Attempt to create Armed Forces Service Commission splits Senate

…As Bill Suffers setback

*Upper chamber begs Abaribe to withdraw, represent legislation

By Ignatius Okorocha

There was a sharp division among senators during plenary on Wednesday over a Bill for the establishment of the Armed Forces Service Commission, sponsored by the Minority Leader, Senator Enyinaya Abaribe, which failed to scale second reading.

After much debate in support and against the passage for second reading  of the bill, the Senate President Ahmad Lawan ruled in favour of those opposing it after putting it into voice votes with majority shouted nayes

This was even as the sponsor of the bill was prevailed upon by the Senate President to withdraw his call for physical votes through Order 73 of the Senate standing rules, having declared division among the lawmakers.

As tension started in the chamber over Abaribe’s insistence on the application of the order which challenged Lawan’s opinion on the bill, the Senate President asked that the lawmakers dissolved into a closed doors executive session, which later took them over 20 minutes to resolve.

Senator Enyinnaya (PDP Abia South) had while leading debate on the bill, informed that it was read for the first time in the upper legislative chamber on Tuesday, 3rd March, 2020, stressing that it seeks to get the National Assembly to give effect to the clear provisions of section 219 of the 1999 Constitution as amended. 

He explained that the Armed Forces is a “national institution 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.”

The lawmaker added 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 reflects Federal Character of Nigeria in the manner prescribed in section 217 (3) of the 1999 Constitution.

Senator Abaribe listed the function and powers of the commission to include recommending to the President from among the best and most qualified, most educated and most experienced members of the Armed Forces for appointment as the Chief of Defence Staff, Chief of Army Staff, Chief of Air Staff and the Chief of Naval Staff as well as the Director of Military Intelligence, and Heads of other arms-bearing security agencies and ensure that such appointments reflects the Federal Character.

He added that the commission shall among others also 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. 

The Minority Leader further argued that the enactment of the bill will help strengthen national unity and integration where the overall interest of all sections of the country is protected in line with Order 77 (3) of Senate standing rules.

Meanwhile trouble started when the Senate President called for contributions from lawmakers, which actually caused division among them.

Senator Francis Alimikhena (APC Edo North) was first to kick against the bill, saying once put on paper, it is going create disunity in the operation of the Armed Forces. 

He said: “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 materialise, 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.”

In his contribution, Senator Abdullahi Adamu (APC Nasarawa West), said though the bill proposal might be a good one, but he queried the timing.

He said: “In as much as the call for this Bill would appear to be in consonance of the provisions of the Constitution as being highlighted in the lead debate, I want to ask, why now? The mover of this Bill has been a Senator since 2007, this is his fourth term in the Senate, why now?”  

Also, Senator Adamu Bulkachuwa (APC Bauchi Central) said there’s no need for such a commission to duplicate the functions of the Federal Character Commission. 

But the Senate Leader Yahaya Abdullahi affirmed his support for the bill, saying it “stands on very solid constitutional grounds from Sections 217, 213 and 219 (of the Constitution)

“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.”

Also, the Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege said “on the surface it is difficult to quarrel the content of the bill.”

He, however, said that the power to appoint the Chief of Defence Staff and the Service Chiefs as well as heads of security agencies, are already determined by the Constitution, which confers it on the President.

Equally supporting the bill, Senator Opeyemi Bamidele (APC Ekiti Central), noted “what that 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.”

Also, Senator Chukwuka Utazi (PDP Enugu North), explained that the proposed commission would not be different from other ones. 

“This is a harmless Bill that has been proposed here for us to give a concession. If we want the loyalty of Nigerians from all sections of the country, you have to give birth to it and part of it is having the commission,” he stressed. 

Senator Emmanuel Bwacha (PDP Taraba South), reminded his colleagues that the bill is only urging them to take a critical look at aspect of the constitution that grants them power to create a Commission that will oversee the Armed Forces. 

He emphasized that this Commission, if established, “will strengthen the unity of our country rather than creating disunity”, adding that “it will be in our own interest if we give this bill a second reading.”

Lending his voice in support of the bill, James Manager (PDP, Delta South) 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 Committee fine-tune it based on submissions from the input of stakeholders.   

He added that members of the upper chamber reserved the right to vote against any counter-productive aspect of the bill during a clause-by-clause consideration of the Committee’s report. 

“Let us not feel that we have a reservoir of knowledge, we will invite people for public hearing. Those who come for public hearing will advise us whether this bill is good or not good. 

“So, at the end of the day, the report will be presented, and when it is presented, we call for clause-by-clause reading. A particular clause that is not good enough for this country will be taken out,” he said.

In his remarks, President of the Senate Ahmad Lawan after resuming from the executive session said that the upper legislative chamber reviewed the issues generated after considering the bill and urged its sponsor to withdraw it till appropriate time

“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, 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.

“Opportunity  will be available for him or any distinguished senator to represent this Bill better after due consultations with colleagues.”

Rising, the Minority Leader withdrew his earlier order for division and asked that the bill be stepped down.

He said: “I want to make a compound motion – two motions. In order to preserve the dignity of this hallowed chamber, I wish to withdraw my order 73.

“Secondly, and for us to be able to do further consultations on the bill that I have proposed, I wish also to step down the consideration of this bill until a more appropriate time, I do submit, Mr. President”. 

Consequently, Senator Abaribe withdrawn the Division Order and consideration of the bill for second reading.

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