Amid commotion over a bill seeking for the establishment of Armed Forces Service Commission (AFSC), the Senate in avoiding division, hurriedly went into closed door session last week Wednesday. TAIYE ODEWALE reports .
The hope of the Senate Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe ( PDP Abia South ), to get his bill seeking for establishment of Armed Forces Service Commission (AFSC) pass for second reading on the floor of the Senate Wednesday last week, was dashed as some senators vehemently opposed the bill culminating into its rejection in an unclear voice votes decided by the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan. Abaribe’s call for division of the Senate could not help but hurried the upper legislative chamber to closed door session .
Abaribe had in his lead debate on the bill submitted thus: “This bill seeks to get 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.
“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 alter of political temperament.
” It seeks to establish the Armed Forces Services Commission 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. For clarity, Section 219 states as follows;
“The National Assembly shall, (a) In giving effect to the functions specified in section 217 of the 1999 and (b) with respect to the powers exercisable by the President under section 218 of the Constitution; establish a body that shall comprise such members as the National Assembly may determine and which shall have power to ensure that the composition of the Armed Forces of the Federation reflects Federal Character of Nigeria in the manner prescribed by section 217 of the Constitution.
“The establishment of this Commission is informed by the imperative to give effect to the provisions of section 217 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of “Nigeria to ensure that the composition/appointment of Service Chiefs of the Armed Forces of the Federation reflects the said section.
“The function and powers of the Commission shall be to: Have 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.
“Ensure that the functions Specified in section 217 of the 1999 Constitution; and the powers exercised 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 the said section.
“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: (i) Chief of Defence Staff , (ii) Chief of Army Staff , (iii) Chief of Air Staff , (iv) Chief of Naval Staff, (v) Director of Military Intelligence, and Heads of other Arms-bearing Security Agencies and ensure that such appointments reflects the Federal Character 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.
“Approve promotion from among the best, most competent and qualified ofhcers 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 Commission shall observe the Federal Character principle and adopt an equitable template to spread the Offices of the Service Chiefs, and Othcers Corps and other Ranks of the Armed Forces of the Federation among the six geo – political zones of the Country”.
The enactment of the Bill he added, “will help strengthen our national unity and integration where the overall interest of all sections of the Country is protected in line with order 77 (3) of our standing Rules”.
Expectedly, after Abaribe’s submissions, another Senator, Itstifanus Gyang ( PDP Plateau North ), stood up to second it by describing it as a well conceived and drafted legislation that will bring about equity and even representation of Nigerians in the top echelons of the nation’s military at all times.
A submission which was, however, countered by Senator Francis Alimikhena ( APC Edo North), who alleged that such Commission rather than bring about unity among the rank and file of personnel of the military , will create disunity among them .
“In as much as this bill is good on the paper , it will create disunity in the Armed Forces , polarised professionalism. It is not needed at this time because it is the function of the President to appoint the Service Chiefs and it is the function of the Service Chiefs to organise each of the units of Armed Forces under their control “, he said.
Though in giving the bill a smooth sail for second reading Senator Opeyemi Bamidele ( APC Ekiti Central ) and the Senate Leader himself , Yahaya Abdullahi ( APC Kebbi North) , rose in its defence by anchoring their arguments on constitutionalism but Senators like the Deputy President of the Senate , Ovie Omo – Agege , Adamu Aliero ( APC Kebbi Central) , Abdullahi Adamu ( APC Nasarawa West), Adamu Bulkachuwa ( ( APC Bauchi North) etc, kicked against it for allegedly coming at a wrong time.
Specifically while the Senate Leader in supporting the bill said : “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. Running away from this , is like running away from “our constitutional responsibility”.
The Deputy President of the Senate in countering it , said : ” On the surface it is difficult to quarrel the content of the Bill. But Mr President, the ‘Devil is in the Details. Let me say upfront, without prejudice to what will come out from the public hearing if the bill is passed for second reading. Under Section 219, which is the anchor for this Bill, what they are seeking to do is an Act of parliament though provided for under 219 but also it would be an inferior legislation to the constitutional provisions.
“Because the power to appoint the Chief of Defence Staff, the Chief of Army Staff, the Chief of Naval Staff, the Chief of Air Force and other security agencies that may be presented to us but these ones are already determined by the Constitution, that power to make that appointment is already conferred by Mr President and that is a constitutional provision. That power is sacrosanct.
“We should not end up making a law which is an Act of National Assembly that will derogate from the clear constitutional power already conferred on Mr President”.
The debate became more rancorous when other Senators like Ibrahim Yahaya Oloriegbe ( APC Kwara Central ) James Manager ( PDP Delta South), Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi ( APC Niger North) , Chukwuka Utazi (PDP Enugu North ) argued for and against the bill .
Senator Utazi in particular during his argument, called Senator Abdullahi Adamu as Abdullahi Buhari which angered the President of the Senate , Ahmad Lawan, by calling him to order and infact, made him to put the passage of the bill for voice votes upon which he ruled that the nays had it.
Dissatisfied with the ruling, the sponsor of the bill, Abaribe, quickly called for division by raising order 73 of the Senate Standing Rules which further hightened tension among Senators as the Deputy President of the Senate tried to counter him, while Senator James Manager insisted that the division should be carried out, to know those who actually voted for or against the bill.
After about ten minutes of confusion , the Senate President hurriedly called for closed session which lasted for about 20 minutes.
After the closed door session, the President of the Senate , on behalf of the Senate, appealed to Senator Abaribe to withdraw his motion calling for division .
Senator Abaribe in his response , withdrew his point of order but also called on the Senate to treat the bill as a withdrawn one.
In his ruling, the President of the Senate thanked Abaribe for withdrawing his motion calling for division and assured him that the bill, when presented again, will be given jet speed consideration and passage.
“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.
“We have appealed to the minority leader to withdraw the Standing Order 73 and of course which he has done.
“Indeed any distinguished senator would have the opportunity to look into that bill again in the future to do more consultations among distinguished senators so that variety of ideas into the Constitution or the Bill will be such that when it comes it should have jet speed passage”, he said.
Making further clarifications on what transpired on the floor of the Senate that day and at the closed door session during media briefing after the plenary, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Surajudeen Ajibola Basiru ( APC Osun Central), said the incident further testified to the resilience of the 9th National Assembly and maturity of our democracy.
“Bi- partisanship approach to issues of national interest for which the 9th Senate is known for, under the Presidency of Distinguished Senator Ahmad Lawan, was displayed today through bi- partisan discussion on the bill at the closed door session as against any acrimonious resolution division on already taken position may bring.
“To us in the Senate as far as the bill on Armed Forces Service Commission is concerned, no victor, no vanquished, as it may be represented and considered at any other time “, he said.
Time will definitely tell whether when the bill is represented during the life span of this Senate or not , it will have a smooth sail in terms of consideration and passage?