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Thursday 25 March 2021

Senate: Intrigues over Armed Forces Service Commission Bill


Senate: Intrigues over Armed Forces Service Commission Bill

CHUKWU DAVID reports that the bill seeking to establish Armed Forces Service Commission, suffered a setback last week, following intrigues and politicking among senators, when the proposal was raised for consideration

Intrigues, horse-trading and antagonism characterized Senate plenary last week during the consideration of a bill seeking to created Armed Forces Service Commission that will regulate and control the operations of the nation’s armed forces. Sponsored by the Senate Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe, the bill provoked serious fireworks in the Red Chamber, when the Abia South senator was called upon to present the bill for consideration for second reading.

The major provision in the bill, which triggered those opposed to it, to vehemently resist its passage for second reading is that the commission shall recommend to the president, officers to be appointed as service chiefs. In the course of the debate, it was observed that arguments were dominantly influenced by geo-ethnic cum partisan biases, thereby making the debate irreconcilable till the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, called for a closed-door session to resolve the matter.

It was noticed that, apart from the Senate Leader, Yahaya Abdullahi, who objectively and strongly supported the bill, most of senators of northern extraction, sternly kicked against proceeding with the bill. On the other hand, apart from the Deputy President of the Senate, Ovie Omo-Aggege, who picked holes with the bill, most of senators from the southern part of the country, who contributed to the debate, strongly supported its passage for second reading. 

Although support or disagreement based on party leaning was also visible in the line of debate, however, geo-ethnic consideration dominated the debate.

The bill is entitled: “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 (SB. 362).”

After the bill was introduces by Abaribe, Senator Istifanus Gyang (PDP- Plateau), seconded the motion for the bill to be debated and passed for second reading. In his lead debate, Abaribe noted that the bill seeks to get the National Assembly to give effect to the clear provisions of section 219 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), which stressed on the need to make appointments in accord with Federal Character Principle.

He also said that the bill seeks to establish the Armed Forces Services Commission to ensure that the composition/ appointment of Service Chiefs of the Armed Forces of the Federation reflect Federal Character of Nigeria in the man-ner prescribed in section 217 (3) of the 1999 Constitution.

The lawmaker further noted that the commission shall have powers 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 Chief of Defence Staff, Chief of Army Staff, Chief of Air Staff, Chief of Naval Staff, Director of Military Intelligence, and heads of other armsbearing security agencies as well as ensure that such appointments reflects the Federal Character of Nigeria.

He also stated that the Commission shall have the power to recommend to the president, the removal from office as Service Chiefs and heads of other Armbearing 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.

According to him, the Commission shall 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. 

Senator Gyang, who supported the proposal, said the intent of the bill is to activate the position of the constitution, and would go a long way to address certain concerns as well as strengthen the unity of Nigeria. In his contribution, the Senate Leader, Yahaya Abdullahi, expressed support for the bill, saying it stood on very solid constitutional grounds from sections 217, 213 and 219.

“I stand before this distinguished chamber to affirm that this bill stands on very solid constitutional grounds from sections 217, 213 and 219. What the section has done is to share the management of the armed forces between the executive and legislature.

It gives the legislature the powers to manage the affairs of the Nigerian Armed Forces. Running away from this is running away from our constitutional responsibility,” he said. Similarly, Senator Michael Bamidele (APC-Ekiti) supported the bill, saying it was time to have the commission to implement the provisions of section 219 of the Constitution.

His words: “This is one of those moments that as elective representatives of the people, who swore to uphold the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, we have to take the decision as to whether or not we want to stand and uphold clear provisions of the constitution or allow whatever primordial sentiments to make us shy away from upholding the constitution.

“Yes there is an Army Council, yes there is a Navy Council, let the National Assembly take the decision that representatives of such councils shall also become automatic members of the Armed Forces Service Commission. The fact that it has not been done up till now and it is being proposed by the sponsor, is a wakeup call on the National Assembly to do a duty imposed on it by the constitution.” 

