FEDERAL CIVIL SERVICE: ISSUES IN TENURE ABROGATION

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The president’s directive on the tenure policy is ill-advised

The federal government, last week, suspended the policy which set four-year tenure, renewable only once, for permanent secretaries in the Federal Civil Service. In a circular to all ministries, departments and agencies, (MDAs), the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Mrs. Winifred Oyo-Ita, said President Muhammadu Buhari had “directed the suspension of tenure policy with immediate effect and all concerned are to comply accordingly.” With that, the eight-year tenure ceiling approved by the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, along with other far-reaching reforms, was abrogated.

While we do not query the prerogative of the president to issue a counter-directive on the tenure of civil servants, we fear that, all factors considered, he was not well-advised on this issue. He threw away a policy that was not only well-conceived but has helped to restore a measure of sanity in the overall profile and performance of the Federal Civil Service.

According to the cumulative years of service chart by the Federal Civil Service Commission, an officer is supposed to spend three years each from grade level (GL) 08 to GL13, making 15 years. An officer is also supposed to spend four years each from GL14 to GL16, making a total of 27 years. Finally, an officer is expected to spend the remaining eight years of service on GL17. This calculation is based on extant regulation, which has prescribed a maximum of 35 years of service for mandatory retirement.

But that is not what has happened in Nigeria over the years.
The real bad news from the current presidential directive is the widespread impression that there is a strong and deliberate ethnic ring to it. But it need not be so. From the original memo approved by the late president, the logic behind the tenure policy was to pave the way for career progression, fresh capacities and genuine national development anchored on the deployment of skills that would otherwise be wasted by stagnation and attrition.

The ridiculous claim that the original policy was targeted at a section of the country falls flat on its face for several reasons. First, while the then Head of Service who initiated it (Mr. Steve Oronsaye) is indeed a southerner, he had neither executive powers nor was he in a position to implement or enforce anything not approved by the highest authority in the country. Second, the policy was hailed at the time as one of the most progressive and well- thought out policy initiatives of the federal government, against the background of massive unemployment in the country and career abuses in the civil service.

Part of the concern, which informed the decision by the late President Yar’Adua, remains the inability of the Federal Civil Service to renew. The chronic lack of vacancies, especially at the top, even with subordinates retiring ahead of their superiors, only fanned a pervading loss of morale in a large number of officers. Those who were long overdue for promotion stagnated, with no indications or assurances of career advancement.

Indeed, the policy that President Buhari has now reversed was designed to also remedy the cumulative negative effects of the general suspension of promotion and employment into the service between 1984 and 1989. This is in addition to voiding the damage arising from the abuse of the provisions of Decree 43 of 1988 (The Dotun Philips Reform), through which many officers were recruited or transferred (from their states’ civil service) into the officer cadre in the Federal Civil Service and placed on unmerited grade levels. In addition, the manipulation of records of officers, especially by particularly age falsification, resulting in the continued retention of those who are overdue for retirement, was addressed by the now reversed policy.

Therefore, a nation with high unemployment rates and a frightening youth bulge like Nigeria cannot afford to return to a situation where some directors and permanent secretaries, after spending a decade or more in their respective offices, still have over five years to retirement. That can neither be deemed fair nor sustainable in a system awash with hardworking and effective, but stagnating officers who cannot be promoted due to lack of vacancies.

Given the foregoing, the directive of President Buhari on the tenure policy is not only retrogressive, it is likely to undermine morale and the overall performance of the Federal Civil Service.

QUOTE: From the original memo approved by the late president, the logic behind the tenure policy was to pave the way for career progression, fresh capacities and genuine national development anchored on the deployment of skills that would otherwise be wasted by stagnation and attrition