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Civil service groans under suspension of tenure system

By Collins Olayinka (Abuja) and Gloria Ehiaghe (Lagos)
11 February 2019   |   4:15 am
The limitation of tenure of directors and permanent secretaries in the federal civil service to two terms of four years was meant to create vacancies...

[FILES] Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari

The limitation of tenure of directors and permanent secretaries in the federal civil service to two terms of four years was meant to create vacancies at the highest level of civil service.

In 2016, President Muhammadu Buhari authorised the ‘suspension’ of the tenure limitation without advancing any reason behind the move.

The policy, which was aimed at ensuring most civil servants that are qualified are able to attain directorship as well as permanent secretary status was introduced by the Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration.

The urge to reform the civil service by the Obasanjo’s administration gave birth to the Bureau of Public Service Reforms (BPSR) on February 4, 2004. The Bureau was saddled with the mandate of smoothening the civil service and preventing young workers who enjoyed rapid promotion to the rank of directors or permanent secretaries from over-staying that resulted in the career stagnation of older civil servants.

The reforms spearheaded by the BSPR introduced policies of four years of two terms for directors as well as permanent secretaries even if such directors and permanent secretaries were under 60 years and had served below 35 years in the civil service at the end of their terms.

It was argued that there were civil servants that had been directors or permanent secretaries for more than 13 years. This, it was argued was clogging the system as those that were due for promotion to the post of directors were not promoted due lack of vacancies at the top echelon of the service.

The pioneer Director General of the Bureau, Dr. Goke Adegoroye, told The Guardian that the situation was so bad that frustration amongst civil servants was the order of the day and performances were dwindling.

Adegoroye explained a simple process that culminated in one of the major changes in the civil service in recent history thus: “What happened was that when I became the Director General of Bureau of Public Service Reforms (BPSR) in 2004, I did a simple study by collecting the bio-data of the officers (when they came into the service and when they will be retiring) because of the identification for training and capacity building and other issues.

I found out that the assistant directors and deputy directors were older than their directors or permanent secretaries which means that if you were to train the Assistant directors they are supposed to become directors in the next two years, it may become wasted funds because you will train them without using their services because they were retiring soon afterwards. I also went out to find out how it happened. It happened because in the time of the military era between 1985 and1998, the military officers brought in people into the public service.

“Military was allowed to bring in people into the service. During this time, the appointments, promotion and discipline of officers were decentralized. What was happening was that people were bringing their wards and making them directors. So, we had a situation where some people became directors just five years after graduation and by the time we were doing the reform in 2008/2009, we found some people who had been directors for 15 years and still had about 13 years to their retirement.

“Meanwhile, there were deputy directors in the same area who were very good and sound but could not become directors because there were no vacancies. Then, deputy directors were not doing promotion examination because there were no vacancies. We now said the only way out of this was to tabulate a chart that if a public servant comes in and is promoted as at when due, by the time that person would have matured to become a director, he/she would have spent 24 years or maximum 27 years. So, we said if everything goes normally, it will take 27 years for an average person to become a director or if a person comes in around 34 or 35 years of age, in any case, that person would have been 61 years of age. Also, in any case you can always spend 35 years in service and what you have left is eight years. That is how we came about those eight years so that people could climb to the position of director for two years and may be permanent secretary before they retire.”

Dr. Adegoroye submitted that the intervention indeed saved the public service from total collapse, saying, “if we didn’t do that, the entire service was going to collapse. For example, civil servants like Babangida Aliyu (a former governor of Niger State), who was under the military guys and had become permanent secretary by 1999, would have been a permanent secretary for 16 years if he had not become a governor because he was due for retirement in 2015.”

However, Adegoroye paid glowing tributes to Dr Babangida for supporting the reforms though he was not going to be a victim.

He added: “From the very beginning, Dr Babangida was one of the people that supported us and insisted we had to have tenure. So, there was enough space and a lot of people now started to get promotion to become directors and permanent secretaries as soon as the reform was implemented. People who were frustrated became committed as they were promoted.”

According to him, the reform also opened the system up in such a manner that no one could be Permanent Secretary or director for more than eight years before retiring.

He also explained that the system became self-evolving and could regenerate its operational apparatus as young and Information Technology-compliance workers were recruited into the system.

