The Senate hosted a security summit in Abuja on Thursday, February 8 and Monday, February 12. Though it was highly successful going by the resolutions, the drama that preceded its hosting threatened to dwarf its essence. Group Politics Editor, TAIWO ADISA, captures the intrigues and the outcome of the summit.
The Senate on Thursday, February 8 and Monday, February 12 held a two-day security summit. By and large, the summit was successful with an array of security personnel and stakeholders who attended. There were officials of state led by the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo. Also in attendance were traditional rulers as well as politicians. The Senators, the hosts and members of the House of Representatives were also there in their numbers.
But the event did not just come and go without an unusual drama. It all started on January 16 when the Senate resumed from the end of year break and Senator Shuaibu Lau from Taraba state raised a motion of urgent national importance by calling attention to the near breakdown in security across the country.
He told the chamber that no fewer than 70 persons have been killed in the Taraba axis as a result of the endless attacks from Fulani herdsmen and urged the chamber to act fast. The Senator told his colleagues that the conflict in parts of Taraba, which he said started in Numan, Adamawa, had led to the killing of over 70 persons and that it has a grave danger on national security.
At the end of deliberations on the motion, it was resolved that the Senate would hold a security summit on Wednesday and Thursday of the following week to signpost the urgency of the situation. It was a widely supported resolution. But there was an immediate frenzy within the political circles as soon as the motion was adopted. The body language emanating from the Presidency was to the effect that it was not comfortable with the Senate spearheading a security summit in the face of the crisis in Taraba and Benue as well as widespread kidnappings across the country.
Reports indicated that the Presidency actually sent words to that effect. So on Wednesday, the Senate resolved to postpone the summit initially fixed for the penultimate week of January. Senate Leader, Dr. Ahmed Lawan was to secure the buy in of his colleagues for the postponement of the summit to a later date. And immediately the postponement was announced, more frenzy surfaced on the scene between the Villa and the National Assembly dome.
Insiders in the Senate confirmed that the Villa was uncomfortable with the move to have the senate hold a security summit all alone and that the Presidency had insisted on playing a big role in the planned summit if it must hold at all.
In fact, some sources indicated that the forces that kick started the planned impeachment of Senate President Bukola Saraki had added the planned security summit as one of the offences of the Kwara born politician. It was said that the Senate President was planning to take the shine through an issue he cannot completely decide upon.
It was also leant that the discontent filtered to the lawmakers who held a closed session and on January 30, to decide the way forward on the
Summit; that day was specifically busy for the chamber as a huge drama was essentially played out that day. Three statements emanated from the Senate that same day eventually dovetailing in the final message postponing the summit from February 1.
Early that day, the Senate through its Majority Leader, Ahmed Lawan had issued a statement which indicated that the chamber had agreed to partner with the executive arm of government to stage the summit.
The statement which was titled “Security Crisis: Senate Partners Presidency to Hold National Summit February 1,” indicated that the summit would hold on February 1 and 5.
It read in part: “Worried by the multi-dimensional security challenges facing the nation, the Senate in collaboration with the President Muhammadu Buhari and the executive arm will on Thursday, February 1 and Monday February 5 convene a National Security Summit.
“The Summit will provide an all inclusive platform for heads of security and defense agencies, governors, traditional rulers, socio-cultural groups, civil society organizations and others, with a view to finding solutions to acute and long term security challenges in the country.
“It will be recalled that the Senate had on January 17, while deliberating on the interim report submitted by its adhoc committee on review of security infrastructure led by majority leader, Senator Ahmed Lawan, on the crises that erupted in Benue, Taraba and Adamawa states, resolved to convene a summit to interface with security agencies and other critical stakeholders to find a lasting solution to the issue and other related security challenges.
“The two-day Summit, according to a statement by the chairman of the ad-hoc committee and Senate Majority Leader, Sen. Ahmed Lawan, will also review the challenges being faced by security agencies in the performance of their duties and charting the way forward towards resolving the issues involved.”
The statement indicated that the planned summit was an initiative of the Senate as part of its contribution to the resolution of the rising security challenges in the country adding that President Muhammadu Buhari would declare the summit open.
Soon after the statement was made public, the lawmakers resumed the day’s session and they went straight into a closed session. Though Senate President Bukola Saraki only told the Senate after the lengthy closed session that “the Senate at a closed session deliberated on workings of the Senate and the National Assembly in general,” it was obvious that issues were much more germane.
Investigations revealed that there were heated debates during the session, as senators were said to have sharply disagreed with the plan to have the Villa take over the summit. It was learnt that the Presidency had through some intermediaries asked the Senate not to hold the summit a day after the other but rather to hold the summit on Thursday and Monday, leaving Friday free.
Insiders in the senate confirmed that the senators rejected the idea of holding the event within the precincts of the Villa, as according to them such would defeat the purpose of a unanimously passed senate resolution. But the lawmakers were said to have agreed to hold the summit on two different days to accommodate the programme of the Presidency.
After the closed session, another statement emanated from the senate to ask that the earlier statement by Lawan be dropped because a date has not been agreed to hold the summit. Sources at the closed session held in respect of the summit confirmed that the lawmakers spoke vehemently against the plan to take the summit to the Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa as they instead suggested the International Conference Centre (ICC). They also agreed to have President Buhari as the Guest of Honour.
It was gathered that a number of lawmakers linked the decision to reject the Villa’s proposal to the shabby treatment of the lawmakers on October 26, 2017, when the principal officers were turned back from the Villa gate on account of security checks.
