A bill seeking the establishment of an Armed Forces Service Commission on Wednesday caused a rumpus in the Senate that forced its sponsor, Eyinnaya Abaribe, to step it down.
The proposal 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” had recently passed first reading.
Shortly after the debate for the second reading commenced on Wednesday, a battle of wits between the opposition Peoples Democratic Party senators and their majority All Progressives Congress (APC) counterparts ensued.
While supporters of the bill argued that it was merely to give effect to a constitutional provision for the National Assembly to create the Armed Forces Service Commission, APC Senators said the proposal was meant to whittling down the powers of the President.
APC Senators like Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege, Abdullahi Adamu, Adamu Aliero and Mohammed Bulkachuwa kicked against the bill, while their PDP counterparts like Emmanuel Bwacha, Chukwuka Utazi and James Manager supported it.
The disagreement arose when Senate President Ahmad Lawan put the bill to a voice vote and ruled that the “nays” had the day, meaning that the proposal cannot be read a second time.
Abaribe and others in support of the bill however kicked against the ruling and called for a division of the Senate to allow for transparent voting.
But his suggestion was interpreted by many APC senators as challenging the Senate President’s ruling on the matter.
The development led to a near commotion before the Senate President announced that the chamber will go into an emergency closed-door session.
After the session which lasted about 25 minutes, Lawan said the Senate had “appealed” to Abaribe to withdraw his motion to invoke Order 73 of the Senate Standing Rules which would have made Senators to take a stand whether in support or against the bill in the open.
He however said there was still an opportunity for Abaribe, who is the Senate Minority Leader, to represent the bill after due consultations with his colleagues.
Lawan said: “Before we went into a closed session, the Minority Leader raised a point of order (Order 73) and there were interventions from our colleagues on the need for the order to be withdrawn. That was why I didn’t make any ruling on the order raised by the Minority Leader.
“Having gone into the closed session we have reviewed various things – national interest- and the need for this Senate to continue working in a very bi-partisan manner regardless of our ethnic or regional dispositions.
“We have appealed to the Minority Leader to withdraw the Standing Order 73 and of course the Minority Leader or indeed any distinguished senator here will have the opportunity to look into that Bill again in the future.
“Minority Leader, on behalf of all of us, I am appealing to you that please let’s withdraw Order 73 so that the business of the Senate will continue and then if it is your wish to represent the Bill, you may do so.
“I will advise strongly that let’s consult with our colleagues, as many as possible, to be part of the Bill as sponsors. I think that will help get an easier passage.”
Based on the appeal, Abaribe withdrew his order 73 as well as stepped down the consideration of the bill to a more “appropriate time.”
Abaribe said: “First, Mr. President, in order to preserve the dignity of this hallowed chamber, I wish to withdraw my Order 73.
“Second, and for us to be able to do further consultations on the bill that I have proposed, I wish also to step down the consideration of this bill until a more appropriate time.”
Abaribe had earlier in his lead debate said: “The bill seeks to get the National Assembly to give effect to the clear provisions of section 219 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended).
“The Armed Forces of Nigeria is a National institution of Nigeria that should be insulated by the vagaries of political divisions and therefore the framers of the Constitution in their wisdom inserted this section to prevent a situation where our National symbol of unity and strength could be sacrificed on the altar of political temperament.
“This bill seeks to establish the Armed Forces Service Commission to ensure that the composition/appointment of Service Chiefs of the Armed Forces of the Federation reflects Federal Character of Nigeria in the manner prescribed in Section 217 (3) of the 1999 Constitution.”
Chairman Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Surajudeen Basiru told reporters after the session that the amicable resolution of the issue showed the maturity of the country’s democracy.
Basiru said: “What happened today is a testimony to the maturity of our democracy and ability for senators, being statesmen, to within a short period of time, resolve what ordinarily in the past could have led to rancorous deliberation and result.
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“And the operating principle for resolution of the matter which is no winner, no vanquished.”