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Has National Assembly powers to extend Retirement Age of Employees in its payroll?

By Odimegwu Onwumere
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What sounded like chitchat in 2018 that extended to 2019 has fully displayed in 2020: the National Assembly is facing uproar from the public after it officially extended the stay of the Clerk of the National Assembly (NASS), Mohammed Sani-Omolori, and other top officials.

Understanding what had transpired according to news reports:

“The National Assembly increased the compulsory retirement age of all employees in its payroll from 60 years of age or 35 years of pensionable service to 65 years of age or 40 years of pensionable service in its new Conditions of Service.

“The conditions, which were passed, by the Senate on December 11, 2018 and the House of Representatives on December 12, 2018, became effective on 21st May 2019.

“It also makes several changes to staff retirement benefits, disengagement allowances, rent subsidies, transport allowances and end of year bonus among others.”

According to a report by Premium Times, March 27 2019: “Aside from Mr Sani-Omolori, other officials who could benefit from the proposed plan are the Clerk of the House of Representatives, Giwa Anonkhai, and Secretary of the National Assembly Service Commission (NASC), Olusanya Ajakaiye.”

The scheme is however procreating uneasiness in Nigeria since then, but especially within the ranks of staff of the National Assembly Service Commission (NASC).

Fresh row over NASS Clerk’s tenure,” was how The Nation, June 7, 2020, titled it.

Voices against the offer:
The question now is: is it not misleading that the National Assembly has towed this somewhat misleading occupation without giving a hoot to what the law of the country says about retirement of persons holding such positions and to the authorities mandated to do so?

Many pundits believe that such agreement, is being promoted through the backdoor, given that it would enable Mr Sani-Omolori and others to retire only on attaining 65 years or after 40 years of service, whereas the legality of the proffer as retirement is questionable and it is not determined by the key Nigerian civil service laws, which pegged retirement age at 60 years of age or 35 years in service, with the exclusion of judges and professors.

Apart from that, many believe that it is not within the powers of the NASS to decide who should retire or not, but the NASC. However, for clarity of how many years these persons in the controversy surrounding the retirement extension have spent, Premium Times reported in 2019 that the three officials had between four to 21 months to retire with their spent services itemized below:

1. Mr Ajakaiye is due to proceed on terminal leave in May, as he is set to retire in August. He was born on August 19, 1959.

2. Mr Sani-Omolori, who was born on May 7, 1961, started work on February 6, 1985. He is therefore expected to retire in February next year when he attains 35 years in service.

3. The House or Representatives Clerk, Mr Anonkhai, is due to attain the mandatory retirement age of 60 next year. He was born on November 25, 1960.

What the Law says as according to Policy And Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC):

“For instance a perusal of the law clarifies that National Assembly Staff are actually governed by the National Assembly Service Commission by virtue of the National Assembly Service Act, 2014.

“The Commission’s powers under the Act include the power to formulate and implement guidelines for its functions. It is also empowered to make regulations relating to its conditions of service under section 19(1) of the Act.

Section 19(1) of the National Assembly Service Act is replicated below:

“19.-( 1) “Subject to the provisions of this Act, the Commission may make staff regulations relating generally to the conditions of service, including the power to fix salaries and allowances, of the staff of the National Assembly….”

Power bestowed on the Commission, not National Assembly?

The PLAC went further: “Therefore from the said section, it appears that it is the Commission and not the National Assembly that is granted power to make changes to conditions of service (such as retirement age/ years of service)...

“It also makes it imperative to scrutinize National Assembly’s roles in the light of the powers given to the National Assembly Service Commission under the Act.

“This is especially so as the Act explicitly limits National Assembly roles in its internal affairs. Specifically, only two roles are provided for the Legislative arm. The first being an advisory role with National Assembly leadership (Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives) assigned with the responsibility of recommending the Commission’s Membership to a sitting President while the second role requires National Assembly to approve the remuneration that the Commission pays its staff.

“Therefore, while the procedure for adopting remuneration for workers falls within the roles designated for National Assembly’s approval under the Act, the procedure governing other conditions of service such as retirement age/years of service is not explicitly provided as requiring its approval under the Act.”

Odimegwu Onwumerewrites from Rivers state via: [email protected]