The Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre recently held a one-day retreat for some members of defence committees in the House of Representatives. Chiemelie Ezeobi reports that the importance of legislative oversight, accountability, reforms and measures to tackle corruption in the defence sector were some of the issues thrashed
Legislative oversight is the role the democratically-elected branch of the legislature plays in oversight and monitoring of policies, budgets and processes. In essence, legislative oversight is a critical component of legislative governance. In the defence sector, the same holds true.
The role of the legislature in the defence sector is multi-faceted as they approve, develop or reject policy, laws and budgets after due consideration; determine the legal framework for security policy and practice; monitor, debate and shape policy and practice in plenary sessions and in specialised committees; as well as get involved in the appointment processes for senior posts within the security institutions to minimise any political interference.
Legislative Interface with CISLAC
Thus, to build on the gains achieved in spearheading accountability in the defence sector, the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) recently organised a one-day retreat in Lagos for some members of the House of Representatives including the committee chairmen on Defence, Nigerian Navy, Nigerian Air Force and Nigerian Army.
The retreat was organised by CISLAC in collaboration with Transparency International-Defence and Security Programme (TI-DSP) with support from UK-AID.
In attendance were Chairman, House Committee on Defence, Babajimi Benson; Chairman, House Committee on Army, Abdulrazak Sa'ad Namdas; Chairman, House Committee on Navy, Yusuf Adamu Gagdi; Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Air Force, Abbas Adigun; Member, Committee on Air Force, Tyough Robert Aondona; and Member, Committee on Air Force, Eta Edim Mbora. Also present were clerks of security committees, the CISLAC team and defence corespondents in Lagos.
According to the Executive Director of CISLAC, Auwal Ibrahim Musa, the retreat was multi-faceted as it dealt with the coordination of various defence bills in the National Assembly, the effectiveness it brings on defence sector, highlights of reforms, the accountability component inherent, the role of civilian and oversight agencies, and other entry points for engagements.
In essence, the retreat was to achieve a more coordinated approach towards the legislation of the Defence and Security Bills; recognition and reflection of clear defence effectiveness/accountability mechanisms in the concept, process, management and character of the bills; improved administrative capacity and strategies to convene public hearing on the bills with robust participation of CISLAC/TI-DSP in the process; and a more strengthened parliamentary oversight and participation after legislations.
Musa in his opening remarks, noted that though the National Assembly was responsible for setting the legal frameworks, adopting the budget, as well as overseeing defence and security activities, 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, he lamented that 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.
Stressing that the interface was on a variety of issues such as the Defence Management Bill, the Armed Forces Revamp Bill and the proposed Armed Forces Service Commission which is a novel idea, he noted that though the legislature has a mandate to set legal frameworks, adopt budgets and defence and security activities, it can only exercise these responsibilities in full if it has a broader access to information, the necessary technical expertise and the power and intention to hold the government to account.
According to Musa, legislative oversight refers to the responsibility control and accountability over the defence sector. "It is indeed a crucial mandate but by no means the only pillar of democratic governance of the sector. Democratic governance of the security sector is broader than parliamentary oversight and relates to the constant process, policies and administration of the defence and security sector in a manner that is transparent, accountable and participatory.
" It involves the submission of armed forces and security services to political power and direction and extends beyond parliamentary control to include the wider public. Howbeit, parliamentary oversight of the defence sector is essential because it enhances effectiveness and efficiency of the security sector.
"It contributes to making this crucial sector synchronised with national priorities as defined by the constitutional authority. Moreover, the security sector is funded by the treasury and parliament needs to check whether public money is spent according to the people's real needs.
Without this oversight, a critical bridge to the public is absent", he added.
Handicaps to Oversight
Despite the gains recorded because of such oversight functions, Musa noted that "the capacity of legislature to oversee the defence sector is handicapped by the tendency of the incumbent executive branch of government to marginalise the legislature. The risk of excessive executive domination exists for all sectors and in particular the closed, specialised nature of the security sector makes it susceptible to the proclivity of executive branches to exert monopoly over this central lever of state power
"Moreover, in parliamentary traditions, the defence sector has been constitutionally conceded as the exclusive preserve of the executive. Legislature is the workshop of democracy and it is within that workshop that the necessary powers of the state are determined and set within limits.
