In a statement issued by Nigeria Air Force spokesman, Group Captain. Ayodele Famuyiwa, Nigerian military authorities confirmed the deployment of a 200-man strong Nigerian contingent as part of the Economic Community of West African States Military Intervention in Gambia (ECOMIG) to enforce the mandate of Adama Barrow as the elected president of The Gambia.
“NAF today moved a contingent of 200 men and air assets comprising fighter jets, transport aircraft, Light Utility Helicopter as well as Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance aircraft to Dakar from where it is expected to operate into Gambia,” the Air Force statement read. “The deployment is also to forestall hostilities or breakdown of law and order that may result from the current political impasse in The Gambia.”
However, during the Senate plenary earlier today, Sen. Utazi Chukwuka noted that the President’s deployment of troops without the consent of the Senate was illegal. His position was rejected by the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, who noted that the President had a window of seven days to inform the Senate, which was yet to elapse.
Responding, the Deputy Senate President, Sen. Ike Ekweremadu concurred with Sen. Chukwuka, explaining that the constitution made it clear that the President must inform the Senate before the actual deployment of troops outside the country.
So is the deployment of Nigerian troops to Gambia illegal? Let’s consult the constitution.
Section 5 of the 1999 constitution deals with this issue in Subsection 4 and 5:
(4) Notwithstanding the foregoing provisions of this section:- (a) the President shall not declare a state of war between the Federation and another country except with the sanction of a resolution of both Houses of the National Assembly, sitting in a joint session; and (b) except with the prior approval of the Senate, no member of the armed forces of the Federation shall be deployed on combat duty outside Nigeria.
(5) Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (4) of this section, the President, in consultation with the National Defence Council, may deploy members of the armed forces of the Federation on a limited combat duty outside Nigeria if he is satisfied that the national security is under imminent threat or danger: Provided that the President shall, within seven days of actual combat engagement, seek the consent of the Senate and the Senate shall thereafter give or refuse the said consent within 14 days
So clearly, the president needed to get the prior approval of the senate before sending members of the military on combat duty abroad. The one exception is if the national security of the country is under imminent threat or danger. So, can the debacle in the Gambia be described as an “imminent security threat” to Nigeria? Surely not.
In summary, Sen. Utazi is right: The deployment of Nigerian troops to Senegal en-route Gambia is illegal and unconstitutional.