As National Assembly resumes, controversy lingers over clerk’s tenure

National Assembly
National Assembly

The National Assembly resumed on Tuesday from a three-week recess with a controversy simmering in the background over the tenure of the Clerk of the National Assembly, Mohammed Sani-Omolori, and the length of service of civil servants in the legislative arm of the federal government.

At issue is the National Assembly Revised Condition of Service which raised the retirement age of civil servants in the legislative arm of government at the federal and state levels from 60 to 65 years and maximum years of service from 35 to 40 years.

By the effect of the rule, Mr Sani-Omolori and about 160 other officers who are due for retirement, will remain in office for another five years.

The amendment was passed in the twilight of the eighth National Assembly by the unanimous votes of the two chambers and has since been gazetted and made effective from May 2019.

It has also been domesticated by most of the state Houses of Assembly in Nigeria.

Interestingly, the bill was proposed by the current presiding officers of the National Assembly, Senate President Ahmad Lawan and House of Representatives’ Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila, when they were Majority leaders in their respective chambers.

Both men, however, appear to have changed positions on the bill.

CONTROVERSY

The bill was proposed and passed at a time that the National Assembly Service Commission (NASC), which is the policy-making organ of the federal Legislature, had not been constituted.

Following its constitution in February by President Muhammadu Buhari with Ahmed Kadi-Amshi as its Chairman, the NASC reviewed and decided to set aside the revised condition of service, saying it was self-serving and not duly passed.

This development has divided National Assembly workers in the Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria (PASAN) with a faction applauding the decision of the NASC to jettison the new rule while another faction is standing with the National Assembly Management led by Mr Sani-Omolori in insisting on the its continued implementation.

An argument of the opponent of the new rule is that it was passed by the National Assembly as a bill, like those that extended the years of service of judges and academic staff of universities, and thus requires assent by President Muhammadu Buhari to become law.

To the counter argument by the proponents that the new rule is an internal process of the Legislature that does not require presidential assent, the opponents responded that a revision of the service rule can only be proposed by the NASC which they pointed out was not on ground at the time this controversial one was initiated and pushed through.

The opponents also alleged that the five-year increase in service years “was smuggled through the back door” into the original body of proposals that had been made to the then NASC by a majority of the workers’ representatives.

They fingered Mr Sani-Omolori, his management team and the leadership of the 8th National Assembly as the architects of the “surreptitious” extension of service years under the guise of reviewing the conditions of service of legislative workers. .

The revised conditions, however, appear to be very popular with a majority of the over 4,000 strong workforce of the National Assembly who all stand to benefit from the implementation.

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No Longer United

The controversy has since divided the two chambers of the National Assembly. While the Senate leadership has backed the NASC’s decision to set it aside, that of the House of Representatives says the new rule has come to effect and should be left that way.

The Senate President, who as the Chairman of the National Assembly has a great influence on the matter, has endorsed the decision of NASC.

Mr Gbajabiamila was initially thought to be on the same page with Mr Lawan on the issue when he dissociated himself from a letter written by his Chief of Staff, Sanusi Rikiji, stating that the entire leadership of the House had endorsed the reviewed condition of service.

Reprimanding his aide, he said there is a recognised channel of communicating resolutions of the House, and not through his personal aides. But the House leadership later insisted that it had truly endorsed the continued implementation of the new rule.

Following the impasse, the two chambers and NASC agreed to set up a three-member committee to look at the issues and recommend a position on the revised condition of service.

Members of the committee are a former Head of Service of the Federation, Steve Oronsaye, and two former clerks of the National Assembly, Adamu Fika and Nasir Arab. The committee is expected to turn in its recommendations in July.

The chairman of NASC, Mr Kadi-Amshi, did not pick his calls or respond to text messages when PREMIUM TIMES tried to get his comment for this report.

IT IS NOT WITHIN OUR JURISDICTION

However, both Messrs Lawan and Gbajabiamila have washed their hands off the matter.

The duo responding to PREMIUM TIMES, said it was purely a matter for NASC to decide.

Mr Gbajabiamila’s spokesperson, Lanre Lasisi, simply responded by saying “Any question on this issue is best directed to the National Assembly Service Commission.”

However, Mr Ola Awoniyi, the Senate president’s spokesperson, said the lawmakers will collectively resolve the matter, not the presiding officers.

“It is the business of the National Assembly to decide on that and not whether the Senate President has taken a position or not.”

He also said the decision that will be taken will affect not just Mr Sani-Omori, but the entire staff of the legislature.



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