In this piece, OrderPaper’s National Assembly Correspondent examines the pros and cons of the thorny Retirement age for Legislative Staff and the unending power play around the legislation
In the recent past, the issue of retirement age for public officials especially those in Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs), as well as other constitutional bodies appears to be slowly crawling to the centre stage in Nigeria.
One factor that has been identified as a possible reason for this phenomenon is the difficulty associated with bowing out of office among public officials at the due time. In this light, it has become a common practice for certain agencies of government to review the retirement age of their officials upward.
This cuts across judicial workers, teachers, lecturers, the military, as well as the National Assembly (NASS) among others. While some argue that it is necessary for the education sector and judiciary, when viewed from perspective of retention of experience, others think differently.
Professor of Political Science and International Relations, Abubakar Suleiman, during a public hearing on a bill seeking to extend the retirement age for legislative staff, expressed reservation on the subject matter. This is as he called for restraint on the part of the lawmaker in order to avoid creating a parallel condition of service in the country’s public service.
Professor Suleiman who doubles as a former Minister of National Planning, said: “This is one area I don’t want to dabble into because it amounts to prejudice when I want to talk on an issue that is before our lawmakers, so to speak. But I think what government is trying to do, especially the leadership of the National Assembly is not to create a parallel bureaucracy in the country.
This country is one country under one President, under one Executive, under one Legislature. By the time you have the divergent condition of service, especially when it comes to mainstream bureaucracy, you may likely create friction;
Whereby you have Head of Service of the country and someone will claim to be Head of Service in National Assembly again, and before we know it, it becomes a matter of litigation here and there, and we will not know where to start.
I think the privilege of the specialised scheme of service is only given to those in academia, and perhaps the judiciary because of their specialized nature. Because those in academia, are knowledge-based people; knowledge cannot be bequeathed or substituted at any given time.”
In this light, we examine the National Assembly’s recent deliberation on two bills with the same subject matter before it embarked on a two-week break ahead of the Salah holidays. The bills are:
1. A Bill for an Act to Amend the Discrimination against Persons with Disability Prohibition Act, 2018 to make Provisions for upward review of Retirement Age of Persons with Disability; and for Related Matters (HB. 1831) brought by Rep. Babajimi Benson (APC, Lagos) – Second Reading.
2. A Bill for an Act to Make Provisions for the Retirement Age for Staff of Legislative Houses in Nigeria; and for Related Matters (HB. 1473) (Committee of the Whole: 14/10/2021).
The Legislative Staff Retirement Bill Delirium
The House of Representatives in particular on 28th June 2022, considered the Legislative Staff Retirement Age Bill again.
The controversial bill seeking to extend the tenure of Legislative Staff from 35 years to 40 years and compulsory retirement from 60 years to 65 years has been perceived as creating a parallel bureaucracy in the public service of the federation
There has also been a hue and cry against the bill by the Staff of the National Assembly who views the proposed legislation as a ploy to stagnate their growth in the service.
As contained in the report circulated to members of the lower chamber during plenary, Clause 1 of the bill provides that: “The provisions of the bill shall apply throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
Clause 2 provides that “Staff of Legislative Houses in Nigeria shall compulsorily retire on attainment of 65 years of age or 40 years of pensionable service, whichever is earlier.”
Clause 3 of the report provides that: “Without prejudice to any Act of the National Assembly or law, or the Public Service Rules requiring a person to retire from the Public Service at 60 years of age or after 35 years of service shall not apply to Staff of Legislative Houses in Nigeria.”
Clause 4 provides that: “In this Act, ‘Legislative Houses’ means the
National Assembly and States Houses of Assembly; while Public Service has the meaning ascribed to it under the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.”
Clause 5 provides that: “This bill may be cited as the harmonised
retirement age for Legislative Houses in Nigeria bill, 2022.”
In June 2021, in introducing the resurfaced harmonised version of the bill to the House of Representatives; House Chief Whip, Mohammed Monguno said, “the stability of the Legislatures in Nigeria was paramount” and it was referred to the Committee of the Whole for consideration, without a public hearing.
The aforementioned bill was equally passed under very mischievous circumstances in the 8th Assembly; raising lots of dust amongst its legislative staff. A former Clerk of the National Assembly as well as other officials in the bureaucracy even relied on the legislation to extend their tenure.
Conditions of Service Law
Similarly, the Conditions of Service Law for National Assembly Staff was passed under the then Senate led by Senator Bukola Saraki and the Speaker, Yakubu Dogara respectively. For the Senate, it was on December 11, 2018 while the House of Representatives passed it on December 12, 2018.
It thus became effective on 21st May 2019, and brought about several changes to staff retirement benefits, disengagement allowances, rent subsidies, transport allowances, end of year bonus among others.
The new conditions of service however generated lot of controversy; with some arguing that the National Assembly lacks such powers to extend the retirement age of its Staff.
