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14.05.2021 investigations EXCLUSIVE: PS Usurps Head of Service’s Powers at Education Ministry

Published 14th May, 2021

By Socrates Mbamalu

The Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Education, Sonny Echono, issued out a circular on January 26 informing directors, heads of units, principals, Federal Unity Colleges and all zonal/state coordinators of the Federal Education Quality Assurance (FEQAS) of the implementation of the new retirement age and years of service for the teaching profession.

Echono’s circular came a week after the Federal Executive Council (FEC) had approved the increase in the retirement age of teachers across the country from 60 to 65 years on January 20.

The ‘Harmonized Retirement Age for Teachers in Nigeria Bill 2020’, an Executive Bill, was sent to the National Assembly for consideration to be passed into law. However, as of the time Echono issued out the circular, the bill had not yet been passed into law.

FIJ learnt that the bill was yet to be introduced to the floor of the National Assembly as of the time of writing this report. But in the circular, Echono stated that the implementation of the new scheme would take effect from January 1, and was only restricted to education officers and teaching staff.

An investigation by FIJ however showed that there was no constitutional backing for the implementation of the new retirement age and increase in years of service. FIJ spoke to a source who said since the implementation was not backed by any law, it was illegal and would only serve as an opportunity for fraud to be perpetrated by directors, heads of units and principals who would cite the circular as a backing not to retire from their various positions while they still had control and access to allocations and funds.

The Permanent Secretary is the Chief Accounting Officer of the Ministry and ensures the implementation of major projects, policy formulation and direction and generates ideas to support the Minister’s agenda among other roles. FIJ spoke with a civil servant who confirmed that whatever directives the PS gives is what will be carried out by the directors in the ministry.

The civil servant further said that issues as sensitive as increase in age of retirement and length of service had to be gazetted and a circular issued by the Head of Service.

Rule 020810 of the Public Service Rules states that the compulsory retirement age for all grades in the Service shall be 60 years or 35 years of pensionable service whichever is earlier. It further states that no officer shall be allowed to remain in service after attaining the retirement age of 60 years or 35 years of pensionable service whichever is earlier.

In the preamble of the Public Service Rules, the Head of Service states that “Further amendments to these Rules shall be made through Circulars, which will be issued from time to time.” The circular that was however issued in the Ministry of Education did not come from the Head of Service.

FIJ spoke with a lawyer who confirmed that the bill has to be passed into law for it to be implemented. “Something that has not been passed to law cannot be be implemented. It’s like putting something on nothing,” he said.

“There is an existing bill that has not yet been passed to law, however a particular sector has by themselves passed this thing to law. The law of equity states that equity sees what ought to be as what is, but the exception to that is where there are two equal equities; the law always prevails.

“So you can’t do that where there is the equity of teachers involved and there is also the equity of the fact that this bill should definitely be passed to law. So when there are two conflicting equities, only the law prevails; in this aspect there is no law because it is still a bill, so it is putting something on nothing.

“The process of a bill being enacted as a law, that alone gives time, gives awareness, passes information, to whoever is going to be affected by that particular law. To either maintain status quo or desist or stop whatever action that the law is against. It doesn’t just give you information, it gives you times to prepare.”

An educator who works with the federal civil service confirmed to FIJ that some of his colleagues who were due for retirement are still in service but have some issues regarding their salaries which would be rectified. “Normally it (the bill) is supposed to go through the Senate which will pass it into law. With the current situation in the country I doubt if the Senate will be able to sit down and discuss that matter when there are burning issues.”

The educator confirmed that the Head of Service should have been the one to issue the circular and not the permanent secretary. He blamed the emanation of the circular from the permanent secretary on the characteristic lack of due process in Nigeria

FIJ reached out to the Ministry of Education for comments through the numbers on its website but none of them was reachable.  

Published 14th May, 2021

By Socrates Mbamalu

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