The Buhari administration has restrained cabinet ministers from directly removing heads of agencies and parastatals they supervise.
Now in place is a multi-layered procedure that appears to strengthen the role of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation in the disciplinary process, a government circular exclusively obtained by PREMIUM TIMES shows.
The circular, dated May 19 and endorsed by the SGF, Boss Mustapha, conveyed the "concern" of the government about the tendency by some ministers to arbitrarily remove chief executive officers of agencies and its impact on stability and service delivery.
The circular was dispatched to all ministers and several other senior officials, including the head of service, the president's chief of staff, military chiefs, the central bank governor, and permanent secretaries, among others.
Ministers had in the past arbitrarily exercised powers to discipline heads of agencies, commissions or departments they supervise, including suspending and dismissing them from office.
For example, In January, the power minister, Sale Mamman, removed Damilola Ogunbiyi and Marilyn Amobi, respectively the chief executives of the Rural Electrification Agency and the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Company apparently without clearance from the presidency or adopting a process of query and panel probe.
President Muhammadu Buhari would later reverse the minister's action. But the minister in the past days has also sacked the Managing Director of the Transmission Company of Nigeria, Usman Mohammed, alongside four directors of the company, although he said his action was approved by Mr Buhari.
The SGF's circular now protects heads of agencies from their supervising ministers' arbitrariness but may have created a hurdle of red-tapism that may delay - or even prevent - sanction for abuses.
Also, ministerial threats of sanctions in the event of no performance, like the one issued by communications and digital economy minister, Isa Pantami, to agencies under his ministry last August, may no longer yield any effect.
When serious misconduct is reported against a chief executive, the new procedure set by the circular requires a minister through the permanent secretary to refer the matter to the governing board of the affected agency in line with its enabling law and chapters three and 16 of the Public Service Rules on discipline and government parastatals.
The board will then issue the affected official a query and subsequently advise the minister of its findings and recommendations. But whether the board is itself the source of the allegation of misconduct against the chief executive or the chief executive is the chairman of the board, the minister, on the advice of the permanent secretary, still has to ensure a query is issued, requesting an explanation from the accused official.
"The Minister after due consideration of the submission from the Board shall, on the advice of the Permanent Secretary, forward the ministry's position along with the recommendations of the Board and explanation of the Chief Executive Officer to the Secretary to Government of the Federation for processing to Mr President, for a decision," the circular states.
Upon receipt of the submission from the minister by SGF, the procedure then establishes another layer of probe, requiring the SGF to "without delay cause an independent investigation and advise Mr President on the appropriate course of action, including interdiction or suspension in accordance with the principles guiding Sections 030405 and 030406 of the Public Service Rules, pending the outcome of the independent investigation."
Based on the outcome of the independent investigation, "it shall be the responsibility of the SGF to further advise Mr President on the next course of action," the circular states.
Continuing, the memo said it is the SGF that will "implement and/or convey the approval and directives of Mr President on every disciplinary action against the Chief Executive Officers in the Public Service."
The SGF, Mr Mustpha said this "procedure shall serve as a mandatory guide and all ministers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and any other Public Officer in a similar supervisory role are enjoined to strictly abide by its content."
"For emphasis, on no account shall a Minister of the Federal Republic unilaterally or arbitrarily remove a serving Chief Executive Officer, without recourse to the procedure contained in this circular," Mr Mustapha added.