The Appointment that Disquieted National Assembly Commission

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There is uneasy calm in the National Assembly following the recent appointment of the Clerk of the House of Representatives, Mohammed Sani-Omolori, as the Acting Clerk of the National Assembly (CNA). Omololu Ogunmade writes on the politics of the appointment

The bureaucracy of the National Assembly is currently in disarray following the appointment of the Clerk of the House of Representatives, Mohammed Sani-Omolori, as the Acting Clerk of the federal parliament on April 20.
The appointment rekindled the rivalry and age-long battle for supremacy between Sani-Omolori and the incumbent Deputy Clerk of the National Assembly (DCNA), Benedict Efeturi.

The appointment which was announced on April 20, 2016 by the Chairman of National Assembly Service Commission, Dr. Adamu Fika, shattered the fragile peace in both National Assembly’s bureaucratic and political structures as it was accompanied by mixed feelings.

Fika had in the appointment letter, said Sani-Omolori would replace Alhaji Salisu Maikasuwa who is scheduled to proceed on terminal leave on May 14.
He congratulated Sani-Omolori, saying his appointment was an acknowledgement of his hard work and dedication to duty and wished him well in his new office. But the appointment came as a rude shock to the leadership of the National Assembly which had expected Efeturi to replace Maikasuwa in acting capacity on the basis of seniority.

Reversal Order
Therefore, while Sani-Omolori was still celebrating his new status and warming up to ascend the top echelon of National Assembly management, Senate President Bukola Saraki and Chairman of the National Assembly ordered the immediate reversal of his appointment in a letter signed by his Chief of Staff, Senator Isa Galaudu, entitled: “Withdrawal of Letter of Appointment of Acting Clerk of the National Assembly.” The letter was dated 22 April, 2016.

The letter addressed to Fika, accused the commission of failing to follow due process by ensuring the appointment of Efeturi as the acting clerk of the National Assembly. Saraki also accused Fika of treating him with contempt by failing to consult him before announcing the appointment. He described the action as an affront to the guiding principles of appointments and promotion by the commission.

The letter read in part: “We present to you the compliments of the President of the Senate and Chairman of the National Assembly, Distinguished Senator (Dr.) O. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, CON. Please recall that during your last meeting with the President of the Senate on April 20, 2016, the procedure of the appointment of the Acting Clerk of the National Assembly was discussed. “The Commission was directed to follow due process and ensure that seniority is adhered to. Of course, Mr. Benedict Efeturi who is Deputy Clerk of the National Assembly (DCNA) and who has previously acted as the Clerk of the National Assembly should be the first to be considered.

“Most importantly, you have been directed to confer with the President of the Senate the outcome of the Commission’s meeting before a letter of appointment is issued and regrettably that did not happen.

“The President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives were informed that Mr. Efeturi was not considered for the appointment because he was not duly appointed as Deputy Clerk of the National Assembly. On further enquiries, we found he was duly appointed by the National Assembly Service Commission.

“Consequently, I am directed by His Excellency, the President of the Senate, to inform you that the letter appointing Mr. Sani Omolori as Acting Clerk of the National Assembly be withdrawn immediately for further consultations.”

Fika Calls Saraki’s Bluff
But Fika dared Saraki as he rejected the order asking the commission to reverse the appointment of Sani-Omolori as the Acting Clerk of the National Assembly, explaining that Efeturi was not qualified to succeed Maikasuwa because it is against the rule of the civil service to appoint an officer who is also billed to proceed on terminal leave within six months in acting capacity.

In clear terms, Fika said Efeturi would proceed on terminal leave on August 2 and hence, would be a breach of procedure if he was appointed to take over from Maikasuwa. Fika further claimed that at the commission’s 440th meeting on April 20, only one of the 12 commissioners voted against the appointment of Sani-Omolori, saying he did not impose him on the management of National Assembly but was a product of the rule of engagement where appointment is done by simple majority of the votes of commissioners.

