NASS v. service chiefs: A needless ego war by Jibrin Ndace

One of the key indicators of a stable, virile and strong democracy is civilian control of the armed forces. In his book, The Soldier and the State, Samuel Huntington describes civil control of the military as, “the proper subordination of a competent, professional military to the ends of policy as determined by civilian authority.”

This is taken for granted in developed democracies such as the US, UK,

France, Canada, Germany, among others. In fact, institutionalised civilian control of the military is a prerequisite for membership of NATO and EU. To contain the power of the military even in societies not considered as liberal democracies, some form of control is institutionalised. One of such is Peoples Republic of China. Mao Zedong, reflecting on the primacy of the Communist Party of China over its military, said: “Our principle is that the party commands the gun, and the gun must not be allowed to command the party.”

All these propositions place responsibility of a country’s strategic decision-making in the hands of civil political leadership, rather than the military institution, which means that this control is exercised by elected or appointed officials in a democracy. While the 1999 Constitution specifically grants the president the powers to determine the operational use of the armed forces and the power to appoint and remove the chief of defence staff and service chiefs, it saddles the legislature with the responsibility of making laws and oversighting the armed forces.

It is clear, therefore, that the president, ministry of defence and National Assembly, representing executive and legislative arms of government, are empowered by law for institutional control of the armed forces. On September 20, 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari met with services chiefs and other security chiefs at the Presidential

Villa, Abuja.

In attendance were minister of defence, national security adviser, chief of defence staff, chiefs of army, naval and air staff, inspector general of police, director general, Department of State Services, chief of Defence Intelligence, and director general of National Intelligence Agency.

The House of Representatives led by its Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, apparently to support President Buhari’s effort at addressing security challenges in the country, also summoned the security chiefs on Friday, September 20, 2019. Present at the meeting were inspector general of police, director general, Departmentof State Services and comptroller-general, Nigerian Immigration Service.

The chief of defence staff and the service chiefs were all represented. Unlike the meeting of security chiefs with President Buhari, where a service chief was represented; and there are instances in the past where service chiefs were represented without hue and cry, the absence of service chiefs at the meeting summoned by the House of Representatives, ‘angered’ the House leadership.

In his remarks while addressing the security chiefs and their representatives, Speaker Gbajabiamila said: “But let me say that as the House is an institution, I cannot understate my disappointment or our disappointment at the rest of the service chiefs that are notnhere”.

Deputy Speaker, Idris Wase, said: “I am insulted and I feel insulted that this leadership would make a pronouncement … but the same people who are in charge of security, coordinating it, the officers who are supposed to be on the field are not here. I want to say that it should not be tolerated.”

The media was awash with reports of Gbajabiamila ‘berating’ the representatives of the service chiefs. And like a ‘class monitor’, he threatened to report them to President Buhari, the ‘Headmaster’.

While, the House had very good intention for summoning the service chiefs, its outburst was unnecessary. Its comments reinforced notions that the National Assembly lacks knowledge and understanding of the military and other security agencies.

As noted earlier, it is the constitutional right and obligation of the speaker to summon service chiefs. However, if he had been properly briefed, he would have focused on the purpose of the meeting, which he re-echoed, as ‘very important.’

If the National Assembly had built capacity of its members and staff on military and other security affairs, they would have noted that all the service chiefs sent strategic commanders with over three decades experience in the armed forces. Also, coming a day after meeting with the president, he would have realised that there may be some strategic briefs from the commander-in-chief.

While the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen Gabriel Olonishakin, had apologised on behalf of other service chiefs at the rescheduled meeting with the House leadership on Monday, September 23, it is important to state that to have an armed forces that Nigerians desire, the president, ministry of defence, National Assembly, service chiefs and other security agencies must avoid ‘needless ego and turf war’. They should focus on having security forces that are well positioned to contain internal insurrection and external


As experts have noted, for the National Assembly to be more effective in carrying out its function, it must improve the expertise of members and committee staff on security matters. Since the return of democracy in 1999, the National Assembly has not legislated on key reforms that

help in repositioning the armed forces. In fact, it has not been an ‘effective steward of national security’.

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