A move for an upward adjustment in the years and age of retirement for staff of the National Assembly, NASS, has been deliberated and passed by the two arms the House of Representatives and the Senate.
According to the review which is at this stage, completed and as such, a done deal, a worker in the service of the national legislature will henceforth, be due for retirement on reaching the age of sixty five years or, after fourty years in service. The reform, in the view of the National lawmakers, is primarily aimed at entrenching specialization, professionalism and quality service delivery that come with years of experience.
Not unexpected, the decision has been greeted by an uproar from divergent quarters, groups and individuals. Among others opposed to it, there is the argument that the reform runs against existing laws and provisions that stipulate thirty-five years in service or, sixty years in age as points of retirement for civil servants in the country. The NASS reform in this context, it is said, must therefore, be preceded by amendments to such extant legal framework. In which case, it is claimed, the NASS reform cannot stand until a Bill from the legislature has been made and given Presidential assent.
There have also been some streaks of banality and the comical in the opinions being canvassed against the move. For example, the entire exercise has been portrayed as, “essentially and singularly initiated to benefit the present crop of the top echelon of members of the management.”
Those who hold this view have called out the Clerk to the National Assembly, CAN, Alhaji Mohammed Sani Omolori, who was “born in 1961 and is therefore due to retire from service on the attainment of the mandatory age of sixty years in February, 2020.” Other members of the management alleged to be scheming for the review include, the Secretary of the National Assembly Service Commission, NASC, Olusanya Ajakaye who and, the Clerk of the House of Representatives, Giwa Anonkhai ,”who is due to retire from service in November, 2020, on account of age.”
Perhaps, the most pragmatic and tangible step so far taken to stall the action of the legislators is the legal suit instituted by some personnel in the National Assembly. The plaintiffs are praying the court to quash the action as illegal, null and void on the ground of its “contravention of extant constitutional and civil service rules and guidelines on condition of service for public civil servants”. They are also contending that the National legislators cannot give effect to such a reform until it has been passed as a Bill and assent to by the President.
On the other hand however, the existence of the Judicial Service Commission and the National Assembly Service Commission which are creations of the constitution, has been given by those in support of the reform to buttress the viewpoint that, as independent and separate arms of government, the legislature, like the judiciary, has the legal powers and leverage to fashion rules and regulations regarding the conditions of service of its workforce.
The argument that the contentious reforms by NASS must be assented by the President, is further dismissed as off the mark because, the reforms were the outcome of a motion, rather than a Bill and does not therefore require a presidential assent. Those celebrating the reform also point to the fact that the exercise originated from the NASC which acted within its constitutional powers captured in relevant sections of its Act. What is more, as the then Majority Leaders of the Senate and the House, the present Senate President, Ahmad Lawan and Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila were those who moved the motion for the debate that birthed the reform on the floors of the two chambers.
Be that as it may, critically examined with bird’s eyes view, without the prejudice of an interest party, it appears that opponents of the reforms may not be as altruistic as they make out. There are so many gaping lacuna and clear streaks of opportunism and crass pursuits of ambitions and vendetta. The reform, contrary to how it is being presented by those who want to shoot it down, was initiated by the National Assembly Service Commission and NOT the Management.
Similarly, as against what the public is being told, what was done by the NASS was a debate on an internal motion based on a report and not the passage of a Bill that statutorily requires a Presidential assent for it to become an Act or a Law. In this regard, it came as a surprise that a national daily of repute went to town penultimate week with a hilarious and out-rightly misleading, emotional headline with the innuendo that the NASS management has began implementing an illegal act.
A bureaucracy headed by seasoned administrators, groomed and nurtured in the system, with a lawyer at its head, Mohammed Sani Omolori, would certainly have known better than be that recklessly lawless.
Is the legislature an appendage of the executive and therefore statutorily bound to abide by the rules and regulations that obtain in that arm of government? Unless we are talking of an autocracy or a dictatorship, under the principles and doctrine of separation of powers in a democracy, the two are separate and independent even as there are areas of convergence. In the presence of circumstance, there doesn’t seem to have been cogent and convincing legal or, rational reasons given to stop implementation or for the reversal of the resolution of the 8th National Assembly to up the age and years of retirement for workers in the service of the national legislature.
As it is, the move does not appear to have clearly breached any sections of the constitution. The decision of the nation’s law makers is therefore clearly well within the framework of their independence as well as the limitations imposed by the constitution.
In the frenzied pursuit of rubbishing the reforms, some of the antagonists seem to have uncannily unveiled their real motif force, anger and objective They hold out the NASS management, especially the Clerk of the National Assembly, Mohammed Sani Omolori, who, a shadowy clique in the name of “G70”, has “vowed to get punished “ for his alleged sins. In their words: “The bureaucracy in the National Assembly cannot come through the backdoor using two presiding officers that were diametrically opposed to the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari for four years.” They went on to affirm: “We want a clean slate in the NASS and those who worked in cahoots with Saraki and Dogara to frustrate the policies of the government must not be allowed to pollute the system in the next level age.”
From the above, any gainsaying the perception that the angst against the reform is not so much borne out of altruistic commitment or craving for what is legal and appropriate as it is the result of self-serving, narrow interest, intrigues and crass political vendetta against certain persons in the management of NASS.
Ayuba Ahmad is a Kaduna-based public analyst.