Bayelsa State Government has defended its recent appointment of the wife of the President, Dame Patience Jonathan, as a permanent secretary in the state civil service. It said that as a diligent officer, who rose through the ranks in the state civil service and was last appointed into the directorate cadre as a level 15 officer in 2005, the First Lady is most qualified to be so appointed.
The government explained that Dame Jonathan joined the Rivers State civil service in the 90’s and that upon the election of her husband as Deputy Governor in 1999 transferred her service to the civil service.
Besides, it said Governor Seriake Dickson is convinced that “wives of governors, vice presidents, presidents and all other spouses whose positions are not funded by the government should be encouraged and supported to pursue and maintain their independent careers,” adding that “wives of such officers should not suffer prejudices or deprivation merely as a result of the positions occupied by their husbands.”
In a statement by Daniel Iworiso-Markson, the Senior Special Assistant (media and public affairs) to the governor, the government said, “By the traditions of the Bayelsa State civil service, officers on directorate level, some of whom are even junior to her present position, have been appointed as permanent secretaries before now,” adding that “appointment is a combination of leadership, output, dedication, geographical spread, etc which informs a governor’s exercise of his discretionary powers to appoint permanent secretaries in consultation with the appropriate authorities.”
However, her appointment has continued to draw more flak as a constitutional lawyer, Professor Itsay Sagay, has described it as a huge joke and comical nonsense.
“It is a huge joke. It is a comic. I don’t really know what they take us for. It is only in Nigeria that you can have such kind of bizarre announcement. It is nonsense,” the erudite legal practitioner told The Nation on Sunday.
Human rights activist and member of the Constitution Review Committee, Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), who is currently out of the country, expressed shock on phone saying: “that cannot be true.”
After a prolonged laughter, Agbakoba asked: “And did she accept it?” He later promised to call back after making some checks on the story.
He then sent a text message that he was unable to confirm the story and said: “I can’t confirm so till am back.”
Activist and gubernatorial candidate of the National Conscience Party (NCP) for Lagos State in the last general elections, Comrade Ayodele Akele, would rather “wait and make some findings” before taking stand on the issue.
According to Akele, a former civil servant in Lagos State, “I don’t know her civil service background. I would advise that we find out some things about her history with the Bayelsa State civil service before making any statement.”
President of Campaign for Democracy (CD), Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin, snapped: “It is shocking. It has turned governance to a huge joke. It’s the theatre of the absurd that can make Nigeria become a laughing stock in the comity of nations. The country is gradually becoming a banana republic.”
Victor Opara, lawyer and former secretary general of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA, Ikeja branch), said the appointment smacks of nepotism, and expressed hope that the first lady would turn down the appointment.
“For me, this is nepotism of the highest order. However, there is nothing wrong with it if she is qualified.”
Deputy Whip of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Rotimi Abiru accused Governor Dickson of being unnecessarily generous in making the appointment.
Abiru said the governor was wrong to have appointed Mrs Jonathan as Permanent Secretary when she is already occupying the office of the First Lady.
Also, the Secretary General of the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria, Mr Solomon Onaghinon, has said only a civil servant can be appointed as a permanent secretary.
He said while members of the association in Bayelsa “have not complained to me yet, when they complain, then we shall ask questions. And depending on answers to those questions that will make us take actions.”
He, however, said the position of the permanent secretary is a “career position but slightly, it’s also a political position in the sense that even if you are qualified, the president at federal level or the governor at the state level can decline or accept.”
Onaghinon questioned whether someone on leave of absence can be considered for promotion.
He said: “In a situation like this, we are expecting that the state government makes a pronouncement to say actually whether they have appointed her and to say whether she has been on leave of absence and on what condition they decided to appoint her since she was on leave of absence because at federal level, it’s rare before that kind of thing can take place.”
On what it takes to qualify as a permanent secretary, Onaghinon said one must have been in the civil service, gone through all the grade levels and be a director.
He said: “I can’t remember when you can pick anybody from level 10 to be perm sec. It has never happened. But in the states, I don’t know… We had to fight when Ogun State government was trying to appoint some principals as permanent secretaries. We fought it vehemently; we didn’t accept it because for you to be a permanent secretary takes so many things in consideration. The person must be quite good in the roles in what happens in the service. A principal in a school in a village won’t know what’s happening in the service.”