By Henry Uche, Lagos
Against the backdrop of debates and consultations by the National Assembly on whether to scrap or alter the 1999 Constitution, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) has made the case for the removal of Section (6)(6)c from the document, criticising it as anti-people.
The Secretary of TUC, Lagos State Council, Abiodun Aladetan, who made this known before the 1999 South West Zone Constitutional Review Committee meeting held in Lagos, said that chapter 2 of the constitution has not been effective ab initio, and ought to be made justiciable for the good of every Nigerian.
Aladetan also drew the attention of the political class to the anger of Nigerians at the huge allowances and salaries government officials earn, particularly lawmakers. He said political offices should be made unattractive and a place of service so that people won’t go after the allure of the office. He further urged the committee on the need to review the constitution in such a way that it will help to promote inclusion, saying most Nigerians do not feel carried along in the governance of the country, citing lack of opportunities and wealth inequality.
‘The growing concern about mass poverty, growing inequality, unemployment, poor living conditions etc makes it more compelling at this critical time in the history of Nigeria to take a look at Chapter 2 of the 1999 constitution which talks clearly on the Provisions of the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy,’ he said.
‘Interestingly, one of the beauties of the 1979 Constitution that was also adopted in the 1999 Constitution was the inclusion of a chapter on the Fundamental Objective and Directive Principles of State Policy. Unfortunately, the Nigerian Government only promotes Civil and political rights with little or no regards to social and economic rights as captured under Chapter 2 of the 1999 Constitution.’
TUC also demand that the constitution should be made to specify that the ‘Appointments of Permanent Secretaries’ be made from Career Senior Civil Servants and not otherwise.
According to them, the Civil Service is one of the laudable and enduring legacies of the colonial administrations. As a bulwark of the government of the day that is insulated from partisan politics to make it an impartial arbiter in the administration of public affairs, the Civil Service gives the executive arm of government its vitality and constitutes its live-wire.
The TUC stressed that it is because of its strategic importance in service delivery to the citizens that the colonial administrators ingrained in the Civil Service stringent processes and procedures through which the top hierarchy of the Civil Service emerged as Permanent Secretaries.
‘We recall that those appointed as Permanent Secretaries in the colonial Civil Service and in the immediate post-Independence period were persons of impeccable characters, groomed and schooled in the Civil Service norms and values apart from being highly educated, knowledgeable and skilled individuals.
‘In recent times, however, persons who have no knowledge whatsoever of the Civil Service and have never worked there are being appointed as Permanent Secretaries by some State Governors on the spurious argument that the Constitution did not state specifically that Permanent Secretaries should be appointed from among the top Senior Civil Servants.’
They added that some misguided individuals who masquerade as political advisers to some governors canvass the view that a roadside mechanic can be appointed a Permanent Secretary by the Governor since the Constitution did not specifically preclude him from doing so.
‘In view of the foregoing and before the Civil Services in the country are totally destroyed by this culture of impunity by misguided politicians, we wish to recommend that Sections 171 and 208 of the 1999 Constitution dealing with the appointment of Permanent Secretaries be amended to insert a new sub-section to each of the two sections to wit: “Permanent Secretaries shall be appointed from among serving Senior Civil Servants.
‘This has become a compelling necessity because it is the height of insensitivity to allow Senior Civil Servants to labour over the decades only to be denied the opportunity of reaching the peak of their careers by Governors who have decided to be recruiting all manner of persons including retired military personnel as Permanent Secretaries.
‘The point must be made that State Governors have a lot of leverage to appoint a retinue of special, senior, junior, and even ordinary advisers and assistants and they are, therefore, at liberty to engage whosoever they wish to rehabilitate into such positions.
‘It is also necessary to recall that when the status of the National Industrial Court (NIC) as a court of the superior record became a matter of controversy, the Constitution was amended to specifically accord the NIC that status and thereby laid the matter to rest.
‘Presently, the issue of appointment of Permanent Secretaries from outside the core Civil Service has generated a lot of bad blood in the Service and has led to the lowering of morale of Senior Officers who are denied the opportunity of reaching the peak of their careers. The vexed issue has also led to series of court litigations that could have been avoided if the Constitution is very clear on the appointment of Permanent Secretaries.
‘We, therefore, recommend that Sections 171 and 208 of the 1999 Constitution should be amended to specify that Permanent Secretaries should be appointed from among career serving Senior Civil Servants. This will save the Civil Service, which is the engine room of government, from being politicised and thereby properly placed to offer the needed support to the government in providing the citizens with democracy dividends.’
The TUC added that the present reality in Nigeria portends an ominous dark cloud gathering overhead which, if not halted, can accelerate the ripeness of the Nigerian society for political perdition. ‘Our people yearned for a good form of governance in a democracy – we got it but due to the putrid system that was put in place by the 1999 Constitution, the government found it impossible to halt this ineffectual and avoidable endless cycles.
‘It is against this backdrop that the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria will like to see certain amendments put in place that will help straighten industrial relations practice, promote inclusion in a just and fair country we all can be proud of. We, therefore, demand that the minimum wage be retained in the Exclusive Legislative List.
‘It is a global standard that was adopted as an International Labour Standard by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) as Minimum Wage Fixing Machinery Convention 026 of 1928. Each Member State of the ILO that adopts this Convention undertakes to establish a system of minimum wage which covers all the sectors of the economy including the Organised Private Sector which wages are to be paid hourly, daily or monthly as the case may be.
‘It must however be emphasised that the philosophy behind the imperative for a legally binding National Minimum Wage was to guarantee the well-being of workers and their families. This is hinged on the premise that if employers are left to pay arbitrary wages according to the dictate of their whims and caprices, poor vulnerable workers will not only be further impoverished but will also not be able to continue to engage in productive activities necessary to generate requisite wealth for the sustenance of the entire community.
‘It is in furtherance of Nigeria’s obligation under ILO Convention 026 and in appreciation of global best practices that the National Minimum Wage is domiciled in the Legislative Exclusive List Section 34 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and should be left as such,’ he added.