Former minister of education and two term governor of Kano State, currently the senator representing Kano Central senatorial district in the National Assembly, Ibrahim Shekarau has faulted the presidency on the tenure of service chiefs, stating that by continuing to keep them, President Muhammadu Buhari is in breach of the law. Shekarau asserted that while their appointment was at the pleasure of the president, “they are not staff of Mr. President; they are staff of the federal republic of Nigeria and there is a rule. It’s just like in the civil service. The president hasn’t the right to extend beyond what the law says; that is the rule of law”. He also indicted the military authorities as having failed because they ought to have advised the service chiefs to go.
The former presidential candidate however suggested that the National Assembly, which had issued resolutions calling on Buhari to sack the service chiefs, may not be considering the option of impeachment in order not to overheat the polity. Speaking Thursday as guest on Channels Television’s breakfast programme, Sun Rise Daily, on the state of insecurity in the country especially against the backdrop of the recent gruesome murder of over 43 rice farmers in Borno State, Shekarau said Garba Shehu missed it when he said the president was not breaking any law by continuing to retain the service chiefs. He argued that “They are serving at the pleasure of the president within their service period. There is a law, maybe he doesn’t know; there is a law within the scheme of service that says if you serve for 35 years, you must go. If you attain the age of 60 years you must go because it’s the law”.
He regretted that the issue of the sacking of the service chiefs had been on for almost two, three years now. “There is one point I think the presidency is missing and the public has not been brought into it. Before you get to the question of whether they are performing or not performing, there is a question of rule of law. The military is one of the several public services; it’s governed by laws, by scheme of service as they call it. In the scheme of service, as it is in the public service all over, including the military, there are conditions on when to leave automatically. You either attain the age of 60, or put in service for 35 years; whichever comes first, you are supposed to retire – all of them. “None of them has less than 35; I think the chief of defence staff has put in 39 years of service. Except the chief of defence staff who is 58 now, all of them are more than 60. The chief of air staff has put in about 37 years; chief of naval staff has put in about 41 years. So, what we are saying is that even if Mr. President has found them indispensable, allow them to retire, just like any other public service rule specifies; and you can hire them either as minister of defence, special adviser on defence, NSA, or whichever. But allowing them to stay… you see there is a difference between you are still in a service period and the president can keep you for as long as he so wishes. If you are 50, and you have put in 25 years of service, which means you have 10 more years to go, if you are chief of army staff, for the next 10 years, the president is at his own pleasure to keep you on. But automatically, if you hit 60 years, you must go. You hit 35 years of service you must go…So, as far as I am concerned, there is rule of law; you should respect the law before even talking of whether they are performing or not”.
Asked whether President Buhari had broken the law, the senator was emphatic that “He is definitely breaking the law”. On what the National Assembly can do to compel the president to do the right thing, Shekarau posited that “before you use the word compelling, the process between the executive and the legislature; it is one government and all the national assembly does is advisory; already, there are resolutions.
“Two days ago when the Senate president spoke, he spoke our minds. He was calling on the presidency to take the resolutions of the national assembly very seriously. Even though the resolutions are said to be advisory, there should be some level of respect. Your father can advise you; if I’m talking to my son, I say please give me this cup of tea. I’m saying please do it; I’m being courteous. I have the right to compel him to do it but we haven’t gotten to that. You see, there are provisions in the constitution. If you break the law, you will be summoned. If you don’t explain, the issues of impeachment are there. But I think we don’t want to get into all that because it is disrupting the polity. It will overheat the polity. But resolutions upon resolutions, upon resolutions; I don’t know why he’s still keeping them. I think he has a right to decide whether they are performing or not. “But let me remind you of Mr. President’s statement himself. He said the service chiefs are doing their best but their best is not good enough. As a teacher, if you are not doing good enough, it’s below average”. According to him, “You can’t get a different result by doing the same thing over and over again. By the time you bring in new people; we are not saying the service chiefs are not very experienced, are not well trained, they are not doing very well. But the point is that you have stayed long enough on this thing and the challenges are growing. Bring in new ideas. The new service chiefs, probably the president is not going to pick them from the streets; he’s not going to bring them from the dustbins. It’s from within the same service; in the ranks. But what we are saying, when you bring in new heads, new changes, the expectation is that there is going to be the new zeal, the tendency of new ideas; new strategies and so on”.
Reacting to the call by the Northern Elders Forum that the President should resign, Shekarau submitted that “The failure to appear to be doing the right thing is what pushes people to say all these just like what we have just said about my brother, the governor of Borno State. He said look, if our system has failed, let’s hire others. So it’s in the same vein. If the unruly conduct and behavior of government keeps on and on, the tendency is, look, if you are not able to respect the rules, if you are not able to get people to listen to the views of the public you’re governing, you better go. So, I think the failure to respect the views of the National Assembly; here is a collection of elected people – 469 – there wasn’t any dissenting voice in asking the president to let these people go.
“And in fact, as it is being mentioned, I expect the service chiefs to respect the rule of law too; to respect the rule within the scheme of service. If it is time, what we do in the public service, immediately you hit 60 years, you put in your retirement, or the civil service commission will advise you, please, it’s time up; can you submit your retirement papers? So, I think not only the presidency, even the management of the military services failed because they should advise them to go”. The former minister however has his reservations about engaging mercenaries as suggested by the Borno State governor, Babagana Zulum, noting that given what is happening now, he seemed to have given up. “I don’t think it’s a good idea because …there is nothing wrong in getting some assistance from outside, probably from areas you need to be supported. But giving an impression that we need to rely on mercenaries is like giving up. I think the man, to be fair to him, we all see how concerned he has been; they seem to be throwing their hands up. Well, since they are failing, why don’t we bring in people? What he said is a clear display of helplessness; but really, it is terrible. “That is why two days ago, when this issue was placed on the floor of the two chambers of the National Assembly, people were terribly enraged and you see the resolutions being passed from all over the place”.