Politics

BREAKING: Senate passes controversial 65-yr retirement age bill for N/Assembly workers

The Senate has made a sharp U-turn to pass the controversial retirement bill that seeks to extend the retirement of the National Assembly staff to 65 years of age or 40 years of service, whichever comes first, across the 36 State Houses of Assembly.

The passage of the bill came exactly one week after the same Senate had thrown out the bill, describing it as controversial.

The bill titled, “A Bill for an Act to Make Provisions for the Retirement Age of Staff of National Assembly Service and for Other Related Matters, 2024. Other Related Matters(HB.529) and brought for discussion by the Senate Leader, Senator Opeyemi Bamidele, APC, Ekiti Central, was read the third time on Thursday after the Committee of the Whole passed.

The passed bill would extend the service years of over 200 workers who are due to retire between 2024 and 2026, of whom the current Clerk to the National Assembly, CNA, Sani Tambawal, would have been the first beneficiary.

The bill seeks to increase the retirement age from 60 years to 65 years and from 35 to 40 years of service.

Against the backdrop that it was a bill for concurrence having been passed by the House of Representatives, the Deputy Senate President, Senator Jibrin Barau, APC, Kano North,after the passage, set up a conference committee with the Senate Leader, Senator Opeyemi Bamidele, as the Chairman.

Other members of the Conference Committee that will meet to harmonise with the House of Representatives are Senators Ifeanyi Ubah, APC, Anambra South, and Adamu Aliero, PDP, Kebbi Central, among others.

Recall that the Senate threw out the controversial retirement bill on Thursday last week, after dismissing and rejecting it earlier.

Majority of senators heavily opposed the bill when it was brought out for discussion as concurrence last week by the Senate Leader, Senator Opeyemi Bamidele, APC, Ekiti Central, just as they argued that it will stop the career progression of junior staff and halt employment of young Nigerians, just as it was later stepped down with the President of the Senate, Senator Godswill Akpabio, describing it as controversial and requires further consultations.

Following the voices against the bill by the Senators, the Senate had no option but to step down the controversial bill.

Also recall that the controversial bill during the 8th and 9th Assemblies suffered setbacks after various stakeholders opposed it, arguing that the extension of the retirement age from 60 to 65 years and 35 service years to 40 years would create redundancy and stagnancy among the workers.

Earlier in his lead debate on the general principles of the bill, the Senate leader, Opeyemi Bamidele, who noted that the bill seeks to make provisions for the harmonised retirement age for legislative officers of the National Assembly, said, “Considering the importance of the legislative service, the passage of the bill into law will strengthen the legislature as an arm of government.

“This bill is geared towards making provisions for the retirement age of legislative officers who serve as staff of the National Assembly. The provision does not include the following: drivers, porters, cleaners, security guards, messengers, typists, craftsmen, mechanics, clerical officers, gardeners, stewards, or cooks.”

Earlier, workers at the National Assembly, under the aegis of Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria (PASAN), called for the extension of their retirement to 65 years of age or 40 years of service.

Retirement age in the federal civil service is 60 years or 35 years in service, whichever comes first.

In a statement on Thursday, Chairman of the Association, Sunday Sabiyi, said the group has called on the Senate to pass the workers’ demand into law, adding that the extension of a number of service years or retirement age was expedient as there was a dearth of qualified staff in the Legislature resulting from interruption of democracy by Nigeria’s military.’

Sabiyi further said that the legislature, which has always been the victim in the event of military takeover of government, has been affected by instability in the career progression of its workers.”

He said, “You will please recall that the 8th National Assembly by resolution passed the National Assembly Service. Staff Regulations 2019 extended the retirement age for staff of the National Assembly Service to 65 years of age or 40 years of service, whichever is earlier, and was printed in the Official Gazette No. 24, 2019.

“Consequently, the Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria viewed that the said condition of service was inconsistent with the provisions of the Pension Reform Act, 2014, and the Public Service Rules and rejected the same, considering that the extension of service can only be archived by way of passing a bill into law.

“Upon the constitution and subsequent inauguration of the National Assembly Service Commission in 2020, the union registered an official protest to the Commission against the said condition of service.

After several consultations with the leadership of the 9th National Assembly, the Commission met and issued a reverse condition of service effective July 17, 2020, which repealed the extension of the years of service.

“The Harmonised Retirement Age for Staff of Legislative Houses in Nigeria Bill was later introduced by the 9th House of Representatives but was not passed due to concerns raised by Honourable Members on the powers of the National Assembly to legislate for the Houses of Assembly and Local Government Legislative Houses.

“Accordingly, Mutatis Mutandis, the 10th House of Representatives, introduced the Harmonised Retirement Age for Staff of National Assembly Service in Nigeria Bill, 2023, which was overwhelmingly supported by the entire Members of the House of Representatives, passed and transmitted to the Senate for concurrence pursuant to Order Twelve Rule 11 (5) of the Standing Orders of the House of Representatives.

“The Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria, being the Labour Union under the highest law-making organ in democratic governance, convened its congress, deliberated on the bill, voted, and passed a resolution in support of the bill as passed by the House of Representatives without a single descending voice from any member.

“The Union noted with utter dismay the undemocratic actions of some staff who went around and misled Senators that the majority of staff were not in support of the bill when the piece of legislation was slated for consideration in the Senate. For clarity, the Congress resolution was presented to the Leadership of the Senate and all Distinguished Senators for their information and guidance.

“Therefore, we respectfully urge the leadership of the Senate and all Distinguished Senators to please disregard the false claims and pass the bill, as there is a dearth of qualified staff in the Legislative Arm of Government. Due to the interruption of democracy in Nigeria, the Legislature, which has always been the victim, has been affected by instability in the career progression of its staff. The few trained officers are also caught up with the Public Service Rules, thereby creating a vacuum and shortage of qualified manpower in the Legislative Service. Hence, the need to increase the retirement age as proposed in the bill to fill the vacuum, maximise the knowledge and experience acquired by the few staff, and build the capacity of the young staff of the National Assembly Service in Nigeria.

“Considering the importance of legislative service as a specialised service globally, the passage of the Bill into law will strengthen the legislature and bring it in conformity with international best practices as an Arm of Government, as similar legislation is provided by other Arms of Government, which includes: (a) Harmonised Retirement Age for Teachers in Nigeria Act, 2022 which provides that “Teachers in Nigeria shall compulsorily retire on attainment of 65 years of age or 40 years of pensionable service, whichever is earlier.

(b) Retirement age of Staff of Polytechnics and Colleges of Education (Harmonisation) Act, 2012, which provides that “Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in the Pensions Act, the compulsory retiring age of an academic staff of polytechnics and colleges of education shall be sixty-five years.”

(c) Universities Miscellaneous Provision (Amendment) Act, 2012, which provides for 70 years of retirement age for university professors and 65 years for non-academic staff of universities; and (d) The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (Fifth Alteration) (No. 37) Act, 2023. Which provides that “a judicial officer appointed to any of the superior courts of record specified in Section 6(5) of the Constitution may retire when he attains the age of sixty-five years, and he shall cease to hold office when he attains the age of seventy years.”

“In light of the above, the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is invited to rightly exercise its legislative powers by passing the Harmonised Retirement Age for Staff of National Assembly Service in Nigeria Bill into law, for the stabilization and development of capacity in the National Assembly Service, for the sustenance of democracy in Nigeria, and fairness to the various arms of government in line with the doctrine of separation of powers.”