From Martins Oloja:

* SGF, Principal Secretary to Acting President persuaded Jonathan to reverse Yar’Adua’s policy on Fixed Tenure to Save NHIS Executive Secretary, Dogo Mohammad’s job
* Head of Service objected but was overruled by Jonathan
* Head of Service returned to Jonathan; convinced him about the grave implications of ruining Yar’Adua’s Reform
* Jonathan vacated his approval; asked Mohammad to retire according to Service Rules.
* Jubilation in the Service as Jonathan overruled SGF and Principal Secretary

A QUIET but bruising war over the soul of a settled President Yar’Adua’s bold reform on fixed tenure and allied matters was fought, lost and won quietly last week within the presidency.

At the centre of the crisis that almost derailed the recently gazetted Public Service Reform plank that pegged tenures for permanent secretaries and directors, was the outgoing Executive Secretary to the multi-million Naira National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Dr M.B.W Dogo Mohammad.

Mohammad’s requested for retirement to enable him continue with his tenured appointment as the Executive Secretary of the NHIS was turned down by the Head of Service, Mr. Steve Oronsaye, thus setting off a chain of events.

The Origin:

Trial and tribulation began for the soul of Yar’Adua’s reform on January 15 this year when the Head of Service, through the Office of the Permanent Secretary, Manpower & Development Office, wrote to Mr. Dogo Mohammad, Executive Secretary/CEO, NHIS.

This was in response to his (Mohammad’s) request dated December 3, 2009 in which he had requested the Head of Service to approve his “retirement to enable him continue with his tenured appointment as the Executive Secretary, National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS).”

In the Head of Service’s response to what was termed a “belated request,” Mohammad was told point-blank:

“It is pertinent to draw your attention to paragraphs 2(111) of the Head of Service of the Federation Circular Ref. MD.HCSF/EMS/EIR/B.63694/IV/T2/96 of July 2009 directing career officers who are currently holding tenured appointments to retire from the Service with immediate effect and continue to run their term. It is observed that you did not comply with the directive by submitting your request for retirement from the Service as required.”

The response letter concluded: “The Head of Service has carefully considered your belated request for retirement from the Service in relation to the Circular under reference above as well as Circular HCSF/061/SI/111/68 of August 26 2009 on Tenure of Office for Permanent Secretaries and Directors and has directed me to inform you that he is unable to accept your application.”

This piece of bad news was conveyed by the Permanent Secretary, Manpower Development Office, Office of the Head of Service, Mr. P.J Major.

The letter, “Re: Notice of Retirement”(signed by one Mr. Ayodele Ogunmakin) was officially delivered to the NHIS chief executive by the supervising Federal Ministry of Health through another letter of January 22.

But the letter of retirement to Mohammad sparked off a row, as he did not take it in its stride. He went to the Governing Council of the NHIS chaired by former Minister of Health, Professor Eyitayo Lambo, who incidentally was in office when (Mohammad) was appointed.

In another letter of January 27, 2010 signed by Lambo to the Minister of Health, Professor Babatunde Oshotimehin, the Governing Council, ostensibly questioned the letter from the Head of Service for the Executive Secretary to proceed on retirement according to a directive contained in the October 21, 2009 letter.

The Professor Eyitayo’s letter sought further clarification from the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and the Health Minister’s office at the same time.

The wanted to know if the Executive Secretary “can continue in his tenured appointment as Executive Secretary NHIS in view of his letter of tenured employment dated 7th of March 2007 which took effect from 1st of March 2007 for a period of five years in the first instance in line with the Act establishing the Scheme and after competitive and rigorous exercise following advertisement in both international and local papers.”

Curiously, none of Professor Eyitayo’s clarification letters was conveyed or even copied to the office that has authority over establishment matter: the Head of Service.

Meanwhile, while all the hot exchanges and clarification letters were going on, Mr. Mohammad went to court to restrain the authorities from touching him in his capacity as chief executive officer, NHIS.

He reportedly approached the Federal High Court, Abuja on February 16 and the parties were in court on March 1, 2010 but the court did not sit.

Again, curiously, the Head of Service, who should have the authority over establishment matters, was not sued, and therefore not included on the list of defendants as only the NHIS, Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Health were sued.

But there was a coincidence that day, March 1, when the court was to sit: A letter from the Office of the SGF conveying the approval of the Acting President for Mr. Mohammad to stay to complete his tenure emerged.

