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N/Assembly: Who succeeds Amos Ojo as CNA?

Dateline is November 14, 2022. That is the day when a change of guard is due to occur in the National Assembly bureaucracy with the…

Dateline is November 14, 2022. That is the day when a change of guard is due to occur in the National Assembly bureaucracy with the commencement on the mandatory three months pre-retirement leave by Amos Ojo, currently serving as Clerk to the National Assembly (CNA), and head of the bureaucracy.

In an apparent preparation for the emergence of a successor to him, the National Assembly Service Commission (NASC), under the Executive Chairman Ahmed Kadi Amshi just launched a comprehensive staff screening exercise, in order to reposition the institution with rectitude in its entire leadership structure. This is a most commendable initiative by the NASC, and they deserve kudos for it, as the effort resonates with the expectations of a wide cross section of stake holders in the fortunes of the National Assembly, given its strategic significance to democratic rule in the country. 

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The National Assembly is not just an ordinary government agency, but a foremost arm of government and the very crucible of democratic rule. This is just as the CNA and head of its bureaucracy, remains a most sensitive office, with functions as chief executive and chief accounting officer to the institution, adviser to the political class and even co-signatory with the President of the country, of all bills passed into law by the institution.  

Against the backdrop of the foregoing scenario, the present state of affairs being the launch of a regime change, remains rather testy and poses a significant challenge to the NASC due to the avalanche of expectations and pressures from the political universe of the National Assembly in which it operates, as well as traditional rulers and other influence peddlers who may want to make a kill with their preferred candidate as the next CNA. This is why not a few well-meaning Nigerians are concerned with the seepage into the public domain of subterranean tendencies which accentuate the keen interest of sundry forces, to claim the prize at all cost. 

Expectedly, the dispensation has tended to deviate from a long-established tradition whereby even before the date of exit of an incumbent CNA, feelers about his or her intended successor would have been in the public domain. This is the tradition of the nation’s public service. For the purpose of clarification, the National Assembly bureaucracy is distinct from the political class being legislators, who come there as tenured officials. Rather, the bureaucracy is a body of career civil servants who serve as the engine room of the legislature and in some credible sense, are the actual makers of the law, as  passed by the legislators. They are therefore required by law to be apolitical and anonymous, just like any other civil public servant with career ascendancy defined strictly by statute.    

It is against the backdrop of the foregoing situation that public concern is mounting over an apparent breach in tradition as the grapevine is awash with likely candidates for the office of the N/Assembly CNA. Hence too is the concern by several sections of the general public that the successor CNA, shall emerge through the routine processes that guide the promotions and appointments to sensitive positions in the Nigerian public service.  Such statutory processes are not to be driven by the whims and caprices of individual potentates who may introduce biased considerations that could impede national interests. Hence processes as promotions are guided by time honoured rules and procedures in the extant Public Service Rules (PSR), which if complied with, provide for congruence between the emergence of occupants of high public office and the designated protocols for their ascendancy. 

Presently, the grapevine is awash with three names as frontrunners to the office of CNA. These are Sani Tambuwal the Secretary of Finance and Accounts and the most eligible in terms of seniority. Next in no preferred order is Chinedu Akubueze the Clerk to the Senate (CS), and the most senor legislative staff in the establishment. Without the consideration of seniority and in the absence of a Deputy Clerk to the National Assembly (DCNA), the Clerk of Senate remains the notional successor to the office of CNA. Next is a distant third place runner in the person of Yahaya Dan Zaria, the Clerk to the House of Representatives,(CHR), whose reckoning as a likely successor is seen by some stakeholders as a travesty, which the institution and the nation can be saved from, simply due to the seniority factor. Consensus opinion is that as a junior to both Tambuwal and Akubueze, the likelihood of Dan Zaria emerging as the next CNA, may be difficult to justify unless under ‘special’ circumstances. And such a role is hardly where a reform-minded NASC needs to find itself. 

 With the benefit of hindsight, it can be stated here by this author who retired meritoriously after enjoying a ringside position in the affairs of the institution, during a career run as Director of   Information and Publications between 2005 and 2013, that the institution is overdue for a profound realignment with the tenets of the mainstream public service of the country. Against the backdrop of the history of democracy in the country, lies in graphic relief the serial truncation of democratic rule by series of coup de’tat by the military and their attendant incursions into civil governance. With each coup de’tat succeeding, the immediate casualty was the legislature at all levels which comprise the National Assembly and state houses of assembly. These were immediately dissolved and shut down. Interestingly, it was only the late General Sani Abacha who on seizing power in 1993, preserved a stump of the National Assembly, by allowing the existence of an office to attend to incidental matters of the shutdown legislature. 

 One of the consequences of this syndrome was that the National Assembly along with the state assemblies lost operational stability and administrative coherence with the mainstream public service in the country, and which have largely not been restored since the return of democracy in 1999. The administrative soft-state so created by the lacuna of adherence to time-honoured expedients of public service practices, constitutes the main driver of several incontinences in the country’s legislative establishment at the respective tiers, namely the National Assembly, the 36 state houses of assembly and the legislative chambers of the 774 local government councils of the country.

May the best judgment of the NASC therefore prevail in providing the country, a successor to Amos Ojo as new CNA, who will lead the institution along the path of progress as guided by deep institutional memory and sensitivity to the varied publics of the National Assembly.