Media reports that the Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigeria Communications Commission, NCC, Ernest Ndukwe was to retire at 60 lend credence to the hazy ways of government appointments.
Those making the moves claimed that at 60, Ndukwe had attained the mandatory retirement age in the Civil Service. It was a sound argument, except that Ndukwe was not a civil servant as it applies to the retirement age.
Ndukwe was appointed in 2000 for five years. The President has powers under the NCC Act to re-appoint him for another five years. Based on outstanding performance, the former President renewed his tenure for a final term ending in 2010. He is one of few heads of government agencies to enjoy another term.
The NCC's sterling results distinguish it among government agencies. In 2001, Nigeria had about 440, 000 connected lines which included about 22, 000 mobile lines. In seven years, the figures leapt to about 53 million lines, drawing huge investments into Nigeria, as one of the world's fastest growing telecommunications markets.
While it could be argued that the market was ready to absorb the offerings of the GSM companies, Ndukwe doubtlessly cut through the challenges of regulating a dynamic, technology-driven business with astounding ease.
He has acquitted himself well, tackling operational issues that dot the industry with promptitude, to the satisfaction of operators and subscribers. Where there have been persistent challenges, like quality of service - especially dropped call rates - it has been generally agreed that infrastructure, rather than regulatory inability was the major constraint. The NCC often intervenes decisively on the side of the public.
For a new industry, the stability Ndukwe's renewed tenure provided, coupled with a board that has operated steadfastly and effectively from the background, saved the NCC from the turbulence associated with many government agencies. Alhaji Ahmed Joda, top flight civil servant in his days, chairs the NCC board in the most unobtrusive manner.
Proponents of the age issue ignore facts on appointments of this nature. Mrs. Farida Waziri, a retired Assistant Inspector General of Police, and new Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crime Commission, is 63. Former Chairmen of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Justice Ephraim Akpata and Dr. Abel Guobadia were above 60 while serving. Justice Akpata came to INEC after retiring from the Supreme Court at 65. Before INEC, Dr. Guobadia, former teacher and Nigeria 's Ambassador to South Korea , 20 years ago, had retired from the Bendel State Civil Service.
Section 8 (2) of the NCC Act realises the importance of competence in the appointment of the head of the NCC. It provides for the NCC Board of Commissioners "to make recommendations to the President on suitably qualified persons for appointment as the Commission's Chief Executive and Executive Commissioners and the President shall take the Commission's recommendations into consideration for the appointment."
The two years left in Ndukwe's tenure, should be usefully engaged in grooming a successor whose competence and comportment would sustain NCC's sterling performances beyond 2010.