By Suleiman Kolawole Ajibade
Of all organs and agencies of government, it is only the public service that has remained unscorched until now. The civil/public service is always remembered as being constant like the Northern star, ever present, vibrant and active whether in a civilian or military administration. Ever before independence, post-independence and to this moment, the service has been very much around serving the good, bad and ugly administrations we have had in this country.
Perhaps, as some suggest, contributing to the malaise we now find ourselves. There are those who have been stagnated for years that have brought out the celebration drums, because it is time for them to be moved up the ladder in the coming promotions.
Nevertheless, the public service remains loyal and committed to moving the nation forward, it has remained under the jackboot of successive administrations. With all kinds of circulars affecting the mode of employment, promotion and succession in the service, it has continued to be the nation’s whipping boy. Such circulars, have intermittently brought about disruptions, instability, fear, anxiety and other negative consequences.
It is not now in doubt that the Nigerian public service unlike the military and paramilitary agencies have been tossed about through thick and thin and subjected to the whims and caprices of people at the commanding heights of the nation’s political and administrative leadership.
For instance, the recent circular and pronouncement by the Head of Civil Service of the Federation, Dr. Folasade Yemi-Esan, has once again ruptured what some people have come to describe as the ‘tenurisation’ of the Directorate cadre in the service and above. The Revised Public Service Rule No.020909 states as follows: “A Director or its equivalent by whatever nomenclature is described in the MDAs shall compulsorily retire upon serving eight years on the post and the 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”.
Conservative estimates put the number of those to be affected at 800, but other estimates suggest a figure above 1,000.
It seems the above rule is either not fully thought-out or it is being poorly implemented. In any case, a rule, in whatever form, has a date of effect which is not contained above, but assumed to commence as from the 27th July 2023 when the Head of Service issued the circular directing all Permanent Secretaries and Heads of MDAs to implement to the letter the provisions.
Looking at the rule critically, it is the opinion of many that it negates the very essence and core value that established the Nigerian civil/public Service in the first place. The normal tenured rule of retirement at 60 years or working for 35 years, whichever comes first, gives a better atmosphere for public servants to perform their duties objectively, independently and impartially without fear of arbitrary termination or political interference.
This policy strikes a balance between providing job security and ensuring accountability and performance in the service. This system is popularly known as “Security of Tenure” in public service parlance.
Consequently, that has been eroded with Rule No.020909 and will definitely put the top cadre of the public service in constant fear, anxiety and uncertainty. This definitely will affect the delivery of democracy dividends, as the main function of the service is to translate government policies and programmes for the benefit of the nation.
It will be recalled that the rule was experimented under the tenure of Mr. Steve Osagiede Oronsaye as Head of Service in 2009. At that time, it was a consensus that some directors were targeted and after they were removed, the rule went to sleep leaving behind devastating man-power effects which is still prevalent today.
Besides, it should be pointed out that the latest revision of the Public Service Rules was approved by the Federal Executive Council in 2021. However, the present Head of Service issued a service-wide circular for implementation in 2023; after a whole two years!
Was that influenced by self-preservation or she was externally influenced? When compared with her counterparts in the military and para-military agencies, could one discern any substantial difference in dignity and prestige among them? Some have opined that what is perhaps playing out in the federal civil service is obviously a lack of understanding of the service rules and how they should be implemented or simply a calculated ploy to deceive President Ahmed Bola Tinubu and hoodwink the entire country.
In another opinion, all rules and regulations take effect from a specific date as contained in the rule. This is similar to the various amendments made to the Constitution by the National Assembly. Although, certain rules are retrospective, when so spelt out, others are assumed to take effect from the date of commencement, that is to say, the day such legislation is signed into law. In the case of the above rule, no specific date is therein contained.
This means inter-alia, that all public servants, promoted to Directors before July 27th 2023 are not supposed to be affected. Rather, only those promoted after that date will fall within the precincts of the rule. What this means is that public servants, promoted to Directors in 2023 will compulsorily retire in 2031 which also means that they came with President Bola Ahmed Tinubu and will go with him after eight years. If this is not politicising the service, then I need to be educated.
The Nigerian nation presently needs stability now more than ever and should distance itself from self-inflicted challenges brought about by policy summersault and inconsistencies.
Another implication of the new policy is that when a person becomes a director, and knowing he is tenured, he resorts to all forms of corruption to feather his nest. Obviously, the system suffers for it.
There are those who may argue that with or without the policy, corrupt persons will still steal; but the unbridled corruption that will take place is better imagined..
The new circular definitely needs proper understanding to sort out several grey areas before implementation rather than hastily executing an anti-service policy. This is where the fulcrum lies. It is not in the speed or the exigencies of implementation. The time now is to tarry awhile.
▪︎ Ajibade, a commentator on public affairs, resides in Abuja and sent this via WhatsApp.