"There should be no area of state activity that is a no-go' zone for parliamentary oversight. Security is one of the core tasks of a state; the agencies within the defence sector hold many leverages of power that needs to be counterbalanced and
controlled. That is why ensuring a real separation of powers and a smooth system of checks and balances in security issues is more important than in other fields of government."
Tackling Corruption in Defence Sector
According to Conflict Advisor CISLAC, Salaudeen Hashim, corruption must be tackled, especially in the defence sector because it is dangerous, divisive and wasteful.
In essence, he said corruption reduces mission effectiveness in the defence sector because it benefits just the spoilers, wastes scarce resources, causes reputational risk, jeopardises trust, facilitates organised crime and hollows out defence capacity.
He further tasked the legislative on key issues to ponder like; How does the Whistleblower Act & Policy marry with Official Secrets Act?; Why is it difficult in getting serving personnel to embrace a culture of openness in public service?; How is the negative perception of public scrutiny and accountability? Is openness a threat to national security?
He also queried why national security is a 'no- go area' for CSO and public engagement whereas national security goes beyond
external and internal threats and encompasses human security.
Juxtaposing Internal and Kinetic Warfare
Afterwards in an interview with Chairman, House Committee on Defence, Babajimi Benson, he talked about the under policing challenge whereby the military have become involved in matters of internal warfare.
"The military has all been about 36 states of the nation in one operation or the other. It should not be so but we live in very interesting times, but unfortunately for us, we are under policed and I don't know how come the Nigerian people are reluctant to be in the police. About 400,000 policemen are policing over 200 million Nigerians, this is against the UN index and against all known parameters.
"Because the economic situation doesn't afford or provide jobs for millions of Nigerians, everybody knows that 70 per cent of our population are youth so the devil can find work for the idle man. Youths who do not have anything to do, a lot of them particularly in the North-east are indoctrinated, they turn into Boko Haram and ISWAP. They are all over the place and this indoctrination is spreading to other parts. It's causing banditry, oil bunkering and co, so the Nigeria nation can also not fold its hands and allow things to degenerate. The quickest and the most effective way we can handle this is using the military.
"I believe that the government is addressing this. Recently, the police commission was set up. We are talking about community policing and bringing police to all the nooks and crannies of the country so I believe in not too distant future, we will gradually migrate from this abnormal situation into going back into what democracy recognises, which is allowing the police to step in and do their jobs."
On the other hand, he commended the military for doing well given the resources available. "I think the Nigerian military have excelled exceedingly well outside of Nigeria, they have gone to Sierra Leone, Liberia and other UN sanction operations and they have excelled very well. They are trained to fight in kinetic situation, engaging enemies who want to troop into our country. In curbing internal insurgence and banditry, that's not what they are fundamentally trained to do, so they struggled with it. I think with the introduction of the special forces here and there, they have been able to up the game but it hasn't been a perfect situation".
All the same, Benson reiterated that the military needs to ramp up its defence training because if there's no security, there will be no peace and economic prosperity. "We need to find nimble innovative way of funding our defence sector, we need to collaborate more using the legislative advocacy skills, we need to do government to government transactions whereby the middlemen are eliminated, we need to also do trade by barter, we need enough weapons and inventory and platforms to be able to scare and fight insurgency. So yes, in this dwindling times, we need to spend more particularly on our defence so that it will open up prosperity. You see the prosperity of a nation is tied rapidly to how it can develop home grown solutions to address military challenges."
Enhancing Capacity of Defence Institutions
On this, the Defence Chairman said the Nigerian government is doing a lot in enhancing the capacity of its defence institution. "I'm very impressed. With their lean budget, they are developing bullets. It's not just DICON, the military also partners some local companies to develop earth shaking innovations in Nigeria. INNOSON is one- I recall a time where importation of Air Force parts, particularly the brakes were banned. The Airforce partnered INNSON and they developed those brakes."
