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National Assembly staff tenure ‘elongation’: Matters arising

Like a bad coin that throws itself up at odd times in a pile of coins, so has a particular issue been surfacing sporadically with the likely effect of impugning the career prospects of serving bureaucrats in the National Assembly.

To wit is the dispensation whereby a resolution passed by both chambers of the immediate past Eighth National Assembly, to review the service conditions – in particular the tenure of the bureaucrats, is now assuming undeservingly, the hue of a career-low for the Clerk to the National Assembly Mohamed Ataba Sani-Omolori, long with over a hundred of other officers.

Topical among the provisions of the resolution, is a review of the retirement conditions whereby the bureaucrats shall by such, retire on the attainment of 40 years of service or 65 years of age, depending on which one comes first.

Until the new dispensation, the situation was that they retire at 35 years of service and 60 years of age as is applicable to much of the country’s mainstream public service.

To add fillip to the matter, it has attracted the intervention of the Senate and House leadership who have directed the National Assembly Service Commission (NASC) to investigate and resolve the matter.

The NASC is a constitutionally directed creation of the National Assembly, which is vested with powers to recruit, discipline and cater for the welfare of the members of the National Assembly bureaucracy.

This development may therefore have provided the issue with the proper ambience for its conclusive resolution, and provide hope of better days ahead for the rest of the country’s legislative bureaucracies, in the 36 state houses of assembly and the legislative chambers of the 774 local government councils.

Until now most of these outfits have been operating as mere shadows of their constitutionally guaranteed status, with telling effect on the state of democracy in the country.

Since the tenure elongation for National Assembly staff resolution was passed in the twilight of the Eighth National Assembly, the establishment had implemented it with serving officers standing to benefit, through the extension of their service tenures by five more years.

However this career gain for them, is gradually tending towards an albatross for the top bureaucrats in the establishment through the protest by some critics who find it a sore point for at least two reasons.

First ground of attack is its touted incongruity with the extant public service provisions which prescribe the retirement conditions for public servants at 35 years of service or 60 years of age, depending on which one comes first.

Secondly is the allegation that the resolution was based on inaccuracies, and therefore remains null and void.

In the pitched contest over the matter, its proponents counter that the National Assembly bureaucracy is a creation by the Constitution in Section 51, which empowers the institution to create its own bureaucracy on the understanding that such is required to drive effectiveness in the legislature.

And their case is buoyed by the reality that beyond any conjecture, the legislature is a specialized arm of government which requires special skills and endowments by its bureaucracy, to function properly.

Even as the elected legislators may take all the shine from the enterprise of the institution, they are statutorily tenants, being elected and tenured operatives who are replaced periodically.

It is the bureaucrats that constitute the engine room of the institution and remain to provide continuity in service delivery from it.

It is in this respect that the NASC needs to go into a wider review of the operational circumstances of the country’s public service to put its act together.

Hence with respect to the first argument that the resolution on tenure elongation for the National Assembly bureaucracy is inconsistent with the provisions of the mainstream public, such qualifies to be taken with a pinch of salt.

Primarily, the extant service conditions in the country’s public service landscape, are not exactly the same for all categories of workers, with marked differences manifesting in particular cases.

For instance in the judiciary, retirement age for judges is 70 years across board while for non-judges, it is 65 or 35 years of service.

Likewise in the academia, professors retire at 70 while academic staff below the rank of professors and non-academic staff do so at 65 or after 35 years of service.

Interestingly, even the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT) have also made a case for extension of their service tenure from 60 to 65 years.

Coming to the allegation of the tenure elongation resolution being forged or based on misinformation of the National Assembly, the issue assumes a more profound dimension which the institution needs to address frontally.

The matter under consideration is a resolution passed by a previous session of the federal legislature, hence cannot be wished away on the basis of yet to be verifies allegations of procedural incongruities.

Rather, the resolution can only be reversed through a due legislative process, as anything done outside this process remains an invalid action.

In particular the Ninth National Assembly needs to use this opportunity to put to rest, whatever shadow is associated with this matter, and place a stamp of finality to it.

At the risk of rehashing the argument of the Nigerian legislature operating under strangulating conditions, which in effect deny the country from enjoying the full complement of democracy dividends, the point is easily lost that the eventual catalyst for change management in it, remains the human factor; this time not just the politicians who operate there as legislators, but the bureaucrats who constitute the engine room.

And just as a faulty engine can hardly provide adequate traction for driving a vehicle, so can a compromised legislative bureaucracy not deliver on its mandate of offering the best service delivery to the country.

In another dimension, the tenure elongation initiative of the National Assembly bureaucracy actually offers the impetus for the country to revisit the operating circumstances of the public service terrain and bring such in line with best fit practices, that will provide a new deal for boosting efficiency by public servants.

It is no secret that the country’s public service landscape is presently ossified in retardation and inefficiency, due largely to archaic terms and conditions of service that are at variance with contemporary social, economic and political realities.

Hence, if the tenure elongation development in the National Assembly inspires pressures for service-wide changes in the country, pursuant to better working conditions for public servants, it would have even served a higher purpose.

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