ANTI-SERVICE CHIEFS BILL: Senate As Joker
As expected, the usually selfish and self-centred Upper Chamber of the Nigerian bi-camera legislature took its peculiar joke too far on Tuesday March 3, 2020. In a brutally caustic display of the game of the ostrich, the double-faced Janus who is the Senate Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe, sponsored a bill whose sole aim is to cut the powers of President Muhammadu Buhari as duly enshrined in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended). The proposed law is mischievously centred on the appointment of the service chiefs of the nation’s military arms. Tagged: “Armed Forces Service Commission And Other Related Matters 2020”, the bill has passed its first reading on the floor of the Red Chamber.
If it scales through, the bill would transfer the appointing power of Mr. President of the service chiefs to a commission which would advise the Commander-in-Chief on the appointment of the Chief of Defense Staff, Chief of Army Staff, Chief of Air Staff, Chief of Naval Staff, the Inspector General of Police, Director of Military Intelligence and heads of other arm-bearing security agencies such as the Nigerian Security and Civil Defense Corps, the Nigeria Customs Service, the Nigerian Immigration Service, the Nigerian Correctional Service, etcetera. What this means is that the President would cease to be the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It is invariably a usurpation of the power exercisable by the President under Section 218 of the Constitution under the guise of federal character.
In the face of mounting security challenges, the country cannot afford to witness another round of altercations between the Executive and the Legislature. The 8th Senate could not boast of any meaningful achievement due largely to its belligerent posture and selfish attitude to the business of lawmaking. One had thought that with the rapprochement between it and the Executive arm of government before and after the 2019 elections, the Senate would jettison its previous fighting and individualistic spirit and choose the path less followed in order for the country to move forward. The current step being taken by the Senate is unarguably an ill wind that will blow no one no good. You would recall that the leadership of the 8th Senate waged several unwarranted battles against the executive, from the Presidency to almost all the ministers and heads of security agencies.
Col. Hameed Ali (retd), the Comptroller General of Customs was roundly distracted by a vainglorious Senate that was determined to strip him of his portfolio when he was literally cajoled to appear before it with his uniform. The Senate also had a running battle with the former Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris who completely snubbed the Red Chamber’s summons on four consecutive occasions. The 8th Senate also bluntly rejected the confirmation of the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu. With the Presidency, the 8th Senate had a stand-off over issues like the electoral act bill which was rejected four times; the control of resources in states by the Federal Government; perennial delays in the passage of annual budgets and the phenomenon of padding of budgets.
Yes, Nigeria is saddled with enormous responsibilities as a largely heterogenous and vast country and as a regional power in West Africa. Most of the self-inflicted injuries we have had to live with as a nation were foisted on us by our leaders. With the oil boom of the 1970s shortly after the civil war, some of our national leaders in different fields spoke as if, on the continental scene, we were omnipotent, invulnerable, unchallengeable. Our head of state then, General Yakubu Gowon was even reported to have said that Nigeria’s problem was not how to make money but how to spend it. This was hubris of the highest order and was the beginning of the free-for-all looting of our national patrimony into private pockets and the attendant failure to build a strong and virile national economy. We are far from being omnipotent. There are vast problems in Africa that we did not cause and which we are powerless to resolve. It is, in fact, more realistic to speak of some trying African conditions not as problems – which implies that there are solutions – but as conditions, which will change in time in ways that we cannot now foresee. We are not invulnerable, nor is any country in the world armed with nuclear weapons.
Our military and our economic strength have fluctuated relative to that of both friendly and hostile nations. Neither are we completely shielded from the impact of great economic shifts, as both the oil crisis orchestrated by the recent Coronavirus scare and the impressive economic performance of a few countries have confirmed. We are not unchallengeable, as both individual and state terrorism have both revealed to all observers. The challenges the country is faced with, which President Buhari is painstakingly addressing are what he inherited from previous administrations. The Senate therefore has no right to add salt to the injury. Every Commander-in-Chief the world over, has the constitutional powers to hire and fire his service chiefs. Nigeria cannot be an exception.
The Senate President Ahmed Lawan and the Senate Minority Leader Enyinnaya Abaribe, therefore, cannot usurp President Buhari’s powers on this score. We have responsibilities, but they are not indefinite. It is the responsibility of the Senate to lead the good people of this country to reinvent the State as an organic political institution. The Nigerian State need to be made more efficient, more responsive and more united. We actually need to embark on massive public enlightenment programmes that would encourage the people to take their citizenship responsibilities more seriously. The Senate being an assembly of the elected representatives of the people should lead in this campaign rather than encouraging separatist gang ups against the system. The nature of Nigerian politics at the moment gives cause for grave concern. Political contestations seem to be regarded here as the equivalent of warfare.
This politics of the winner takes all and the loser loses everything must be halted. This is the root of violence during elections. Senators should discourage the humongous allowances they corner into their pockets at the expense of the people. The character of our political parties is the major problem confronting our society today. Aside from the death of ideology, there is a total breakdown of discipline and lack of focus in all the political parties. Many of the political parties whose leaders are in the Senate cannot articulate issues that would ameliorate the plight of ordinary Nigerians nor do they possess the wherewithal to curb the excesses of their members. Our Senate leaders know all this but because they are swimming in endemic corruption, they cannot save the situation. They only attack policies that don’t favour their clannish self-centred hegemony.
Our greedy senators attack one another on all fronts over all manner of issues especially those bordering on sharing of looted funds. They insult the leadership of their parties without restraint and they viciously insult their party leaders over issues they themselves should help solve. Occasionally, they declare free for all on the floor of the Senate over flimsy excuses all bordering on parochial self interests. Among our gullible senators, issues that concern the future of the country are never discussed. The insecurity threatening to engulf the entire country does not mean anything to them. This is why they can stop at nothing to antagonize the service chiefs at a time when they are supposed to be given a pat on the back. It is said in certain circles that the Senate President has sold out to the separatist agenda of those who want to mortgage the unity of Nigeria for a pot of peppersoup. If the 8th Senate had a frosty relationship with the Presidency and the citizens paid dearly for it, must the 9th Senate continue in this belligerent and stultifying social order? Nigeria will definitely survive any kind of gang up. Ask Dr. Bukola Saraki.
Amor is Vice Chairman, Editorial Board of TheNigerian News.