The Senate, on Wednesday, had a rowdy session following the heated debate that greeted the presentation of a bill aimed at restructuring the Nigerian Armed Forces.
It was titled: ‘A bill for the Establishment of Armed Forces Service Commission, 2021’.
It was sponsored by the Senate Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe.
It seeks, among others, the appointment of service chiefs in line with the federal character principle based on the recommendations of members of the proposed commission.
Leading the debate, Abaribe said the bill sought to make the National Assembly to give effect to the clear provisions of Section 219 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended.
He said, “The Armed Forces of Nigeria is a national institution of Nigeria that should be insulated by the vagaries of political divisions and therefore the framers of the constitution in their wisdom inserted this section to prevent a situation where our national symbol of unity and strength could be sacrificed on the altar of political temperament.
“The bill seeks to establish the Armed Forces Services Commission to ensure that the composition and 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.”
He said the establishment of the commission was informed by the imperative to give effect to the provisions of Section 217 of the Constitution to ensure that the composition and appointment of service chiefs reflected the law.
Abaribe said the proposed commission shall have the power and authority pursuant to Section 219 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).
He added that the bill would also ensure that the functions specified in Section 217 of the 1999 Constitution; and the powers exercise by the President in the appointment of service chiefs and officers corps and other ranks of the armed forces in Section 218 of the 1999 Constitution reflected the said section.
He said, “The commission will 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, Chief of Defence Staff, Chief of Army Staff, Chief of Air Staff, Chief of Naval Staff, Director of Military Intelligence and heads of other arms-bearing security agencies, and ensure that such appointments reflects the federal character of Nigeria.
“It will recommend to the President the removal from office as service chiefs and head of other arm-bearing security agencies on grounds of misconduct, abuse of office, and breach of any section of the Constitution, the Armed Forces Act or any other Act of the National Assembly.”
Nine senators spoke in favour of the bill, while six were against it during a debate that followed Abaribe’s presentation.
Those, who supported the proposed law were the Leader of the Senate, Abdullahi Yahaya; the Deputy Minority leader, Emmanuel Bwacha; Opeyemi Bamidele, Istifanus Gyang, Chukwuka Utazi, and James Manager.
The senators, who wanted the bill killed immediately, were Francis Alimikhena, Ibrahim Oloriegbe, Adamu Aliero, Adamu Abdullahi, Mohammed Bulkachuwa and Danjuma Goje.
The Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege, was evasive in his submissions.
The Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, called for a voice vote and he ruled in favour of those who opposed the bill in what appeared to be a controversial decision.
Abaribe raised a point of order to challenge Lawan’s ruling and he called for a division, whereby each senator would vote individually.
Lawan opposed Abaribe and his action led to an uproar, which made him to call for emergency closed session.
The Senate resumed from its closed door session after 20 minutes at 12.43pm.
Lawan said members during the closed session appealed to Abaribe to withdraw the call for division and also suspend his bill so that he could present it again at a later date after wide consultation.
He said, “We have appealed to the Minority Leader to withdraw the standing Order 73 and of course the Minority Leader and any senator here will have the opportunity to look into that bill in the future for more consultation.
“This is necessary so that variety of ideas referring to the constitution of the bill will be such that when it comes, we should have a jet speed passage.”
Abaribe reluctantly agreed to withdraw both the bill and his call for division.
The tension, which the issue generated, forced the Senate Leader to move that all other items on the order paper be stood down till another legislative day and the Minority Leader seconded.
The plenary was adjourned till Tuesday, March 22, 2021
However, rather than file out with other principal officers, our correspondent observed that Abaribe went straight to the tea room and left for his office in anger.
In his contributions during the debate, Omo Agege said, “Under Section 219, which is the anchor for this bill, it seeks to enact an Act of Parliament and will also be an inferior legislation to the constitutional provisions, because the power to appoint the Chief of Defence Staff, Chief of Army Staff, Chief of Naval Staff and Chief of Air Force and other security agencies is not done by us.
“Only the President has the power to appoint and that is the constitutional provision. We should not end up making a law, which is an Act of the National Assembly that will derogate on the clear powers the Constitution has already confined on Mr President.”
But Aliero kicked against it.
He said, “I stand on the other side of the divide and quite frankly I find it very difficult to support this bill for second reading, because it offends the Constitution.
“The armed forces are the symbol of the Nigeria’s unity, therefore, we should not do anything to upset them, and if we go ahead with this bill proposed by Senator Abaribe, we will compromise the provisions of the Constitution and politicise the appointment of service chiefs, which is not good for the country.”