Senator were split down the middle party lines yesterday over alleged exclusion of the South from the National Defence Council.
Trouble started after Senator Victor Umeh, who represents Anambra Central, sponsored a motion on the ‘Urgent need to appoint a representative of the South East into the National Defence Council and the National Security Council,’ which incurred the wrath of northern senators.
Umeh, in the motion, urged President Muhammadu Buhari to reconstitute the composition of the membership of the National Defence Council and National Security Council, to comply with the Federal Character Principle, as enshrined in the Constitution.
The Anambra senator also urged the president to appoint an officer from the South East as a Service Chief, for equitable representation of the people of the region in the country’s security architecture.
Umeh’s motion got the support of the Chairman of South East Senate Caucus, Enyinnaya Abaribe. Abaribe revealed that although the issue had been raised in the past, president Buhari has deliberately refused to act.
He revealed how he led South East senators to the Presidential Villa and extensively discussed abuse of Federal Character principle with president Buhari.
Abaribe said: “I will raise two points because the matter of the exclusion of the South East is a matter we have carried here…
“There is a key constitutional provision of what is being said here. Section 5 (a) of the constitution deals with this particular issue. President Buhari doesn’t have an option. What we have seen is a deliberate mis-reading of the constitution as to who the president can appoint.
“Section 8 of the constitution also deals with it. It means the president can get people outside the security circle. There is a deliberate attempt not to allow a particular part of the country to participate in the national security architecture.”
Deputy Senate Leader, Bala Ibn Na’Allah, faulted the motion.
He warned that it would be an indictment of the Senate if the prayers of the motion were adopted.
Na’Allah said president Buhari forwarded names of members of the National Defence Council and National Security Council to the Senate for approval and that, since every part of Nigeria is represented in the Senate, the observation ought to have been made during the confirmation of members of the two councils.
He argued: “We are talking about the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The position taken by Umeh is a gross misunderstanding of the constitution. When this constitution was enacted, the military didn’t want a situation where it will be held responsible for anything.
“Section 219 takes care of the powers of the president. Let me say that the entire names on the list presented by senator Umeh were brought here. Senate approved it. Senate has representatives from every part of Nigeria. We saw the list and approved it.
“Let’s not politicise the issue of security. Since independence, it has never been the policy of the government to exclude any part of the country. On this matter, it will be gross misconduct to continue with this. It is also an indictment of the senate which approved these names.”
Another North West senator, Barau Jibrin, faulted the contents of the motion and called on Umeh to tender an apology to the senate for misleading members.
He raised a point of order to buttress his point.
“The assertion by senator Umeh is misleading. The Minister of Foreign Affairs is from the South East and is a member of the National Security Council. I call on senator Umeh to apologise to the senate for misleading us,” said Jibrin.
An attempt by senator Mao Ohuabunwa to rescue the day, failed. Ohuabunwa pleaded that the issues raised should not be trivialised.
“We don’t need to trivialise this issue. What the motion is talking about is specifically about the National Defence Council,” he pleaded.
Senate President, Bukola Saraki, who presided at plenary, didn’t push for the adoption of the prayers contained in the motion. Rather, Saraki said the issues raised had been noted.
“If we take different parts of the constitution, we will have different interpretations. The points have been well highlighted. We can’t reach a consensus on this. The points have been noted,” was his ruling on the matter.