There is uncertainty in the military over who will appoint new service chiefs ahead of the July 13 when their tenure ends.
The Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Gabriel Olonisakin; Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Buratai; Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok Ete-Ibas; and the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar are expected to quit the military by July 13.
President Muhammadu Buhari, who is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces vested with the responsibility of appointing service chiefs has been on medical vacation for about two months.
Before undertaking the foreign medical trip, the president transmitted a formal handover letter to the National Assembly, not only intimating it of his mission, but also transferring power to his deputy, Yemi Osinbajo.
But Buhari, in the letter, only said the vice president would stand in as coordinating president, an appellation that drew different interpretations, with some people arguing that Osinbajo has limitation in his new role.
In an interview in Abuja, constitutional lawyer and human rights activist, Chief Mike Ozhekome (SAN) said the acting president is standing in for his boss and as such, can perform every necessary function of the office of the president.
Ozhekome said: “An acting president comes into being under Section 145 of the 1999 Constitution, after the president transfers a letter to the National Assembly that he would be proceeding on vacation for any reason however. Until he transfers another letter of resumption of office back to the National Assembly, he ceases to be president.”
The senior advocate noted that in the absence of the president, the acting president assumes the full powers of the president in all ramifications without let or hindrance.
“He can sign budgets, declare war and deploy armed forces to defend Nigeria, subject to the checks and balances imposed by the constitution.
“This means he can appoint, hire and fire any member of the armed forces. The president at this time has no say, because there can’t be two obas, emirs or ezes in one palace at the same time,” he declared.
Odein Henry Ajumogobia (SAN) said Section 130 (2) of the Constitution expressly describes the president as commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Federation (among other things). According to him, the Armed Forces Act under Section 23(3) also uses the phrase president, commander-in-chief of the armed forces, meaning that the occupier of the office can appoint service chiefs.
But Barrister Joy Owelle advised the acting president to ask Buhari for his nominees as service chiefs and just make the pronouncement. “That way”, according to her, “lawyers will be happy, the cabal in Aso Rock villa will be happy and we move on.”
Another lawyer Mark Olajide queried what the circumstance would be if the vice president, who is the acting president is not able to communicate with the president due to certain circumstances before or after the expiry date of the service chiefs. He raised the suspicion that it might end up being ‘Baba says this, Baba says that’ (by which he means the president’s name could be dropped.)
His words: “We have passed through this route before. If the acting president can do all that the president can do, then why is he not sitting on the ‘throne’ (the president’s seat), to chair the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting?”
Dennis Okechukwu, also a lawyer, said the acting president is being prudent so that he would not be accused of trying to unseat his boss.
“If the acting president is not sitting on the ‘throne’ while chairing FEC meeting, I think he’s just being prudent so as not to be seen to be itching to unseat his boss. That doesn’t mean that he can’t exercise the president’s powers as enabled by the constitution,” he said.
President Buhari appointed the chief of defence staff and the service chiefs on July 13, 2015. By their appointment, the service chiefs have spent the mandatory two years and should be on their way out any moment from now, unless the president considers extending their tenure in office.
But in the absence of the president, there has been scheming by senior military officers on who takes over from them.
A few weeks ago, the Nigeria Navy retired four rear admirals, five commodores, four captains, two commanders and three lieutenant-commanders.
It was learnt also that a number of officers have been retire from the service purportedly ahead their disengagement dates.
The same scenario is playing out in the air force, where r retirements do not allegedly follow laid down rules.
As the two years’ expiration of the service chiefs draws closer, incumbents are lobbying to retain their appointments, while others are working to upstage them.
Meanwhile, as a way to douse tension, the Defence Headquarters (DHQ) yesterday announced its maiden quarterly route march scheduled to begin on July 1 across the country.