A cloud continued to hang on the planned summit as the tense atmosphere enveloped the Senate horizon. The last statement was to surface late in the day. Though it was released by the Senate President’s Media Office, it was signed by the Senate Leader. The statement appeared to find a convenient solution to the logjam that brew all day long when it announced the suspension of the summit in honour of the late Vice President Alex Ekwueme, who was being buried in Anambra state that weekend.
The statement entitled “Senate Suspends Security Summit in Honour of Late Ekwueme” read: “The national summit on security being organised by the Senate has been postponed in honour of the late former Vice President, Alex Ekwueme who will be buried on Saturday. “The summit, scheduled to hold on February 1 and 5 at the Banquet Hall of the State House was to be declared open by President Muhammadu Buhari.
“A statement by the chairman of the Senate ad-hoc committee on review of security infrastructure who is also the Majority Leader, Sen. Ahmed Lawan, stated that the postponement was to honour the late former Vice President, and to also enable Federal legislators, particularly those from the South-East, participate fully in the burial programme of the late elder statement.
“Lawan said a new date for the summit would be announced in due course and extend the committee’s apology to the invited dignitaries. The summit was organised to provide an all inclusive platform for heads of security and defense agencies, governors, traditional rulers, socio-cultural groups, civil society organizations and others, with a view to finding solutions to acute and long term security challenges in the country.
“Though the now postponed summit was an initiative of the Senate as part of its contribution to the resolution of the rising security challenges, it is being convened in partnership with the Presidency to find a common solution to the issue.”
Despite all the drama and politicking around the summit, it got a desired end at last. On February 12, the Senate Leader happily released a communiqué which summarized the resolutions thus: “The just completed National Security Summit sponsored by the Nigerian Senate was a strategic collaboration amongst all arms of government. The
Summit was attended by the Presidency, Security Chiefs and heads of Federal Ministries, Departments and Agencies.
“The successful Two-Day event served as an opportunity to survey the nation’s current security situation and to place all issues on the table in an effort to find short and long term solutions to the nation’s security challenges. Important assessment briefings were provided by the heads of security and intelligence agencies.
“Summit presenters and attendees focused on the areas of weakness that should be strengthened and the various assets at the Federal government’s disposal, particularly, ways to strengthen security through the deployment of assets.
“The primary purpose of the Summit is to reassure citizens that all arms of government are serious about addressing insecurity and are working collaboratively to find solutions. Out of the whole-of-government effort, Nigerians can expect a higher level of security to protect lives and property.
“The Summit wishes to express its appreciation to all participants for their valuable contributions to the Summit’s success. Nigerians can expect more positive collaboration of this kind between the Executive and Legislative branches of government.
“Further, the Senate looks to use the data and information from the proceedings to improve the security sector through legislative interventions and advocacy.”
But on a better note, the summit appears to have helped the nation found a solution to the thorny issue of state police. At the opening session last Thursday, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo told the gathering that State Police was an option to resolve the security logjam in the country. His submission was well accepted and hailed by attendees of the conference which was largely held behind closed doors.
Osinbajo had submitted: “For a country our size to meet the 1 policeman to 400 persons UN prescribed ratio, would require nearly tripling our current police force, far more funding of the police, military and security agencies is required.
“Secondly, we cannot realistically police a country the size of Nigeria centrally from Abuja. State Police and other community policing methods are clearly the way to go.”
According to him, the nature of Nigeria’s security challenges are complex and nuanced adding that to secure Nigeria’s over 923,768 square kilometers and its 180 million people there is the need to triple the number of policemen the nation currently employs.
Senate President Bukola Saraki was however to submit that the nation urgently needed political will to solve the security challenges.
Again at the closing session on February 12, Zamfara state governor, who is also the Chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF),
Alhaji Abdul’aziz Abubakar Yari said that the governors of 36 states of the country have risen in support of state
Police as a way out of the security challenges
The Governor said that the NGF was in agreement with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s earlier submission at the opening session of the summit last week.
He said: “The take home from this summit is that the Vice President raised some of the key discussions on the 17 of August about the issue of state police. The state police is something we have agreed during the constitutional amendment but at a later time when the Forum divided into two, some governors played to the gallery, which is unfortunate.
“Today, we have reiterated the position of the Vice President on the security summit we held in August that there is a need for state police. And we can say it is only the answer. The police of today are inadequate so if we look at the ratio, it is far below international standard. Therefore, we in the Forum agreed that we can find a way that we can fine-tune the issue of State police.”
He also highlighted the security challenges in the country in the last decade to include Boko Haram, cattle rustling, armed banditry and militancy in the Niger Delta, adding however that states that lack funds to operate state police could stay off the project.
He said on the possible funding constraints: “That is why we are saying that it is not all the states that are supposed to have state police. Those that can afford it can have it. For instance, Lagos State, as rich as they are, can have state police. The Federal police in Lagos, they can reduce the number to Osun, Ogun and other states that cannot do it. If Rivers State can afford it, the number of Federal police can be redeployed to Cross River and other neighbouring states like Enugu that cannot do it. If Kano State can do it, they can take to my state that is not all that richer. It is something that we can’t take up at the same time and land at the same time.”
The submission by Yari would go a long way in ending agitations by proponents of state police. But the long bridge of constitution amendment remains the huddle states and Nigerians now have to cross.
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