cash receipts in his drawer; and because I made the enquiry, he proceeded to report me to His Royal Highness.

It turned out that what the Secretary had planned to use to intimidate and punish me became a blessing and elevated me, and I found favour in the sight of His Royal Highness.

So, when Comrade Adams Oshiomhole now came on board, he watched severally my sessions as Chairman of the Assets Verification Committee and also as Special Adviser on Fiscal Governance and Project Monitoring while monitoring projects. On one of those occasions, he sent for me and asked to find out what government was doing especially regarding the Airport Road when they said they were going to bring down the Palace walls.

I explained what we were doing. He was so impressed that there and then he requested that one of his daughter work with me so that she can get to learn some things and gain some experience, and she did.

The way I was able to mentor her, I think His Royal Majesty was very pleased and asked that as a mark of appreciation they should offer me some traditional beads if I would accept.

I said I would be so humbled to be given some traditional beads by His Royal Majesty, and when I went on a thank you visit, I told him how pleased I was and that I am ready to serve in any capacity as a way to support him.

It was then that the issue of being given a chieftaincy title came about, and if you correctly recall, in Benin culture and tradition they don’t have honorary chieftaincy title they just throw about to people.

It’s on record that chieftaincy titles in Benin are so documented that once a title is given, it’s not repeated anywhere unless the holder is no longer alive.

Just as I like working hard, I also like to relax. Like I spend time in doing exercise, I play golf, I do a lot of reading, I listen to news

This relationship has also extended to the current Oba of Benin, His Royal Majesty, Omo N’Oba N’EdoUku Akpolokpolo Oba Ewuare II. Could you please enlighten us on your relationship with the present Oba Ewuare II?

I just mentioned that even as I was being given the title by Oba Erediauwa, I had been in close relationship with the Benin Royal family.

I recall my first encounter with the current Oba was when he was a Crown Prince. I was assigned by my late mentor Chief Aret Adams to carry out a feasibility study towards the setting up of an independent petroleum marketing company, and that marketing company was actually for the Crown Prince.

It was eventually established in Benin and since then we’ve been in close contact. Of course, when we came to Benin under the Comrade Adams Oshiomhole administration, His Royal Majesty was then serving as the Nigerian Ambassador in Rome and he had extended an invitation to me and my wife to visit him, and we did visit him; and each time he was in Nigeria, I went to see him. By Benin tradition, the Obaship is one.

The Oba is not made, the Oba is born. So, from day one that the Crown Prince was born he was destined to be Oba.

So, the transition from Oba Erediauwa to Oba Ewuare II goes along with all that is associated with the Benin throne. Therefore, the Chiefs that were appointed by Oba Erediauwa were automatically Chiefs of Oba Ewuare II.

There is a school of thought which says that the traditional institution has become anachronistic in modern times in Nigeria and so should be discarded. What do you think?

Well, from what I’ve said so far, my views are very clear. I don’t think those who share this view are in the majority.

But for those who do, I think it is as a result of lack of proper knowledge and appreciation of the role that our traditional institutions have played over time.

They are not just the custodians of our culture and tradition, but they are also the stabilising force that has today been able to weld the modern Nigeria together.

If you recall, even when the colonial masters came, they used the traditional institutions in instituting the kind of indirect rule they were putting in place.

But for the traditional institutions and the traditional rulers, the country called Nigeria may not have been in existence today because they all were heads of various kingdoms that were republics in their own right, taking Benin for example.

You find out that with the stability that has been with the traditional institutions, they have overtime been able to bring in personalities of integrity, knowledge and vast experience in all aspects of life.

And I think that the unity and stability that we have in Nigeria today, we owe to the traditional institutions.

This becomes vividly clear in times when Nigerians are going through difficult moments of doubts and despair.

You find that those who have in one way or the other created the kind of despair with people losing hope in the unity of Nigeria fall back to the traditional institutions to rally round because they are fathers of all.

I believe that God has given me a special calling and endowed me so much with good health and some unique talents that I believe he wants me to use in being a blessing to my fellow human beings and also impacting the society

You are known to be a good family man. What is the secret of your happy marriage of about 27 years?

The secret of our happy marriage is that we have made it into a tripod. That is my wife, myself and our creator, our God.

We have found out that the more we draw closer to God the more we draw closer to ourselves. In this marriage for 27 years, I think I’ve mentioned it to my late mentor before he passed on, in all that I have been able to witness and achieve and experience, I think my wife has actually been the talisman.

She is a source of happiness, she is a pillar of support, she is a bundle of joy to be with, she is selfless and above that, she is committed to serving God.

In all situations, she’s been the one supporting myself and the family with prayers, she intercedes on our behalf always.

She is not materialistic. She is a very natural person. She is just modest in her expectations and her material wants.

Instead, she craves more for her spiritual wellbeing and that of the family. So, my wife is the secret. I always tell her that she’s my twin sister.

What is your advice for young people?

My advice is that they should put their foundation solidly on God. They should have faith and use prayer as a key to unlock the pathway to the destiny that God has already drawn for them.

They should be focused, they should plan everything they do, even on a daily basis, and be patient and persevere. I always call it the three Ps - PRAYERS, PATIENCE and PERSEVERANCE.

On a lighter note sir, how do you relax, how do you wind down?

Well, like they say, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Just as I like working hard, I also like to relax.

Like I spend time in doing exercise, I play golf, I do a lot of reading, I listen to news. I also engage in mentoring. I relax with friends, once in a while if there is a party.

But I don’t go to night clubs, but if somebody is celebrating, I join in celebrating at social events and I spend a lot of time with elderly ones.

I take a lot of words of wisdom from them and then of course I take joy in empowering young men and women, gives me joy and satisfaction, those are the kind of things that make me relax.

I also enjoy sharing good jokes and good times with my wife and children. We always have something to talk about, to laugh about.

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