Shuaib, public service and rule of law


After five years of protracted legal battle between the Federal Government and Yushau Shuaib, chief information officer at the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, the Federal Government the other day obeyed the National Industrial Court order to reinstate the embattled civil servant who was prematurely retired from the civil service for writing a critical newspaper article against a former Finance minister in the previous administration.

The development is a garland on the majesty of democracy, nurtured by freedom of expression, without which democracy is farcical.

All is now well because the protracted case has restated the importance of the rule of law as a weapon of peace and harmony in the polity.

This newspaper believes that the reinstatement of Citizen Shuaib, a public relations practitioner in the public sector is a triumph of the rule of law. That is how it should be.

Indeed, the order of the National Industrial Court has jurisprudential significance – for the growth of the public sector that has long been caught between the classical principle of anonymity of the civil servant and the constitutional protection of his/her freedom of expression, especially in a democracy that civil service feeds.

In a letter of reinstatement to Shuaib and signed by the Director of Human Resources Management, Mr. S.U. Ewa on behalf of the Minister of Information and Culture, Shuaib was informed of the minister’s directive to reinstate him into the civil service as chief information officer on GL14 with immediate effect.

In his letter of acceptance to the minister’s directive reinstating him, Shuaib appreciated the decision in line with the judgment of the National Industrial Court delivered on November 22, 2017.

Justice David Isele of the National Industrial Court (NIC) had ordered the immediate reinstatement of the former spokesperson of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Yushau A. Shuaib into the public service after forceful retirement in 2013 over an opinion article he wrote on former Finance Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

Shuaib had sued Okonjo-Iweala, Federal Civil Service Commission (FCSC) and Federal Ministry of information over the purported retirement. James Ode Abah of Bamidele Aturu Legal Chambers handled the case for Shuaib.

Delivering the judgment, Justice Isele declared that the letter retiring Shuaib from service had no force of law and is therefore illegal, unconstitutional, null and void and of no effect whatsoever being in flagrant violation of the civil service rules.

The judge also declared: “The premature retirement of NEMA spokesperson by the Federal Government without conducting any investigation, without giving him an opportunity to defend himself and without complying with the condition precedent for retirement is contrary to Section 36 of the 1999 Constitution and therefore illegal, unlawful, unconstitutional and null and void.”

The court, therefore, ordered Shuaib’s immediate reinstatement to his duty post as the chief information officer without any loss to seniority, salaries, position and other emoluments.

Besides, the judge ordered the Federal Government to compute and pay within 30 days all salaries, allowances and other emoluments due to Shuaib from June 2013 to the judgment date and interest at the prevailing commercial bank’s rate on his total package.

The case centred on the illegal and unlawful retirement of Shuaib over an allegation of criticizing Okonjo-Iweala, in an opinion article on lopsided appointment in the public service as it affected the Federal Ministry of Finance then.

In his statement of defence, Shuaib had stated that Public Service Rule 030421 gave him the right to write an article.

According to that section: “Nothing in this rule shall be deemed to prevent an officer from publishing in his own name, by writing, speech or broadcast matters relating to a subject of general interest which does not contain a criticism of any officer.”

He also cited Section 39 (1) of the 1999 Constitution, which states: “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including the freedom to hold opinions and receive and impart ideas and information without interference.”

Shuaib, a graduate of mass communication and a prolific writer, was offered automatic employment by Delta State and Federal Government after winning State and Presidential Awards of the National Youths Service Corps (NYSC) scheme in 1993.

He had served at various organisations as Public Relations Officer and Press Secretary, including at the Delta State Government House, Asaba; the state’s Ministry of Information, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Health, Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), National Press Centre, and National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).

After his purported compulsory retirement, Shuaib activated PR Nigeria, a press release platform for critical institutions in Nigeria serving the military, security, intelligence and response agencies, among others.

The recall of Shuaib has thrown up a number of lessons for senior officers in the civil and public service of the federation.

First is the adherence to and defence of the Public Service Rule even when political office holders interfere in the course of carrying out functions.

Political office holders including ministers can sometimes be tyrannical and in fact give unlawful orders.

But it is the responsibility of the senior officers to defend the officers they give assignments and sometimes discipline such middle level officers who may err. Directorate level officers should manage such cases without killing an ant with a gunshot, just to please political office holders.

The case of Shuaib need not have been a subject of protracted litigation in a National Industrial Court if senior officers in the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture had not been vindictive and incompetent from the way they failed to cooperate with the Federal Civil Service Commission and the Office of Head of the Civil Service of the Federation that had weighed in to settle a presidential directive – to sack an officer who had not been queried.

Another significant lesson is this: Senior officers should be made to study the Constitution of the country.

They should be familiar with all provisions of the organic law that affect civil service operations.

They should always ask for legal advice from the Federal Ministry of Justice officials domiciled in their ministries while handling serious disciplinary matters.

Besides, political office holders should be tolerant of public opinion about their actions and inactions.

After all, the newspaper article by Shuaib merely drew attention to a constitutional issue as it affects federal character in the Ministry of Finance then.

Specifically, the Level 14 officer, Shuaib only noted that most of the senior officers in the federal ministry of finance and its agencies were from the minister of finance’s part of the country and it was curious.

The ‘offensive’ article contained verifiable data on alleged sectionalism.

Coincidentally, not a few concerned stakeholders have accused even the current president of a similar breach of the constitution – on president appointments.

On the whole, the justice served Citizen Shuaib by the National Industrial Court and his reinstatement by the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture is a triumph of the rule of law that should nurture public service this newspaper has repeatedly noted, needs to reinvent itself at this time when nation building is a desideratum

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