• As upper chamber resolves into emergency closed door session
  • Abaribe steps down bill

By Sanni Onogu, Abuja

A Bill which seeks to establish an Armed Forces Service Commission on Wednesday divided the Senate.

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” was sponsored by Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe (Abia South).

No sooner than the debate for the second reading of the Bill commenced than it degenerated into an uproar.

The battle of wits was between the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) senators and their All Progressives Congress (APC) counterparts.

While supporters of the Bill argued that it was merely to give effect to a constitutional provision which empowers the National Assembly to create the Armed Forces Service Commission, APC Senators in their contribution said that the Bill was targeted at whittling down the powers of the President.

APC Senators like Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege, Abdullahi Adamu, Adamu Aliero and Mohammed Bulkachuwa opposed the Bill, while PDP Senators like Emmanuel Bwacha, Chukwuka Utazi and James Manager supported the Bill.

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Confusion arose when Senate President Ahmad Lawan put the Bill to a voice vote and ruled that the “nays” had the day, meaning that the Bill cannot be read for a second time.

The sponsor of the Bill, Abaribe, and those who supported the Bill however disagreed with the ruling of the Senate President and called for a division of the Senate to allow for transparent voting.

This disagreement by Abaribe was interpreted by some lawmakers as challenging the ruling of the Senate President on the matter.

The development led to a near commotion in the Senate before the Senate President announced that the chamber will go into an emergency closed door session.

After the closed door session which lasted for about 25 minutes, the Senate President said that the Senate has “appealed” to Abaribe to withdraw his motion to invoke Order 73 of the Senate Standing Rules which would have made Senators to take a stand whether in support or against the Bill in the open.

He said that there is still opportunity for Abaribe to represent the Bill after due consultations with his colleagues.

Lawan said: “Before we went into a closed session, the Minority Leader raised a point of order, Order 73, and there were interventions from our colleagues on the need for the order to be withdrawn and that was why I didn’t make any ruling on the order raised by the Minority Leader.

“Having gone into closed session we have reviewed various things, the national interest and of cause, the need for this Senate to continue working in a very bi-partisan manner regardless of our ethnic or regional dispositions.

“We have appealed to the Minority Leader to withdraw the Standing Order 73 and of course the Minority Leader or indeed any distinguished senator here will have the opportunity to look into that Bill again in the future, to do more consultations amongst distinguished Senators so that variety of ideas pouring into the constitution of the Bill will be such that when it comes it should have a jet speed passage and I believe that this is something we are used to in parliament.

“So, I will invite our Minority Leader, having heard our appeal that we don’t have to go into the ruling on the order he raised and that we can do without it and the opportunity will also be available for him or indeed any distinguished Senator here to represent this Bill better after due consultation with colleagues here.

“Minority Leader, on behalf of all of us, I am appealing to you that please let’s withdraw Order 73 so that the business of the Senate will continue and then if it is your wish to represent the Bill, you may do so.

“I will advise strongly that let’s consult with our colleagues, as many as possible, to be part of the Bill as sponsors. I think that will help get an easier passage.”

Based on the appeal, Abaribe agreed to withdraw his order 73 as well as step down the consideration of the Bill to a more “appropriate time.”

Abaribe said: “First, Mr. President, in order to preserve the dignity of this hallowed chamber, I wish to withdraw my Order 73.

“Second, 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 so submit Mr. President.”

Earlier in his lead debate, Abaribe said: “The 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 altar of political temperament.

“This Bill seeks to establish the Armed Forces Service 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.”

According to the Abia South lawmaker, the functions 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 arms-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 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.

“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, other Officer Corps and other ranks of the Armed Forces of the Federation among the six geo-political zones of the country.”

He insisted that the enactment of the Bill would help strengthen the country’s 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…”

Chairman Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Surajudeen Ajibola Basiru told reporters after the session that the amicable resolution of the issue at plenary shows the maturity of the country’s democracy.

Basiru said: “What happened today is a testimony to the maturity of our democracy and ability for senators, being statesmen, to within a short period of time, resolve what ordinarily in the past could have led to rancorous deliberation and result.

“And the operating principle for resolution of the matter which is no winner, no vanquished.

“While the Order 73 was withdrawn the Senate also gave a signal to re-entertain the bill upon further consultations because some of those people who have spoken against the Bill know that the Bill is well grounded by Section 219 of the Constitution but that they had some concerns as to whether it would not lead to over politicization of the Nigerian Armed Forces.

“The operating principle of the 9th Assembly is based on bi-partisanship. We believe that as much as possible, decisions should be reached on consensus.

“To have gone ahead to take a position on dividing the House would have set a bad precedent which is a departure from our commitment to have a National Assembly that work on the basis of bipartisanship, harmony and mutual understanding. As you can see the deliberation ended on a convivial note.”

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