Barring any last-minute change of plans, the Federal Government has concluded plans to extend the tenure of office of the heads of three agencies under the ministry of interior.
The development, POLITICS NIGERIA can confirm, is clearly against the rule governing the country’s public service and could lead to bad blood among senior officers in the affected organisations.
The interior ministry, which is headed by the former Osun State Governor, Rauf Aregbesola, has under it the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Federal Fire Service, and the Nigeria Correctional Service (NCS), which was formerly known as the Nigeria Prison Service.
Out of the four, the tenure of the leadership of the trio of Immigration Service, NSCDC and the correctional service is billed to end this year. In fact, that of the correctional service had ended since last year but President Buhari extended it by one year.
Muhammed Babandede, the Comptroller General of the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), is currently the longest-serving top officer in the agency having spent 35 years in service.
It was gathered that the 57-year-old is due for retirement in September.
Also, Ahmed Ja’afaru, 61, was appointed the Controller-General of the Nigeria Correctional Service (NCS) in 2016.
Ja’afaru, whose tenure was to end on July 21st, 2019 was recommended for one-year extension and had been expected to bow out of office in the next two months. But with the latest development, he is likely to be the first public official in that capacity to enjoy such favour, which has been described by many as ‘illegal’.
Meanwhile, the NCDC Commandant-General, Abdullahi Muhammadu was appointed in 2015 and his tenure is also expected to end in July 2020.
However, this newspaper learnt that these three top officials have lobbied their supervising minister, Mr Aregbesola, to recommend the extension to President Buhari.
Extension for sale?
In what some of the senior officials across the trio organisations have described as absurd, the Minister of Interior has reportedly bulldozed his way to the President, bypassing required protocols, in his efforts to secure the President’s assent for the three officials through a recommendation memo.
According to reliable sources, rather than channelling the memo through the administrative office of the President, Mr Aregbesola reportedly secured the President’s approval through his ‘powerful’ private secretary.
The insiders, who craved anonymity, said; “They agreed to grant the immigration man two years while the prison boss was handed another one year since he already secured one-year last year.”
It was not clear how many years was approved for the NSCDC commandants, but sources said he also benefited from the two-year bonuses.
An insider added; “For the minister to go out of his way to ensure tenure extension against public service rules isn’t a joke. It involved high wired politics and huge resources. But the unfortunate thing is that the consequences will be damaging for the services. Other top officials who are expected to take charge will frustrate the leadership by all means.”
“Do you what is happening with the service chiefs and why the war against Boko Haram has continued to foot drag? As long as justice is not done, the officers who are due for promotion and are not being sacrificed for some selfish interests would definitely not fold their arms. They will fight back because they don’t only have their own backers too, they have God.”
SGF processing letters
Investigations by this newspaper has revealed that this week the announcement will be officially made through letters to the individual officers.
According to sources at the Presidency, the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (OSGF) has received a directive from the President to write the concerned officers through the minister.
According to sources, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Boss Mustapha, is also surprised by the development, especially considering the manner with which the processes were being fast-tracked.
“But I can assure you that latest on Wednesday, the Minister would send the letters to the individual officers whether overtly or covertly,” the source added.
What the service rules say
Checks by this paper have revealed that the approval for duo of Messrs Ja’afaru and Babandede in particular, contravene the public service regulation.
The rules states that compulsory retirement age for all grades in the civil service shall be 60 years or 35 years of pensionable service whichever is earlier.
“No officer in the civil service shall be allowed to remain in the office after attaining the retirement age of 60 years or 35 years of pensionable service which-ever is earlier,” the civil service rule states.
Nevertheless, there are sector-specific exceptions as to the age of retirement but the agencies under the ministry of interior are not included.
While Mr Ja’afaru is over 60 years of age, Mr. Babandede will have spent the compulsory 35 years expected of a civil servant by September, this year.
Becoming a ‘norm’
While many officers appear to be displeased with the approval, POLITICS NIGERIA recalls that a similar scenario played out in the Nigerian armed forces.
The chief of Defence Staff, Gabriel Olonisakin; Chief of Army Staff; Tukur Buratai; Chief of Air Staff, Sadique Abubakar and the Chief of Naval Staff, Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas, have all spent more than the mandatory 35 years in military service but President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to let them go.
It would be recalled that Mr Buhari extended their services by two years in 2017 and has since renewed the extension, citing the unending war against Boko Haram.
This has raised concerns amongst officers of these agencies who are opposed to the ‘illegal’ extension because of the threat it poses to the growth of the agencies.
Some of the officers who spoke with our reporter under the condition of anonymity expressed their displeasure about the new approvals.
When contacted on Saturday evening, officials of the affected agencies and the ministry of interior neither denied nor confirmed the development.
Mohammed Manga, the Director of Press and Publicity at the Ministry of Interior declined to comment on the issue.
He directed our reporter to the spokespersons of the agencies.
But the Nigerian correctional service’s spokesperson, Austin Njoku, denied knowledge of any application for extension made by Mr Ja’afaru.
“I’m not in the best position to talk about that,” He said in a telephone interview.
Similarly, the spokesperson for the NSCDC, Emmanuel Okeh, confirmed that his boss’s tenure will expire in July 2020, but said he is not aware of any plan for extension.
Mr Okeh added that there is pressure mounted by some members of the society who wants the Commandant General retained.
“Whenever they approach him, he has never agreed to seek any elongation of tenure,” He told POLITICS NIGERIA.