Written by the Editorial board of The Guardian Newspaper
The Federal Government’s recent suspension of a 2009 public service policy, which set eight-year tenure for permanent secretaries and directors, is yet another policy somersault that is retrogressive and unnecessary. It should be reversed immediately to defuse ongoing tension in the public service.
To say the least, the manner of announcing the policy reversal by the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Mrs Winifred Oyo-Ita even negated procedure and decency even as it was attributed to a presidential directive. That was not good enough in a polity where the value of building strong institutions in place of strong men is urgently needed and is being preached everyday.
In a circular to all the ministries, departments and agencies, (MDAs), the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation (HCSF) said President Muhammadu Buhari had “directed the suspension of tenure policy with immediate effect and all concerned are to comply accordingly.”
The implication of that presidential fiat is that the eight-year tenure ceiling the Umaru Musa Yar’Adua government approved in 2009 and which has been a stabilising factor in the civil service has been suspended.
While Buhari’s prerogative as chief executive of the federation is not in doubt or in question, it is an incontrovertible fact that this policy reversal is unnecessary and ill-advised. Besides, the nation needs some explanation on the presidential directive that has set the service on edge. It is clear that the 2009 policy has enabled officers to rise to the highest level accordingly without hitches hitherto caused by sit-tight syndrome by officers of directorate cadre and permanent secretaries.
In other words, it was understood in simple terms that before the 2009 tenure ceiling regulation, some directors and permanent secretaries could be in office for more than 16 years. And this prevented so many officers from rising as there were no vacancies. Specifically, most of the nine permanent secretaries who were affected by the policy in 2009 had spent more than a decade in their stations. In fact, one of them had spent 16 years and still had more years to retire. What is more, the current Head of Service and no fewer than three of her predecessors have been direct beneficiaries of the tenure policy.
This is to say that but for the policy now suspended, there would have been no vacancies for them to be directors, let alone being permanent secretaries. This is why the sudden suspension has caused disaffection within the service. While most who would have retired this year are rejoicing that it is now business as usual, numerous candidates for promotion are agonising and this is not good for morale and productivity in the federal civil service.
President Yar’Adua had in August 2009 approved “Tenure of Office for Permanent Secretaries and Directors” in the federal bureaucracy. In the circular dated August 26, 2009 conveying the new policy on tenure to all public servants, the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation then, Mr. Stephen Oronsaye had said the President’s approval was part of continuing reforms in the federal civil service. The reform began under the Obasanjo administration with the setting up of Bureau of Public Service Reforms in 2003, headed then by a Director General who was later appointed Permanent Secretary.
The Head of Service then had noted: “Government has found it necessary to develop a policy that will renew and reinvigorate the Service, restore morale of officers and unlock the creative potential of hardworking officers.” That new policy thrust caused some furore in the service as some senior officers to be affected had protested, noting specifically that the new deal should not take retroactive effect. But eventually, nine permanent secretaries were affected. It was to the credit of the then President who was said to have implemented a similar policy in Katsina State where he was a governor that he did not buckle under the powerful lobby which had wanted him to scrap the policy. It is believed now that the same powerful clique had prevailed on Buhari to reverse the policy.
It should be recalled that in the extant rule guiding the tenure policy, whenever a vacancy exists in the federal permanent secretaries cadre, such a vacancy has to be filled by another candidate from the state of origin of the retiring permanent secretary. Strict application of the federal character principles has been very effective since. This is the rhythm that has just been disrupted by the reversal.
According to a data analyst on this tenure issue, by the normal career progression requirement of three years for maturity into next grade for GL 08-14 and four years for GL 14-17, it would take an officer who obtains his/her promotion as when due 27 years to attain GL 17. And since the length of service allowed under the Public Service Rules is 35 years that leaves only eight years as the maximum number of years that an officer can spend after attaining the ultimate Grade Level 17. For most officers, since the average age at which they can enter the service after graduation from university with bachelor’s degree and having completed the NYSC scheme is 25 years, the age of attaining GL 17 after 27 years of service would be around their 52 birthday, which means that both their eight-year tenure on GL 17 and 35 years of service would co-terminate with their 60 years of age.
Therefore, the premise for the eight years stipulated for tenure is also supported by the natural age of officers, in this connection. However, the analyses revealed otherwise as there were numerous cases of people staying on as permanent secretaries for up to 15-16 years as well as directors with potential to spend 27 years on the grade, having been on the grade for 14 years and who, at the point the policy was introduced, were not due to clock 60 years of age for another 13 years!
It has been noted by policy analysts too that trouble began because of the abuse of Decree 43 of 1988 which delegated the powers of appointment and promotion of the Federal Civil Service Commission (FCSC) to MDAs, resulting in situations where certain officers were promoted from GL 10 or 12 to GL 17 overnight and others with barely five-seven years post-NYSC experience were given direct appointment as directors on GL 17. Because these officers were not leaving the service, there were no consequential vacancies to take care of effective and hardworking officers who were due for promotion. These anomalies were taken care of by the ingenuity of the tenure ceiling.
In this connection, with the high unemployment rate and flexibilities and expertise of young technocrats now required to rejig the bureaucracy, permanent secretaries who are political office holders, according to the 1999 Constitution as amended, and directors in the public service should not be allowed to spend more than eight years.
All told, the President should not allow himself to be dragged into the point of such public perception that he is a president of a section of the country and one who would reverse a public policy just to satisfy the interest of that section of the country. Nigeria is a diverse country and that diversity is a blessing, not a curse. One thing, among many others that can turn this on its head is this unnecessary policy somersault that tends to reinforce the sadly growing image of Buhari as a provincial leader.
For a man with the kind of pan-Nigerian mandate and goodwill Buhari enjoys, this is an unnecessary image to cultivate.