By Francis Etuko, Abuja.
Anger and tension engulfed the Senate Red Chamber Tuesday following the receipt of a letter purportedly signed on behalf of the Comptroller-General (CG) of Customs, Colonel Hameed Ali (rtd) requesting that the Senate grant him leave to appear before lawmakers on Thursday, March 16, 2017 instead of Wednesday March 15th, 2017, as earlier scheduled by the lawmakers.
The letter which was amongst official correspondences read on the floor of the Senate on Tuesday was quick to receive attention. Not even the letter from President Muhammadu Buhari informing senators of His return from medical leave attracted much attention.
Irked that the letter asking for extension of time from the custom boss was signed by his subordinate officer sparked debate on the floor of the Senate as lawmakers expressed their anger over the unbecoming attitude of Ali.
The Senate Leader who felt slighted lamented that the letter demonstrates that the Custom Boss has no respect for the institution of the National Assembly.
His Words ‘‘The letter was signed by someone not the CG of Customs, that would have given, in my judgment, some respect for the institution, not for senators. I feel slighted and I believe everybody does.
‘‘The Senate should oblige the request for extension, if possible on Thursday as he is saying, two wrongs cannot make a right, whether it is Live Coverage, I know Nigerians have an interest in this’’
However a very angry Senator James Manager was quick to let his colleagues know that the integrity of the Senate was being put to test. He did not also hide his discontent over the statement made by the Senate Leader that ‘‘two wrongs cannot make a right’’
“The integrity of the Senate is being put to test, I want to inform you particularly the first timers, there was this senate which was well respected. I have been here since 2003, when letters like this came from the Executive, the Senate must take a firm stand’’
‘‘If the Comptroller General himself had signed the letter that would have been very understandable, but the man asked somebody else to sign the letter to the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, certainly that is not a case of two wrongs not making a right. It is equally important (to note) that the invitation coincides with a little meeting in his office, this is an insult of the highest order,” Manager raged.
Sensing that Senator Manager’s comments could be misconstrued, the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki quickly moved to assuage frayed nerves.
‘‘ The Leader spoke the way leaders are meant to speak, we are all guided by the guidelines of this senate, He should appear before the Senate tomorrow as directed’’ Saraki said.
‘’Tomorrow we have the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission also appearing before us’’
Hours after the Senate position, the Customs boss was spotted in the office of Saraki, in a move seen as a quick rapproachment to douse the anger his “insubordinate” letter elicited.
The presidency is believed to have waded in to stop the lawmakers from wielding the big stick against the former military man who many of them have describes as “rude and arrogant” on account of his consistent refusal to put on the Customs uniform as directed by the lawmakers.
The Senate has been having a running battle with Ali over the Customs new vehicle policy where owners of old vehicle are expected to pay duties if their importers defaulted in paying.
There were whispers yesterday that he may have consented to a review of the policy, though details were sketchy.