President Buhari presided over the Federal Executive Council meeting on Wednesday.
  • Restates protocol on removal head of agencies

By ADEBAYO OBAJEMU

A week ago, President Muhammadu Buhari administration came up with a new policy that has restated the nexus between ministers and the agencies under them. The new thinking in the administration may not be cheery to ministers who hitherto had exercised power to remove heads of agencies and parastatals under their supervising ministries.

Generally, ministers do not have powers to remove the head of agencies under them, because they are not the appointing authority; only the president, who appoints can also remove. But in practice, the ministers do exercise such powers on behalf and with the consent or approval of the president.

But recent events seemed to challenge this protocol, when the minister of Power arbitrarily sacked the managing director of Transmission Company of Nigeria, TCN, without presidential approval; which was the last straw after he had sacked the head of the Bulk Electricity Board last year.

Now, the administration has put a break to the powers of ministers to directly remove heads of agencies and parastatals they supervise. In its place is a multi-layered procedure and process that appears to strengthen the role of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation in the disciplinary process.

This new development came via a government circular dated May 19 and endorsed by the SGF, Boss Mustapha. The circular relayed the “concern” and worries of the government about the proclivity of some ministers to arbitrarily remove chief executive officers of agencies and its impact on stability and service delivery.

The touchy circular was sent to all ministers and several other senior officials, head of service, the chief of staff to Buhari, military chiefs, the central bank governor, and permanent secretaries,  and other critical stakeholders in government.

In the past, many have alluded to the tendency of some ministers to abuse the powers they had over the agencies and parastatals under their ministries. Not long ago, APC Mandate Defenders, a pro- All Progressives Congress group accused some ministers of the Buhari administration of carrying themselves like they own the federal ministries. The body said most ministers behaved like emperors.

The group said it was irked by the arbitrariness of some cabinet ministers, even as they condemned some ministers’ violation of Nigeria’s Public Service Rules, including the arbitrary sack of parastatal heads.

In a public statement released to the media last week and signed by the Publicity Secretary, Ifeanyi Emeka; it expressed disgust at the development.

BusinessHallmark recalls that in December 2019, Minister of Power, Sale Mamman, sacked two senior officials within 24 hours. The affected top officials were, Marilyn Amobi, Managing Director of Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Company (NBET) and Damilola Ogunbiyi, former Managing Director of Rural Electrification Agency.

The presidency which may have been embarrassed by the sweep of the action overruled Mamman in both cases. In overruling Ogunbiyi’s suspension, the presidency tweeted: “Her resignation effective 31 December 2019 has been accepted to enable her to take up her new UN appointment.”

The pro-APC group said that Buhari himself had earlier directed that all executive matters be forwarded to him through the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha. The group believed certain ministers and heads of agencies were working in contrast at the expense of efficient service delivery.

The group restated that the main duty of a minister is to articulate and guide the implementation of government policies as well as represent his/her ministry at the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting.

“Some ministers now see themselves as lords over their subordinates instead of working together to achieve Mr President’s vision and plans for the country.

“Just recently, the immediate past female managing director of an intervention agency of the Federal Government said she was removed by the minister in charge of her ministry simply because she refused to yield to the minister’s unpatriotic and irrational demands from her.

“We have seen several instances where unnecessary bickering and personal differences between a minister and a chief executive have brought embarrassments to the government, despite an existing public service rule which had already addressed the issue.”

The group condemned how Mustapha, who supervises and coordinates government programmes and policies, has been under attack for reminding ministers of an existing process to be followed before any chief executive is removed.

“Contents of the Public Service Rules were not written by Boss Mustapha but were formulated by the Government of Nigeria to ensure effective service delivery and prevent arbitrary removal of any chief executive who a minister does not like his or her face as well as to promote national interest over personal interest.

“Is it something that should warrant the barrage of attacks and campaigns of calumny against the SGF by some vested interests and influence peddlers in the power sector”, the statement asked

The SGF’s circular now protects heads of agencies from their supervising ministers’ arbitrariness but may have created a hurdle of red-tapism that may delay – or even prevent – sanction for abuses.

Also, ministerial threats of sanctions in the event of no performance, like the one issued by communications and digital economy minister, Dr Isa Pantami, to agencies under his ministry last August, may no longer yield any effect. The new circular has made enough protection ready against arbitrariness.

