By DEOLU OGUNBANJO
MANDATORY retirement is attained in the Federal Civil Service upon attainment of either 60 years of age or 35 years of pensionable service. This policy has always been in the Civil Service Rules or Public Service Rules. It is applicable to all cadres in the civil service. The intention of the policy is obviously to promote stability in the system and to offer a sense of tenure security to the officers.
However, during the administration of President Umaru Yar’Adua, there was a policy shift. The then Head of Civil Service of the Federation, Mr. Stephen Oronsaye, introduced an obnoxious policy termed the “tenure policy” for Permanent Secretaries and Directors. By a circular dated August 26, 2009, with reference number HCSF/061/S.1/III/68 titled: “Tenure of Office for Permanent Secretaries and Directors,” the tenure policy was introduced into the Federal Civil Service.
The circular provides the following: “As part of the continuing reforms in the Federal Civil Service, government has found it necessary to develop a policy that will renew and reinvigorate the service, restore the morale of officers, and unlock the creative potential of hardworking officers. Accordingly, the government has approved that permanent secretaries shall hold office for a term of four years, renewable for a further term of four years, subject to satisfactory performance, and no more.
“In the case of directors, they shall compulsorily retire upon serving eight years on the post. This approval is without prejudice to the relevant provisions of the Public Service Rules, which prescribe 60 years of age and/or 35 years of service for mandatory retirement. Consequently, all serving permanent secretaries and directors who would have spent eight years on post by January 1, 2010, the effective date of this provision, are hereby notified for the purpose of commencing their pre-retirement activities, when due.”
By another circular with reference number HCSF/061/S.1/III/186 and dated October 21, 2009, the policy was made applicable to parastatals, agencies, and statutory corporations of the government, thereby widening its scope of application.
Reasons given for the policy shift were to “renew and reinvigorate the service, restore the morale of officers, and unlock the creative potential of hard-working officers”. It is doubtful if the policy shift ever attained the goals stated therein. On the contrary, while the new policy lasted, it ensured the exit of talented, resourceful, and experienced hands from the service.
The policy was made to have a retroactive effect. Since it affected “all serving permanent secretaries and directors who would have spent eight years on post by January 1, 2010”, it simply means that the policy effect was rolled back to the years the affected officers had served before the coming of the policy. In our opinion, this rendered the policy unconstitutional and illegal.
The policy was also made “without prejudice to the relevant provisions of the Public Service Rules, which prescribe 60 years of age or 35 years of service for mandatory retirement”. What this means is that a permanent secretary or director who attains either 60 years of age or 35 years of service before the eight years stipulated in the tenure policy must go and would not have the luxury of spending the eight years in office.
On the negative side, a permanent secretary or director who spends eight years in office but is far from the age of 60 or 35 years of service must go under the new rule. This is where the loss of experienced hands occurs, considering the wide applicability of the rule. The tenure policy was implemented during the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan, and the Federal Civil Service suffered monumental losses of many young, talented, and experienced officers and a complete retrogression of the system.
The negative side of the policy weighed heavily on the mind of the incumbent administration, and that prompted President Muhammadu Buhari to suspend the ill-fated policy in 2016 through the then Head of Civil Service of the Federation, Mrs. Winifred Oyo-Ita. The suspension was greeted with loud applause by the officers in the service and even by the general public.
However, the same Buhari government that suspended the obnoxious policy and sustained the suspension for about seven years has now resolved to restore the policy and has taken some positive steps to that effect. In the revised Public Service Rules 2021 edition, the tenure policy has been restored.
Rule 020909 provides the following: “A director or its equivalent, by whatever nomenclature it is described in MDAs, shall compulsorily retire upon serving eight years on the post; and a permanent secretary shall hold office for a term of four years, renewable for a further term of four years, subject to satisfactory performance, and no more.”
There is nothing in the new rule quoted above that indicates it will have a retrospective effect, but the retrospective effect will come through a circular issued by the office of the Federation’s Head of Civil Service, as it did in the 2009 circular. Already, that office has issued a circular dated November 25, 2022, with reference number HSCF/SPSO/ODD/NCE/RR/650309/3, signed by the incumbent, Dr. Folasade Yemi-Esan, implementing an aspect of the 2021 edition of PSR relating to paternity leave. The retroactive effect of that circular is obviously shown therein.
The grouse with the reintroduced policy is the damaging effect it comes with and the reverberating effect of the damage to the system. It has all the hallmarks of a witch hunt, with the option of persecution or cleansing. We find it difficult to understand why the outgoing Federal Government, which avoided the retrogressive policy during its tenure, will suddenly turn around and bring it back to shackle its successor.
The policy is unconstitutional because of its retroactive effect and the negative consequences on the careers of capable and virile officers, which is another reason for the call for its abolition. The revised PSR has ample provisions to weed out unproductive officers through different means without resorting to capricious and high-handed tactics that the tenure policy represents.
Accordingly, we call on the President to abrogate the policy completely as part of efforts to preserve his legacy upon his exit from power on May 29, 2023.
*Ogunbanjo, president of the Consumer Rights Advancement Organisation, CRADO, wrote from Lagos.
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