On this basis, Fika ruled out the possibility of considering Saraki’s order. “In the light of all the foregoing, Your Excellency will agree that reversing the decision of the commission appointing Mr. Mohammed A. Sani-Omolori as Acting Clerk of the National Assembly cannot be tenable in the circumstances,” he stated.

Fresh Shocker
However, while all believed that Fika’s reply to Saraki’s order had finally laid to rest any agitation against the appointment of Sani-Omolori, his colleagues in the commission fired a salvo, dissociating themselves from the appointment.
Consequently, seven of the 12 commissioners threw their weight behind the appointment of Efeturi as the next acting clerk.

In a letter addressed to Fika and dated April 26, the seven commissioners, without any fear of equivocation, accused him of lying by his claim that at the meeting of the commission on April 20, only 1 of the existing 12 commissioners opposed Sani-Omolori’s appointment while 11 voted in his favour.

Instead, the seven commissioners disowned his claim, saying it was actually five commissioners who opposed the appointment, five others abstained while only one supported it. This raised a rhetorical question on who is actually feeding the public with lies and consequently desecrating a public institution in pursuit of selfish and ulterior motive?

Thus, the seven commissioners in their letter to Fika, said despite almost total rejection of Sani-Omolori, Fika had the effrontery to proceed and appoint him as the acting clerk in flagrant violation of the policy of the commission to adopt minutes of the last meeting as the bedrock for progress.

They also accused Fika of repeating what he did in 2014, when he appointed Sani-Omolori as DCNA despite eight commissioners voting in favour of Efeturi. The commissioners further added that it took a protest letter addressed to the then Senate President, David Mark, dissociating themselves from the appointment to reverse it and eventually giving Efeturi the opportunity to emerge as the DCNA. The commissioners therefore passed a vote of no confidence on Fika.

Hear the commissioners: “Also recall sir that in November 2014, you unilaterally issued a letter of appointment to the same Sani-Omolori as Deputy Clerk of National Assembly until the members wrote to the Senate President dissociating themselves from your action: 11 commissioners out of 12 signed that letter. The commission then met and voted overwhelmingly in favour of the appointment of Mr. Ben Efeturi who was regarded as the most suitable candidate. “By that appointment, the issue of seniority between Efeturi and Sani-Omolori has been laid to rest. We make bold to say that any letter emanating from you (Dr. Adamu Fika) at this time is an individual effort on your part without the consent of the commission and has not followed due process.

“We the under signed commissioners disassociate ourselves from your letter appointing Mohammed Sani-Omolori as the Acting Clerk of the National Assembly and affirm that Ben Efeturi is the rightful person to assume that office based on seniority. Although you are chairman of the Commssion, you are not the commission. For the above reasons, we cease to have confidence in your leadership and chairmanship of the commission.”

The commissioners who appended their signatures to the letter are: Abubakar Rufai (North-West), Idi Ningi (North-east), Joseph Oru (South-south), Paul Oweh (South-south), Stephen Yepwi (North-central), Funmi Lamuye (South-west) and Abel Chukwu (South-east).

Commissioner Pulls Out
About 72 hours after seven commissioners distanced themselves from Sani-Omolori’s appointment and threw their weight behind Efeturi’s appointment, the intrigues got messier as one of the commissioners, Idi Ningi, reversed himself.
Ningi, one of the seven commissioners whose signatures had appeared on the letter to Fika, where the commissioners alleged that Sani-Omolori was imposed by Fika as against his claim that the appointment was the collective decision of commissioners, distanced himself from the claim.

He said he did not sign the rejection letter along with six other commissioners as claimed but his signature was lifted from attendance list at a meeting they held with Saraki at his residence. In a statement, Ningi vehemently denied signing any letter with the commissioners.

”I am therefore shocked and surprised to learn that I signed a document. No document was presented at the meeting and I did not sign any document but an attendance sheet. I could not have signed any document dissociating myself from the decision of the Commission as I had earlier (on the 19th April, 2016) in a hand written note – attached – expressed my support for the appointment of Alhaji Sani Omolori as the Clerk to the National Assembly in Acting capacity,” he claimed.
But in a swift reaction, the six commissioners castigated Ningi, describing him as a liar.

