By Abdulaziz Abdulaziz
A plot that would extend the stay of the Clerk of the National Assembly, Mohammed Sani-Omolori, and other top officials, is breeding disquiet within the ranks of staff of the National Assembly Service Commission (NASC).
The extension plan is also causing murmur among civil servants who say the proposed changes have far-reaching implications on the wider civil service regulations and laws guiding employment and pensions in Nigeria.
The planned extension of stay for the top officials is being considered among the proposed condition of service of National Assembly staff which has been laid before two chambers of the National Assembly for approval.
The proposal, which an official said is being promoted through the backdoor, would enable Mr Sani-Omolori and others to retire only on attaining 65 years or after 40 years of service.
Some senior civil servants express fears over the legality of the new proposal as retirement is not determined by staff condition of service, which only clarifies agency-specific mundane issues.
The key Nigerian civil service laws peg retirement age at 60 years of age or 35 years in service, with the exception of judges and professors.
“The exception for judges and professors was only in relations to the expected wisdom that comes with age in those professions. Even in the judiciary, it is only the judges that have that special condition. But normal civil service is nothing that requires those exceptions,” said a director in the office of the Head of Service who pleaded not to be named as he is not authorised to speak on the matter.
Aside from Mr Sani-Omolori, other officials who could benefit from the proposed plan are the Clerk of the House of Representatives, Giwa Anonkhai, and Secretary of the NASC, Olusanya Ajakaiye.
The three officials have between four to 21 months to retire.
Though the trio would not be the only beneficiaries of the new proposal, they are alleged to be in the forefront of pushing for the new service terms which could see them stay longer in their plump posts.
Mr Ajakaiye is due to proceed on terminal leave in May, as he is set to retire in August. He was born on August 19, 1959.
Mr Sani-Omolori, who was born on May 7, 1961 started work on February 6, 1985. He is therefore expected to retire in February next year when he attains 35 years in service.
The House or Representatives Clerk, Mr Anonkhai, is due to attain the mandatory retirement age of 60 next year. He was born on November 25, 1960.
Insiders accused the three senior officials of smuggling the proposal into the condition of service tabled before the House of Representatives on December 12, 2018.
Section 8 of the proposed conditions of service which deals with the subhead, Leaving the Service, as published by the House’s votes and proceedings, contains the controversial clause.
“The compulsory retirement age for all officers of all grades in the service shall be 65 years of age or 40 years of pensionable service whichever is earlier,” the first clause of the section reads.
This is however in contravention of the original position of the National Assembly Service Commission which was transmitted to the Senate President Bukola Saraki and Speaker Yakubu Dogara, earlier in the year.
The NASC had in May written to the two National Assembly leaders forwarding the draft condition of service for their approval.
Senior workers say the decision to write to the lawmakers was out of courtesy and for notification, as the commission is empowered to work on those regulations.
But in a letter dated May 23, 2018, the then Executive Chairman of the NASC, Adamu Fika, wrote to the two leaders forwarding the condition of service “for consideration by the National Assembly” before bringing it into effect.
Relying on Section 61(a) of the National Assembly Service Act 2014, which empowers the commission “to formulate and implement guidelines functions” and Section 19Ii) which empowers it to issue regulations on conditions of service, Mr Fika informed the two leaders about the changes his commission was bringing.
“The Commission has reviewed all the areas of the Conditions of Service for the National Assembly Service as required. In carrying out the review, the Commission considered the provisions in the Conditions of Service in the wider Public Service and the allowances that are applicable in the Public Sector in the Federation,” Mr Fika wrote.
The letter went on to explain the key highlights of the review.
“We have recommended the retention of the retirement age to be 35 years of service or attainment of 60 years of age in view of widespread unemployment in the country,” the commission explained.
Two other highlights stated in the communication are additional retirement benefits “to mitigate the long delays in accessing Pencom’s retirement benefit,” and pegging of leave allowance at 10 per cent of consolidated salary.
Based on the submission, the Senate, on December 6, 2018, approved the new condition of service maintaining the recommended retirement age as contained in the communication by the commission.
Curiously, however, different figures emerged for the retirement age a week later in what the House of Representatives approved as the new condition of service on December 12.
Battle Shifts to Harmonisation Committee
With the two chambers passing different versions of the document, the two have formed a harmonisation committee consisting of six members from the Senate and seven from the lower chamber.
On January 17, 2019, the Senate announced the chairperson of its Committee on Establishment, Emmanuel Paulker, to lead the harmonisation of the two positions.
Other senators to work with Mr Paulker were Binta Garba, Ahmed Ogembe, Stella Oduah, Abdulfatai Buhari and Ibrahim Gobir.
The House of Representatives, on the other hand, appointed Simon Arabo, Chika Adamu, Mohammed Abdu, Daniel Reyerieja, Uzoma Ahuta, Sunday Adepoju and Bashir Baballe.
Pressure is said to be mounting on members of the committee, with interested parties lobbying for and against the proposed regulation.
A member of the committee who pleaded not to be named in order not to annoy his colleagues told PREMIUM TIMES that already a draft harmonised document containing the altered retirement age is being circulated by two members of the committee for the rest to sign.
“Some of us have decided not to endorse the illegality. How can you even begin to circulate document for assent when there was never a meeting to discuss the grey areas?” he said.
Meetings called to harmonise the two positions are yet to hold as members were yet to form a quorum.
On Monday, the committee again failed to meet following the quorum failure. The sitting was then shifted to April 2.
Clerk, Others Ignore Inquiries
PREMIUM TIMES spent days trying to get the response of Mr Sani-Omolori and other principal actors on their alleged roles in the saga.
Calls placed to known telephone lines of both Messrs Sani-Omolori and Ajakaiye were not answered.
The spokesperson of the National Assembly Service Commission, Janet Mambula, did not also answer repeated calls placed by our reporter.
The three officials have also not responded to text messages sent to them.