By Taiwo Shobajo/Goodluck Ikiebe
Nigeria - The Federal Government has begun a mass retrenchment of directors and permanent secretaries in its employment, who have spent more than eight years on the same level.
Sack letters have been issued to some affected staff and it is expected that all affected workers would have received their letters before the end of work on Friday, September 1, 2023.
Over 500 directors from the core civil service are expected to be affected by the new directive. But the number, sources in the office of the HoCSF disclosed, is expected to rise to over 1000 as the policy had been extended to other departments and agencies like the Nigerian Customs Service (NSC) and other paramilitaries.
It would be recalled that the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation (HoCSF), Dr. (Mrs) Folashade Yemi-Esan, had in a memo dated July 27, 2023, addressed to all Permanent Secretaries, Accountant-General of the Federation, Auditor-General of the Federation and heads of extra-ministerial departments, ordered strict compliance with the newly revised Public Service Rules, 2021, which require directors in the civil service, who have spent eight years to proceed on immediate retirement.
"Following the approval of the revised Public Service Rules by the Federal Executive Council on September 27, 2021, and its subsequent unveiling at the public service lecture during the commemoration of the 2023 Civil Service Week, the PSR has become operational with effect from July 27, 2023.
"You are, therefore, to ensure full compliance with all provisions of the Public Service Rules, 2021. Please, ensure strict compliance with the contents of this circular", the HCSF had directed in the memo.
Consequently, all accounting officers in the MDAs conveyed the OHCSF directive to their work force through internal memos.
For instance, the Director of Administration, Federal Ministry of Finance, Maria Rufai, in a circular dated August 3, directed all directors, who had stayed on the director ‘s rank for eight years to proceed on immediate retirement and handover official property, including vehicles to the next most senior officer in their respective departments.
"I write to refer you to the “2021 Revised Edition” of the Public Service Rules, which takes effect from 27th July 2023.
"Consequently, all Directors (SGL 17), who have spent eight years and above on the post are by this Internal Circular directed to submit their notice of retirement in line with Section 020909 of the revised PSR effective from the date stated thereof.
"Accordingly, all affected directors are advised to commence the process of documentation with the Administration Department for compulsory retirement by virtue of the section under reference.
"Please bring the content of this internal circular to the attention of all concerned for strict compliance", the circular stated.
Similar circulars were issued to all federal ministries by their Directors of Finance and Administration.
Meanwhile, checks by our correspondent revealed that the government has started the implementation of the new tenure policy, which is expected to claim many casualties.
Mostly affected by the new tenure policy is the Federal Ministry of Health and Ministry Education, which sources informed have a large population of super Directors.
According to a source in the office of the OHoCSF, a super Director is a director, who has spent more than three years on Grade Level 17.
"In most instances, Directors on Level 17 don’t spend more than three years in office after attaining that position. By the time they get promoted to Level 17, they are either close to the 60 years retirement age or the 35 years in service rule.
"So, anyone still in service beyond three years after becoming a full Director is regarded as a ‘Super Director. And it is only those that entered the civil service at a very young age of between 21 to 25 years that last beyond three years as a full Director.
"As you know, most Nigerians born in the late 50s and early 60s still in active service, most likely started school very late in life, as they had to work to save enough for their education. On the other hand, the lucky ones with well to do parents or guardians entered primary schools at the mandatory age of six.
"So, it is not surprising that the policy affected a large numbers of Directors. If you see many of them still claiming to be under 60 or have spent less than 35 years in service, they look old and haggard like great grand fathers. You can’t cheat age. No matter how well you try to hide it, it will surely show on you”, the source noted.
All the directors affected by the tenure policy in the Federal Ministry of Health have put in their letters of retirement as directed by the HoCSF.
"I can reliably confirm to you that our ministry (Health) has complied with government directive. For instance, more than 15 directors, including the Director, Public Health, Federal Ministry of Health, Dr. Morenike Alex-Okoh and the Director of Family Health, Dr. Boladale Alonge, have vacated their offices.
"And these are the ones I know personally because they are titled Directors with offices assigned to them. There are many other officers on Level 17, who are mere Directors with no official title.
"For instance, in my own department, we have more than 15 Directors, but only five, the director of Finance, Admin and Personnel, Hospital Support and Hospital Affairs are holding top offices while other Directors assist them.
"So, in most cases, apart from knowing that these officers (Directors) are very senior people, you don’t really know their levels", the ministry of health source added.
Also hit hard by the rationalisation exercise is the Federal Ministry of Education. The ministry, it was learnt, account for around 40% of the population of Directors in the entire civil service.
A source in the ministry, who begged for anonymity because he didn’t have the approval to comment, explained that the ministry was particularly affected because teachers normally constitute the bulk of the ministry’s workforce.
"Like in the ministry of health, where doctors and nurses are in the majority, teachers also dominate the ministry of Education, even in states, where they constitute about 40 to 50 percent of the population.
"For instance, all the states of the federation and Abuja have unity schools (Federal Colleges). Some states like Lagos, with Kings and Queens Colleges, have both male and female only schools.
