Deji Elumoye in Abuja
The members of the Senate were yesterday divided along regional lines over the alleged lopsidedness in the appointment of service chiefs by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The senators from the South-east accused President Buhari of marginalising the zone.
But the northern senators rose in his defence, saying that the President followed the principle of Federal Character in the appointment into security agencies.
The disagreement followed a motion moved by Senator Victor Umeh (APGA, Anambra-Central) at the plenary, entitled, ‘Urgent Need to Appoint a Representative of the South-East into the National Defence Council and the National Security Council.’
Moving the motion, Umeh quoted Section 153(1)(g) of the Constitution as stating that the NDC shall comprise the President as the chairman, the Vice-President as the deputy chairman, the minister of defence, chief of defence staff, chief of army staff, chief of naval staff, chief of air staff, and “such other members as the president may appoint.”
Umeh argued that while Section 218(2) empowered the President to appoint service and security chiefs, Section 217(3) stipulates that the composition of the armed forces must reflect the federal character of the country. The provision of this section, he added, was emphasised by Section 14(3) of the Constitution.
According to him, “The Senate is worried that none of the service chiefs as appointed to the National Defence Council and the National Security Council comes from the South-East of Nigeria as firmly enshrined in the Constitution through the spirit and principle of federal character.
“The Senate is further worried that the defence and security advice relayed to the President by members of the defence and security councils, which exclude security officers from the five states that make up the South-East of Nigeria, may not likely represent fair and equitable security situation of South-East Nigeria.
“The Senate is aware that there are qualified officers from the South-East to be appointed as service chiefs but none was appointed in the present administration.”
Umeh prayed that the Senate “urge President Muhammadu Buhari to reconstitute the composition of the membership of the NDC and the NSC to comply with the Federal Character principle enshrined in the constitution” and the President, who is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, “to appoint an officer from the South-East as service chief for equitable representation of the people of the south-east of Nigeria” in the NDC and the NSC.
But the Deputy Senate Leader , Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah (APC Kebbi South), however, accused sponsor of the motion of “gross misunderstanding of the provisions of the Constitution on the matter” and warned against politicising security issues in the country.
Na’Allah, who cautioned the Senate to be extremely careful over the matter, maintained that “it has never been a deliberate policy of any government since 1999 to exclude any section of the country”.
On his part, Senator Barau Jibrin (APC Kano North), described the motion as misleading and asked its sponsor to apologise to the lawmakers for misleading them.
He argued that the Ministers of Internal Affairs, and Foreign Affairs, who are members of the Council were omitted by Senator Umeh in his motion, stressing that the incumbent Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyema hails from the South East.
Also coming from a constitutional point of order 153(g), Senator Mao Ohunabuwa (PDP Abia North), said it’s a security matter that should not be trivialised and therefore sought the support of his colleagues on the matter.
Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, said although the motion was moved with good intention but will definitely be misinterpreted if subjected to debate.
According to him, “ we may not be able to reach a consensus on the matter because Senators will be sharply divided on the issue”.
He therefore refused to call for the adoption of the prayers associated with the motion but only said “all issues raised are well noted.