Senator Chukwuma Utazi, who described the bill as “harmless,” said that the proposed legislation seeks to ensure that the essence of the Federal Character Principle as contained in the constitution is respected. Also, lending his voice in support of the bill, James Manager (PDP, Delta) noted that the bill had been before the National Assembly for over a year, and therefore, should be allowed to scale second reading to allow the relevant committees fine-tune it based on submissions from the input of stakeholders.

He added that senators reserved the right to vote against any counter-productive aspect of the bill during a clause-by-clause consideration of the Committee’s report. However, Senator Ibrahim Yahaya Oloriegbe (APC, Kwara) kicked against the bill, saying: “The new commission that is being proposed to be established, rather than it having effect in terms of promoting unity and strengthening our armed forces, will be a mere division of a bureaucratic set-up that will not enable the armed forces to do what it is supposed to do.” 

Similarly, Francis Alimikhena (APC-Edo) in his contribution said: “In as much as this bill is put on paper, it is going to create disunity in the operation of the armed forces. As it is presently composed, the commission cannot take the function of the Chief of Army Staff or the functions of all the service chiefs.

“If you allow this bill to materialise, the armed forces will be politicised and professionalism will be killed. It is the function of the Chief of Army Staff or the service chiefs that know the competence of their officers to recommend persons for any position. The commission cannot know who is competent”. 

Also speaking against the bill, Senator Adamu Aliero (APC, Kebbi), said it will offend the spirit of the constitution as it seeks to politicize it, warning that going ahead with the bill will amount to undermining the constitution as well as compromising the armed forces.

Senator Abdullahi Adamu (APC, Nasarawa) questioned the timing of the bill, stressing that introducing the commission at a time when Nigeria’s unity is under threat would be diversionary. Danjuma Goje (APC, Gombe Central) in his contribution warned that “to attempt to politicize the armed forces at this time is dangerous to the overall security of the country. Also, to introduce something that would bring disunity in the armed forces is to create more problems for ourselves.”

Deputy Minority Leader, Emmanuel Bwacha (PDP, Taraba) warned against politicization of the bill. He added that the issue of geo-political zones be de-emphasized. “In my humble opinion, rather than politicizing this bill, I want to encourage my colleagues to understand its character and content.

This bill is simply waking us up from sleep to do our job. It is urging us to take a critical look at the constitution that grants us the power to create a commission that will oversee the armed forces. “Let me emphasize that this commission will strengthen the unity of our country rather than creating disunity. It will be in our own interest if we give this bill a second reading,” he said. 

When the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, put the bill to voice vote, it was not clear whether it was those in support or those against that won but Lawan gave it to those in opposition.

This, however, did not go down well with Abaribe, who cited Order 73 of the Senate Standing Orders, and called for a division of the house for a head count. The Deputy President of the Senate (Omo- Agege) attempted to cause Lawan to over-rule Abaribe’s point of Order but Senator Manager, cautioned him against doing that.

He recalled that there had been such divisions in previous assemblies, where Lawan himself participated. At this point, Lawan, who obviously found himself in a tight corner, quickly called for an executive session to enable the Chamber proffer political solution to the controversy rather than wash its dirty leaning outside. In his remarks on resuming from the executive session, Lawan said the Senate reviewed the issues generated after considering the bill and arrived at compromise in the overall interest of the country.

“We have reviewed various things; the national interest and of course the need for this Senate to continue working in a very bipartisan manner regardless of our ethnic or regional dispositions. So, I will invite the Minority Leader, having heard our appeal that we don’t have to go into the ruling of the Order he raised.

So, Minority Leader, on behalf of all of us, I am appealing to you that let us withdraw Order 73 so that the business of the Senate will continue.” Abaribe in his response came up with two motions; to withdraw his point of Order, and tto step down the bill, so that it could be represented for consideration at another time. 

He said: “In order to preserve the dignity of this Chamber, I wish to withdraw my Order 73 and for us to be able to do further consideration of the bill. I wish to also step down the consideration of this bill”.

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