Situating Senate’s Motion on Service Chiefs

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Yusuf-Buratai

On Tuesday, 21 July, the Senate called on Nigeria’s service chiefs to step aside as the country continues to struggle with security challenges. However, by subsequently mandating its joint defence, army, navy, air force, police and interior committees to interface with the military to ascertain the state of affairs of the armed forces seems that the senate put the horse before the cart. Louis Achi looks at the key issues

During plenary on Tuesday, 21 July, the Senate called on Nigeria’s service chiefs to step aside as the country continues to grapple with security challenges. This was in reaction to a motion by Senator Ali Ndume, who represents Borno South Senatorial Zone in the North East geo-political region.

Ndume moved his motion on the back of the recent ambush of soldiers in Katsina and the alleged voluntary resignation of some soldiers, holding that both developments and others are worrying. Despite his concerns about the security situation, it is significant that Ndume did not call for the dismissal of the service chiefs neither did he demand that they should step aside.

The call for them to step aside was made following an additional prayer to his motion in the course of deliberations.
Senator Francis Fadahunsi, representing Osun East Constituency made the call for the service chiefs to step aside as part of his contributions to the discourse on the motion.

Other senators consented to the move and passed the resolution for the service chiefs, who have been in office since July 2015 to step aside. The Senators then mandated a joint defence, army, navy, airforce, police and interior committee to engage with the military to ascertain the state of affairs of the armed forces.

Shortly after the senate motion trended on online media platforms, an understandably miffed presidency reacted, stating that President Muhammadu Buhari would do what’s in best interest of Nigeria and as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, would not be stampeded into a hasty action.

“The Presidency notes the resolution, and reiterates that appointment or sack of Service Chiefs is a Presidential prerogative, and President Muhammadu Buhari, in his capacity as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, will do what is in the best interest of the country at all times,” the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Chief Femi Adesina told Nigerians.

While the obvious sincerity of the senate motion may not be questioned, their facts and apparent unawareness of the powers they wield in the arena of priority appropriations for the armed forces and security agencies fundamentally undermine their shrill pitch.
Historically, prosecution of war demands considerable priority funding, timely equipment procurement, manpower upscaling, training and a gamut of other imperatives.

Beyond the presidential reaction to the senate motion and the senate’s recurrent callow posturing, key urgent posers have emerged from the latest development from the upper chamber of the National Assembly. These need to be frontally addressed.

The vagaries of international politics profoundly impact the ability of the nation’s armed services to procure the crucial offshore hardware and spares they require. The various restrictions – nuanced or explicit – imposed by some countries in dealing with others have made it extremely difficult to even procure critical military equipment in a timely fashion. It is conceivable that many lawmakers are not aware of this. There is more.

THISDAY checks showed that A-29 Super Tucano Attack Aircraft were purchased by the federal government from the US for which full payment has been made to the US government but the aircraft will not be delivered till 2022. The unwitting closure of the legislature’s eyes to some of these critical hurdles does not seem fair and could significantly impact the fighting capabilities of the Services.

Many stakeholders believe that engagement of the US Senate by Nigeria’s on issues as this hardly crosses the line of breaching separation of powers between the legislature and executive and could actually make significant difference.

A polite call by Senate President Ahmed Lawan to the US Vice President Mike Pence, a Republican, who incidentally is president of US senate, could instigate a lot of positives and speed up transactional inter-governmental matters. These interfaces obtain in other climes and are useful grease to smoothen international relations, especially, in crucial periods.

With the reasonably cozy executive-legislative relationship currently existing, the Buhari-led administration would certainly not feel jittery over such well-intended initiatives. Or will he?

Is the national parliament aware that Nigeria is highly dependent on foreign countries, and that the Services often have to wait for prolonged periods and even at that don’t often get badly needed items when they are needed? Several months may elapse before required spares are gotten. This has had devastating impacts on the effectiveness and efficiency of armed services to prosecute the war on terror.

From THISDAY checks, in the third quarter of 2020 currently, not a single kobo has been released from the capital budget for any of the Services. Concerned observers are asking, how are the Services supposed to function in such scenarios, especially in a war situation?
Little wonder that a group – The Coalition of Friends and Supporters of Buhari (CFSB),” has frowned at Lawan, for allegedly opting to play politics at the expense of national interest.

CFSB, though, admitted that “tremendous progress has been made and great success recorded through innovations and strategies introduced by the Service Chiefs in tackling the various security threats in the country”. While expressing total support for the president’s decision to keep faith with the military architecture, the coalition, however, advised the Senate President and other lawmakers to consider the country first in all their activities.

“CFSB wishes to state in unequivocal terms that it stands with the decision of President Muhammadu Buhari to retain the present crop of Service Chiefs for their tireless efforts in ensuring that the threats posed by the Boko Haram terrorist group and other militant groups in the country are contained,” the body told THISDAY. It further stated that, “The Service Chiefs in the country have demonstrated capacity. They have never rested on their oars despite the numerous achievements, which is an indication of their unalloyed loyalty to the country.”
Another crucial issue encapsulating the quandary of the armed services is that of budgetary allocation to the Services and other security agencies to combat insecurity. From THISDAY findings, there has been a gradual diminution in funds appropriated to the armed services from 2015. Key stakeholders hold that this is especially worrisome when compared to the amounts appropriated in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

While it is understandable that the legislators are troubled by the number of casualties that have been recorded, a scenario worrying all rational Nigerians, they must also know that the nation is at war in multiple fronts, including in the North East, North West and the North Central.

In wars casualties are recorded hence while it is highly regrettable that some armed forces personnel have paid the supreme price in service to their nation, they did not die in vain. Their memories must be honoured, therefore, as done the world over.

More, the federal legislators apparently forget that the lead agency for dealing with internal security challenges is the Police and not the Army or Air Force or the Navy. The military is only supposed to be called in after the Police are no longer able to handle such challenges, observed Capt. Aliyu (retd.), a security analyst.

From THISDAY checks, currently, 32 out of the 36 states have some form of active presence of Armed Forces personnel involved in internal security operations.

Today, the COVID-19 global pandemic has affected the global economy. This has further exacerbated all procurement challenges as it affects the exchange rate of the dollar further making it difficult to get necessary equipment and spares. This maybe beyond the distinguished gentlemen, but still with some informed gaming, associated challenges could be reasonably tamed.

Instead of calling for the sack of the service chiefs, it would a very objective and patriotic if the distinguished federal lawmakers could assert their clout to ensure that the extreme listed deficits, which expose the nation’s soldiers to needless danger, are expeditiously addressed. They have the constitutional wherewithal to do this and can certainly birth a win-win scenario.