A motion seeking reconstitution of the membership of the National Defence Council (NDC) and the National Security Council (NSC) suffered setback in the Senate on Tuesday.
The motion, moved by Victor Umeh (APGA-Anambra Central) at plenary, had also wanted the Senate to urge President Muhammadu Buhari to appoint a military officer from the South East as a Service Chief.
According to Mr Umeh, in doing so, it will pave way for equitable representation of the people of the South East in both councils.
Ruling on the motion, President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, noted and kept it in view after the lawmakers failed to reach a consensus on the matter.
Membership of the National Defence Council comprises the President; Vice President; Minister of Defence; the Chiefs of Defence, Army Staff, Naval and Air Staff, and other members as the president may appoint.
It is empowered to advise the president on matters relating to the defence of the nation’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Members of the National Security Council, on the other hand, comprise the President, Vice President, Chief of Defence Staff and the Ministers of Interior, Defence and Foreign Affairs.
Others are the National Security Adviser, Inspector General of Police, and “other persons as the President may in his discretion appoint”.
Like the NDC, the NSC is also an advisory body, but on matters of public security.
While moving the motion earlier, Mr Umeh said there was no south easterner in the current membership of the NDC and NSC.
This, according to him, violates the Federal Character Principle as enshrined in Section 14 (3) of the 1999 Constitution as amended.
He said none of the service chiefs appointed to the National Defence Council and the National Security Council was from the South-East of Nigeria.
“The exclusion of the South East from the appointment of the Service Chiefs will continue to cause a feeling of alienation, neglect and consequential agitation among the people of the South East,” he said.
Mr Umeh said that inclusion of an officer from the region among the Service Chiefs would automatically make them members of the NDC and NSC.
According to him, this will go a long way in assuaging the “feelings of isolation and neglect” among the people of the South East.
The senator noted that there was “an array of qualified military officers” from the region capable of serving as heads of the various branches of the military.
He mentioned Rochas Nicholas, a major general from Imo, who is the current Commander of Operation Lafiya Dole, the Army unit leading the fight against insurgency in the North East.
Supporting the motion, Eyinnaya Abaribe (PDP-Abia South) said besides the constitution provisions cited by Mr Umeh, Section 5 (1)(a) and (b) compelled the President to abide by the Constitution.
In other words, Mr Abaribe said the president was constitutionally bound to respect the Federal Character Principle in his appointments.
He alleged that what had been happening was a deliberate misinterpretation of the Constitution to marginalise some parts of the country.
But some All Progressives Congress (APC) senators, including Bala Na’Allah (Kebbi South) and Barau Jibrin (Kano North) opposed the motion.
They dismissed the positions of Messrs Umeh and Abaribe as a gross misunderstanding of the provisions of the Constitution.
Besides, Mr Na’Allah said it was wrong for Umeh to raise the motion since he was part of the Senate that found it expedient to confirm the appointments of the Service Chiefs at that time.
He said the Federal Character Principle was reflected in the recruitment of personnel into the three arms of the military.
Mr Na’Allah warned that security issues should not be politicised, but rather be debated based on the spirit and the latter of the law.
He noted that approving the motion would amount to self-indictment by Senate having earlier confirmed the appointment of the service chiefs.
On his part, Mr Jibrin said it was not true that there was no south easterner in the National Security Council as asserted by Mr Umeh.
He said that Mr Umeh deliberately omitted the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Godfrey Onyema, a south easterner who is a member of the NSC, in an attempt to mislead the Senate.
He, therefore, called on Mr Umeh to apologise for misinforming the Senate.
Addressing Senate correspondents later, Mr Umeh said by the motion he had succeeded in drawing the nation’s attention to the “lopsidedness” in the membership composition of the NDC and NSC.
In this regard, he said the motion should not be seen as having failed.