And it was celebrated as a defeat for the comprehensive tenure policy of the Yar’Adua’s administration that had earlier retired nine permanent secretaries and scores of directors in the Service.

The Principal Secretary to the Acting President and former Deputy Governor of Edo State, Mr. Mike Ogiadomhe, conveyed the letter to the SGF, Alhaji Yayale Ahmed.

The SGF letter was not a happenstance, as a lot of intrigues, subterfuge and arm-twisting to convincing the Acting President had gone on inside the presidency. First was the response to Professor Eyitayo’s clarification letter by the SGF.

Ahmed, who as Head of Service, issued a lot of clarifications on the issue, in a letter to the Acting President through reference SGF/.6IX/303 February 8, 2010 noted:

“I have examined the issues and wish to note that Section 8(1) of the National Health Insurance Scheme Act (NHIS) provides for the appointment of the Executive Secretary on the recommendation of the Minister subject to the confirmation of the President…

“In this connection, Mr. M.B.W Dogo-Mohammad was a career officer in the Federal Civil Service before he applied for the post of the Executive Secretary of the NHIS following an advertisement in both local and international papers.

“In view of his brilliant performance during rigorous interview exercise, he was recommended for appointment by the Board of NHIS in line with Section 8(1) of the Scheme’s Act; his appointment as Executive Secretary NHIS was approved in March 2007 by the former President on the recommendation of the former Minister of Health. In effect, Mr. Dogo Muhammad is yet to complete his first term.”

Here, the details and import of the Circular of July 27, 2009 on tenured appointments of serving public officers and the extant Public Service Rule 020810 (iv) (a), which prescribes that “a Director shall compulsorily retire upon serving eight years on the post” were hidden from the Acting President on this NHIS top job.

What is more, even the Principal Secretary to the Acting President did not help matters, as he reportedly refused to rely on the Head of Service submission to the clarifications sought by the NHIS Governing Council.

Instead, he ignored the implications of the submissions of the SGF in a bid to assist Mr. Dogo-Muhammad to remain in office even when hundreds had been retired as a result of the same establishment matters.

IN his earlier submission to the Acting President on February 12, 2010, the Head of Service, Mr. Oronsaye had explained why the NHIS Executive Secretary should not stay. Part of his submission in a three-page summary:

“With regard to Paragraph 4 of the memo by the SGF, the information provided is clearly misleading because by convention, a civil servant, on completion of service could return to the Service and occupy his/her substantive post.

“Two of Dr. Dogo-Mohammad’s predecessors in the same NHIS namely: Alhaji M.M Sambo and Dr. Mustapha Lecky, who were removed as Executive Secretary, returned to the Service and took up their substantive positions during the tenure of the SGF as Head of the Civil Service of the Federation.

“Several other examples abound in the Federal Civil Service i.e. M.M Makarfi from NEMA, Dr. Sefiya Ajayi from the National Productivity Centre, Dr. Abdullahi from the Raw Materials Development Council and Drs Biodun Olorunfemi and Dere Awosika both of whom returned to their substantive grade of Director after on leaving post as Managing Director and Chief Executive/National Coordinator respectively and having served meritoriously, thenceforth have been appointed Federal Permanent Secretaries, to mention just a few.

“In the case of Dr. Dogo-Muhammad, it was the officer’s choice not to retire. He chose to ignore the Circulars and instead elected to face the consequences. Because he did not retire, he was, ipso facto, a Federal Civil Servant and therefore bound by the provisions of the Public Service Rule No 020810.

“Indeed, precedence has been set with the case of Alhaji H.A Tambawaal of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences (ICPC), who failed to retire from his post in the Civil Service to enable him enjoy his full tenure as Secretary to the ICPC. When the Tenure Policy came into force, he had to exit in line with the provisions of the Revised public service Rules.”

The Head of Service said he was also piqued by the contents of paragraph 5 of the SGF’s memo. According to him: “As a matter of Government policy, Governing Boards of Institutions do not approve the appointments of Chie Executives because the appointments of such officers are approved by the President….

“Accordingly, the fact that NHIS Board is satisfied with the performance of Dr. Dogo-Muhammad does not immune him from the provisions of an extant Government policy, which he deliberately chose o ignore.

“Finally, Your Excellency, all that I have done, and prayed to God to guide me to sustain, is to refrain from preferential application of Government policies, as contained in approved extant rules and regulations, as this is the only way of preserving the sanctity of the Service in upholding public trust and protecting the national interest….

