By Bernard Akowe
In one fell swoop, the new Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Nyesom Wike sacked the heads of 21 parastatals, agencies and companies under the Federal Capital Territory Authority (FCTA) early last week. That Thursday September 28 , 2023 tsunami has elicited various reactions even when it is not unexpected that a new administration will come with a new broom.
The purge was announced via a press statement issued by the Director of Press (Office Of The Minister), Mr. Anthony Ogunleye. Through him we learnt that Minister Wike had directed the heads of all the 21 agencies of the FCT to hand over to their most senior subordinates without delay.
From reactions so far, it can be gleaned that not all new brooms sweep so very clean, especially in instances where institutional rules are better followed. This much has not only been pointed out by those who work in some of these agencies but also by analysts knowledgeable enough on how the civil service conventions ought to play out.
Indeed, the Minister’s blanket sweep of the leadership of the agencies has been faulted by public analysts who believe the process could have been better managed by consulting more widely and with better deployment strategy.
While some staff members of one of the affected agencies have brazenly shown their displeasure by openly show in affection for their sacked Managing Director, and urging the Minister to recall him for his good works, as seen in viral video on social media, some commentators have dismissed Wike’s action as merely playing to the gallery to show that he is “working”.
These analysts point out that in the process of doing this, due regard for the rules of law and the peculiarity of some of the current headships of some of the affected agencies, was sacrificed. The peculiar circumstances of the appointment or ascension to office of some of these heads of parastatals and agencies should have caused their cases to be treated differently by the Minister instead of lumping them in the mass sack.
This peculiarity is evident in agencies like the Abuja Environmental Protection Board, FCT Scholarship Board, FCT Christian Pilgrims Welfare Board, Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board, Abuja Infrastructure Investment Center and the FCT Health Insurance Scheme. These are parastatals headed by civil servants of Director cadre, and were so appointed by virtue of their ranks as most senior in their respective agencies.
This is better appreciated against the background of the directive given by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to resuscitate the Federal Government policy that mandated the immediate retirement of Directors in all government ministries, agencies, departments, parastatals, of directorate staff members who had served eight years and above as full Directors. Of course, the FCT Ministry under Wike was not exempted, and all affected Directors retired, thus paving way for Directors who still have outstanding years in service ahead of them to move up the ladder, and in some of these peculiar instances, took up the mantle of leadership in line with the new civil service directive.
It then goes, in the reckoning of many, that summarily dismissing them by Ministerial fiat as has been witnessed, amounts to flouting the presidential directive. Besides, asking such Directors to hand over to their most senior subordinates obviously places them under their juniors in service. How more awkward can his be in an almost regimental system like the civil service?
Another peculiar case in focus is that of the Satellite Towns Development Department and Abuja Metropolitan Management Council, which do not currently have substantive agency heads. The purported “sack” of the heads of these agencies as contained in the ministerial press release of last September may just give a whiff of suspicion that that the Minister could be playing politics that bring in new heads through processes that ought not to be; more or less a case of going through the back door when the front door is open.
Yet another instance is the Abuja Markets Management Limited, where the head was just reinstated by series of court orders less than three months ago. This followed redeployment that was challenged in court. Furthermore, at the Abuja Enterprise Agency where a senior career civil servant was head. How fair or apt is unilaterally sacking him when he has not stayed eight years or committed any infraction, especially without recourse to the extant rule of engagement under the constitutional labour law?
These scenarios and questions are pointers to the demands for a revisit and review of Minister Wike’s recent action, even if his intentions are to be considered noble. Surely, not all 21 so-called heads of agencies deserve to be so booted out in the face of regulations guiding their engagement in the FCT Administration.
Therefore, while his desire to re-energise and reposition the FCT Administration is quite commendable and should be supported, it is imperative that actions and measures towards achieving that are equally, appropriately and cautiously guided by law. The general elation that greeted Wike’s deployment to head the FCT Ministry, given his antecedents as Governor of Rivers State, need not be watered down with avoidable infractions that put dents on not just him as a leader but on the rule of law mantra of the government he represents.