Head of Service of the Federation, Winifred Ekanem Oyo-Ita

Dr. Adegoroye maintained that the reform encouraged the young ones that there was hope for them rising to the highest level in the service as long as they have what it takes to get to the very top.

His words: “The system began to allow outflow (retiring) and new civil servants to come in. Aside from that, the tenure system allows the young ones to grow and when the young ones are growing, it motivates them and they can put in their best. But when they are stagnated, they become frustrated especially when they know they are stagnated because one minister comes in and brings someone as special assistant and in a few years becomes a director and worse is when such a person does not know as much as them who have been in the service.”

Dr Adegoroye hinted that the suspension of the tenure system might not be too injurious to the civil service.

His explanation: “The beauty of it also is that the service itself is growing and the service itself is looking for a way out. Recently you heard the labour talking about this and you remember also that labour pointed out the fact that the tenure policy was suspended. I wished that labour had pushed more on that front because that will bring more value to the country than focusing on the salary increase. When the policy was suspended, those who were supposed to go have not gone and those who were supposed to replace them and expecting that those people would go will not move up, therefore we will not get the best out of them.

The system does not need more money. What the system needs at tis time is fairness and justice for equal opportunity.”

He argued that the retention of directors and permanent secretaries beyond eight years would lead to the increace of overhead at the federal level while the system will be deprived of hiring new youthful workers.

Again, he explained: “The salary of a director at the peak of the ladder is actually enough to hire five to six fresh graduates. These fresh graduates will help to rekindle the system. They will be able to work hard and prove their worth. So, we carry upon ourselves a heavy burden of carrying the salary of these people. It was a double tragedy for the system. And for a way out, I think government needs to be advised properly on this and look at the situation very well again.”

While he stated that civil servants devised devious means of cheating the system even after the tenure system was introduced,
Adegoroye said the outright suspension of the tenure system by the present government is ill advised and injurious.

“It is the Buhari administration in 2016 or there about, that pronounced the policy suspended. And I wrote then that it was not the right thing to do. But of course also, there were certain things that were supposed to have been done that the heads of service we had before this present one did not do properly. For instance, the tenure policy contains a proviso that a tenure is for four years and renewable for another four years. That presumes that it was to allow the system to re-evaluate civil servants at the end of four years before they can go for another term. But as it turned out, not one civil servant has been denied a second four years tenure.

So, are we saying all of them were very good? And if all of them were so good, how come when Buhari came in, evaluated them, he was able to offload about 15 of them.

Another thing is that some heads of service used tenure system as well as date of birth simultaneously. The thing that was not done properly was the way they were applying the tenure,” he stated.

Adegoroye also insisted that the tenure system has not been implemented the way it ought to be, saying, “if we are abiding by the rules of the public service commission in terms of promotion, and everything was moving steadily and the only people who are not moving steadily are those who are not good enough, we will not have a situation whereby someone who graduated five years ago would become a director ahead of people who were in the system for 10 or more years. If the system was working right, the tenure policy will become effective enough. It was introduced as a platform to be able to correct certain abnormalities but because of the inconsistency, we are back to where we were. As things stand now, I am sure there are permanent secretaries that would be in office for another 15 years. No system can function in such an environment”

No wonder when the late President Musa Umaru Yar’Adua assumed office in May 2007, he vowed to continue the policy.

The Yar’Adua government upheld the tenure system saying, it was primarily meant, “to institute due process in the appointment of directors and permanent secretaries, arrest the succession crisis in the service, create vacancies, reinvigorate the system and boost the morale of qualified and deserving officers.

Civil service policy analysts blamed the flagrant abuse of Decree 43 of 1988 which delegated the powers of appointment and promotion of the Federal Civil Service Commission (FCSC) to MDAs, resulting in situations where certain officers were promoted from GL 10 or 12 to GL 17 overnight and others with barely five to seven years post-NYSC experience were given direct appointment as directors on GL 17.

Because the favoured officers were not leaving the service, there were no consequential vacancies to take care of effective and hardworking officers who were due for promotion. These anomalies were taken care of by the ingenuity of the tenure ceiling.

A Public Affair Analyst, Jide Ojo, who commended the late Yar’Adua for the introduction of tenured appointment for the permanent secretaries and directors, noted that the policy rendered useless the notorious practice of falsification of age and records of service by some of the civil servants.