“Dr. Dogo-Muhammad refused to abide by the provisions of extant Circulars HS/PSA/6314/16 of December 20, 1979, CND.100/III/608 of June 8, 2002 issued by the SGF during his tenure as Head of Civil Service of the Federation; HCSF/EMS/EIR/B.63694/IV/T2/96 of July 27 2009; and that of HCSF/061/S.I/III/175/ of September 25, 2009.

“Based on the above, I am unable to support the prayer contained in the memo of the SGF, as doing so will plunge the Service back to the era of the past, which the current efforts are trying to address.”

But these detailed arguments did not impress the Principal Secretary, who supported the SGF in his own seven-page executive summary to the Acting President. He convinced the Acting President to retain Dr. Dogo- Muhammad.

The Principal Secretary to Jonathan had argued, among others on the submissions of the SGF and Head of Service, thus:

“Having made an in-depth study of the contrasting positions of these two highly experienced public officers, I am of the humble view that while the value of meritorious service on the part of an officer is often a significant factor in the determination of his continuance in that office, one could not on that account, deprecate the value of extant rules and regulations, especially as they relate to the tenure of an officer….”

He, however, said in the subsequent paragraph: “It is important to note, however, the need to exercise great care in the application of statutes, circulars, etc., to particular situations. In that regard, one must particularly bear in mind the need to avoid retroactive application of statutes, etc., in order not to come to untenable conclusions….”

Ogiadomhe noted further: “I am of the humble view that, having assumed duty as the Executive Secretary of the NHIS with effect from 1 March 2007, the legal effect of Mr. Dogo-Mohammad’s failure to resign or retire from the Service, by virtue of all extant circulars up to that point, was that he was assumed to have retired from the Federal Civil Service with effect from 28 February 2007.

“In effect, by the time of the issuance of the Circular dated 27 July 2009, Mr. Dogo-0Muhammad was already two years into his tenured appointment with the NHIS, and could no longer, by the operative effect of all preceding Circulars be validly regarded as a civil servant, within the meaning of all subsequent federal Circulars.

“I am certain that it is the same principle against retroactive legislation that informs Section 4(9) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Besides, great care must be taken to ensure harmony among higher echelon of Government.”

The Principal Secretary to the Acting President therefore recommended to the Acting President to disregard the Head of Service and his insistence on extant rules and regulations of the Service.

According to him: “In the light of the foregoing, I am inclined to support the prayers contained in the memorandum of the SGF under review, that Mr. Dogo-Muhammad be allowed to complete his five-year tenure as Executive Secretary, National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) in line with S.8(1)(c) of the NHIS Act.

“His Excellency is, accordingly invited to kindly consider and approve the recommendation in Paragraph 8 above, please.”

And pronto, Acting President Jonathan approved that Dr. Dogo-Muhammad be allowed to complete his tenure. The approval dated March 1, 2010 was conveyed to the Minister of Health through the SGF whose memo had carried the day.

This is it: “Following the representation made to Mr. Acting President on the matter, the Acting President has approved that Mr. Dogo should complete his 5-year tenure as Executive Secretary, NHIS in line with Section 8(1)(c) of the National Insurance Act.”

THE Guardian confirmed that the Acting President’s decision rattled the apparently frustrated Head of Service, Mr. Oronsaye that he considered resignation from his office. But when he came to himself, he gathered the senior officers in the Service, including all Permanent Secretaries and informed them of the development championed by the SGF that had derailed the approval on Tenure Policy by President Yar’Adua.

It was learnt that after the meeting, he decided to revisit the Acting President, to inform him of the consequences of the approval he had just given, which had service-wide implications.

This, he did, in the early hours of last Tuesday where another position paper was made available in an executive summary.

Mr. Oronsaye, who understands how the presidency works having worked with former President Obasanjo as Principal Secretary/Permanent Secretary for eight years and President Yar’Adua for 18 months, submitted to the Acting President how the approval he granted to the NHIS chief executive on March 1 could ruin all the gains that the Yar’Adua’s administration had celebrated in the public service including the already gazetted Policy on Tenure.

The Acting President was reportedly told by another source that although Mr. Dogo-Muhammad had been asked to stay, he (Dogo-Muhammad) had directed that the case he instituted at the Federal High Court should continue.

Dr. Jonathan was told that the presiding judge had asked the counsel to the plaintiff (NHIS CEO) if the case should continue in view of the approval by the Acting President and the NHIS boss was told that the counsel said he had instruction to continue.

