BATTLE OVER NATIONAL ASSEMBLY CLERK

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The National Assembly should be focused

The attempt to review the revised conditions of service for staff by the newly reconstituted National Assembly Service Commission has created unease within the nation’s highest lawmaking body. The immediate consequence of the bickering in the legislative houses is its toll on the quality of debate and legislation for good governance in our country. So the ultimate victims of this unfortunate state of affairs are citizens who are denied quality and effective representation.

The issue in contention is the report of a committee which recommended increased years of service from 35 to 40 years, and age from 60 to 65 years, whichever comes first. This decision has created division between the leadership and membership of both the Senate and the House of Representatives. It has also split the service commission into two opposing camps with implications for legislative work. While the majority of the National Assembly workers are said to be in agreement with the review and full implementation because of the peculiarity of legislative service, a few others are protesting against it because it would confer what they consider an undue advantage on the current Clerk to the National Assembly whose tenure ordinarily ended in February this year.

Going by details of the report now being disputed, the clerk, Sani Omolori and no fewer than 160 officers, are expected to remain in office for about another five years, by raising the retirement from 60 to 65 years and years of service from 35 to 40. But the issue did not start with the agitation for the headship of the bureaucracy of the National Assembly. It has been a long time quest by their staff union for commensurate remunerations and conditions of service as obtained in other developed democracies. It was to draw the attention of the National Assembly leadership that the staff union under the umbrella of the Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria (PASAN) staged a four-day protest in 2018. In resolving the dispute, a Memorándum of Understanding (MOU) which gave birth to the revised conditions of service was adopted. But implementing it has become a serious problem.

Instructively, the motion for its adoption was moved at both Senate and House of Representatives chambers by current Senate President Ahmad Lawan (then in his capacity as Senate Leader) and Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila (then as House Leader) respectively during the Eighth session of the National Assembly. The contention is now about the tenure of the clerk because whatever affects him will impact on the career of other staff as well. So Omolori enjoys the support of PASAN who sees the move against the elongation of his tenure as an attempt to truncate the revised and adopted conditions of service being enjoyed by its members. Halting the implementation of the revised conditions of service, other unions have joined to warn, would trigger industrial disharmony.

Rather than continue to squabble, the National Assembly should appreciate the importance of the image of its members and the institution in public consciousness. Often accused of corrupt practices, demanding bribes during budget proceedings, allocating to themselves huge allowances and emoluments, and turning oversight functions into avenues for shakedown, our Senators and House of Representatives members are not well regarded by Nigerians. The country needs a focused legislature to help move the country forward with good laws that would engender unity, ensure foreign investments and security for all, not unnecessary bickering. The way forward should be dialogue.

It is therefore our hope that the current politics of acrimony between the chambers will give way to common sense so that both can resolve whatever the issue is over the tenure of the clerk of the National Assembly.