He charged President Buhari to lift the suspension order for the hard-working civil servants, who have been due for promotion but could not move to the next level due to lack of space .

He added that state governors should also introduce similar measures in their respective states in order to boost the morale of their bureaucracy.

On its part, the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN) warned that if the decision to abolish the tenure system was designed to import all manner of persons from other services including the private sector into the federal civil service in order to dislodge senior civil servants, who had served the nation meritoriously for two to three decades, the government would have the nation trade union movement to contend with, as they would deploy all tactics to resist the execution of the plot.

The labour union demanded that government should desist forthwith from its policy somersault that is destroying the civil service and restore without further delay the tenure policy for permanent secretaries and directors in the interest of equity, justice, and fair-play in the Federal Civil Service.

Its National President, Bobboi Bala Kaigama alerted that the persistent policy somersault by the current administration, if not put in check would likely destroy the cherished norms in the public service.

He said on no account should people be recruited from outside the civil service as permanent secretaries because the practice does not only block the chances of senior civil servants from reaching the peak of their career, but also demoralises them.

Kaigama noted that the tenure policy allowed the creation of massive vacancies at the top echelon of the service and speedy promotion of senior civil servants, who had suffered stagnation and frustration for years, adding that government should be seen to be fair and just in order to earn the respect of the people.

He told The Guardian that if government does not have a hidden agenda, why is it bent on abrogating a policy that has brought stability and opportunity for career progression in the civil service?

He said the ill-advised policy by some state governments has been compounded by the Federal Government when it recruited persons from outside the civil service as permanent secretaries apart from the illegal extension of tenure of certain permanent secretaries and officers, who are supposed to have retired from service in line with the provisions of the Public Service Rules (PSR) and extant circulars including the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Kaigama advised that the public service would not guarantee industrial peace and harmony unless government ensures that illegal extension of tenure of certain permanent secretaries as well as those illegally recruited and smuggled into the service are encouraged to quietly retire.

He said: “Even if the policy was introduced by previous administration, is it sufficient reason to scrap it simply because successive governments in Nigeria do not see anything good in the policies of their predecessors”.

“What all these boil down to is the continuation of the culture of impunity that characterised the last federal administration.

“The same government has also imported persons who know nothing about civil service norms, values, working processes and procedure from outside the service as permanent secretaries for political expediency.”

He urged government to begin to engage workers’ representatives and other stakeholders in various sectors of the economy before implementing any policy that affects the Nigerian people, adding: “This is wrong in a democracy where all views and perspectives on major government policies should be subjected to a vigorous intellectual discussion before pronouncement and implementation.

“After all, we are supposed to be running a democracy where constructive dialogue is central to policy formulation and implementation.”

Citing instances of those smuggled into the service, the Secretary-General of ASCSN, Bashir Lawal, who said he was alarmed by the scandal surrounding the reinstatement of the dismissed former Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Pension Reforms, Abdulrasheed Maina into the Federal Civil Service, urged President Buhari to reshuffle his kitchen cabinet.

He expressed sadness that Maina, sacked in 2013 for sharp practices in respect of about N2 billion pension funds, was smuggled back into the Federal Civil Service by key government officials close to President Buhari.

“Information in the public domain shows that the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), and the Minister of Interior, Lt-General Abdulrahaman Dambazau, cannot be entirely extricated from the conspiracy that led to the illegal re-absorption of Maina into the Federal Civil Service.

“Thus, the fact that President Muhammadu Buhari has again dismissed Abdulrasheed Maina from service is good news but what the public now expects is for Mr President to instil sanity into the inner core of his administration by sacking those who are bent on ruining his reputation as a man of integrity,” the union emphasized.

He posited that the consistent and persistent acts of impunity by some powerful individuals in the cabinet had continued to embarrass the government.

He added: “If the President does not act to replace some of his personal aides that are besmearing the image of his government, the impression will continue to be created that he may be privy to their ignoble acts.

“It was really absurd that somebody declared wanted by the EFCC and the International Police Organisation (INTERPOL) could arrive in the country and resume duty as a director in the Ministry of Interior of all places without being apprehended by the security agencies.

“It is this type of impunity that continues to create the impression before the international community that Nigeria is a lawless country. This is very unfortunate.”