QUESTION: Did Buhari breach civil service rules by unilaterally sacking Maina? Dicey…
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President Muhammadu Buhari acted swiftly on Monday by ordering the immediate disengagement of Abdulrasheed Maina from the nation’s civil service.
Maina, former Chairman of the Pension Reforms Task Team, is wanted by the EFCC for allegedly spearheading a massive fraud in the pension sector that he was drafted in to sanitize.
He has been in the United Arab Emirates since 2013, refusing to come back to Nigeria to face his trial.
At the weekend, it became public knowledge that Maina had clandestinely returned to the country, having been appointed a Director at the Ministry of Interior.
However, Buhari, who was away in Turkey, issued a directive on Monday ordering Maina’s immediate disengagement, while also requesting an explanation from the Head of Service.
WONDERFUL, ISN’T IT?
Buhari’s swift action on the matter drew different reactions from many Nigerians. While many described it as a welcome development, others say the harm had already been done, as Maina ought not to have been reinstated in the first place.
Yet another group of Nigerians feels that Buhari may have breached the civil service rules by unilaterally ordering Maina’s sack.
WHAT DOES THE RULE SAY?
According to the Public Service Rules, “the power to dismiss and to exercise disciplinary control over officers in the Federal Public Service is vested in the Federal Civil Service Commission. This power may be delegated to any member of the Commission or any officer in the Federal Civil Service.”
The rule book explained that an officer’s appointment could be terminated on the basis of acts of “misconduct” which include among other things; “Failure to keep records; Unauthorized removal of public records; Dishonesty; Negligence; Refusal to take/carry out lawful instruction from superior officers; Malingering; Insubordination,” etc.
“Where a Tribunal of Inquiry set up by the Government makes recommendations of a disciplinary nature on an officer, the Federal Civil Service Commission shall not act on such recommendations until it has called upon the affected officer to reply to the allegations made against him/her by the Tribunal of Inquiry,” the rule book states.
“If the officer refuses or neglects to reply to the allegations within a reasonable time or at all, the Federal Civil Service Commission or its agent shall proceed to accept and enforce the recommendations of the Tribunal of Inquiry and take such disciplinary action against the officer as it shall deem appropriate.
“…If as a result the Commission decides that the allegation is proved, it may inflict any other punishment upon the officer such as reduction in rank, withholding or deferment of increment or otherwise.
“In serious cases which are likely to result in dismissal, the officer should be given access to any such document(s) or reports) used against him/her and he/she should be asked to state in his/her defence that he/she has been given access to documents.
“The officer shall be called upon to state in writing, within the period specified in the query any grounds upon which he/she relies to exculpate himself/herself;
“If the officer submits his/her representations and the Federal Civil Service Commission is not satisfied that he/she has exculpated himself/herself, and considers that the officer should be dismissed, it shall take such action accordingly. Should the officer however fail to furnish any representations within the time fixed, the Commission may take such action against the officer as it deems appropriate:
“If upon considering the report of the board the Commission is of the opinion that the officer does not deserve to be dismissed but that the proceedings disclosed grounds for requiring him/her to retire, the Commission shall, without further proceedings, direct accordingly.
“All disciplinary procedures must commence and be completed within a period of 60 days except where it involves criminal cases.”
What Buhari did in this case was more like ordering the maintenance of the status quo; and the status quo is that before now, several probe panels, including one inaugurated by the Civil Service Commission, had already indicted Maina of corruption and recommended his sack.
A senate joint committee investigated the case in early 2013, albeit with little cooperation from Maina, who missed many sittings of the probe panel.
The committee, at some point, had to order Mohammed Abubakar, then Inspector General of Police, to compel Maina to attend the sittings but he was nowhere to found.
The committee concluded its investigation and made recommendations to President Goodluck Jonathan to the effect that Maina should be sacked and prosecuted.
Before then, Jonathan had already instructed Isa Sali, then Head of Civil Service of the Federation, to commence disciplinary actions against Maina.
This culminated in Jonathan’s approval of Maina’s removal as Director of the Customs, Immigration and Prison Pension Office (CIPPO).
It is very difficult to say Buhari was wrong or right to have swiftly ordered Maina’s disengagement while still expecting an explanation from the Head of Service. On the surface, it looks easy to say he breached service rules.
But the other side of the coin is that Maina’s reinstatement itself was illegitimate. The last legally acceptable action on Maina was his dismissal during the Jonathan regime. On that basis, it could be said that Buhari only restored the status quo, in which case it would be hard to fault the President.
If anyone has a case to answer here, it has to be the offices of the Interior Ministry, Head of Service, the Department of States Service and the Civil Service Commission, for alleged complicity in Maina’s illegal reinstatement.