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Presidency can’t pick Service Chiefs alone – Court

By Ikechukwu Nnochiri,  Abdulwahab Abdulah & Dapo Akinrefon

ABUJA—A Federal High Court in Abuja, yesterday, barred President  from appointing Service Chiefs for the federation without the consent of the National Assembly.

Delivering judgment in a suit filed before the  court by Lagos-based activist, Mr Festus Keyamo, Justice Adamu Bello, maintained that it was unconstitutional, illegal, null and void  for the President to single handedly okay persons for appointment as Service Chiefs.

Though the court did not order their immediate removal from office, those whose appointment were adversely affected by the judgment yesterday were the Chief of Air Staff, Chief of Army Staff and  Chief of Naval Staff.

The court also held that Section 18 (1) & (2) of the Armed Forces Act, Cap. A.20, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, is in conformity with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution and do not fall within the category of existing laws under Section 315 (2) of the constitution which any sitting President may by an order, modify its text to bring it into conformity with the provisions of the constitution.

The Chief of Defence Staff, Admiral Ola Ibrahim, other Service Chiefs and the Inspector General of Police, taking the salute during the Wreath Laying Ceremony to mark the 2013 Nigerian Armed Forces Remembrance Day celebration at the Cenotaph, Eagle Square, Abuja, yesterday. Photo:Abayomi Adeshida
The Chief of Defence Staff, Admiral Ola Ibrahim, other Service Chiefs and the Inspector General of Police Photo:Abayomi Adeshida

Specifically, Keyamo had in his suit, urged the court to among other things, determine: “Whether by the combined interpretation of the provisions of Section 218 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 and Section 18 of the Armed Forces Act, Cap. A.20, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, the 1st Defendant can appoint the Chief of Air Staff, the Chief of Army Staff, and the Chief of Naval Staff without the confirmation of the National Assembly sought and obtained.

He also asked the court to determine “whether Section 18 (1) & (2) of the Armed Forces Act, Cap. A.20, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 is not in conformity with the provision of the 1999 Constitution so as to fall within the category of existing laws under Section 315 (2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, that the President, may, by Order, modify its text, to bring it into conformity with the provisions of the Constitution.”

Keyamo insisted that the practice of side-stepping the constitutional requirement of involving the National Assembly in the appointment of Service Chiefs began under former President Olusegun Obasanjo, adding that subsequent administrations adopted the illegal practice.

Therefore, he beseeched the court for: “A declaration that the appointment of Service Chiefs for the Federal Republic of Nigeria by the President, without the confirmation of the National Assembly is illegal, unconstitutional and void.

“A declaration that Section 18 (1) & (2) of the Armed Forces Act, Cap. A.20, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, is in conformity with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution so as not to fall within the category of existing laws under Section 315 (2) – of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, that the President, may, by order, modify its text, to bring it into conformity with the provisions of the Constitution.”

He also prayed the court for:  “An order restraining the President from further appointing Service Chiefs for the Federation without first obtaining the confirmation of the National Assembly”.

Justice Bello in his judgment, yesterday, upheld his arguments and granted all the prayers that were sought by the plaintiff.

The judgement is a good one —Aturu

Reacting to the judgement delivered by the court, rights crusader, Mr Bamidele Aturu said it was a good one.

In a telephone chat with Vanguard, Aturu said: “If the court has looked at the papers and has ruled in his favour, it is a good one and that is what we encourage Nigerians to do. Nigerians should go to court more often and challenge such things. If President decides to appoint Service Chiefs without approval from the National Assembly, that is a breach of our democracy. I congratulate the plaintiff, Festus Keyamo for going to court and I think Nigerians should emulate him. Nigerians should do more of such because people cannot take laws into their hands. I expect that the President will quickly do what is right instead of filing frivolous appeals, which will just be an unnecessary waste of time.”

I commend  the court’s decision —Emeka Ngige

“I commend the decision of the Federal High Court. It is sound and it is not surprising that the court ruled in that way. My reservation,  however, is that the judgment is coming rather late after five years that the matter was filed by way of originating summons.

“That may have defeated the course of action. If this judgment has been delivered may be in 2009, it could have been better, when some of the service chiefs were in office. This is not relevant now because those appointed afterwards were confirmed by the National Assembly.

“So, the judiciary should endeavor to give judgment on constitutional interpretation timely, in order not to render the exercise a mere academic.”

It’s sound judgment —Femi Falana

The judgement is sound and it is commendable on the part of the plaintiff, my learned friend, Mr Festus Keyamo. The judgment has gone a long way to challenge the culture of impunity in our country, and it is also a challenge to the Senate to insist on full compliance with the provision of the constitution, with respect to its powers to screen candidates for the position of service chiefs.

This is not one of the cases that should be appealed by the government.”

It defends rule of law—Jiti Ogunye

“The decision of the Federal High Court is highly commendable and it is meant to defend the rule of law and our democracy.  By the combined Sections 218 of the constitution, and section 18 of the Armed Forces Act, Cap.  A.20, Laws of the Federation, the President has the power to appoint the service chiefs, but subject to confirmation and the approval of the National Assembly.”

This decision of the Federal High Court is for the defence of the rule of law and it is to ensure among other things that the power of appointment of service chiefs by the president is not exercised in an arbitrary manner contrary to the provision of section 218 of the constitution.

So, the president has to consider the federal character in the appointment of the service chiefs including the Chief of Naval Staff, Chief of Defence Staff, and the Inspector General of police.


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.