The Nigerian Senate is akin to controversy, at least, until June, 2019, when Ahmad Lawan was elected as its President. It is often referred to as a talk workshop, where members from every confederating unit converge to deliberate on issues about nation building.
The Senate, unlike the House of Representatives, prides itself as a united entity in principle. But in reality, the widening crack and the growing disaffection reverberate. Whenever non-controversial issues are deliberated, senators seldom disagree. The rhythm is however different when regional considerations, insecurity, confirmation of appointments, debates on Constitution amendments, among others, take the centre stage.
There are beliefs that last week’s debacle is a prelude to what to expect when the Senate will vote later in the year to amend some sessions of the Constitution. For instance, while many Southern senators are pushing for power devolution, core Northern lawmakers are believed to be opposed to it. Without the support of Northern senators, the Constitution amendment which will gulp N1 billion of taxpayers’ money, will fail like others in the past.
Last week’s debate on a Bill which seeks to establish the Armed Forces Commission, was not an exception. The National Assembly is mandated by law as stipulated in section 219 of the Constitution to pass an Act to establish such an Armed Forces Commission.
Sponsored by Senate Minority leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe, the bill is titled, “A Bill for an Act to give effect to section 219 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to provide for the establishment of the Armed Forces Service Commission and for other related matters, 2021”.
The bill was read for the first time a year ago, before the National Assembly was shutdown, following the global outbreak of COVID-19. Long before the bill was scheduled for a second reading, long knives had been drawn and senators were gearing up to draw blood on the controversial issue.
However, during the debate on the general principles of the bill, to pave way for its second reading, many senators from the Northern part of the country with the exception of the Senate Leader, Abdullahi Yahaya, raised serious objections to it.
As expected, senators from the Southern part of the country spoke in support of the bill. The Deputy President of the Senate, Ovie Omo-Agege, joined his colleagues from the North to oppose the bill initially. He claimed that there were “devils in the details of the bill.”
Francis Alimikhena from Edo State, retired Army Major, equally stood against the bIll. When the question was put as to whether the bill should be allowed to pass the second reading stage, the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, ruled in favour of those who spoke against the bill and declared that the bill has failed.
In his predictable manner, Abaribe swiftly rose to protest and raised order 73 of the Senate standing rule through which he called for division to allow senators openly vote in turns for or against the bill.
There were shouts of no! no!! among the opponents of the bill. In the rowdiness that ensued, the Senate president after about two minutes called for a close session. After the closed session that lasted for about 20 minutes, Lawan announced that Abaribe had agreed to withdraw his opposition to the ruling that nailed the bill.
According to the bill, the appointment of Chief of Defence Staff, Chief of Army Staff, Chief of Air Staff, Chief of Naval Staff, Director of Military intelligence and Heads of other Arm-bearing Security Agencies, shall be appointed, subject to recommendations by the Commission.
If the bill had scaled through, “the Commission would have had the power and authority pursuant to section 219 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) to ensure that the composition/appointment of Service Chiefs of the Armed Forces of the Federation reflects federal character of Nigeria in the manner prescribed in section 217 (3) of the 1999 Constitution.”
The “Commission shall ensure that the functions specified in section 217 of the 1999 Constitution; and the powers exercisable by the President in the appointment of Service Chiefs and Officers Corps and other Ranks of the Armed
Forces of the Federation in section 218 of the 1999 constitution reflects Federal Character of Nigeria.
“As from the date of commencement of this Act, the Commission shall have the power to recommend to the President from among the best and most qualified, most educated and most experienced members of the Armed Forces of the Federation for appointment as (a) Chief of Defence Staff (b) Chief of Army Staff (c) Chief of Air Staff (d) Chief of Na- val Staff (e) Director of Military intelligence; And Heads of other Arm-bearing Security Agencies and ensure that such appointments reflects federal character principle of Nigeria.
“Recommend to the President the removal from office as Service Chiefs and Head of other Arm-bearing Security Agencies on ground of misconduct, abuse of office, breach of any section of the Constitution, the Armed Forces Act or any other Act of the National Assembly.
“The Commission shall have the power to approve promotion from among the best, most competent and qualified officers as Heads of Military formations/ branches such as General Officers Commanding Divisions of the Nigerian Army and their equivalent in the Navy and Air Force.
“Provided that in making such recommendations the Commis- sion shall observe the Federal Character principle and adopt an equitable template to spread the offices of the Service Chiefs, and
Officers Corps and other Ranks of the Armed Forces of the Federation among the six geo-politicai zones of the country.
“Subject to the provisions of section 215 (1) and 216 (2) of the 1999 Constitution on the powers of the Nigerian Police Council to advise the President on the appointment of Inspector General of Police, and notwithstanding any other provision in any other law establishing any other security agency.
“The Commission shall have the power to recommend to the President from among the best and most qualified, most educated and most experienced officers of the Nigeria Police Force, State Security Service (SSS), National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Office of the National Security Adviser(ONSA), and the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Nigerian Custom Service, Nigerian Immigration service and Nigerian Correctional Service, persons for appointment as Inspector General of Police, Director General of SSS, Director General NIA, Director General of ONSA, and Commandant General of NSCDC, Comptroller General of Customs, Comptroller General of Immigration, Comp- troller General of Prisons, and Head of the Federal Fire Service.
The proposed law further asserted that “Provided that in making such recommendations, the Commission shall take into cognizance the federal character principle and the geo-poiitical zones of the country that produced the four Service Chiefs provided in this section, and ensure that the Heads of other Security Agencies provided in this sub section spread equitably among the six geo-politicai zones of the country.
“The Commission shall have power to make regulation in the performance of its functions to ensure that each zone of the Federation is equitably represented in the appointments of Service Chiefs and Officers Corps and other Ranks of the Armed Forces of the Federation and Heads of other Security and paramilitary and armed-bearing security agencies of the Federation, and ensuring that the most competent and qualified person from each zone is appointed at all times.
“Notwithstanding the provision in any other law establishing the Armed Forces, Nigerian Police Force and other security/para military agencies, Commission shall supervise and approve Upon certifying that Federal Character provided in this Act has been duly observed, all promotions in the Armed Forces of the Federation, Nigerian Police Force and other Security and para~ military and Armed-bearing security agencies of the Federation.
“Where the number of available positions cannot go round the six geopolitical zones of the Federation, the distribution of appointments shall be done equally between the North and South.”
Credit: Daily Sun