Some civil servants, who contested and lost out in the party primaries recently conducted by political parties, have returned to their positions, Daily Trust reports.
This has ignited a raging debate whether civil servants who lose primary elections can return to their former positions in the civil service.
But a civil servant, who contested for the governorship seat in his state, said a Supreme Court ruling had given them the go ahead to participate in politics, insisting that they could only retire from service after winning the primaries ahead of the real elections.
Idris Mamman Durkwa, a Director at the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, who lost out during gubernatorial primary of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Borno State, said the law was explicit on civil servants and politics.
Durkwa in a phone interview with the Daily Trust confirmed that he had gone back to his duty post after he failed to secure the gubernatorial ticket in Borno.
“The constitution of the country is very clear about this. Only if you are contesting in a general election that you are mandated to resign from service 30 days to the general elections, that is all; and I can serve you with judgements upon judgements of the Supreme Court about this. Even the APC guidelines allow you to contest primaries and go back to your work,” he argued without citing any relevant section from the constitution.
Before Durkwa, Mr. Bitrus Bako Nabasu, Permanent Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology, had in 2015 returned to his duty post after losing out in the PDP gubernatorial primary in Plateau State.
Recently also, Barrister Amanda Pam, the erstwhile secretary, Health Services at the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA), returned to work after running unsuccessfully for a senatorial ticket in the FCT. She has since been redeployed to the Social Development Services (SDS) of the FCT.
There are equally instances in some states where some civil servants were reinstated after they failed in their bid to get the tickets of their political parties to vie for political offices.
In Bayelsa State, Governor Seriake Dickson week reinstated all civil servants who resigned to contest in the PDP primaries, along with political appointees who failed to get tickets.
What civil service rules say
Findings by the Daily Trust showed that the Public Service Rules (2008 Edition) still bar public servants from being actively involved in politics.
The directive is captured in Rule 030402 under “Serious Acts of Misconduct” as encapsulated in subsection (g) which speaks on “Engaging in partisan political activities” as an example which can lead to various degrees of sanctions.
Also, a retired federal permanent secretary told Daily Trust yesterday that the rules of the civil service in the country do not allow a serving civil servant whether junior or senior to contest for an elective position.
“No civil servant is allowed to go and contest for an elective political position and then come back to his or her position. The rules don’t allow that.
“If you are a civil servant in the mainstream civil service, the rules do not allow you to contest for an elective position. You can’t do that. The rules are clear about that and it hasn’t changed,” he said.
He however said civil servants are allowed to vote, be members of political party of their choice but can’t contest for an elective position while still in service.
He also said that a civil servant who is interested in contesting for an elective position is expected to resign before proceeding.
However, a January 2018 Supreme Court judgement had ruled that civil servants could be members of political parties of their choice as provided for in the 1999 Constitution.
The Supreme Court ruling was part of its clarification of the November 8, 2002 judgement in which it nullified most of the guidelines issued by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on registration of new political associations.
In a judgment delivered by a former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mohammed Uwais, the apex court declared that any guideline, be it INEC’s electoral guidelines, civil service rule or the Electoral Act, that bars civil servants from belonging to political parties is inconsistent with Section 40 of the 1999 Constitution, which states that “Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interests.”
What lawyers say
Contacted yesterday, lawyers said no law expressly forbids civil servants from participating in politics provided they resign their office 30 days before contesting for an elective position.
The lawyers said the provisions of sections 66 (1); 107 (1) (f); 137 (1) (g); 142(2); 182 and 187(2) of the 1999 Constitution are consistent that an individual in public service must resign their position 30 days to an election for all the various positions such as: Senate, House of Representatives, House of Assembly, Governor and Deputy Governor, President and Vice President.
In his view, Ahmed Raji (SAN) said the Supreme Court had pronounced on the matter that every Nigerian, including civil servants, can associate freely in political parties.
“They can retain their position as candidates but before the election they must resign, that is what the constitution says,” he said.
Also, former Attorney General of Ekiti State, Dayo Akinlaja (SAN) said no law bars civil servants from belonging to political parties and participating in political activities.
“Interestingly enough, when I was Attorney General, I had to give an advice about it that there is no such law,” he said.
“Take for instance that the constitution says that if anybody wants to contest for an election, the person has to resign from office within a given period of time. So that to my mind suggests that the law envisages that the person must have been participating in politics one way or the other while in office. So, it is only when the person now wishes to contest that the law would require him or her to resign,” he added.
Citing Section 222 of the Constitution, Hamid Ajibola Jimoh Esq. said it is the right of every Nigerian, including civil servants, to belong to political parties except those exempted by nature of their work.
The Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, had in February urged Nigerians including civil servants to register with political parties, saying that was the only way they could improve the quality of governance in the country.
He said, “The notion that civil servants cannot be members of political parties in Nigeria is unfounded. For the avoidance of doubt, the Supreme Court is clear on this in the case of INEC versus Musa and others (2003).
“By belonging to a political party, civil servants will also be in a position to block the nomination of leaders who do not care about their welfare,” Ekweremadu said.
Top federal civil servants told Daily Trust that while they were aware of their constitutional rights to join any association, they were also aware of the need to be loyal to the constitution and organs of the government irrespective of the person or party in government.
“As you said, there are some civil servants that participated in elections and came back to their posts after losing the primaries. In as much as the superior officers did not raise any issue, I think there is no problem,” one of the officials said.