The Nigerian Senate was thrown into controversy over a bill pushing for the establishment of a Commission for armed forces on Wednesday.
Section 219 of the Constitution which charges the National Assembly to pass an Act to establish such an Armed Forces Commission was ignored.
At the session bitter ethnic sentiments, use of foul and unparliamentary languages overtook the Senate during plenary
Sponsored by the Senate Minority Leader, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe over a year ago, but came up for a second reading on Wednesday, the bill was thrown out
In his lead debate, Abaribe said the proposed Commission for armed forces would ensure equitable representation of Service Chiefs across the six geopolitical zones of the country.
He cited section 219 of the 1999 Constitution as amended which empowers the National Assembly to legislate on matters of the armed forces.
The Bill 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”
But 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 Majority leader, Abdullahi Yahaya and Deputy Minority leader Bawcha Emmanuel, raised serious objections to the Bill.
Some Senators from the Southern part of the country also spoke in support and against the Bill.
The Deputy President of the Senate, Ovie Omo-Agege, who initially supported the Bill went further to disclose that there were devils in the details of the Bill.
Contributing, Senate Leader Yahaya Abdullahi affirmed his support for the Bill.
“I stand before this distinguished chamber to affirm that this Bill stands on very solid constitutional grounds from Sections 217, 213 and 219.
“They imposed it as a duty of this hollowed chamber to provide for the establishment of an institution to manage the armed forces.
“What the section has done is to share the management of the armed forces between the Executive and the Legislature.
“It gives the legislature the powers to manage the affairs of the Nigerian Armed Forces.”
He said that running away from this was running away from ” our constitutional responsibility”.
Senator Abdullahi Adamu in his contribution said, “We are simply being invited to comply with provision of the Constitution.
“In as much it it appears to be in consonance with provision of the Constitution. But why now? Is he suggesting that all these time he has been in the National Assembly between 1999 and now it has been in default in implementing this provision.
“Aside the Biafran War, this is the time that our Armed Forces have been overstretched. It is diversionary.
Yes, the fact remains that the appointment of Service Chiefs stops on the President table.
“There has been rumbling since new set of Service Chiefs, it is meant to blackmail the NASS. Why now?”
Senator Mohammed Bulkachuwa said the bill is a non-issue, because the Federal Character is already enshrined in the Constitution and it is applied in recruitment into federal service.
“To hide under the cover of Section 219, 218 is just an academic exercise. I think we should advise the mover of the motion to withdraw it.”
Senator Danjuma Goje said he will never go against the Constitution of Nigeria but that doesn’t mean they should take it in absolute terms.
“To try to politicize the armed forces is very dangerous for us. They are overstretched and they need to be motivated. It is very dangerous and more sensitive. If we can’t promote the unity of the Armed Forces today, we shouldn’t aggravate it.
“The Senate Minority Leader has been in this Senate since 2007 and he hasn’t been associated with this kind of bill. He should step it down.
Senator Chukwuka Utazi while supporting the bill said, “We should rise above board in issues of national importance. The issue before us is a purely legislative matter to give effect to the Constitution. When people inputs distractive issue to a Constitutional matter, it is painful.
“This Commission will be like other Commissions.
He Cited Section 14(3) of the Constitution on the need to identify diversity and promote national unity and abort predominance of an ethnic group in any of the federal agencies.
“The issue why now isn’t important. This is the time we have as legislators. Let us portray ourselves as distinguished Senators.”
Senator James Manager on his part said, “This bill is calling us to do what we ought to have done long time ago. It is a Constitutional provision. Looking at this bill, it is more than one year ago.
“It is just coming up for second reading. It called for caution. Let us not assume that we have reservoir of knowledge, we should let this go for public hearing. It is a harmless bill.”
Senator Adamu Aliero said he finds it difficult to support the bill because it offends the constitution.
“Armed forces are the symbol of Nigerian unity, therefore we should not do anything to politicise it and if we go ahead with the bill it will compromise the provisions of the constitution.
“It will politicise the appointments of service chiefs which is not good. Already we have a federal character commission which has the responsibility in overseeing appointment essentially in all establishments of Governments and we have power to summon the chief executive that offends the Federal character in appointments.”
Sen. Michael Bamidele (APC-Ekiti) Mr President, said, “This one of those moments again where 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.
“Section 219 is very clear and it is for this Senate to take a decision to the word shall in section 219.
“What the sponsor of this bill is trying to achieve by an Act of the National Assembly establish a body which shall comprise such members as the national Assembly may determine.
Mr President 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.
“We don’t need myth around who can join the armed forces, they have their regimented criteria, why are we running from having an armed forces commission, as far as I’m concerned it is not about the debate as to whether we have it or not, the Constitution had provided for it.
“Constitution says it shall happen and it is for us to perform our duty. The fact that it has not been done up till now and it is been proposed by the sponsor, it is a wakeup call on the national Assembly to do a duty imposed on it by the Constitution.”
The Deputy Minority leader Bawcha Emmanuel (Taraba South) said, “In my own humble opinion, rather than politicizing this bill I will encourage our colleagues to understand it wants us to do our job, to give effect to the Constitutional provision. “Rather that politicise, it will strengthen our unity.
The Bill is to oversight the Armed Forces, it has not undermined the power of the President to appoint Service Chiefs.
“I am in support of this bill. Before it gets to public hearing, we can throw away clauses we don’t want.”
Francis Alimikhena (APC, Edo State) equally stood against the BIll.
Contributing, Francis Alimikhena (APC-Edo) in as much as this Bill is put on paper it is going 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.
“Because if you allow this Bill to materialize, the armed forces will be politicised and the 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 that can recommend for any position. The commission cannot know who is competent.
The deputy President of the Senate said he aligned with the position taken by the Senate leader.
However, he said on the surface, it is difficult to quarrel with the content of the bill but the devil is in the details. So I will not be opposed to this bill being read for the second time so that we have opportunity during the public hearing everyone will have the opportunity to make contribution without prejudice to what will come out from the public hearing.
Under section 219, which is the anchor for this bill what they are seeking to do is an act enacted by the act of parliament though provided for under 219, it could be serious legislation to the constitutional provision because the power to appoint the chief of Defence staff, the chief of Army Staff and the chief of Naval staff and Airforce and other security agencies as may be determined by us.
“That is already determined by the constitution and that is conferred on the President and that is a constitutional provision that is backed by section 218, that power is sacrosanct.
I am saying we should not end up breaking the law which is an act of the National Assembly that we derogate from clear constitutional powers conferred on the President.
Having said that we are waiting to see the deliberations of the public hearing and also wait for the clause by clause consideration when it comes before us.
Senator Adamu Aliero said he finds it difficult to support the bill because it offends the constitution. Armed forces is the symbol of Nigerian unity, therefore we should not do anything to politicise it and if we go ahead with the bill it will compromise the provisions of the constitution.
It will politicise the appointments of service chiefs which is not good. Already we have a federal character commission which has the responsibility in overseeing appointment essentially kn all establishments of Governments and we have power to summon the chief executive that offends the Federal character in appointments.
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.
But Abaribe swiftly rose in 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.
Abaribe was given the opportunity to confirm that he withdrew his protest.
The Senate Minority leader later formally withdrew his protest and even announced that he had stepped down the entire Bill.