Senate Extension of NASS Staff Retirement Age to 65 Years: Matters Arising


By Sampson Ikemitang

The Upper Chamber of the National Assembly recently passed a Bill that seeks to add five years to the retirement age of staff of the National Assembly service. This move has set tongues wagging across socio-political and ethnic divides, over the propriety or otherwise of such a legislative action.
The Bill, if eventually signed into law by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, civil servants in the National Assembly service and the 36 State Houses of Assembly would now retire at the age of 65 years and 40 years in service respectively. This is against the current retirement age of 60 years or 35 years of service, hitherto, provided for by the Public Service Rules (PSR).
The Bill entitled: “A Bill for an Act to make National Assembly Service and for Other Related Matters, 2024”, transmitted to the Senate from the House of Representatives for concurrence was initially stepped down by the ‘red chamber’ to allow for further consultation.
Re-introducing the Bill on the floor of the Senate, Senate leader, Senator Opeyemi Bamidele said the needed consultations had been done, while noting that the bill was now fit for passage.
Whilst many have hailed the federal lawmakers for taking this bold stand for the parliamentary workers, at least, to retain experienced ones and tap from their wealth of knowledge, others have severely lampooned their decision, thus describing it as a display of lack of thorough understanding of the unemployment situation in the country. Observers are of the view that given the nation’s army of unemployed youths, the retirement age of workers in the country should be reduced from 60 years to 55 years. This, they said would encourage early exit from the service and pave the way for others to come in.
It will be recalled that for quite some time now, there has been a groundswell of agitations among workers in the nation’s public service for an upward review of retirement age from 60 years to 65 years and 35 years to 40 years respectively, to allow for uniformity of retirement age in the service of the federation. That explains why the Organized Labour had during the May 2023 Workers’ Day Celebration with the theme: “Workers’ Rights and Socio-economic Justice’, made a demand to President Bola Tinubu, seeking a review of retirement age for public servants. A move many have since described as ‘death on arrival’ given the country’s alarming rate of unemployment.
Recall the National Council on Establishment’s response to calls by the Nigerian Labour Congress for an upward review of the retirement age from 60 to 65 years. It said, “Council rejected outright, the request for the upward review of retirement age for public servants to 40 years of service or 65 years of age; as it is contrary to national aspiration of renewal, youth empowerment and innovation, and also not in tandem with the reality of our population dynamics”.
However, the advocates of 65 years as the new retirement age or 40 years in service whichever comes first are quick to point out that the country is losing a lot of experienced workers, who are still active and agile and can contribute meaningfully to the country’s development aspiration.
It is in line with this thinking that the federal government had at different times adjusted the retirement age for some categories of public servants, such as judges and judicial officers, lecturers and non-academic staff in tertiary education institutions, and primary and secondary teachers respectively.
Note that President Bola Tinubu had also in June assented to a Constitution amendment bill harmonizing the retirement of judges and judicial officers to 70 years to bring to uniformity their retirement age and pension rights.
Before now, the State and Federal High Courts, National Industrial Court, Sharia and Customary Courts of Appeal, judges retire at 65 years, while Supreme Court Justices retire at 70 years.
Similarly, the federal government had on May 12, 2021, reached an agreement with stakeholders in the health sector for a new retirement age for health workers. The new retirement age for health workers was increased from 60 to 65, while that of consultants moved from 65 to 70.
Recall also that former president, Muhammadu Buhari had in 2022 signed a law increasing the retirement age for teachers to 65. According to NUT, no fewer than 15 States have started implementing the law.
Nigeria, as we may be aware, has an unemployment rate of 33.3 percent. It also has the world’s second-highest number of jobless youths with 53 percent just after South Africa’s 61 percent. This is according to the Spectator Index 2023. A country with these staggering unemployment statistics should rather consider shrinking the retirement age, instead of upward review. This will create room for the vibrant population to be integrated into the service. They have opined.
It is instructive to note that the National Assembly staffers, notably the clerks are products of the Constitution. As such, their retirement age cannot be increased without first amending the 1999 Constitution.
The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, (as amended), recognizes and categorizes such staff as a special category (just as judges and judicial officers of public service and officers whose jobs such as clerks to both the National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly responsibilities are listed and defined in the Nigerian Constitution and not as civil servants. Therefore, any such change to their retirement age ought to come by way of alteration of the Constitution under Section 9 of the 1999 Constitution which prescribed the procedures for alteration of the said Constitution
One thing that is discernible in countries that usually upwardly review the retirement age of their workforce is the desperate attempt to manage pension matters and other retirement-related wage bills. Sometimes, pensions can end up being a large cost for many countries. The way out in such a circumstance is for the retirement age to be raised so that people can remain on the government payroll and meet their needs.
In conclusion, the continuous sectorial tenure elongation to different categories of workers in the nation’s public service will do us more harm than good. President Bola Ahmed Tinubu should withhold his assent to the bill passed by the Senate extending the retirement age of NASS staff to 65 years. Otherwise, it may open the floodgates to more agitations among those who feel shortchanged; because what is good for the ‘goose’ is also good for the ‘gander’.

Sampson Ikemitang writes from the Nigeria Integrated Water Resources Management Commission, Abuja.