On July 11, the Bayelsa State government announced the promotion of 19 new permanent secretaries, including Nigeria’s first lady Dame Patience Jonathan. The first lady’s elevation has been widely condemned as a rape on our collective morality and an assault on the sensibility of the hardworking Bayelsa civil servant. Frantic efforts at justifying the abominable act further stand logic on the head. Fair enough, both the presidency and the first lady have received the news with deafening silence to underscore their sense of deja vu at the avoidable embarrassment.
Governor Seriake Dickson’s justification was that Dame Jonathan’s career path should not be befuddled by her nominal status as first lady, and that some civil servants below her had been made permanent secretaries. That only exposes the sloppiness of the dubious exercise more. For instance, the governor could not give the accurate date of the first lady’s first appointment. A terse statement by Daniel Iworiso-Markson, Dickson’s senior special assistant (media), nebulously puts it at “the ‘90s”. Rather than stating when she was promoted assistant director, Dame Jonathan was said to have risen to the directorate cadre as a level 15 officer in 2005, a time she was still acting governor’s wife.
Isn’t it dishonourable to cloak these facts when other hardworking civil servants are yearly denied promotion and salary increment? Nigerians are not fooled by the rather weak explanation tabled by the governor’s handlers that, since Mrs Jonathan “transferred” her service in 1999, upon her husband’s political ascendency to deputy governor, from Rivers to Bayelsa, she would not have put in more than five years of service at that time. It therefore amounts to redundant mediocrity to promote a nominal employee at the expense of the professionals who devote their all to public service.
Mrs Jonathan’s “promotion” negates the civil service reform Dickson claims to champion. In fact, it is a great disservice and a dark spot on the federal government’s transformation agenda. Her present status of influence, affluence and power has little to do with her “leadership, output, dedication” in the last 13 years in the Bayelsa civil service where she cannot, in good conscience, claim to have worked as a career officer.
Governor Dickson may as well make Mrs Jonathan’s last annual performance evaluation report public to justify her skipping three salary grade levels. The governor’s constitutional power to appoint a permanent secretary of his choice is not in doubt, but the civil service rules do not envisage the emergence of a woman genius in the mould of Mrs Jonathan. This obscene phenomenon wouldn’t have been derived from the Fati Abdulsalami and Mary Odili templates because both were promoted while on active service.
Another question is: where would Mrs Jonathan operate from - Aso Rock or Yenagoa? Except Dickson wants to create an honorific office in Bayelsa public service, the path of honour would be for the first lady and the presidency to rebuff this charade and call him to order.