The Nigerian Senate has explained why the upper legislative chamber ignored petitions and complaints against former service chiefs and hurriedly confirmed their ambassadorial nominations.
The former military commanders whose appointment were confirmed are: the former Chief of Defence Staff, Gabriel Olonisakin; former Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai; former Chief of Air Staff, Ibok Ibas; and former Chief of Naval Staff, Abubakar Sadique.
They resigned late January and were immediately replaced with Leo Irabor, new Chief of Defence Staff; I. Attahiru, Chief of Army Staff; A.Z. Gambo, Chief of Naval Staff; and I.O. Amao, Chief of Air Force.
Days after leaving office, the International Criminal Court (ICC) acknowledged petitions against them for their alleged sadistic conducts when they held sway. In a move to shield them from prosecution apparently for doing his bidding, President Muhammadu Buhari wrote the Nigerian Senate often referred to by critics as rubber-stamp, demanding their confirmations as non-career ambassadors, a move aimed at conferring diplomatic immunity on them.
The Senate which received the request early February confirmed the appointees within three weeks, ignoring petitions and complaints against the ex-service chiefs accused of violating human rights and perpetuating crimes against humanity.
In an interview with The Nation, the spokesman of the red chamber, Senator Ajibola Bashiru, who represents Osun Central, said former military commanders were confirmed ambassadors because their former jobs differ from the present assignments.
“It is just like a newspaper that had an editor that was considered not effective in carrying out the editorial functions of the newspaper,” Mr Bashiru explained, “If tomorrow such an editor is appointed as an ambassador, would you say he is not fit for that purpose because he was relieved of his job as an editor?
“I am not saying the Service Chiefs did well on their job. The Senate faulted the way they handled the insecurity situation in the country and we passed resolutions to that effect. Nevertheless, we still believe they have put some mechanisms in place that can help in the fight against terror in the future. Besides, the job of an ambassador is different from that of a military commander; they are two different assignments and two different briefs.
“I asked a question during the screening; assuming the former Service Chiefs decide to contest for senatorial seats in their constituencies, would they be disqualified because there are concerns about the issue of insecurity?
“I think we should not dwell on emotions and sentiments when answering the above question because it is capable of undermining people’s commitment to serving the country in different capacities. If you recall, the US terror war in Afghanistan started in 2001. As we speak, America is still in Afghanistan. Similarly, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) is still fighting against the authorities in Ireland.
“I am not saying we could not have done more in the war against insurgency; my point is that insurgency is not a conventional war. So, the Senate approved their appointments as ambassadors because the job of an ambassador is different from that of a Service Chief,” he said.
The spokesman who also refuted the rubber-stamp tag hanged on it by critics, said although lawmakers agreed not to attack the executive acrimoniously, reality on ground does not tally with the description.
“I don’t know the basis for your question, but what I do know is that at the inception, there was an agreement among the lawmakers that we do not want an acrimonious relationship between the Executive and the Legislature,” he explained.
“All of us witnessed how such a relationship worked against the interest of the country with the attitude of the 8th Assembly towards the Executive. Indeed, the so-called rubber-stamp tag does not tally with the reality, if one considers the fact that on several occasions the President’s nominees were rejected by this 9th Senate. There are so many instances of this. For instance, a nominee to represent the Southeast in the Law Reform Commission was rejected because he had not been called to the Bar. Even though he is a qualified lawyer, the law requires that he must be called to the Bar.
“A request for a loan for the government to tackle COVID-19 was also not ratified, even though the ruling party has the majority in the National Assembly. As representatives of the people, we also expressed dissatisfaction over the handling of security issues by the government. Following up on that, we called for the sacking of the Service Chiefs several times.
“So, the tag of rubber-stamp does not suit the 9th National Assembly. We only approve proposals that advance the interest of our dear country. But, any request that does not represent the aspirations of those that elected us has been turned down on several occasions. The absence of acrimony between us and the Executive does not mean that the parliament is a rubber-stamp in the hands of the chief executive,” Bashiru added.