"Expectedly, the ministry is the mostly hit with over 100 Directors affected by the first wave of axing. More heads are expected to roll soon", the source disclosed.
Also, three Directors in the National Insurance Commission (NAICOM) have retired in compliance with the new rule.
While many Ministries, Departments and Agencies have started implementing the eight year tenure policy for all directors on Level 17, our findings revealed that others are yet to do so.
One of the recalcitrant agencies is the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA), where 10 Directors are staying put in office almost one month after the newly revised Public Service Rules came into effect.
Sources in the FCTA claimed the Directors, especially the administration’s Director of Human Resource Management, Bashir Muhammad, had all spent between nine to 12 years on the Directorate cadre and were desperately hanging on hoping that they would escape the ongoing purge.
"The Director of Human Resource Management, Bashir Muhammad, and his counterpart at the Christian Pilgrimage Board, Dabara Vingo and several others affected by the new rule are yet to vacate office.
"In fact, the Director of Human Resource Management, Bashir Muhammad, recently requested a three-month tenure extension from the FCTA Permanent Secretary, Olusade Adesola.
"Though the request has not been granted, everyone in FCTA is worried by the refusal of the concerned officials to comply with the rules. We are hoping the FCT Minister, Nyesom Wike would intervene to correct the anomaly’’.
While Muhammad could not be reached to confirm or deny the allegation at the time of filing in this report, the FCTA Director of Press, Muhammed Sule, informed our correspondent that all concerned officials had been directed to tender their resignation letters.
"Yes, all affected officials have been notified through a circular", Sule clarified, but failed to disclose if the concerned officials had adhered to the directive.
Apart from directors on Grade Level 17, the tenure policy, it was learnt, will also affect top government officials, particularly Permanent Secretaries.
Also to be affected is Yemi-Esan, who will be forced to go on compulsory retirement in December owing to the new rule.
According to a public analyst and columnist, Jide Ojo, the new age tenure policy will address the issue of falsification of age by desperate civil servants.
"Ordinarily, the Public Service Rule prescribes three years as the maturity period for officers to earn their promotion to the next grade level, between GL.08 and GL.14, while the maturity period to move between GL.14 and GL.17 is four years.
"It follows simple logic, therefore, that an officer entering the civil service with a first degree would require a minimum of 27 years to attain the post of director (GL.17), leaving only eight years as the maximum number of years that an officer could possibly spend on the two grades of Director and Permanent Secretary.
"Unfortunately, available facts show that the records of some officers are not in sync with their ages; and the real situation is that there are Directors, who have spent 10 to 12 years on the post and still have more than five years to retirement", Ojo noted.
A presidency source informed our correspondent that apart from trying to open up the system for young bloods to fill up the vacant positions, the government hopes to drastically slash its wage budget.
"On the average, a director on GL 17, which is the highest paying grade on the federal civil service commission earns about N500,000 monthly. This amount does not include other pecks and privileges that come with the office.
"Also, the Directors, like all civil servants, earn incremental pay every year (effective on the day they resume duty), thus pushing up their monthly wages.
"If the government is able to effectively implement these reforms, it could save several billions annually on salaries", the presidency source argued.
Meanwhile, affected officials have criticised the implementation of the rule, which stipulates that any director of SGL17, who has spent eight years on the rank must proceed on retirement irrespective of whether the staff has attained 35 years of service, or 60 years of age.
Some of the affected officials, who spoke to our correspondent on the matter decried the policy, calling it unfair and discriminatory.
"According to the Nigerian constitution and the Public Service Rules, retirement from public service should be either through maximum service period of 35 years or retirement age of 60 years.
"Are they saying they know our ages better than us? We are going to fight the new rule in court as it is unconstitutional. We are covered by the law and should be spared from being unceremoniously booted out”, one of the aggrieved directors, Lawrence Apantaku, vowed.
However, other civil servants welcomed the development, noting that it would create vacancies for stagnated officers to move into.
"The new policy will help those, who stayed for long on certain ranks without promotions for lack of vacancies to experience career progression", a senior civil servant enthused.
Reacting to criticisms trailing the tenure policy, the Federal Government defended the policy, saying it was done to strengthen the bureaucracy.
The Director of Communications, Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation (OHoCSF), Mallam Mohammed Ahmed, dismissed reports of opposition to the policy, while revealing that affected officials are complying with the new directive.
"Those affected knew it was done in the interest of the Civil Service. So, there is no grumbling anywhere.
"However, there are some officers, who claimed that their being in position was different from when they were issued official appointment as Directors. They are advised to write to the appropriate authority on the matter".
Ahmed also allayed the fears shared by critics that the exercise will create a massive vacuum in the civil service, but assured that there are competent Deputy Directors and Assistant Directors to act in acting capacity before substantive Directors are appointed.
"There will be no vacuum, please, as there are numerous Directors awaiting posting. Also, there are competent Deputy Directors and Assistant Directors, who can carry on in acting capacity before substantive Directors would be appointed.
"Let me also tell you that this policy was not new; it was there before it was suspended due to overall public interest. It is now being implemented in the interest of the Civil Service", Ahmed explained.