Tuesday, October 23, witnessed another round of passion filled debate in the Senate over the alleged marginalization of the Southeast geopolitical zone by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The debate followed a motion moved by Sen Victor Umeh from Anambra State, entitled: ‘Urgent need to appoint a representative of the South-East into the National Defence Council and the National Security Council.’
Sen Umeh in his motion alleged no Easterner is a member of the National Defence Council and the National Security Council, a situation he noted is a breach of the Federal Character principle as enshrined in the constitution.
“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,” he said.
He submitted that Senate should urge the president to reconstitute membership of the councils and appoint an officer from the South-East as a Service Chief for equitable representation.
Supporting the motion, Sen Enyinnaya Abaribe from Abia State, accused President Buhari of deliberately excluding the South East in his appointments.
Sen Abaribe cited Section 5 (1) A and B of the constitution, to buttress his argument, on the need to rejig the composition of the two councils.
“Mr President does not have an option,” he said.
“What we have seen is a 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.”
Countering the mover of the motion, Sen Ibn Na’ Allah, attacked the mover of the motion, noting 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 were 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 opposing the motion, Barau Jibrin from Kano State also condemned Sen Umeh. He noted the National Security Council already has a South East representative.
“The assertion by 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.
“Therefore, I call on Senator Umeh to apologise for misguiding the senate,” he stated.
The assertion from Sen Barau was countered by Sen Mao Ohabunwa from Abia state, 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,” he said.
“Everything in this country should be inclusive. It is not about the federal character we agreed at the section of joining the force but what we are saying is the national council is made up of about eight people.
“I don’t see anything difficult to use his power, consult other persons. I don’t see anything wrong for inclusiveness to appoint someone from the south east to be part of this council.”
The Presiding Officer, Sen Bukola Saraki in his ruling noted that the matter presents no room for consensus, noting the motion is “noted”.
“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 the 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.