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Controversy in Senate over armed forces commission bill

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Controversy in Senate over armed forces commission bill

The Nigerian Senate was thrown into controversy over a bill pushing for the establishment of a Commission for armed forces on Wednesday.
Section 219 of the Constitution charges the National Assembly to pass an Act to establish such an Armed Forces Commission was ignored.
At the session bitter ethnic sentiments, use of foul and unparliamentary languages overtook the Senate during plenary
Sponsored by the Senate Minority Leader, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe over a year ago, but came up for a second reading on Wednesday, the bill was thrown out

In his lead debate, Abaribe said the proposed Commission for armed forces would ensure equitable representation of Service Chiefs across the six geopolitical zones of the country.

He cited section 219 of the 1999 Constitution as amended which empowers the National Assembly to legislate on matters of the armed forces.

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”

But during the debate on the general principles of the Bill, to pave way for its Second reading, many Senators from the Northern part of the country with the exception of the Senate Majority leader, Abdullahi Yahaya and Deputy Minority leader Bawcha Emmanuel, raised serious objections to the Bill.
Some Senators from the Southern part of the country also spoke in support and against the Bill. The Deputy President of the Senate, Ovie Omo-Agege, who initially supported the Bill went further to disclose that there were devils in the details of the Bill.

Contributing, Senate Leader Yahaya Abdullahi affirmed his support for the Bill.

“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.”
He said that running away from this was running away from ” our constitutional responsibility”.
Senator Abdullahi Adamu in his contribution said,
“We are simply being invited to comply with provision of the Constitution.
“In as much it it appears to be in consonance with provision of the Constitution. But why now? Is he suggesting that all these time he has been in the National Assembly between 1999 and now it has been in default in implementing this provision.
“Aside the Biafran War, this is the time that our Armed Forces have been overstretched. It is diversionary.
Yes, the fact remains that the appointment of Service Chiefs stops on the President table. 
“There has been rumbling since new set of Service Chiefs, it is meant to blackmail the NASS. Why now?”
Senator Mohammed Bulkachuwa said the bill is a non issue, becuase the Federal Character is already enshrined in the Constitution and it is applied in recruitment into federal service. 
“To hide under the cover of Section 219, 218 is just an academic exercise. I think we should advise the mover of the motion to withdraw it.”
Senator Danjuma Goje said he will never go against the Constitution of Nigeria but that doesn’t mean they should take it in absolute terms. 
“To try to politicise the armed forces is very dangerous for us. They are overstretched and they need to be motivated. It is very dangerous and more sensitive. If we can’t promote the unity of the Armed Forces today, we shouldn’t aggravate it.
“The Senate Minority Leader has been in this Senate since 2007 and he hasn’t been associated with this kind of bill. He should  step it down.
Senator Chukwuka Utazi while supporting the bill said, “We should rise above board in issues of national importance. The issue before us is a purely legislative matter to give effect to the Constitution. When people inputs distractive issue to a Constitutional matter, it is painful.
“This Commission will be like other Commissions .
He Cited Section 14(3) of the Constitution on the need to identify diversity and  promote national unity and abort predominance of an ethnic group in any of the federal agencies.
“The issue why now isn’t important. This is the time we have as legislators. Let us potray ourselves as distingushed Senators”
Senator James Manager on his part said, “This bill is calling us to do what we ought to have done long time ago. It is a Constitutional provision. Looking at this bill, it is more than one year ago. 
“It is just coming up for second reading.
Called for caution . Let us not assume that we have reservoir of knowledge, we should let this go for public hearing. It is a harmless bill.”
Senator Adamu Aliero said he finds it difficult to support the bill because it offends the constitution. 
“Armed forces is the symbol of Nigerian unity, therefore we should not do anything to politicise it and if we go ahead with the bill it will compromise the provisions of the constitution.
“It will politicise the appointments of service chiefs which is not good. Already we have a federal character commission which has the responsibility in overseeing appointment essentially kn all establishments of Governments and we have power to summon the chief executive that offends the Federal character in appointments.”

Sen. Michael Bamidele (APC-Ekiti) Mr President, said, “This one of those moments again where as elective representatives of the people who swore to uphold the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, we have to take the decision as to whether or not we want to stand and uphold clear provisions of the Constitution or allow whatever primordial sentiments to make us shy away from upholding the Constitution.
“Section 219 is very clear and it is for this Senate to take a decision to the word shall in section 219.

“What 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.

