By HENRY UMORU & JOSEPH ERUNKE
ABUJA—THE Senate, Thursday, gave constitutional consent to the deployment of Nigerian military troops to Mali by President Goodluck Jonathan.
The action of the upper legislative chamber was in response to a letter it received from the president, asking it to give consent to the 1,200 Nigerian troops he deployed last Wednesday, to Mali for a peace keeping operation.
But the Senate failed short of directing the president to borrow a leaf from western powers especially the United States of America, USA, by considering Nigeria’s economic interest in foreign policies, following a sharp division among senators on the issue.
The President’s letter to the Senate, dated 16th January, 2013 and tagged, “Notification to the Senate on the deployment of members of the Armed Forces on a limited combat duty to Mali and request for consent”, was read by the Senate president, David Mark, for consideration in the floor of yesterday’s plenary.
In the letter, President Jonathan said, “the deployment of Nigerian troops was in line with Security Council resolution 2085 (2012) and is necessitated by the need to combat armed and terrorist groups including Al-Quaida in the Islamic Magrb (AQIM) and their activities, as well as the proliferation of weapons, from within and outside the region with grave consequences on the security and stability in the northern parts of Mali and beyond, including Nigeria”.
“In view of the foregoing, the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is respectfully invited to exercise its powers under Section 4 (5) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,1999 as amended and consent to the deployment of a contingent of 1,200 members of the armed forces to serve in the African-led force (AFRISMA) in Mali on limited combat duties”, the president said in the letter.
He regretted that Nigeria was at the moment, was facing what he described as “daunting security challenges”, noting that given its proximity to the Sahel region, the crisis in Mali, if not brought under control, may spill over to Nigeria and other West African countries with negative consequences on “our collective security, political stability and development efforts.
“As a responsible member of the international community and given our recent experiences with insurgency and terrorist activities especially in the northern parts of the country, I felt compelled to urgently approve the Nigerian troops”, he explained.
The senators who had reconvened to consider the president’s request, after they had gone into executive session to look into the issue, failed short of directing President Goodluck Jonathan to deploy Nigerian economic experts to enter into agreement with the Malian authorities on what would be the country’s economic gain after restoration of peace.
But for Senator Magnus Abe, PDP Rivers South, who stood in opposition, all others who spoke called on President Jonathan to consider Nigeria’s economic interest in Mali along side.
Citing the super power nations, the senators said it was no longer uhuru for the country to continue to play Father Christmas in its foreign policies.
Senator Abdul Ningi, PDP Bauchi Central, who was first to speak on the issues, after being given the consent to do so by the Senate President, David Mark, said he supported the president in deploying Nigerian troops to restore peace in Mali, noting that no nation can be allowed to be threatened by terrorists.
He noted that Nigeria was the leader of the black race, adding that its centre point in foreign policy was in Africa and as such, must sit up to exercise its power in that regard.
He condemned the attempts to by rebels to unconstitutionally remove democratically elected leadership in Mali, saying it was in Nigeria’s interest to intervene as failure could turn the country into a breeding ground for terrorists. “In totality, I concur with the wishes of the president in sending troops to Mali. In spite of all sentiments attached to it, our national interest is very important” he said.
The Senate Leader, Senator Ndoma Egba, PDP Cross River Central, while speaking said there was no room for any military intervention anywhere in the world, noting that military regime was out of place. The deployment of troops to Mali, he noted, was a “very clear signal to ambitious military adventurers anywhere in the continent” that they were not needed in the polity.
He recalled that Nigeria played major roles in crises in Liberia, South Africa, Angola and some African countries without any benefit in return, advising that such should not be in place any longer.
“South African businesses are moving into Nigeria but we are not seeing Nigerian business moving anywhere. This means there is a gap in our economic policy and we have to attach economic interest in our foreign policy. I think that our foreign policy should be made dynamic. There must be economic interest as we cannot continue to be father Christmas at all the times”, he insisted.
On his part, Senator Ayogu Eze, PDP Enugu North, said, “time has come for us to begin to focus on our economic value in our foreign policy. I support those with this view that we start refocusing on economic interest so that we can begin to reap maximum benefits of our sacrifices.
Senator Chris Anyanwu, APGA Imo East, regretted that Nigeria was being left alone to prosecute wars to the end by other member states each time it embarked on foreign peace mission, warning that such trend must stop just as she supported that economic benefit of the country must be attached on its foreign peace mission,saying “We cannot continue to be father Christmas anymore.
She regretted that China, which she noted, contributed noting to the restoration of peace in Liberia had taken over the country, saying such situation where Nigeria would fight to restore peace and order in a particular country only for another country to take over it in terms of business investment must stop. “We are not just sending troops but carrying the entire financial burden, we have young people looking for jobs, we must move with mindset in our foreign policy”, she urged.
Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, PDP Bayelsa West, in his submission, questioned why France was at the forefront in the peace mission in Mali instead of Nigeria even as he disagreed with others that Nigeria was being sidelined each time it prosecuted war and restored peace. He rather, blamed Nigerian investors for not making efforts towards that direction, noting that there was no law in place in any of the African countries that barred any Nigerian investors from moving outside to invest. He therefore charged investors to move beyond the shores of Nigeria.
Ruling on the issue, the Senate President, David Mark,commened President Goodluck Jonathan for taking the action by immediately deploying the Nigerian troops to Mali but advised that the troops be well equipped to contend their challenges while in Mali just as he urged the Senate Committee on Defence this was achieved.
He said what the president did was the best at such time as failure could escalate the ugly situation to other parts of Africa.“I believe that the rebels have mindset to stretch their tentacles beyond the shore of Mali”, he said.
President Jonathan had in the letter said,he was drawing the attention of the Senate to the political and security crisis in Mali and its grave consequences on the security situation and stability in the Sahel and the entire West African Sub-region.
“The Senate is invited to Security Council concerns on the continuing deteriorating humanitarian and security situation in the north of Mali, which is further complicated by the presence and entrenchment of armed and terrorist groups including Al-Qaida in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM) and their activities; the proliferation of weapons from within and outside the region; the consequence of instability in the northern parts of Mali on the region and beyond; and the needs to respond swiftly in order to preserve stability across the Sehel region”, the letter read.
“The attention of the senate is further invited to the respective resolutions of the Security Council on the crises in Mali, particularly resolution 2071 (2012) which declared its readiness to respond to Mali’s request for international military force; Mali’s request to Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) for military assistance and ECOWAS letter of 28th September,2012 to the UN Secretary General requesting a Security Council resolution authorizing the deployment of a stabilization force in Mali under Chapter VII mandate of the United nations Charter”, the letter added.
The president, in the letter, noted that while unanimously adopting resolution 2071 and resolution 2085, the Security Council called upon member states as well as regional and international organization to provide coordinated support to the request of the Transitional Authorities of Mali regarding an international military force assisting the Malian Armed Forces in recovering the occupied regions in the north of Mali, including thorough military training, provision of equipment and other forms of assistance in efforts to combat terrorist and affiliated extremists groups, adding, “the Security Council invited member states and organizations to inform the Secretary General of their contributions”.