It was an engaging session recently, as the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) organised a one-day retreat for some members of the House of Representatives. The retreat was for chairmen, members and clerks of security committees of the House of Representatives.
In attendance at the retreat were Babajimi Benson (Chairman, House Committee on Defence), Abdulrazak Sa’ad Namdas (Chairman, House Committee on Army), Yusuf Adamu Gagdi (Chairman, House Committee on Navy), Abbas Adigun (Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Air Force), Tyough Robert Aondona (Member, Committee on Air Force), Eta Edim Mbora (Member, Committee on Air Force), clerks of security committees, executive director of CISLAC, Auwal Ibrahim Musa Rafsanjani, CISLAC conflict advisor, Salawudeen Hashim, and journalists.
Rafsanjani, in his opening remarks, explained that the retreat was put together to enable strategic lawmakers within the defence and security committees as well as defence editors and correspondents to interface on a variety of issues.
He noted that the National Assembly was responsible for setting the legal frameworks, adopting the budget, as well as overseeing defence and security activities.
“But it can only exercise these responsibilities in full if it has broad access to information, the necessary technical expertise, and the power and intention to hold the government to account. However, the variety and technicalities of the issues involved, the significant size and complex organisation of security personnel and, frequently, the secrecy of the security sector, make it particularly difficult for parliamentarians to work effectively,” he said.
He urged the lawmakers to be more proactive in their oversight functions over the defence sector. He said Nigerians should know, for instance, the defence budget performance, the nation’s defence policy and the success or otherwise of the $1 billion allegedly used for the procurement of arms, among others.
Chairman, House Committee on Navy, Yusuf Adamu Gagdi, lauded CISLAC for organising the retreat. Noting that adequate security was important in any society, he wondered why the armed forces were having issues dealing with security challenges across the country with the amount of money voted for the purchase of arms.
He said the government might have the means but lack the access to certain security facilities, and urged CISLAC and other civil society organisations to keep up conversations around security and other important issues. He said both the executive and the legislative arms of government must collaborate in the interest of the citizens.
Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Air Force, Abbas Adigun, regretted that some international conspiracies and internal forces were undermining the security situation in Nigeria. Adigun, a former officer with the United States Navy, said Nigeria must not take security issues with levity.
“How do you send somebody to war without the right equipment? They can’t win the war. I believe that if the welfare of the personnel is taken care of and with the right equipment, we will win,” he said.
While calling on the security and intelligence agencies to address the issue of bandits having access to sophisticated weapons, the lawmaker opined that youth employment was a major contributor to the security challenges in the country.
Chairman, House Committee on Defence, Babajimi Benson, lamented that the Nigerian Armed Forces were not being adequately funded. This, he said, was responsible for their stellar performance on international assignments while having challenges at home.
“And what are we doing about weapon purchase? There is an international conspiracy against Nigeria in the area of acquiring modern equipment to address security challenges. The conspiracy also stems from the requirements by countries not to sell arms and other necessary platforms to countries that might also have active relationships with countries that are not allies of the countries being approached for arms sale,” he said.
One of the recommendations at the retreat was that the executive and legislative arms as well as civil society organisations should engage constantly to enable a more robust interaction, building of synergy and more effective results. CISLAC was charged to help collate international laws and best practices that could be contextualised and incorporated in the Nigerian law books to boost the country’s security sector.
It was suggested that there should be a timeline within which the executive should submit its national budget to the legislature, so that proper scrutiny and due diligence could be done on it.
“The current constitutional timeline that allows the executive to continue spending for up to six months into a new financial year without an approved and enacted appropriation act should be amended. There should be concerted efforts by the legislative arm of government to counter wrong perceptions by the public and to bridge existing gaps between them and the citizenry through proactive trust building measures and mechanisms. Intelligence and security studies should be taught in schools, recruitment and training locations for recruits should be decentralised and increased beyond just the Kaduna location.,
“State governments should be held accountable for the security of their states, and for the utilization of security votes and other security expenditures while the National Orientation Agency should be engaged at local and community levels, to counter fake and inciting news that are capable of stirring a crisis,” the participants concluded.