Members of the House of Representatives and the Defence Headquarters on Monday disagreed on how to resolve the conflict in the 1999 Constitution and the Armed Forces Act on the appointment of the Chief of Defence Staff.
The disagreement came as the House Committee on Defence conducted a public hearing in Abuja on six bills.
The committee is chaired by a lawmaker from Borno State, Mr Murktar Aliyu-Betara.
Some of the bills are: ‘A Bill for an Act to establish the Security Services Welfare Infrastructure Development Commission; ‘A Bill for an Act to amend the Armed Forces Act, Cap.A20, Laws of the Federation, 2004 to provide for the appointment of Chief of Defence Staff’; and ‘A Bill for an Act to repeal the Defence Industry Corporation of Nigeria Act, Cap. D4, Laws of the Federation, 2004 and Enact the Defence Industry Corporation of Nigeria and for other related matters.’
Others are ‘A Bill for an Act to amend the Armed Forces Act, Cap.A20, Laws of the Federation, 2004 to make the appointment of service chiefs subject to confirmation by the National Assembly’; ‘A Bill for an Act to amend the Armed Forces Act, Cap.A20, Laws of the Federation, 2004 to among other things provide for specific duties for the Armed Forces Reserve in order to serve as a rapid response mechanism with capacity to intervene in emergency and internal security where the Nigerian Police is overwhelmed’; and ‘A Bill for an Act to amend the Armed Forces Act, Cap.A20, Laws of the Federation, 2004 to provide for the retirement age of officers of the Nigerian Armed Forces and for other matters.”
The bills on the appointment of the CDS and the restructuring of DICON generated more interest at the session, which was declared open by the Speaker of the House, Mr Yakubu Dogara.
Under Section 218 of the constitution, the President is empowered to appoint the Chief of Defence Staff. But Section 18 of the Armed Forces Act does not recognise the position of CDS. In a bid to resolve the issue, a member of the House, Mr Edward Pwajok, SAN, proposed amendment to the Act to make it conform to the constitution.
“Let Section 18 of the Act also specifically provide for the appointment of the CDS. This will take care of the confusion we have now,” he stated.
Pwajok also proposed to amend the Act to specify that service chiefs should be appointed from the services they would head.
“This may seem trivial, but a Commander-In-Chief can wake up one day and decide that he has changed everything and nothing may happen.
“So, let the law specify to avoid such a scenario in the future”, he told the session.
But, the Defence Headquarters opposed the proposals of the House. Air Vice-Marshall Ibrahim Chafi, who represented the DHQ, said the Defence authorities did not think that Section 18 had a place in the Act.
He stated that rather than bothering to amend it, the entire section should be deleted from the law.
“If it is in conflict with the constitution, our position is that there is no need for the amendment. The proper thing to do is to simply delete Section 18 and make it consistent with Section 218 of the constitution. Our view is that let the constitution be supreme,” he said.
The DHQ also kicked against the proposals on the DICON Act, arguing that when allowed, they would subject decisions at the purely military outfit to political influence.
Chafi told the session that the National Assembly should play no roles in the confirmation of DICON’ board and also expressed concerns over proposals that the six geopolitical zones and civil society organisations be represented on DICON.
“These representations, to us, are not necessary. We are talking about purely military operations and equipment here. We don’t serve sectional interests, but we protect the whole nation.
“Bringing geopolitical representations into the appointments will subject defence decisions to political manipulation”, he added.