WHO IS A CIVIL SERVANT?
In a layman understanding, a civil servant means a government worker. In other words someone who is under the payroll of a government be it a state or federal Government.
Example, a teacher in public primary or secondary school, employee in a local government, lecturer in a government university, a worker under any government parastatals.
There has always been this issue as to whether they(civi servant) can form or join political parties or engage in partisan politics like political campaigns for candidates, publicly indicating support for or opposition to a particular political party etc.
This matter came up few years back in the case of INEC v. Musa (2003) 3 NWLR (Pt.806)72.
The Supreme Court in this case agreed with Chief Gani Fawehinmi, SAN and held that a civil servant can be a member of a political party.
The court declared section 79(2)(c) of the Electoral Act invalid because it was inconsistent with section 40 of the Constitution.
The justices of the Supreme Court were all ad idem that a member of the public Service or Civil Service of the Federation, a State or Local Government or Area Council is eligible to be registered as a member of a political party
by reason of the constitutional right to freedom of Association and Assembly entrenched in section 40 of the 1999 Constitution.
The argument by INEC that the Electoral Act accords with 45 of the constitution which restricts the right to Association and Assembly was rejected.
But further looking at the above decision of the Supreme Court, it has not laid the matter to rest but rather It has only succeeded in further raising questions because the case of INEC V MUSA above was basically on the provisions of the Electoral Act which prohibits civil servants from joining political parties.
The provisions of the public service rules of the federation, states, and local governments that also prohibit civil servants from joining political parties were not in issue and were therefore not considered.
For the avoidance of doubt the court held:
“It is important to mention that the provisions of the Civil (Public) Service Rules have not been challenged in this case and therefore their validity is not in issue for determination by this court.
Reference to the restriction had been made merely in passing by learned counsel for the 1st defendant/appellant in order to canvass the validity of section 79 subsection (2)(c) of the Electoral Act, 2001.”
The above holding of the court clearly shows that the matter has not been settled with finality. The implication of the Supreme Court decision is that the sections of the public service rules which prohibit civil servants from joining political parties or engage in partisan politics remain valid until set aside by the court.
Ladies and gentlemen if my analysis is correct, would it be safe to advise a civil servant to join a political party or engage in partisan politics considering the fact that they are prohibited to do so by the Public service rules?
Article written by:
O. G. Chukkol