Mr President yes there is an army council, yes there is a navy council let the national Assembly take the decision that representatives of such councils shall also become automatic members of the armed forces service commission.
“We don’t need myth around who can join the armed forces, they have their regimented criteria, why are we running from having an armed forces commission, as far as I’m concerned it is not about the debate as to whether we have it or not, the Constitution had provided for it “Constitution says it shall happen and it is for us to perform our duty. The fact that it has not been done up till now and it is been proposed by the sponsor, it is a wakeup call on the national Assembly to do a duty imposed on it by the Constitution.”
The Deputy Minority leader Bawcha Emmanuel (Taraba South) said,”In my own humble opinion, rather than politicizing this bill I will encourage our colleagues to understand  it wants us to do our job, to give effect to the Constitutional provision. “Rather that politicise, it will strengthen our unity. 
The Bill is to oversight the Armed Forces, it has not undermined the power of the President to appoint Service Chiefs. 
“I am in support of this bill. Before it gets to public hearing, we can throw away clauses we don’t want.”
Francis Alimikhena (APC, Edo State) equally stood against the BIll.
Contributing, Francis Alimikhena (APC-Edo) in as much as this Bill is put on paper it is going create disunity in the operation of the armed forces. 
“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.
The deputy President of the Senate said he aligned with the position taken by the Senate leader.
However, he said on the surface, it is difficult to quarrel with the content of the bill but the devil is in the details. So I will not be opposed to this bill being read for the second time so that we have opportunity during the public hearing every one will have the opportunity to make contribution without prejudice to what will come out from the public hearing.
Under section 219, which is the anchor for this bill  what they are seeking to do is an act enacted by the act of parliament though provided for under 219, it could be serious legislation to the constitutional provision because the power to appoint the chief of Defence staff, the chief of Army Staff and the chief of Naval staff and Airforce and other security agencies as may be determined by us. That is already determined by the constitution and that is conferred on the President and that is a constitutional provision, that is backed by section 218, that power is sacrosanct.
I am saying we should not end up breaking the law which is an act of the national assembly, that we derogate from clear constitutional powers conferred on the President.
Having said that we are waiting to see the deliberations  of the public hearing and also wait for the clause by clause consideration when it comes before us.

Senator Adamu Aliero said he finds it difficult to support the bill because it offends the constitution. Armed forces is the symbol of Nigerian unity, therefore we should not do anything to politicise it and if we go ahead with the bill it will compromise the provisions of the constitution.
It will politicise the appointments of service chiefs which is not good. Already we have a federal character commission which has the responsibility in overseeing appointment essentially kn all establishments of Governments and we have power to summon the chief executive that offends the Federal character in appointments.

When the question was put as to whether the Bill should be allowed to pass the second reading stage, the Senate President,  Ahmad Lawan, ruled in favour of those who spoke against the Bill and declared that the Bill has failed.
But Abaribe swiftly rose in protest and raised order 73 of the Senate standing rule through which he called for division to allow Senators openly vote in turns for or against the Bill.

There were shouts of no! no!! among the opponents of the Bill.

In the rowdiness that ensued, the Senate president after about two minutes called for a close session. 

After the closed session that lasted for about 20 minutes, Lawan announced that Abaribe had agreed to withdraw his opposition to the ruling that nailed the Bill.

Abaribe was given the opportunity to confirm that he withdrew his protest.

The Senate Minority leader, later formally withdrew his protest and even announced that he had stepped down the entire Bill.

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Legislature

National Food reserve Agency Bill scales through amidst opposition at senate

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National Food reserve Agency Bill scales through amidst opposition at senate

The Senate, on Wednesday, passed a bill seeking to establish the National Food Reserve Agency for Food security despite disagreement over its powers by senators.

Before the bill was passed, senators engaged in a heated debate over the powers of the National Assembly to legislate on the establishment of the agency. 
However, the Bill saw the light of day when the President ruled in its favor..

The bill was passed after the Red Chamber considered the report of its committee on Agriculture and Rural Development.

The Chairman of the committee, Senator Senator Abdullahi Adamu, in his presentation, said, when established, it is expected to implement the overall National Food Reserve Policy to ensure a reliable supply of designated commodities in the country
He said with the existence of the agency, emergency food crises will be taken care of especially during the period of pandemic.

“There will also be a reduction in post-harvest losses as silos, warehouses, equipment, ancillary facilities and other suitable storage facilities will be installed and maintained,” he said.

Senator Ajibola Basiru (APC, Osun) had raised a constitutional matter that the National Assembly did not have the power to legislate on the establishment of the food reserve agency, citing section 4 of the 1999 constitution to back up his argument.

But Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi (Niger), Ibrahim Gobir (Sokoto) and Adamu Aliero (Kebbi) countered Bashiru’s submission, arguing that the federal parliament is constitutionally empowered to legislate on matter of security and welfare of the people.

They said the agency was needed owing to the acute insecurity across the country, which has had effect on food production.

Senator James Manager (Rivers) said though there is need for the agency due to the situation in the country, sentiments cannot counter effectively the constitutional matter raised by Ajibola Basiru. 

He asked his colleagues to step down the 
the consideration of the report to another legislative day.

But Senate President Ahmad Lawan disagreed and ruled that the Red Chamber should go ahead with the legislation.

Lawan said: “From a constitutional point of order our colleague raised that we don’t have such power, I think the National Assembly has such powers. I think the emergency in this country requires that we do everything possible to rescue, protect the lives and property of the people of this country.

“I believe we should go ahead to do our legislation.

