By Lawrence Audu
There was an interesting topic that dominated public discourse recently. It raged with some putting in arguments to support their positions and some against also putting up arguments to support their views.
The contentious issue is the bill seeking for the establishment of the Armed Forces Service Commission (Est.) Bill 2020 (SB 362)” and sponsored by Senator Eyinaya Abaribe, representing Abia South Senatorial District in the National Assembly.
According to the Bill, the appointment of Chief of Defense 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 Senate.
I was somewhat lost for words when I read the details of the proposed bill in that the Senate would be vested with the authority to select Service Chiefs in the country. In my opinion, this is not only in poor taste; it is indeed an affront to our sensibilities on how some individuals and organizations would elect to tow the path of a disservice to the country by advancing causes that suits the interest of a few as against national interest.
As a first, a critical question must be asked, questions that border on the constitutional provisions with regards to the leadership of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I suppose that the president is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Section 218 Subsection 1 and 2 expressly states that “the powers of the President as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federation shall include the power to determine the operational use of the Armed Forces of the Federation; (2) power to appoint the Chief of Defense Staff, the Chief of Army Staff, the Chief of Naval Staff, the Chief of Air Staff and heads of any other branches of the Armed Forces of Federation as may be established by an Act of the National Assembly.
This is the constitutional provisions with regards to the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and I suppose that the constitution is that which defines our actions and inactions in Nigeria. I want to assume that there are indeed lawyers in the National Assembly that ought to have raised a point of order when Senator Eyinaya Abaribe made his submissions at plenary. And to think that the bill has passed second reading beats my imagination because if indeed it scales through, the Senate would have carried out a coup against the constitution.
This is my argument: the bill is defective. It should not be a topic for discussion in the first instance because the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as an institution is not meant to be subjected to the whims and caprices of politicians.
If this has been the case, I am not sure we would have had professional Armed Forces that is ranked as the 43rd best in the world in terms of professionalism and military strength. I suppose the Senate in their wisdom does not see the need for protecting national assets in the country, and they have elected to look at things from the prism of their selfish interest.
My concern about this bill is the fact that given what we know about how things can sometimes be in Nigeria, there is every possibility that there is an overarching objective behind the bill and one not in the overall national interest.
As interesting as this might sound, the Armed Forces Service Commission bill reminds one of the infamous third term agenda of the Olusegun Obasanjo era. If you would recall, the National Assembly was where all the manipulations and scheming took place with lots of monies stashed in bags and distributed to our distinguished Senators. As usual, the debate for the third term took center stage, and there were those in favor and those against. And at the end of the day, the third term agenda was dropped.
It is, therefore, my considered opinion that such a scenario would repeat itself if it is not already happening. I know that ethnic and religious champions have been mobilized by the sponsors of the bill to display ethnic and religious sentiments in the composition of the Service Chiefs in the country at the expense of merit.
The actions of the Senate can also be term a coup against democracy because attempting to misinterpret the law to suit their purpose is very uncharitable. In the first instance, there is no basis for such a bill, let alone debating it on the floor of the Senate. This is where I think the leadership of the Senate has failed Nigerians. They have acted in a way that sends shivers down our spine in the sense that the National Assembly is now the center of anti-Nigerian scheming and manipulations.
This is on the heels that the ill-fated call for the sack of Service Chiefs was deafening in the National Assembly. It was such an embarrassing situation that called to question the sincerity and commitment of our distinguished Senators to the growth and development of Nigeria. Suffice to add that their arguments were bland. And to make matters worse, the Senate made a media show of the whole clamor and attempting to discredit the executive arm of government.
We must learn to call spade and spade, and this much the leadership of the Senate has realized with the barrage of criticism it has received for attempting to destroy a revered institution such as the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. If not for anything, the leadership of the Senate ought to have been prudent with the personality of the sponsor of the bill.
It is a known fact that the sponsor of the bill is a known ethnic champion whose motives have never been in the national interest, but that of his geopolitical region. This is given the fact that it was he who stood as surety for Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, and so many other anomalies associated with him.
In conclusion, the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is one of our most cherished institutions that has brought honor to the country. It has been engaged in internal security operations alongside its constitutionally recognized role of protecting the country from external aggressions. What more can we ask for? And to think that some elements within the National Assembly have allowed themselves to be used by those that have elected to ruin Nigeria by this futile attempt to break and make a caricature of the Armed Forces in Nigeria.
This doesn’t make sense, and the leadership of the National Assembly must do well to desist from the attempt to destroy a strategic National and Professional Asset that has stood the test of time since the creation of Nigeria. The National Assembly must not lose sight of its functions as clearly spelled out in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and must align with the strategic goals of ensuring growth and sustainable development. And it must save its face from this despicable attempt at usurping the powers of the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces with regards to the appointment of Service Chiefs in the country.