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Imperative of harmonised retirement age of staff of legislative houses in Nigeria bill

By Igbotako Nowinta
02 November 2021   |   3:15 am
“It (Bill) seeks to enhance professionalism and ensure the transfer of knowledge and experience by top level management staff who is at the verge of exiting the system”— Hon. Mohammed Tahir Monguno...

“It (Bill) seeks to enhance professionalism and ensure the transfer of knowledge and experience by top level management staff who is at the verge of exiting the system”— Hon. Mohammed Tahir Monguno (Chief Whip of the House of Representatives).

When the Bill seeking ‘Harmonised Retirement Age of Staff of Legislative Houses in Nigeria, 2021”, scaled through the first reading in the House of Representatives, on Tuesday, June 29th, 2021, the stability of the Legislatures in Nigeria came into focus.

Recently, the same Bill passed the second reading, and the next stage now, is for the stakeholders to make their inputs. Talking of stakeholders, the Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria PASAN (National, Zonal & chapters) and the various State Houses of Assemblies must have to make their much expected contributions.

It is heartwarming that the PASAN National and chapters are the one spearheading and working round the clock about this fantastic Bill that will act as a great stabilizing agent for the staff of the Legislature all over the Federation.

In sponsoring this much wanted and awaited bill, the Chief Whip of the House of Representatives, Hon. Mohammed Tahir Monguni, has written his name in gold letters, because the Legislative arm of government in Nigeria, needs absolute stability, to carry out its constitutional duty vibrantly to the electorates in Nigeria.

There is no doubt that the Legislature requires strong capacity and robust knowledge to pilot and stabilize it bureaucratic system. Strengthening the bureaucracy of the Legislative Houses in Nigeria, lies more in building institutional memory and developing career progression plan of the staff.

As a mass based public institution, and the closest to the people, the Legislature is undoubtedly the first point of call in the citizen inspired public policy development intervention matrix, therefore, there is need for modest improvement in the condition of service of staff.

Also, bearing in mind that the Legislature is not only very important towards the institutionalization of democracy and good governance, but is indeed the bedrock of any contemporary democracy and a critical factor towards its development and sustenance in any established democracy, to strengthen and reposition it, is laying a solid sustainable bureaucracy.

Because the Legislature also performs vital and valuable roles in the affairs of a functioning democracy, as the institution that links the government with the governed, this recent bill seeking to raise the retirement age of legislative staff from 60 to 65 years, and years of service from 40 to 45 years, as against the usual service years of 40 years is a welcome development.

We must not forget that the Legislature handles several other duties along with law making. This crucial arm of government scrutinize government actions, ranging from approval of government appointments to investigations and supervisory activities (Oversight).

The Legislature debate issues of national and public interest; pass resolutions for appropriate noting/ actions of the executive arm of government; it also has responsibility to propose changes to the country’s Constitution etc.

Looking at these catalogue of responsibilities that are at the door steps of the Legislature, it is only wise and proper that the Bill being sponsored by the Chief Whip of the House of Representatives, Hon. Mohammed Tahir Monguno be supported by all and sundry.

The Acting National President of the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN), Comrade Tommy Etim Okon, in a media chat had said that the organization is already pushing the issue of upward review of age of service for civil servants from 60 to 65, and years of service from 40 to 45 years, with the Federal Government of Nigeria.

Comrade Okon, who cited the need to approve a restoration of leave policy for Directors and Permanent Secretaries, also mentioned general upward review of salary of civil servants, as well as other Labour related demands, in order to uplift them from the currently excruciating economic situation being experienced in the country.

It is heartwarming that President Muhammadu Buhari, who had in October 2020, during the World Teacher’s Day, approved a special salary scale and new retirement age for teachers, recently via an Executive Bill he sent to the Senate, sought to change years of service for teachers from 35 years to 40 years, and retirement age from 60 to 65 years.

The above coming from the President is commendable given the gigantic intellectuality naturally associated with the teachers; going forward on this same page, given the multi-purpose functions of the Legislature in Nigeria, it is only normal, fit and proper, that this Bill seeking tenure elongation for staff of Legislative staff in Nigeria, will be given the urgency and priority it deserves.

The five year extension of service for Legislative staff in Nigeria is the only avenue to guarantee transfer of practical experience and knowledge, by the top echelon of staff, who are on their way out yet few in numbers.

Am reliably informed that to pilot the National Assembly, for instance, it requires strong capacity building and knowledge-driven mechanism cum initiatives, instead of hiring retired staff as consultants.

It is only the tenure elongation, according to the Mohammed Tahir Monguno’s Bill, that will eliminates unnecessary additional cost and burden.

No doubt, the Mohammed Tahir Monguno’s Bill will, when it becomes law, will incredibly ginger and acts like a wonderful morale booster, to Legislative Staff across the country, to scale up their statutory duties.

Flowing from the above premise, it is baffling that Professor Abubakar Sulaiman, Director General of the Nigeria Institute for Legislative & Democratic Studies (NILDS), has shamelessly and unfortunately exposed himself, as an enemy of Legislative Staff across the country, via his recent outburst against this historic Bill presently in the House of Representatives.

Given Prof. Abubakar Sulaiman’s profuse dissertations in parliamentary matters, and present position in the business of National Legislature, one wonder what has come over him, to constitute himself as a road block to Legislative independence and welfare of the staff of the Legislature?

Why has this man chosen to throw dirt into the very Legislative soup, he has assiduously been cooking since he emerged as the Director General of NILDS? Why has Prof. Sulaiman behaving like a ‘bought man’ at this crucial time of his career?

Finally, having looked at the Mohammed Tahir Mongunu’s Bill, from many angles and parameters, it is very clear that when it eventually becomes a law, the Legislature In Nigeria will be entering a new chapter, in which the inherent uncommon intellectual capacity of its staff will be exhaustively tapped to the fullest.

And at the end of the day, the people of Nigeria, the electorates, will be far better for it; which is truly and wholly the essence of representative democracy.
Then, the likes of Professor Abubakar Sulaiman would bury their heads in perpetual shame!
• Igbotako is a human right activist, legislative scholar and author based in Abuja