For some time now, the tenure of Boboye Oyeyemi, Corps Marshal and Chief Executive of the Federal Road Safety Corps, FRSC, has been the subject of a debate with views querying the legality or otherwise of his continued stay as Nigeria’s number one road safety officer.Those questioning his continued stay have held on to the provision of the Public and Civil Service Rules detailing the employment, discipline, recruitment, retirement and other conditions surrounding an employee of the government. They argued that having attained the age of 60 years as head of the FRSC, Oyeyemi automatically stopped enjoying the protection of the law to remain in office.
The Public Service Rules 02809 provides that: “The compulsory retirement age for all grades in the Service shall be 60 years or 35 years of pensionable service whichever is earlier. No officer shall be allowed to remain in the service after attaining the retirement age of 60 years or 35 years of pensionable service, whichever is earlier.”
Last November 26, Boboye attained 60 years of age causing many to wonder his retention against the rule. Now, just like the Armed Forces and other paramilitary services, the FRSC has a ‘domestic legislation’ that stops promotion at the rank next to the head of that organisation. In the Army, it is the rank of major general; deputy corps marshal in the road safety, deputy inspector general in the police and so on as applicable in different organisations. At this stage, whoever becomes the head of any other military or paramilitary service is appointed by the president in exercise of his powers and he reserves the power to make such appointment from within or outside of such organisations.
This position is further supported by the provisions of Section 7 (1) FRSC Act, 2007 which gives the president the power to appoint anyone he considers as having sound knowledge in road traffic and road safety administration as the corps marshal of FRSC. That is the only specific qualification stipulated by FRSC Act. This clearly shows that the corps marshal is not a career civil/public service officer who is expected to grow through the ranks and be subjected strictly to civil/public service rules. In fact, this is the first time a member of the corps was appointed as corps marshal.
The corps marshal is not a rank of a member of the corps as provided in Section 11 (1) FRSC Act, 2007, which listed the ranks of members of the corps to start from deputy corps marshal. The fact that the present corps marshal is a member of the corps will not change the status of the office of the corps marshal from being a political office to a career public service office. To do so, would amount to taking away the powers of the President conferred on him by Section 5(1) (a) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended and Section 7 (1) of FRSC Act, 2007.
The pressure on Oyeyemi is perhaps comprehensible having risen through the ranks. He is therefore deemed to be a civil servant, which is not actually so in the spirit and letter of the appointment of the leadership of the armed forces and paramilitary organisations. Once appointed, the appointee stopped being a civil servant as the president is not duty bound to comply with the Public Civil Service Rules even in disengaging anyone if he so desires ahead of 60 years of age or 35 years of pensionable service. Only political appointees are so treated.
Again, Section 5(1)(a) of the 1999 Constitution vests in the president the superintendent powers in delegating to other people to exercise on his behalf. Heads of the tri-service and other paramilitary agencies are therefore appointed at the pleasure of the president as political appointees and only him determines their tenure and in exercising that power, the president can bypass certain ranks to appoint subordinates to head an agency forcing superiors to give way in retirement in deference to the judgment and discretion of the president.
Similar concerns were raised on the elongated tenure of immediate past service chiefs; same for the current inspector general of police whose tenure the president has extended for three months. With the uproar that greeted the appointment of retired Colonel Hameed Ali to head the Nigeria Customs Service, the president must have latched on to his constitutional powers and exercising same for him to sail through. No wonder there is yet no legal hurdle to upturn those decisions regardless of several objections.
Rather than resenting Oyeyemi or worried about the president’s lawful exercise of his powers against the wishes of critics urging him to resign before being reappointed, which again is discretionary, patriotism could have overridden typical burdens often piled against the president to remove public officials with visible results and peerless impacts.
Without mincing words, it is clear that no public officer is indispensable. It is the hallmark of patriotism to understand when not to throw off a performing official like Oyeyemi, considering the number and quality of innovations that have been brought to impact on the FRSC, building on the inherited laudable services of his predecessors.
In the years he has served the nation in as corps marshal, Oyeyemi has introduced some initiatives in line with the mandate of the FRSC. Of note is the drastic reduction in carnage on the highways across the country, obviously with the cooperation of officials of the corps as well as other critical stakeholders like the special and celebrity marshals, alongside spirited sensitization campaign through road safety clubs in educational institutions, among others.
The president’s retention of Oyeyemi is not without some grounds as the FRSC has attained global standard with the introduction of emergency toll-free line 122 that has proven to be effective in shortening response time to save victims in emergency situation across its 203 Unit Commands and 29 outposts across the country.
Moreover, President Buhari cannot be oblivious of the incremental decline in road crashes to save lives, development of standard road infrastructures as well as deployment of life-saving innovations like the speed limiter, all trademarks of the Oyeyemi-led management.
As positional responsibilities of public officials demand absolute loyalty to the job and their principal, Oyeyemi is sure not a sit-tight administrator. In his bid to continue with the agenda of President Buhari to guarantee sustainable safety on Nigerian roads, there is no point distracting the corps marshal on his national assignment.
Ekobay writes from Abuja