The administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has shown a penchant for setting aside extant rules governing the Nigerian public service to extend the tenures of government officials.
This has resulted in various officials including service chiefs, permanent secretaries, heads of agencies and other categories of workers staying beyond time stipulated by their service rules.
The development also disregards the country’s frightening unemployment statistics and is dampening the morale of public servants whose path to the peak of their careers is often blocked by the stagnation at the top.
Experts, including economists, human resources professionals and public administrators have said the practice encourages bickering and sabotage among public officials.
Decrying the situation, the Association of Senior Civil servants of Nigeria (ASCSN) warned that it has placed the country’s public service on a keg of gunpowder.
The union said the illegal practice is gradually becoming a ‘new normal’ and vowed to challenge the “culture of impunity.”
Recently, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Nigeria’s data bank, said the country’s unemployment rate has risen to 27.1 per cent in the second quarter of this year. The new figure is an increase of four percentage points from 23.1 per cent reported in the third quarter of 2018.
A damning revelation also shows that 17,831 Nigerian holders of doctoral degrees (PhD) are unemployed. That figure though may, however, be related to the coronavirus pandemic which has forced some private institutions to temporarily disengage their employees.
However, rather than allowing those that are due for retirement from public service to exit the system and pave way for new employees, President Buhari has continued to authorise tenure extension for some officials against the rules governing their services.
When contacted for this report, the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation (HoSF) said steps were being taken to correct seeming lapses and ensure that appropriate rules are complied with going forward.
Cases of illegal tenure extension
In the first year of the administration, precisely on March 17, 2016, via a letter referenced; SH/COS/100/A/1541 and signed by the President’s late chief of staff, Abba Kyari, the tenure of the then permanent secretary in the Federal Ministry of Education, Jamila Shu’ara, was extended by one year.
Mrs Shu’ara, who had retired after attaining age 60 on February 17, 2016, was granted the one-year-extension of service in a manner described by many as unprecedented.
According to BusinessDay newspaper, the letter conveying the extension order had read in part; “You are to note that in line with the provisions of 171(2) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended, Mr. President has approved the extension of the appointment of Dr. (Mrs) Jamila Shu’ara by one year in a special dispensation, which should not be cited as policy.”
The public outcry that greeted the action had caused the intervention of the basic education committee of the House of Representatives, which condemned the action and promised to upturn it.
However, while investigation was still ongoing on the matter, Mrs Shu’ara’s tenure was again extended by another year, until she eventually retired in 2018 at the age of 62.
Mrs Shu’ara was said to possess special skills required in the civil service, and so the need for the exception. But in her letter of extension was a clause that noted that the decision should not be viewed as a policy, stating that the action was taken “…in a special dispensation, which should not be cited as policy.”
However, less than two years after, the cautionary clause was discarded when seven other permanent secretaries had their tenure extended for one year each.
The list of the beneficiaries in 2019 includes Georgina Ehuriah of the interior ministry, Ifeoma Anagbogu (women affairs), Grace Gekpe (information and culture), Umar Bello (agriculture and rural development), Suleiman Mustapha (foreign affairs), Comfort Ekaro (water resources) and Olusegun Adekunle (general services office at the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation).
Also in 2019, the president extended the service of his chief personal security officer, Abdulkarim Dauda.
Mr Dauda, a relative of Mr Buhari, joined the police as a cadet officer in January, 1985. Now a police commissioner, he clocked 35 years in service in January this year.
But according to Thisday newspaper, an internal memo referenced 23853/FS/FHQ/ABJ/46, and signed by the force secretary, an assistant inspector-general of police, Usman Alkali, conveyed the president’s decision that granted Mr Dauda’s extension of service.
The newspaper quoted the memo to read in part; “The President, Commander in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Chairman, Police Council, has graciously approved the extension of service of CP Abdulkarim Dauda to May 13, 2023, when he would have attained 60 years of age. Commissioner, Information Technology, amend your records please.”
By implication, Mr Dauda would have served for about 39 years by the time he would be retiring in 2023. The case, apart from contravening the country’s public service rules, also runs against the provisions of the Police Service Commission (Establishment) Act, 2001.
Meanwhile, in a similar controversial manner, the heads of three of the four principal agencies under the Federal Ministry of Interior, Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), Nigeria Correction Service (NCS) and Nigerian Security and Civil Defence corps (NSCDC), have now had their tenures extended by between six months and two years.
For instance, the controller general of the correction service, Ja’afaru Ahmed, had initially had his tenure extended in July 2019, and has again been handed another extension.
Mr Ahmed’s counterpart at the immigration service, Muhammad Babandede, who was expected to retire in September, is another beneficiary of the ‘new norm’ of tenure extension. He has been asked to stay in office until 2021.
Another beneficiary of this ‘impunity’ is the NSCDC’s commandant-general, Abdullahi Gana, who since July 17, has started to enjoy a six-month tenure extension.
The chiefs of defence, army, air and naval staff – Gabriel Olonisakin, Tukur Buratai, Sadique Abubakar, and Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas, respectively – have all for long been due for retirement, having spent more than 35 years in military service. But, in spite of the public outrage over their continued stay in office, Mr Buhari has clung on to them.
While various stakeholders have continued to share diverse opinions on the legality of the president’s action, every commentator seems to agree that the generals’ continued stay is negatively impacting the country’s fight against insecurity. There is murmuring in the military among officers who view the development as an abuse of power.
What the rule says
Nigeria’s public service rule 2007 as edited in 2009 under the administration of former President Umar Yar’Adua reiterates covers the recruitment and retirement of public servants.
