It is settled in labour relations that he who hires has the authority to fire. That is what applied to the amiable, industrious and proud daughter of Adiabo Okurikang in Odukpani Local Government, Cross River State, Mrs. Winifred Ekanem Oyo-Ita, until last week, the head of service of the federation.
Her story is well known but the facts may not have been fully established. President Muhammadu Buari has only exercised the powers vested in him by asking Oyo-Ita to step aside, temporarily, to allow a thorough investigation of the allegations of abuse of office against her.
Her replacement is by no means a push over in the federal civil service and service to the country. Folashade Yemi-Esan, a first-class dental surgeon, and proud alumnae of the University of Ibadan, began her career in the Federal Civil Service at the Federal Ministry of Health after graduation in 1987 from the nation’s premier university.
She rose to the position of permanent secretary in 2012 when she first served as permanent secretary, service policy and strategy in the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation.
Her tour of duty has seen her serving as permanent secretary in the Federal Ministry of Information and the Federal Ministry of Education, among others. She was, until her recent elevation as head of service last week, the permanent secretary at the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources. Her selection was probably endorsed by President Buhari on account of her vast experience and being the most senior permanent secretary in the federal civil service.
But perhaps more significant is the decision of President Buhari to extend the tenure of seven permanent secretaries who were expected to retire, at various dates, between September and December, 2019. By presidential fiat, the lucky seven distinguished public officers have had their tenures extended by one calendar year beginning this October.
So how did the President acquired this executive power, some well-meaning people may ask. Others, more discerning, have also observed that the President had in the recent past granted extension of tenure to military chiefs, to wit, the chief of defence staff and the service chiefs – heads of army, airforce and the navy.
The Nigerian Constitution at Section 171 (2) d empowers the President to appoint persons to hold or act in appointive offices at his pleasure. It is also his prerogative to determine the duration of such appointments, although extant rules stipulate a maximum of 35 years in service or 60 years age, which ever comes first.
Section 171 (1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), unambiguously vested in the President, the power to appoint persons to hold or act as the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, ambassadors, high commissioners or other principal representatives of Nigeria abroad as well as permanent secretaries in the ministries, departments and agencies.
In clear terms, Section 171 (2) is explicit on the power of the President on who may be appointed, act or be removed as permanent secretary in any ministry or head of any extra-ministerial department of the Government of the Federation or ‘howsoever designated’.
Beyond acting within the confines of the law, many analyst would also agree that President Buhari has a moral responsibility to ensure that the fabric of the federal civil service is not unwittingly eroded by the sudden departure of seven permanent secretaries within three months. The consequential impact of such depletion of well-trained and tested civil servants cannot be in the interest of the nation and the effective delivery of the programmes and development agenda of the Buhari administration.
Going down memory lane, it is instructive to remember that before the appointment of new ministers, specifically between May 29 and August 21, this year, permanent secretaries ran the affairs of ministries, department and agencies. Besides, prior to the inauguration of the cabinet, the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation organised a Presidential Retreat for ministers and permanent secretaries where nine priority areas of government where identied to be jointly executed by ministers and permanent secretaries.
It is also expected that these permanent secretaries have a crucial role to play in the avowed intention of the executive arm of government to kick-start the process for the 2020 budget, and working in collaboration with the National Assembly, to return to the January-December budget cycle. Furthermore, the creation of the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development while demerging four others, and thus expanding the bureaucracy, underscores the need for experienced hands to nurture them to stability.
One other solid consideration for the tenure elongation is the fact that the process for finding replacements for the seven permanent secretaries due for retirement is multi layered and may take up to three months. By tradition, to climb to the peak of the federal civil service, those on the directorate level go through thorough security screening after written and oral examinations.
The sudden exit of Mrs. Oyo-Ita as head of service may not necessarily affect this process. However, it may not be expedient for government to allow the loss of personnel who have garnered experience, become fully matured but have not yet attained the retiring age of 60 years. Certainly the nation can benefit more from their wealth of experience!