In the memo and executive summary to the Acting President on Tuesday, Oronsaye, who was Principal Secretary to President Obasanjo, had argued, among others (even as he complained bitterly about the role of the SGF in the confusion that attended the tenure policy) thus:

“Your Excellency, on a personal note, I am in great distress that certain highly placed persons have taken liberty of their offices to offer certain advice to the highest office in the land, knowing full well that such advice is incapable of standing rigorous tests.

“My belief is that, in offering advice at that level, there is need to be selfless and to uphold public trust and national interest, at all times.

“I wish, in particular, to draw Your Excellency’s kind attention to an earlier effort by the SGF to reverse the Tenure policy approved by this administration. (Copies of SGF’s letter to Mr. President, my response and Mr. President’s directive are attached as Annexes III and IV respectively). I now see an audacious attempt to return to that path using Dr. Dogo-Muhammad’s case as a ploy to re-open the issue.”

Oronsaye then submitted to the Acting President as follows:

(i) That by not complying with the Circulars of July 27, 2009 and September 25, 2009, Dr M.B.W Dogo-Muhammad was in violation of extant rules;

(ii) That the advice given to Your Excellency by the Principal Secretary to the Acting President on that matter, is not only defective, but portends ominous consequences for the public Service; as it tends to uphold preferential application of rules, and misinterpret the correct intent of Government extant circulars; this is because:

(a) the advice: to “exercise great care in application of statutes, circulars to particular situations,” implies selective application of the Public Service Rules, which is tantamount to violating the Principle of Rule of Law, as major anchor of this Administration;

(b) the premise that Dr Dogo-Muhammad was assumed to have retired from the civil service with effect from 28 February 2007 is not correct as several officers, including the two immediate past Executive Secretaries of the NHIS returned to the mainstream Civil Service during the tenure of Mr Yayale Ahmed as HCSF, and Dr Dogo-Muhammad has, in his affidavit deposed to on 16 February, 2010 swore on oath that he was still a Federal Civil servant and;

(c) the advice on “the need to avoid retroactive application of statutes” is also misleading as Tenure Policy was issued by way of Government Gazette on August 25, 2009 to take effect from 1 January 2010 in a similar manner as Government’s earlier changed retirement age from 55 to 60 and 65 to 70 for civil servants and Justices of the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court respectively;

(iii) That Dogo-Muhammad went to Court before Your Excellency’s approval and that the matter is still in court, where Dr Dogo-Muhammad has now further deposited the approval of the Acting President;

(iv) That if indeed the Court rules on this, citing the approval of Your Excellency, it will become precedent for future judgments in similar cases;

(v) That even if Dr Dogo-Muhammad withdraws the case from court, Your Excellency’s approval still has the potential to open the floodgate to litigations against Government by those Directors and Permanent Secretaries already exited and whose positions have already been filled;

(vi) That the issue is already in the public domain as shown in the Daily Trust of March 4, 2010 story under the caption “Jonathan Orders Reinstatement of NHIS Boss,” indicating a reversal of this Administration’s Policy on Tenure, and this does not paint the Administration in good light.

In conclusion, the Head of Service noted: “Accordingly, I am constrained to respectfully advise Your Excellency to kindly review and vacate the approval that Dr M.B.W Dogo-Muhammad be allowed to complete his tenure as the Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme NHIS).”

This was the clincher and pointer to the fact that the High Court case has been aimed at as a weapon to knock off the tenure policy that had last year led to the retirement of many Permanent Secretaries and Directors.

The Acting President would not want to hear this and he immediately revoked his own approval and directed that the Executive Secretary of NHIS should go immediately, a rare action in the presidency once a decision had been taken.

So, last Tuesday, March 9, 2010, shortly after the meting with the Head of Service, the same Principal Secretary was directed by the Acting President to write to the Secretary to the Government on the revocation of an earlier approval. This is how it was conveyed:

“I am directed to refer to our letter with even reference dated 2nd March, 2010 on the above (Re: Retirement from Federal Civil Service of Mr. M.B W Dogo-Muhammed…) and wish to inform you with regret always that due to further investigation on the matter, the approval earlier given by His Excellency, Dr. Goodluck E. Jonathan, Acting President, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces for Dr. Dogo-Muhammad to complete his tenure is hereby withdrawn.”

There has been jubilation in the Public Service for the rare quality of the Acting President, “who swallowed his approval in consideration of public interest.”

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