Wednesday, 17 July 2024.

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Civil Servants’ rights to political participation Settled By Supreme Court in 2003

For a long time, a misconception has persisted in Nigeria about the rights of workers, including civil and public servants, to actively participate in politics.

Many have believed that once you’re employed by the government, you’re automatically prohibited from actively participating in politics or belonging to a political party. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

In reality, the Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of association and expression in sections 40 and 39, including the right to participate in political activities, for all citizens, including civil servants.

The Supreme Court’s landmark judgment in INEC v Balarabe Musa (2003) has unequivocally affirmed this right, putting to rest any misconceptions and empowering workers to fully exercise their constitutional rights.

The implication of this landmark judgment is straightforward; Civil servants are legally protected to engage in political activities, including joining, participating in, and even forming political parties, without fear of intimidation, persecution, or reprisal. This means they can exercise their constitutional rights freely, without compromising their careers or facing undue consequences.

However, it’s important to note that this protection does not extend to personnel of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Police and Military, who are explicitly prohibited from participating in politics under their respective Acts. This exemption is a nod to the sensitive nature of their roles and the need to maintain their neutrality and impartiality in the political process.

Moreso, while civil servants are expected to remain politically neutral in the discharge of their duties as stipulated in public service rules, this expectation does not negate their constitutional rights to freedom of assembly and association.

They are entitled to engage in political activities outside of their official duties, without compromising their neutrality. This means that civil servants should separate their professional responsibilities from their personal political beliefs and activities, ensuring that their participation in politics does not conflict with their official duties.

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Similarly, the Labour Party which is one of Nigeria’s most enduring political parties, was founded by labour unions and has a significant membership base comprising civil servants, with nearly half of its members coming from this group.

Labour leaders who formed the party did so on behalf of their members who clearly include workers in government employment. This alone highlights the recognition of the right of civil servants to participate in politics.

I urge workers to stand firm in their constitutional rights and resist any attempts at intimidation or bullying that may try to silence their voices in the political arena because our country’s political landscape cannot be allowed to be dominated solely by career politicians. Besides, the Supreme Court’s landmark judgment and the Constitution have clearly empowered them to participate actively in politics, and they must exercise this right freely and confidently.

As the country grapples with its challenges, it is vital to note that while there can be a government without workers in the classical sense, there can never be a functional government without the contributions of workers. Workers are the backbone of any society, and their roles in shaping policies and driving socio-economic development are indispensable. Therefore, their political participation is not only a constitutional right but also a necessity for the country’s progress.

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