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May 28, 2024

Tenure elongation bill: Aggrieved N/ Assembly staff petition Tinubu

INSECURITY: Beyond lamentation of National Assembly

National Assembly

…say bill threat to industrial harmony

By John Alechenu, Abuja

Aggrieved staff of the National Assembly have urged President Bola Tinubu to veto a bill seeking to increase the retirement age of Parliamentary staff from 60 to 65 years.

Recall, about two months ago, the Senate and the House of Representatives, passed the bill increasing the retirement age which of assented to by the president will take effect with the current National Assembly leadership as beneficiaries.

In a letter addressed to President Tinubu, a copy of which was sighted by Vanguard, in Abuja, on Tuesday, opponents of the bill expressed worry that, “the bill in its current form poses significant constitutional bottlenecks and raise concerns about opacity in the legislative process.”

Legal Adviser to Foundation for Rights Enforcement Enlightenment and Defence, Akobo Teinye Tonbo-Seddon, who signed the petition onbehalf of the aggrieved staff wrote, “the bill’s provisions while they seek to extend the tenure of the Clerk beyond the established retirement age, undermine the principles of fairness, equity and justice.

“It sets a dangerous precedent , potentially leading to a culture of tenure elongation for other public officials, hereby compromising the integrity of our democratic institutions.”

A copy of the petition was also sent to the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF).

In it, the petitioners further argued that the “bill violates the clear provisions of the constitution, which establish the National Assembly and defined the terms and conditions of service for its officials.

“Specifically, Section 51 of the Constitution states that ‘There shall be a clerk to the National Assembly and such other staff as may be prescribed by an act of the National Assembly, and the method of appointment of the clerk and other staff of the National Assembly shall be as prescribed by that act.

“Therefore, the Clerk of the National Assembly is a creation of the constitution, a constitutional office holder, and terms and conditions of service, including the retirement age as specified in the constitution.

“Any changes to this terms and condition will require a constitutional amendment as outlined in section 9 of the Constitution.

“The National Assembly can legislate on matters related to the administration of the National Assembly, but cannot unilaterally alter the constitutional provisions relating to the clerks service years without following the proper procedure of constitutional amendment.

“The bill extending the retirement age of National Assembly staff from 60- 65 years may potentially violate several sections of the Nigerian Constitution, including Section 1 (1). The Constitution is the supreme law of the land and any law inconsistent with its provisions shall be void. This bill is seen as discriminatory or violating fundamental rights.

“Section 14 (1)(b) also guarantees the right to equality and prohibits discrimination based on age. This bill may be seen as discriminatory against younger Nigerians.

“Section 17(1) of the constitution aims to promote social justice, equality and fairness. The bill maybe seen as perpetrating inequality and unfairness by favouring existing employees over new entrants, favouring a particular geopolitical zone against others.

“Section 22 of the Constitution guarantees the right to freedom from discrimination including age. Section 34 of the Constitution protects the right to freedom from forced labour as extending the retirement age may be seen as coercing employees to work beyond their desired retirement age.

“Section 42(1) of the Constitution prohibits discrimination based on age, among other factors and guarantees equal opportunities to all citizens.

“Section 318 of this section defines public service of the federation and lists the category of persons considered to be in the public service of the federation, including the National Assembly and its staff.”

They further argued Arguing further, that “the bill violates the principles of separation of powers and checks and balances, as the legislative arm is seen as over stepping its bound and encroaching on the powers of the executive arm as against the position of the National Council of Establishment, whose role is to review the condition of service pf the public service in conjunction with the Head of Service of the Federation.

“This bill is a special interest bill, sponsored and lobbied by the National Assembly management under the current leadership of the clerk, who is due to retire by November, 2024. This bill is self-serving, wasteful, a pork barrel legislation that provides benefits to the clerk of the National Assembly at the expense of the welfare and productivity of the staff of the National Assembly and general public at large.

“Mr. president, the current Clerk has used this office to dominate and entrench the interest of a particular set of people. Our fear that this bill will help to consolidate his grip and entrench their narrow interest as against the generality of the staff.

“Mr. President, we urge you to consider the long terms implications of signing this bill. We employ you to uphold the constitution, respect the rule of law and prioritise transparency and accountability in achieving the Renewed Hope Agenda of your administration.

“We respectfully request that you decline to sign the tenure elongation bill for the clerk and staff of the National Assembly. Ensure that any future legislation adheres to the constitution and follow the proper amendment process. Prioritise transparency and accountability in all aspect of governance.”