Few days following the uproar over sitting arrangements that divided senators along party lines, debate on the alleged lopsided security appointments by the federal government caused the senate chamber to boil over with ethnic and political sentiments. Taye Odewale was on hand to bring details.
Composition of NDC
Some senators on Tuesday had heated argument over composition of the National Defence Council and the National Security Council. A particular region argued that t it has been shortchanged and denied a voice in the security architecture of the country and therefore unsafe since its security as a people in an already suspicious entity is not guaranteed.
While some of the lawmakers alleged that President Muhammadu Buhari deliberately side-lined the South east, by not appointing anyone from the region, others said the president made his appointment with consideration of the principles of Federal Character in mind.
The arguments came after Victor Umeh (Anambra, APGA) moved a motion for ‘urgent need to appoint a representative of the South-East into the National Defence Council and the National Security Council.’
Mr Umeh expressed worry that no Service Chief appointed to two councils is from the South-East of Nigeria contrary to federal character principles as provided for by the constitution. He felt it was a further demonstration of fixated discrimination against the region. The position remarkably rekindled the unconfirmed contention that the people of the region are yet to be forgiven for initiating the 30-months civil war that led to the death of millions of Nigerians.
Adducing his argument, Senator Umeh said: “The senate is further worried that the Defence and Security Advice relayed to the President by members of the Defence and Security Councils (which excluded Security Officers from the five states that make up the South-East of Nigeria) may not likely represent fair and equitable Security Situation of the South-East of Nigeria”.
Accordingly and in consonance with the inclination and agitation of the region, Senator Umeh prayed the president reconstitute membership of the councils and appoint an officer from the South-East as a Service Chief for equitable representation.
First to comment was Enyinnaya Abaribe (Abia-PDP), who accused Mr Buhari of deliberately excluding the South East in his appointment. Quoting Section 5 (1) A and B of the constitution, Senator Abaribe said the constitution mandates Mr. President to be fair to all regions in his appointment.
“Mr President does not have an option,” he said. What we have seen is deliberate. I repeat a deliberate misreading of the constitution as to the powers of Mr. President to decide on his own to determine who he can appoint.
“I’m very glad that in the motion of the matter of what constitutes the defence council. Section H says such other members as the president may appoint which gives Mr. President the option to co-opt people from outside the service chiefs in whichever way that he wants.
“What we are saying is the fact that despite the provision of the constitution, despite the options that are given, there is a deliberate attempt not to let some part of this country to be part of the security architecture and that, we are saying is not so good for this country.”
It is on record that the current Service Chiefs are: Chief of Defence Staff, Lt General Abayomi Gabriel Olonishakin, (Ekiti, South West), Chief of Army Staff, Lt General TY Buratai (Borno, North East), Chief of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe (Cross River, South South), Chief Air Staff Sadique Abubakar (Bauchi, North East), Inspector General of Police,Ibrahim Idris (Niger State, North Central). The Minister of Defence, retired Lt GenMansur Muhammad Dan Ali, (Kano State, North West), meaning that the South East remains the only region without a representation in the security architecture in Nigeria.
Umeh comes underfire
Senate Deputy Majority Leader, Ibn Na’ Allah, opted to attack the mover of the motion for daring to accuse the president of discrimination, noting that his presentation was a misinterpretation of the provision of the constitution.
“The position taken by Senator Umeh is a gross misunderstanding of the provision of the constitution. There is a clear distinction between what is called the officer corps and appointment.
“Section 219 makes it imperative for the president to make appointment and bring such to the Senate for confirmation where everyone is represented. The entire list in the motion sponsored by Senator Umeh was brought here. The senate found it convenient and expedient to at that time to approve that appointment and everybody was in the senate.
“At the recruitment level, the army, navy and air force do what they call federal character. But all are called and few are given. It will not be the fault of the Nigerian Army that for example that five candidates are brought from Kebbi and three ran away after the course or they commit an offence.
“At this stage, let me say that it has never been since independence that the policy of any government will be to deliberately exclude a section of this country.”
Also, Barau Jibrin, (Kano-APC) joint issues with Umeh insisting that the National Security Council already has a South East representative and therefore dismissed Umeh’s motion.
“The assertion by Mr Umeh is not correct. It is misleading. He omitted the fact that the Minister of Foreign Affairs, who is from the South east, Emeka Onyeama, is a member of the National Security Council. I, therefore call on Senator Umeh to apologise for misguiding the senate.”
The reprisal jab
He was promptly confronted by Mao Ohabunwa (Abia-PDP) who said the motion dwells more on the National Defence Council.
“If you look at the motion from the beginning, it is talking about the National Defence Council. Everything in this country should be inclusive.
“It’s not about federal character we agreed at the section of joining the force but what we are saying is that the National Defence Council is made up of about eight people. I don’t see anything difficult to use his power, consult other persons and do the needful. I don’t see anything wrong for inclusiveness to appoint someone from the South east to be part of this council.”
The Senate President, Bukola Saraki, merely ruled that the issue be ‘noted’ as the lawmakers could not reach a consensus.
“If we take different parts of the constitution, we can see different parts that support the argument. It’s not a motion that we’ll be able to get a consensus for because of different interpretation.
“The points have been well highlighted and I think, in my own view, this is not a motion that we’ll be able to reach consensus on. I will like to rule that what you have raised is noted,” he said.