Proceedings of the Senate on the anti-terrorism bill screeched to a halt yesterday when questions were raised over the legality of giving the National Security Adviser coordinating powers on all security agencies.
The Senate was debating the report of a conference committee that reviewed the Terrorism Act amendment bill 2012, which seeks to make the NSA's office the fulcrum of all security operations.
Chairman of the committee Mohammed Magoro (PDP Kebbi South) presented the report for the second time yesterday following an earlier glitch that delayed the submission last week.
But chairman of the Senate Committee on Rules and Business, Ita Enang (PDP, Akwa Ibom North-East), pointed out that it would be improper to give the responsibility being proposed for the NSA's office because the NSA is not the creation of any law.
The Magoro committee report recommended that the NSA's office should provide support to all security, intelligence, law enforcement agencies and military services to prevent and combat acts of terrorism.
It is also to ensure effective formulation and implementation of a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy and build capacity for the effective discharge of the functions of all security, intelligence, law enforcement and military services.
The report also confers on the NSA the powers to "do such other acts or things necessary" for the effective performance of the functions of the relevant security and enforcement agencies.
But Enang said the NSA's office does not exist in law and so it would be wrong for the National Assembly to confer any responsibility on the office which is just a mere advisory office to the president.
"Office of the National Security Adviser is not known to law. It is just one of the 20 advisory offices approved for Mr President. Since it is not established by the legislature, the legislature cannot confer any responsibility on it. We should realise that if we make any mistake on this, it will be revisited later," he said.
He cited the provisions of Section 151 of the 1999 Constitution to support his arguments.
Senator Ayogu Eze (PDP, Enugu) simply said: "The lead way we have now is to refer the report back to the committee".
Senate President David Mark said since the report was prepared by a conference committee of both the Senate and the House of Representatives, the Senate could not amend it.
But when he put the question for the adoption of the report, the voice vote sounded equal between the 'ayes' and the 'nays'.
Mark therefore called for the suspension of the debate.
"The way we normally express our views is either yes or no. But since this is too close to each other, I will call on the Senate leader to move a motion for me to suspend the debate on it," he said.
Moving the motion, Senate Leader Victor Ndoma-Egba said: "In view of the stormy waters we are in over this matter, I move that we stand down this debate to another legislative day."