“If anyone outside feels that the legislation is wrong, that person can go to the court so that the legislation is nullified and that is one thing with the practice of democracy.

“But I believe that Nigerians at the moment need this kind of legislation.”

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Legislature

N7.5B secret withdrawals: Senate Summons Finance Minister, AGF

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N7.5B secret withdrawals: Senate Summons Finance Minister, AGF

Senate Committee on Public Accounts has summoned the Minister of Finance, Ahmed Zainab and Accountant General of the Federation, Ahmed Idris over secret withdrawals of N7.5 billion from the 2 percent National Automotive Design and Development Council Levy Account domiciled with Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
The report indicated that first N3.8 billion was withdrawn in two installments of N2.8 billion in 2005 and N1 billion in 2006.
This was containwd in the report of the Auditor-General of the Federation, which is being considered by the Senate committee, chaired by Senator Matthew Urhoghide.
The second N3.7 billion, the report said, was withdrawn between March – December 2000 in three separate payments of N725 million, N1 billion and N2 billion.
When the Committee asked the Director General of National Automotive Design and Development Council
Jelani Aliyu about the withdrawal, he said the money was withdrawn without the knowledge of the agency.
He said the Agency has been writing to the Accountant General and Ministry of Finance on the need to refund the money but there was no response.
Apparently piqued by the development, Senate Committee on Public Accounts resolved to summon the Minister of Finance and Accountant General of the Federation to give explanation on the fund.
The query reads,”A total sum of N3,836,000,000.00 (Three billion, eight hundred and thirty-six million naira) was irregularly withdrawn from the 2% National Automotive Council Levy Account with the Central Bank of Nigeria, Abuja in 2 installments of N2,800,000,000 (in 2005) and N1,036,000,000.00 (in 2006) by the Accountant-General of the Federation and the Federal Ministry of Finance as car loan to be granted for the Security Personnel Car Purchase Scheme Loan.
“The transaction was carried out by the Presidency in collaboration with the Bank of Industry, the Federal Ministry of Finance and the Accountant-General of the Federation without the involvement of NAC, the account owner.
“However the principal and the accrued interest from the fictitious loan have not been paid back nor are records available on the beneficiaries, agreement documents, moratorium, duration of the loan, the yearly interest rates accruable and how the fund will be paid back by the beneficiary.
“The Director General has been requested to intensify correspondence with the Honourable Minister of Finance, Accountant-General of the Federation and the Presidency to recover the fund (‘loan’).”
On the 3.7 billion, the report said the sum was “irregularly withdrawn from the 2% National Automotive Council Levy Account with the Central Bank of Nigeria between March-December 2000 in 3 separate payments of N725,000,000; N1,000,000,000 and N2,000,000,000 as ‘loan’ to NAFCON vide the Accountant General of the Federation internal memo to the Permanent Secretary, Budget Office of the Federation Ref No: DD/(R&F)22.Vol. 1158 of 27/5/2003.
“The ‘Loan’ Principal and the accumulated interest are yet to be paid since the year 2000.”

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Legislature

Senate Urges NEMA to Provide Relief Materials to Benue Windstorm Victims

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Senate Urges NEMA to Provide Relief Materials to Benue Windstorm Victims

The Senate on Wednesday urged the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) to as a matter of urgency mobilize resources and rehabilitation materials for various communities in Benue state recently affected by a devastating windstorm.

The disaster had destroyed hundreds of buildings, leaving many residents injured and homeless.

The upper legislative chamber also urged relevant government agencies to support the rebuilding of all the affected public buildings.

It further urged relevant government agencies to go to Benue south senatorial district to sensitize the people on measures to protect themselves and their properties.

The resolutions were sequel to the adoption of motion, sponsored by Senator Abba Moro (Benue South).

Moving the motion, Moro expressed sadness at the extent of destruction inflicted on lives, public and private properties by a windstorm which swept through Ogbadibo and Okpokwu communities in Benue.

He lamented that the windstorm brought down blocks of classrooms in some schools, churches, police station and many other buildings were affected.

Moro said, ”On April 8 2021 about ten communities in Benue state were badly hit by natural disaster. A devastating windstorm which left scores of people injured, hundreds of them homeless and wanton destruction of properties, valuables and several means of livelihood worth millions of Naira.

”Recall that on May 12, 2020 I drew the attention of the Senate in a motion over a devastating rain, windstorm disaster that swept through Ai-Famu, a community in Owukpa, Ogbadibo LGA of Benue State, wherein over 150 buildings including St. Michael The Archangel Catholic Church’s building were blown up by the storm. Worried that almost one year after the disaster, the ordeal has repeated itself in a worse and more devastating manner.”

He added that the situation needs to be addressed to provide succor to the affected communities and persons.

In his contribution, Senator Micheal Nnachi called for urgent action to safeguard the lives and properties of citizens.

He said, ”Climate change is a serious issue in every country in the world, this motion has caused a lot of havoc in his senatorial district. Today people are under the sun, under the next rain which we may not predict. Something urgent should be done to protect the lives of these people.”

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