The commissioners in a counter statement, describedNingi’s action as unfortunate, saying they were disappointed by his inconsistency.
They further described him as a traitor who speaks from both sides of his mouth because of alleged financial inducement.

“It is unfortunate that he could speak from both sides of the mouth, an action which speaks of how much of a liar and traitor he is. We expect that a man of his age and standing should know better than to publicly deny a position he had earlier taken in the last meeting which held between us and the Senate President in the interest of the commission which has been brought to disrepute owing to the crisis rocking the commission,” the statement said.

Bureaucratic, Tribal Politics and Cold War
However, at the root of Sani-Omolori’s appointment by Fika and its rejection by seven commissioners was politics of bureaucracy on one hand and religious and tribal politics on the other hand. For instance, if the letter from the seven commissioners that Fika appointed Sani-Omolori as DCNA in 2014 in violation of due process is anything to go by, there is obviously no love lost between

Efeturi and Fika. Cold war between them appears to have lasted for years.
On the other hand, his perpetual favourite is Sani-Omolori. Thus, there were arguments in the National Assembly on Thursday that Fika’s preference for Sani-Omolori might have been predicated on religious and tribal sentiments as against the claim of civil service rules. Both Fika and Sani-Omolori are from the North. They are also Muslims while Efeturi is from the South and a Christian.

Individuals who discussed the matter in groups however, argued that promoting religious sentiment above rules in a national institution like National Assembly in the 21st century Nigeria is unfortunate. But are they necessarily right? Couldn’t it have been a mere politics of bureaucracy playing out? These remain a one million dollar question. On the other hand, some pundits would argue that the propriety and effectiveness of civil service rule cited by Fika as the basis for Sani-Omolori’s appointment needs to be critically examined.

Such pundits would further note that there is the need to find out its altruism on one hand and whether it’s indeed legal or binding before labelling Fika as an ethnic or religious bigot who is deliberately working against Efeturi.

This has further raised another rhetorical question – if the rule is indeed in force, why did the seven commissioners choose to disregard it by rejecting Sani-Omolori and throwing their weight behind Efeturi? Doesn’t that also imply a violation of due process? These questions look rhetorical but expected to be answered if the dust over the appointment of the next clerk must fully settle.

The Way Forward
Nevertheless, the crisis over the appointment of Maikasuwa’s successor has thrown up various issues. First, if the crisis is not quickly nipped in the bud, the outgoing clerk may leave the office without a successor on May 14, a situation believed would be counter-productive for the legislative institution. This is moreso that the clerk is a central figure in the scheme of legislative activities in the National Assembly as the bulk of decisions in the chambers will only gather dust if he’s not available to tidy it up. For instance, only the CNA is empowered to transmit bills and communications from the National Assembly to the executive.

Second, the public will not know who is lying between Fika and the seven commissioners unless the minutes of the commission’s meeting of April 20 where voting on the appointment was done is made public.

Third, there were insinuations on Thursday that if Saraki eventually survives his ongoing trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) for alleged false asset declaration, Fika should proceed to sign his exit in view of perceived affront on his office. However, this perception, keen observers argued, might not be automatic as the Act setting up the commission provides that the commission’s chairman can only be removed by two-thirds of lawmakers. This provision may then serve as security for Fika who had been accused of daring Saraki allegedly because of thoughts that he would not survive his trial. However, this allegation may also be a mere conjecture.

Fourth, the letter from the commissioners reveals clearly that there is a crisis of confidence in the commission which implies that the commissioners have been working at cross-purposes.

Hence, the issue of trust and unity of purpose as necessary ingredients for progress are absent in the commission while suspicion among members is rife. Against this background, the commission is perceived to lack the capacity to secure the confidence of the staff of the National Assembly whose appointments, promotion and discipline it is meant to guarantee.

Finally, the events to unfold in the next two weeks will determine if activities in the National Assembly’s bureaucracy will be crippled or not.