National AssemblyOpinion

The Imperative of Professionalizing the NASS Bureaucracy

 

By Jerry Uhuo

Professionalism is about competence and skill which brings out the quality of performance and efficiency in a system and its personnel.

The reason why the private sector thrive in business and administration anywhere, is because professionalism is tested at the altar of sevice delivery. In public service in Nigeria, professionalism is often sacrificed for mediocrity, and in reverse, the same system goes to hire professionals to execute the same job ordinarily would have been performed by its staff, if such staff had been recruited on merit and trained professionally.

There are institutions, both in private and public sectors, that are professionally oriented such that any deviation debases such institutions: Accountancy, Law, Engineering, Aviation, among others are professionally based. The same applies to the legislature.

Indeed, the legislature is an exclusive profession in democracy. Both at the political and administrative level, the legislature has its peculiar language, vocabularies, terms and terminologies. No wonder, the most intelligent professors anywhere in the world become students when they are elected into the legislature.

Such institution must therefore, be guided, directed and supervised by professionals in legislative matters.

In many climes such as the United Kingdom and United States of America from where we copy some strands of their democratic and legislative admixture, recruitment into the legislature are conducted by experts who rely on professional guidelines to recruit for specific needs of the legislature.

In the United Kingdom, the House of Commons does not recruit staff directly. In fact, government institutions in the United Kingdom depend on the recruitment bureau for staff.

The UK employment Bureau usually recruit staff into the UK public service. The recruitment targets best candidates who possess the best of qualifications from First class to second class upper. After the recruitment, the Bureau will send the successful candidates based on request to different government agencies including the House of Commons.

In the House of Commons, those candidates recruited and deployed to them will undergo another process of interview and certification to ensure that they qualify for the position they are being employed to work.

There is no special recommendations by Principal Officers or Members of Parliament, Ministers or anyone in high political offices. Every person recruited is based on merit. Such persons are given the right professional orientation.

It is for this reason that legislative administration in developed nations are seamless and near perfect. Every legislative staff from top to bottom are professionals in their own respects. There is no mediocre and no dereliction of duty or staff loitering aimlessly for lack of schedules.

Nigeria has the Federal Civil Service Commission responsible for recruitment of staff into Federal Government Ministries. It is equivalent of the UK recruitment bureau. The Federal Civil Service Commission can be strengthened to serve as recruitment institution for all government offices covering all arms of government. Working with reputable recruitment firm, the Commission receives request from government institutions with specific criteria and portfolios. When such staff are recruited through competitive process, the receiving institution or agency would only need to subject them to certification in conformity with set out criteria before absorbing them. It will save cost on government, promote meritocracy and reduce mediocrity. It will also enhance professionalism and efficiency, high productivity and resourcefulness.

A review of some sections of the National Assembly Service Act to ensure strict compliance to professionalism is imperative. If the National Assembly bureaucracy must rise above it’s present administrate challenges in recent times, there is need for action.

The most critical part of the Act for review is the power of appointment of the Commission with regard to the office of the Clerk to the National Assembly. By virtue of section 6 (1) of the Act, the Commission is empowered to appoint the Clerk to the National Assembly where the position becomes vacant. The section seems to be an activation of section 51 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended.

The Constitution specifically states in section 51 that: ‘’There shall be Clerk to the National Assembly and such other staff as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly, and the method of appointment of the Clerk and other staff of the National Assembly shall be as prescribed by that Act’’.

The Clerk to the National Assembly is a professional position in any democracy. It is an office held by Legislative officers with requisite experience. Every staff of the Legislature is not a legislative Officer. Legislative officers are those who work in the Chambers and who handle daily proceedings in the Chambers and guide the presiding officers in the plenary and committee activities.

They are specially trained or gained knowledge and experience over time in the administration of Parliamentary procedure and processes. They are different from account staff, Administrative officers, legal officers/ drafters, Estate and Works and Mechanics in the Assembly workshop etc.

The Clerk to the National Assembly is the Head of Service of the Legislature and Chief Accounting Officer of the National Assembly. His responsibilities which are enormous include inauguration of new Parliament. He endorses laws passed by Parliament to the President and he is Clerk- at-the table in the committee of Clerks of Parliaments.

It is such a position that anyone not trained in Parliamentary practice and procedure cannot easily handle. It is not a trainee position and cannot accommodate people with no legislative experience. It is also not a political position that is at the whims and caprices of presiding officers to determine. The present provision of the Act which allows for most Senior Director/Secretary to be appointed by the Commission to assume office as Clerk to the National Assembly, does not promote professionalism synonymous with the office. The implication of such provision is that if a mechanic in the National Assembly workshop rises to become most Senior Director/Secretary anytime, such a person even without any knowledge of Parliament procedure becomes Clerk to the National Assembly.

The experience of the National Assembly over the years with regard to the appointment of occupants of the office of the Clerk to the National Assembly demands immediate review. This review will allow for only professionals to hold such an exalted office.

It is hereby proposes that the National Assembly Service Commission should adopt a methodology where only Legislative officers or Administrative Officers so qualified are qualified to hold the office of the Clerk to the National Assembly. The method of appointment of such officer should not be by recommendation of the Commission to the presiding officers of the National Assembly. The presiding Officers are politicians and will be interested in what will serve their political interest and not the stability of the bureaucracy. The best method of appointment of Clerk to the National Assembly should be that when the office is vacant, the most Senior Legislative officer takes over automatically. Where they are two most Senior Legislative officers, the first person to enter the service takes over. Wherefore there are more than two or where all of them have equal privileges, there should be an examination supervised by accredited professional body outside the National Assembly system. Whoever scores highest becomes the Clerk.

A situation where the office is allowed to to the whims and caprices of politicians, leaving the occupant at the beck and call of the presiding officers and for the bidding of the politicians will never allow professionalism in the service. The moment politicians stop interfering in the recruitment process into the National Assembly, the moment Members of the National Assembly Service Commission are appointed from among bureaucrats who had served as Clerks/Directors in the National Assembly or retired permanent secretaries in the federal service structure, the moment such members of the Commission stop seeing themselves as agents of geopolitical balancing instead of professionalising the system, it is only at such time that the National Assembly bureaucracy can begin to heal. It is only such time that the expected professionalism in the service can set in. For now, the National Assembly bureaucracy needs urgent attention.

Uhuo wrote from Abuja

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