A crisis is looming in the federal civil service over the extension of the tenure of the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education, Dr. Jamila Shu’ara, by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The President of the Trade Union Congress, Mr. Bala Kaigama, said on Friday that the group had written a letter to the Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, to protest the extension of the Permanent Secretary’s tenure.
He said the letter was sent to the Acting President on March 2, 2017 (Thursday), adding that affiliate unions of the TUC would occupy the ministry if Shu’ara failed to leave.
The House of Representatives’ Committee on Basic Education, had on Wednesday, summoned the Head of Service of the Federation, Ms. Winifred Oyo-Ita, to explain why Shu’ara was still in service.
Shu’ara, who is said to be 61 years old, is still in service in breach of civil service rules.
Under the existing provisions, an officer retires from service after serving for 35 years or attaining the age of 60 years, whichever comes first.
According to reports on Thursday, during her first meeting with the House committee, which is chaired by an All Progressives Congress lawmaker from Kwara State, Mr. Zakari Mohammed, the permanent secretary had claimed that her service was extended by the Presidency.
However, the committee later discovered that the alleged extension of service, which was for one year, had expired on February 17.
The committee had directed her to appear on Wednesday with proof of the presidential extension, but Shu’ara failed to show up.
She was scheduled to appear alongside the Minister of Education, Mr. Adamu Adamu, and Oyo-Ita, but none of the officials honoured the invitation.
The committee members later reviewed the absence of the officials and summoned Oyo-Ita and Shu’ara to appear without fail on March 9.
Shu’ara has Buhari’s approval to remain in service –Source
But a source in the Presidency confirmed to Saturday PUNCH that Shu’ara had the approval of the President to remain in service.
The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told one of PUNCH correspondents that Shu’ara was in possession of a written approval from Buhari on the matter.
The source said, “The truth of the matter is that President Buhari approved that she should remain in the service.
“As a matter of fact, she is not the only person in that category.
“In her own case, immediately she was deployed to the Ministry of Education, she presented her papers, saying she would soon retire. It was at that point that it was suggested that she should stay back.
“The truth is that she is one of the best permanent secretaries we have in this country and we cannot afford to lose her wealth of experience now. It is no secret; she has the President’s approval.”
It’s abnormal to extend a civil servant’s tenure – TUC
But the TUC president, who is also the President of the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria, on Friday, insisted that it was an abnormality to extend the service of a civil servant after retirement.
Kaigama described the extension of the tenure of Shu’ara as an abnormality not backed by any civil service regulation in the country.
He noted that if an official was found to be indispensable, the most the government could do was to engage the person through contract employment and not tenure extension.
He said, “Of course, we are aware of that and we have already protested to the Acting President and we have written a protest letter after her tenure expired. And we are assuring you that if nothing is done, we will occupy the Ministry of Education until the woman leaves.
“It has not happened before. If that person is indispensable, you put that person in contract employment. But to say you are extending somebody’s service after retirement is never heard of.”
When asked if the government was given any deadline, he said, “We want to strongly believe that the protest we have made is heeded. If not, we will ultimately occupy that ministry.
“Well, it is a new development. Maybe the Acting President is not aware of it. We have chronicled the development, the process, and how it developed to this level. We sent it out on March 2, 2017. If nothing is done about that, I am assuring you that we will occupy her office.”
One of PUNCH correspondents contacted the Director of Communications, Office of the Head of Service of the Federation, Mr. Haruna Imrana, on Thursday but he said he was attending to a matter and could not talk.
However, Imrana did not pick the calls to his mobile telephone line on Thursday and Friday and had not responded to a text message on the issue as of the time of going to press.
Shu’ara, who was last year, the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Petroleum, according to the Public Service Rules number 100238, retired on February 17, 2016, after attaining the age of 60.
Shu’ara, in her notice of retirement, dated February 15, 2016 and addressed to the Head of Civil Service of the Federation, commended the Federal Government and the President.
“I wish to confirm that I am not in any way indebted to the Federal Government of Nigeria as evidenced in the non-indebtedness form duly endorsed by the Federal Housing Loans Board,” she wrote.
But in the letter conveying the extension of her tenure, the Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Shu’ara was told that her emoluments and other conditions of service would be sustained till February 17, 2017.
The letter entitled: “Extension of retirement period”, with ref. No: HCSF/351/S. 1/76, dated February 24, 2016 and signed by Oyo-Ita, was obtained by The PUNCH from the Presidency on Wednesday in Abuja.
“This is to inform you that the His (sic) Excellency, Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, President, Federal Republic of Nigeria, in a letter with Ref. No. SGF. 12/S.11/C.1/T/2, has extended your retirement period by one (1) year with effect from February 17, 2016,” the letter stated.
“Your emoluments and other conditions of service will remain sustained up to February 16, 2017.”
But in March 2016, the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria, an affiliate of the TUC, said in the interest of industrial peace and harmony in the civil service, Shu’ara “should be eased out of the system unless those behind this extension have a hidden agenda somewhere.”
The Secretary-General of ASCSN, Mr. Alade Lawal, had in an interview with The PUNCH, said, “The so-called extension of retirement period of Mrs. Shu’ara for another year came to us as a big surprise.
“It is a rude shock and we least expected it. The development is dangerous and it is highly condemnable. With the sort of respect we have for this administration, we least expect this level of impunity to be factored into public administration. Are we saying this woman is indispensable? The answer is no.”
Reacting to the development, civil rights groups and the House of Representatives’ Committee on Basic Education called on the Federal Government to investigate permanent secretaries and other top government officials, who might have been abusing the civil service rules.
The civil rights groups said that it was likely that there were senior civil servants in service illegally.
The Chairman of the House Committee told Saturday PUNCH that the case of Shu’ara caught the attention of his committee because he directly supervised her ministry.
He added that there was the “high likelihood” of many similar breaches taking place in the ministries, departments and agencies of government.
Mohammed stated, “The government should investigate its system. We are worried over this development. Right now, it is difficult to say how many more cases are there in the various MDAs.
“An investigation will bring out the number. This is important because when people are not supposed to be in service, all the actions they take are a nullity. Even the salaries and allowances they have received; were they legitimately earned?”
Also, the Executive Secretary, Anti-Corruption Network, Ebenezer Oyetakin, said that if there were cases of arbitrary extension of tenure for some senior civil servants, such should be probed.
Oyetakin said, “If the President, by prerogative power and recommendations, decided to grant some civil servants extension of time, and it happened to be in national security interest, such cannot be condemned.
“Again, that also can be investigated by the House to determine the reasons for granting such an extension of time and ascertain if such is in the interest of the nation. Definitely, such unwarranted actions will retard the succession ladder, thereby depriving the younger generations their place in the service. It is a moral corruption to be indulgent in such practices and moral corruption is the foundation of all corrupt practices.”
On his part, the National Publicity Secretary of Afenifere, Yinka Odumakin, condemned tenure extension in service.
He stated, “These nefarious acts impact negatively on our system as those who have passed their productive years continue to create roadblocks at the top and obstructing traffic flow for the generations coming behind. Beyond that is the fact that these people are not holding on for public good but their private interests.”
The President, Nigerian Voters Assembly, Mashood Erubami, said it had become business as usual for civil servants to condone unfair practices of changing service tenure backed by deceptive affidavit procured through fraudulent judicial process.
He said, “The current call (by the House) is a timely step to redirect government attention to old sit-tight attitude that had pinned down the succession processes, which tends to tie down the youths from being engaged while perpetuating the old order.”