He said this increased and enhanced the capacity to develop more parts like the batteries done by Ibeto Betto. He added that DICON does bullets. However, he said the military would be charged to patronise DICON more. Stressing that the gentleman in DICON is doing a yeoman's job, he added that he has excellently positioned the institution.
However, he said the military needs to patronise them more. "It's demand and supply. If it manufactures and it gets appropriate demand from the services, things can be better. In essence, money should be channelled towards our local production that will make them self sufficient and less dependent on government".
On the need for the military to enhance their research and development units, Benson disclosed that the Armed Forces Policy Document stated that 10 per cent percent of the budget of each service should be married for research and development, but "unfortunately, they don't do that. So, it's part of the things we are going to be looking in the next project, to ensure and force them to obey what the policy says.
"Definitely, the policy will be looked at and it will be stretched. There is also a different sector that is the private sector people, who manufacture defence products. They have done excellently well but are we patronising them enough? So going forward, the committee is going to call all the local defence companies, they could do that, sending a strong signals to the service that we believe in these people".
Access to Defence Information
Chairman, House Committee on Navy, Yusuf Adamu Gagdi, while speaking said defence is an issue that involves all and sundry as the bedrock of any society is adequate security.
He queried that if the House of Assembly can vote for money, why is the Nigerian Armed forces having issues acquiring software to combat the insurgency.
On the Maritime bill, he said it has been signed to adjust to some NIMASA roles but noted that some of the roles allotted to NIMASA are obsolete. "Any organisation that plays security role is vital to the stability of the country, as we know that any bandit, whether on water, sea or on ground is projecting the country image in bad light.
He enjoined the two arms of the government to come together to address the security issues and also implored the CSOs to still find time to bring together particularly the security chiefs to future discourse.
In an aside afterwards, he said the importance of the interface with CISLAC "is one of the efforts put in place by the parliament in collaboration with those non-governmental organisations or civil society organisation to ensure that things are done in the right way".
On the issue of accountability and open access to defence information he said, "To me, the only information that should be restricted to some level to Nigerians is operational issue, otherwise expenditure issues are things that should not be put under lock and key. There shouldn't be secrecy for whatever reason by the defence sector why some certain amount were provided for them."
Security as a Paramount Factor
Also in an interview with THISDAY, the House Committee Chairman on Army, Abdulrazak Sa'ad Namdas, he said a roundtable of all stakeholders in the security sector is paramount given that peace means a booster for the economy.
Admitting that when a soldier agrees to join the military, he or she has sworn an allegiance even in the face of death, he said the government must also play its own part by giving soldiers the required tools to go and fight.
"You cannot have a situation where people are alleging that even insurgents have better weapons than the Armed Forces. It's not good for us but we as legislators, we try always to always give more funds. Like in the 2020 budget, we have increased funding for the Armed Forces."
On the issue of soldiers who went awol being prosecuted he said, "if you were well equipped before you ran out of here, then you will face the music but if you ran because you don't have the necessary tools or equipments to defend yourself, this is another thing. But you have to provide even evidence. The court marshal is as old as the military institution itself. If we don't court marshal people, then there will be indiscipline. I think there should be punishment in the army, I still stand with it. There should be reward system and there should be punishment".
Addressing Challenge of Inadequate Equipment
Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Air Force, Abbas Adigun, who served in the United States Navy where he retired before joining politics in Nigeria, lamented that global conspiracy and internal forces are undermining the security situation in Nigeria.
He stressed that the country can't go forward if security issue is treated with levity. Addressing the issue of obsolete equipment he said: "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".
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.
Hours after deliberating with CISLAC and defence corespondents on ground, series of recommendations were made and it includes they fact 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.
On the other hand, 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.
Also, it was advocated 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. This is because 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 never have happened.
Meanwhile, 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.
Furthermore, 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.
Summarily, state governments should be held accountable for the security of their states, and for the utilisation 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 burning up the polity.