When serious misconduct is reported against a chief executive, the new procedure set by the circular requires a minister through the permanent secretary to refer the matter to the governing board of the affected agency in line with its enabling law and chapters three and 16 of the Public Service Rules on discipline and government parastatals.

The board will then issue the affected official a query and subsequently advise the minister of its findings and recommendations. But whether the board is itself the source of the allegation of misconduct against the chief executive or the chief executive is the chairman of the board, the minister, on the advice of the permanent secretary, still has to ensure a query is issued, requesting an explanation from the accused official.

“The Minister after due consideration of the submission from the Board shall, on the advice of the Permanent Secretary, forward the ministry’s position along with the recommendations of the Board and explanation of the Chief Executive Officer to the Secretary to Government of the Federation for processing to Mr President, for a decision,” the circular states.

Upon receipt of the submission from the minister by SGF, the procedure then establishes another layer of the probe, requiring the SGF to “without delay causes an independent investigation and advise Mr President on the appropriate course of action, including interdiction or suspension following the principles guiding Sections 030405 and 030406 of the Public Service Rules, pending the outcome of the independent investigation.”

Based on the outcome of the independent investigation, “it shall be the responsibility of the SGF to further advise Mr President on the next course of action,” the circular states. Continuing, the memo said it is the SGF that will “implement and/or convey the approval and directives of Mr President on every disciplinary action against the Chief Executive Officers in the Public Service.”

The SGF, Mr Mustpha said this “procedure shall serve as a mandatory guide and all ministers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and any other Public Officer in a similar supervisory role are enjoined to strictly abide by its content.”

“For emphasis, on no account shall a Minister of the Federal Republic unilaterally or arbitrarily remove a serving Chief Executive Officer, without recourse to the procedure contained in this circular,” Mr Mustapha said.

In his chat with this newspaper, Professor Hassan Saliu, former Dean of Social Science and a foremost political scientist said: “the circular will restore discipline to civil service and protect against witch-hunt and arbitrariness of some cabinet ministers and at the same time correct misconduct with the sanction of heads of agencies.”

Legal experts, however, differ on this issue.

According to Louis Alozie, principal partner Equity Chambers, “When a law establishes an institution, that law creates offices like the office of executive chairman, executive secretary and others. The procedure for appointment, the procedures for discipline and removal from office and the control of the officers, all these structures are laid down by laws.

“He is not working at the pleasure of the minister; the minister will have no power whatsoever to act outside the board or to act beyond the powers of the board if the minister were to exercise the powers of the board. The only exception is where the minister is acting under the directive of the President. If that was not the case, the minister does not have that power.

He said the controversial sack by the former minister of health was wrong.”The Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole was wrong to have suspended the Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme, Prof. Usman Yusuf over allegations of fraud. If a case of fraud is established, it should be reported to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission or the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission for investigations.

But Femi Fani-Kayode, former minister of Aviation has a different idea. According to him, every minister has the right to suspend any of the heads of parastatals under him.

” That is the general rule, except for a few exceptions. As the minister, you are responsible for the ministry and all the parastatals under you and you must have control of what goes on at all times and you must have power over all the directors-general and heads of departments and agencies.

“If you don’t have such powers, how do you control your subordinates? You cannot sack the person since he is the President’s appointee, but you can suspend. During our time, when a person was to be appointed to head an agency, the minister would forward three names to the President who then chooses based on the minister’s recommendation.

“And if you want to sack him, you have to go back to the President to get an approval. However, you don’t even need permission from the President before you suspend him. You can write a letter of suspension or send him on leave pending the final decision of the President. Usually, the President adheres to the minister’s advice.

“As aviation minister, I suspended the Managing Director of the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria and then I went to the President to state my reasons and he was removed. His successor, Awwal Tukur, had been announced but the sacked guy later came to meet me when I was with the President at the Villa and the President asked him to apologise to me. When he did so, the President appealed to me and he was reinstated.

Jefferson Uwoghiren another legal practitioner said the minister has the power to sack. “First and foremost, it is even a given fact that all heads of agencies and parastatals are under the ministers. This being the case, it is clear that in the organogram and hierarchy of authority, he has the power to sack”.

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