Subsection (i) of the rule 020810, states that; “The compulsory retirement age for all grades in the service shall be 60 years or 35 years of pensionable service, whichever is earlier.”
The rule’s subsection (ii) added a stronger clause that; “No officer shall be allowed to remain in service after attaining the retirement age of 60 years or 35 years of pensionable service, whichever is earlier.”
And in specific terms, the rule in subsection (iv) noted that; “Provided the officer would not have attained the retirement age of 60 years or spent 35 years of pensionable service, whichever is earlier; (a) a director shall compulsorily retire upon serving eight years on the post, and, (b), a permanent secretary shall hold office for a term of four years and renewable for a further term of four years, subject to satisfactory performance, and no more.”
However, PREMIUM TIMES learnt that on assumption of office, Mr Buhari, via a circular, suspended the subsection (iv) b, which limits the tenure of directors to a maximum of two-term of eight years.
As part of the consequences of the practice, other arms of government, particularly the legislature, recently attempted to test the waters.
The immediate past Clerk of the National Assembly, Mohammed Sani-Omolori, had attempted to continue his stay in office, relying on a controversial bill passed by the lawmakers that extended the retirement age of the assembly employees to “65 or 40 years in service, whichever comes first.”
But the National Assembly Service Commission, the organ responsible for the recruitment, promotion and discipline of employees of the assembly, foiled the plan.
The incumbent head of service of the federation, Folasade Yemi-Esan, had to issue a memo to the National Assembly, emphasising the friction between the public service rule and the assembly’s officials’ position.
Also according to labour leaders, civil servants across various levels, are in a bad mood, over what they described as unjust and selective application of public service rule.
The national secretary of ASCSN, Bashir Lawal, expressed disappointment over the development. He said his association is prepared to challenge the development in a more proper manner.
He said; “The position is very clear. Once you are 60 years in age or 35 years in service, you exit. But unfortunately, there is impunity going on now. And I want to assure you that all arrangements have been concluded to challenge all these things headlong, so that future administrations wouldn’t come to use them as precedents.
“Already, the morale of junior workers is badly affected because their chances of reaching the peak of their career is being blocked. The tenure of seven of them were extended last year and would expire again September this year. But as I speak to you, some of them have started lobbying for further extension. It is as bad as that. It started with the former PS of Education, Madam Shu’ara.”
The labour leader said an unnamed official at the Federal Ministry of Finance has already crossed 60 years of age, and that there is no sign the individual would retire soon.
“There is one in the Federal Ministry of Finance now, I won’t mention his name. But in the shortest possible time, you will hear us in the public. He was brought in from the private sector where they contributed in killing the affected institution. He was brought into the service when he was almost 60 years. Now, this man is about 63 years and still sitting down there.”
Mr Lawal called for equity, justice and fair play, insisting that “the impunity cannot help anybody.”
“They are polluting the system; I must be frank with you because people are not happy. If they tell you there is peace, it is peace of the graveyard. People are not happy at all. Someone came to put tenure policy in place so that once you put eight years into service as a director, you go. But they came and reversed it via a circular. They said it is suspended,” the labour leader added.
Femi Saibu, a professor of Economics at the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Akoka, said the practice if allowed to continue would worsen Nigeria’s rate of unemployment. He said older and ineffective people would be in the labour sector instead of the able youth, and that it would reduce productivity and create entitlement mentality, “and criminality would increase.”
He added that forgery, especially falsification of age by employees, would increase and the morale of the honest workers in the system would be dampened.
“Employment is like a pool of water in a lake. To retain freshness and vitality, old and dirty water should flow out at earliest time and fresh and clean water flows in. When the old and dirty remain stagnant, the vitality of the water is destroyed. Similarly, when tenures are elongated in the system, the fresh and improved human resources to be used become idle and unutilised while the system is overburdened with less productive staff.
“The consequence is that the capacity of the economy to create new jobs and expand existing capacity are constrained. Hence the unemployment situation worsens.”
Similarly, a human resources expert and principal coach for Career4all, a private career mentorship initiative, Ibironke Ogunmade, said the practice will also put pressure on the finances of government since the top rung of the civil service ladder will be filled with high ranking employees.
Mrs Ogunmade said lack of advancement opportunities is the commonest reason employees seek opportunities elsewhere, and that with limited opportunities in Nigeria, young officers who are unable to progress in their careers due to tenure extension for their superiors, may disengage from service.
She said; “Employee cost of any given official in a full calendar year is beyond just the salary. It includes: pay base, cost of benefits- health insurance, life insurance, pension, training allowance, travel allowance, professional membership dues, taxes, among others. And cumulatively, this can be used to provide entry-level job opportunities for unemployed youths within the public service.”
We’ll correct all anomalies – HOSF
When reached for comment on the development, the director of press at the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Willy Bassey, said the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation is a better position to react.
Mr Bassey said the government usually acts on the advice of the head of service, and that as the keeper of public service rules, the HOSF should be approached.
But in her response, the director of information at the Office of the HOSF, Olawunmi Ogunmosunle, denied that the public service rules have been amended to permit the reported violations.
In a mail forwarded to our reporter, Ms Ogunmosunle said the HOSF is committed to righting the wrongs that may have been committed at one time or the other over tenures of public servants.
The email reads in part; “Some of the Permanent Secretaries you mentioned have written their letters of retirement to the President and he has approved their retirements. Selection of Permanent Secretaries to replace them has been done.
“The Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation is taking all necessary measures to correct the anomaly.”