In fact, the changes placed all National Assembly staff at same level with academics and judges (whose age of retirement goes beyond the Public Service Rules of 60 years of age or 35 years of service). That itself still remains a bone of contention following its huge cost implication.
The conditions of service as signed was allegedly to favour the National Assembly Management headed by then Clerk; Salisu Maikasuwa, his Deputy, Benedict Efeturi and some other directors that had little time to retire.
Some persons described the actions of Senator Saraki at the time, as a gesture to return the favour by then Clerk, Salisu Maikasuwa who played a key role in his emergence as Senate President.
The National Assembly Service Commission (NASC) had during the 497th meeting held on Wednesday, 15th July 2020 approved the retirement age of the staff of the National Assembly Service as 35 years of service or 60 years of age.
At the height of the crisis trailing the alleged tenure elongation and unilateral implementation of the controversial Conditions of Service, the Commission directed the then Clerk for the National Assembly, Abubakar Sani-Omolori, and other senior staff who have spent 35 years of service or 60 years of age to embark on retirement with immediate effect.
At this time, the leadership of the National Assembly Service Commission was yet to be constituted. However, this did not go down well as Sani-Omolori and Ahmed Amshi, Chairman of the National Assembly Service Commission (NASC) went back and forth on the matter.
The controversy bothered majorly on the issue of retirement age for the Clerk and 150 other directors at the National Assembly. Following the ‘notice of retirement’ issued to all members of its Senior Staff due for retirement age including the Clerk. Omolori and Amshi engaged each other in an open disagreement.
Defending its position, the NASC said it took such a decision in line with the National Assembly Service Act 2014 (As Amended).
“Pursuant to its mandate as provided in the National Assembly Service Act 2014 (as amended), the National Assembly Service Commission at its 497th meeting held yesterday has approved the retirement age of the staff of the National Assembly Service as 35 years of service or 60 years of age whichever comes first.
The commission has approved the immediate retirement of staff of the National Assembly Service who have already attained the retirement age of 35 years of service or 60 years of age. Retirement letters would be issued to the affected staff accordingly,” a statement by the NASC Chairman read.
In countering the statement, Omolori in a statement he personally signed, took a swipe at the commission, saying it had no power to retire workers in the manner it had done.
The statement issued by Omolori read: “The Management of the National Assembly wishes to inform all staff and the general public that the extant regulation as contained in our Revised Conditions of Service duly passed by both Chambers of the 8th National Assembly puts the retirement age of staff at 40 years of service and 65 years of age whichever comes first.”
He argued that the resolution of the 8th National Assembly on the Conditions of Service for its Staff has not been rescinded nor abdicated by the legislature, who under the authentic National Assembly Service Act 2014 as passed, was empowered to review any proposed amendment to the conditions of service by the commission.
“Therefore, the National Assembly Service Commission does not have the powers to set aside the revised conditions of service as passed by the 8th National Assembly,” Omolori added.
The development is said to have put a strain to the cordial relationship between the two chambers as the Senate leadership was reportedly seeking the reversal of that resolution to enable the National Assembly Service Commission (NASC) terminate the tenure extension.
The House of Representatives on the other hand, rejected a memo by the National Assembly Service Commission (NASC) seeking to cancel parts of the resolution, particularly the one relating to the extension of the retirement age for Omolori and other officials.
Both chambers of the National Assembly had in 2018 debated and approved the new Conditions of Service for National Assembly Staff, which included the extension of tenure.
As a result of the amendment of this Condition of Service for Staff of the National Assembly, the retirement age for public servantstherein was moved from 35 to 40 years, while the retirement age was upgraded from 60 to 65 years.
The Service Commission Question
It is important to state that the National Assembly Bureaucracy is actually governed by the National Assembly Service Commission (NASC) by virtue of the National Assembly Service Act, 2014. The Commission’s powers under the Act include the power to formulate and implement guidelines for its functions.
The Commission is also empowered to make regulations relating to its conditions of service under Section 19(1) of the Act which states that; “Subject to the provisions of this Act, the Commission may make staff regulations relating generally to the conditions of service, including the power to fix salaries and allowances, of the staff of the National Assembly….”
From the said section, it thus appears the Commission and not the National Assembly is granted powers to make changes to conditions of service (such as retirement age/years of service) except its staff regulations state so.
It is also clear that the Act explicitly limits the National Assembly’s role in its internal affairs. Specifically, only two roles are provided for the legislative arm. The first being an advisory role.
This National Assembly leadership (Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives) in this regard is assigned the responsibility of recommending the Commission’s membership to a sitting President. The second role requires the National Assembly to approve the remuneration that the Commission pays its staff.
Flowing from this, while the procedure for adopting remuneration for workers falls within the roles designated for National Assembly’s approval under the Act, the procedure governing other conditions of service such as retirement age/years of service is not explicitly provided as requiring its approval under the Act.