By Gift Chapi and Daniel Tyokua
The battle of wits between the National Assembly Service Commission (NASC) and the assembly bureaucracy has finally come full circle with the ‘sacking’ of the head of the bureaucracy and Clerk of the Assembly, Mohammed Sani-Omolori, and over 160 others.
The Executive Chairman of the commission, Ahmed Amshi, on Wednesday, directed that those who had attained the age of 60 or 35 years in service should proceed on compulsory retirement.
Mr Sani-Omolori has spent 35 years in service but seeks to continue in office.
The increase in the tenure of the Ebira prince, looking to remain in service, according to those opposed to him, until the opening in the paramount seat of the densely populated north-central tribe comes for him to take over, has been the source of a face-off between the political leadership of the assembly, chaired by Senate President Ahmad Lawan and his handpicked Chairman of the NASC on the one hand, and Omolori and benefiting bureaucrats aligned to him on the other.
Omolori, the son of the immediate past Ohinoyi of Ebiraland, Alhaji Sani Omolori, pursued his enthronement as Clerk of the National Assembly with all diligence, allegedly employing all manner of means, according to his detractors, but he appears to be ready for an all-out battle to remain.
He has fired his own salvo contending that the NASC, the agency responsible hiring and firing staff of the assembly overshot its mandate. He asked staff to discountenance the statement sacking him and others.
In a statement, he said: “The attention of the National Assembly Management has been drawn to a press release dated 15th July, 2020 signed by the Chairman of the National Assembly Service Commission, informing the general public that the commission has approved the retirement age of staff of the National Assembly as 35 years of service or 60 years of age whichever comes first.
“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.
“The Resolution of the 8th National Assembly on the Conditions of Service of Staff has not been rescinded nor abdicated by the National Assembly, who under the authentic National Assembly Service Act 2014 as passed is empowered to review any proposed amendment to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.”
According to him, the management maintained a studied silence in deference to the leadership of the 9th National Assembly which is looking into the position being canvassed by the commission but finds it intriguing that the National Assembly Service Commission has unilaterally gone ahead to take a decision.
The tenure of the clerk has been a matter of controversy because of the implementation of the National Assembly Revised Condition of Service which took effect in 2019.
Based on the controversially amended conditions, the clerk and no fewer than 160 officers, who were to have retired from office, were expected to remain in office for about five more years, after the retirement age was raised from 60 to 65 years and years of service from 35 to 40.
But in a bid to intervene, Mr Amshi-led commission ignored the amendment by the two chambers of the National Assembly in 2018 and asked all those affected to proceed on compulsory retirement.
“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 on Wednesday 15th July 2020 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.
“To this effect 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,” he said.
The controversial bill was proposed and passed at a time that the commission (known as NASC), which is the policy-making organ of the federal legislature, had not been constituted.
Following its constitution in February by President Muhammadu Buhari with Mr Amshi as its chairman, the NASC reviewed and decided to set aside the revised condition of service, saying it was self-serving and not duly passed.
This development has divided National Assembly workers in the Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria (PASAN).
While a faction is applauding the decision of the NASC to jettison the new rule, another is standing with the National Assembly management led by Mr Sani-Omolori.
An argument preferred by a group is that if the bill was passed by the National Assembly like similar ones, it thus requires assent by President Muhammadu Buhari to become law.
The other group counters, saying it does not require presidential assent but that NASC, which they pointed out was not on ground at the time the bill was passed, can move for a revision of its provisions.
The opponents of the bill also alleged that the five-year increase in service years “was smuggled through the back door” into the original body of proposals.
They fingered Mr Sani-Omolori, his management team and the leadership of the 8th National Assembly as the architects of the ‘surreptitious’ extension of service years under the guise of reviewing the conditions of service of legislative workers.
The revised conditions, however, appear to be very popular with a majority of the over 4,000-strong workforce of the National Assembly who all stand to benefit from the implementation, one way or the other.
Recall that President Muhammadu Buhari had set the controversial precedence, relying on claimed presidential powers to extend the service tenure of some officers working under him, including security personnel.
Although the constitution and the Civil Service rules stipulated the attainment of 35 years of service or 60 years in age (whichever comes earlier) as limit for any worker in the public space, Buhari’s actions set the tone for the current agitations as those people feel they are not lesser mortals and should be accorded same privilege, even if it is to threaten their supervisors.