The Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, on Thursday declared that President Muhammadu Buhari ought to have sought the approval of the National Assembly before deploying troops in Senegal for an operation in the Gambia.
He relied on Section 5(4)(b) of the 1999 Constitution as amended, to assert that the President cannot deploy troops outside the country without any prior approval from the legislature, insisting that it is wrong to subject the Senate to ridicule.
Nigerian troops and fighter jets were deployed in Senegal for the enforcement of a resolution of the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, to remove Yahya Jammeh from office should he refuse to quit on January 19 when his tenure expires as the president of the Gambia.
Spokesman of the Nigeria Air Force, NAF, Ayodele Famuyiwa, on Wednesday confirmed the deployment to Senegal, as part of Nigerian contingent of Economic Community of West African States military intervention in Gambia, ECOMIG, a standby force tasked by ECOWAS heads of state to enforce the December 1, 2016 election mandate in The Gambia.
“The NAF today moved a contingent of 200 men and air assets comprising fighter jets, transport aircraft, light utility helicopter as well as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft to Dakar from where it is expected to operate into Gambia. The deployment is also to forestall hostilities or breakdown of law and order that may result from the current political impasse in The Gambia,” Famuyiwa said.
But raising a point of order on the floor of the Senate on Thursday, the lawmaker representing Enugu North, Senator Chukwuka Utazi, had relied on Section 5(4)(b) of the 1999 Constitution as well as on Order 43 of the Senate Standing Rules to point out the illegality of the president’s action.
Stressing that the Constitution demands that the National Assembly be briefed before troops are deployed in any country, he said, “ECOWAS countries have been discussing the political crisis in The Gambia. But to ask that this country will go on a warfare in another country without a recourse to the constitutional provision is an affront of the 1999 constitution.
“It is a breach of the constitution and we have failed. Let it be on record that the National Assembly has to be informed properly in writing,” the Enugu senator submitted.
But the Senate President, Bukola Saraki only noted his argument, saying the President has at least seven days to inform the National Assembly before deploying troops in a foreign country, pointing out that the window had not elapsed.
“The point made is noted, but the explanation concerning the constitution is confusing. I believe the constitution gives room for the president, within seven days for such an action to come before us,” Saraki said.
It was at this point that Ekweremadu countered Saraki, arguing that based on Section 5(4)(b) of the 1999 Constitution as amended, the President cannot deploy troops outside the country without any prior approval from the National Assembly.
The Deputy Senate President, who warned that setting a bad precedence will hurt in the future, said, “This has nothing to do with war and we are not at war with anybody, but for you to send the Nigerian armed forces outside Nigeria, this Senate must be told. But it is happening in The Gambia. They need the approval of the Senate because that is not war.
“War comes in when you are talking about section 5 of the constitution and the president does not need our approval. He can go to war on our behalf and come back later. But for you to deploy them to The Gambia, you must seek the approval of the Senate,” he insisted.
No official position was taken by the Senate on the issue as the Deputy Senate President’s argument was only noted.