By Francis Etuko, Abuja.
A day after a nominee of President Muhammadu Buhari, Acting Economic and Financial Crimes Commission Chairman, Ibrahim Magu, was rejected by the Senate, another of his appointees, Comptroller-General (CG) of Customs, Colonel Hameed Ali, was sent home Thursday and ordered to appear before the Upper Legislative Chamber on Wednesday next week at 10 a.m dressed in Customs uniform.
It was however not an insider of the Buhari administration that nailed Ali like Magu, he shot himself in the foot by disobeying Nigeria’s 109 wise men.
The Senate has been having an ongoing disagreement with Ali, whose has in recent past championed the retroactive duty payments for cars imported into the country. The directive sent angry shock waves among car owners.
Ali was ordered to come over to the Senate to explain the policy. To boot, he was advised to dress up in the uniform befitting his rank as Comptroller-General. Ali would have none of the uniform directive and went public on television to say so.
When the embattled Custom boss finally showed up on Thursday and was led into the Senate chamber by the Presidential Liaison Officer to the National Assembly, Senator Ita Enang, he was welcomed by presiding Deputy President Ike Ekweremadu. He did not waste time to ask the CG why he was not fully attired in the Customs uniform.
Responding CG Ali referred the lawmakers to the letter inviting him to appear dated March 15, 2017 (which was later confirmed by Ekweremadu to be a reminder) paragraph 2 of the said letter Ali noted did not specify that he appear in uniform.
Responding to this claim, the Deputy President reminded Ali that the letter was a reminder and urged the CG to avail Senators of any law which states that as Custom Boss he is not compelled to be uniformed.
Deputy Senate Leader, Bala Ibn N’allah stepped in telling the subdued Customs boss, “unfortunately, it was alleged that in reaction to the resolution (asking him to appear in his uniform), you allegedly made certain comments that appear to be derogatory to the institution of the Senate by saying the Senate has no business whether you wear the uniform or not. Now the Senate is not privileged to see your letter of appointment but what is important is that you issued that circular (imposing duties on imported cars) in your capacity as the Comptroller General and at all material time you have answered and acted in the office.
“Today, you are in this chamber because the Senate summoned the comptroller general of customs and let me refer you to section 7 of the Customs and Excise Act. If you look at section 7, subsection 2 in particular and with your permission I read ‘Any proceeding for an offence under this law will be taken in the name of Comptroller General.’ The intendment of this is that it has given you legal power in your capacity as comptroller general. Then section 8 of the same law says “For the purpose of carrying out or enforcing the provisions of the Customs and Excise law, all officers shall have the same powers, authorities, privileges as by given by law to police officers…’ I want you to read the recittal.
And then it came under section 10 and it says “Unlawful assumptions and character of an officer” don’t forget it is referring to Comptroller General of Customs to which at all material time you have answered. It says “If for the purpose of telling admission to any building or either place or any ship or aircraft or vehicle or of procuring to be done of his own authority or for any other unlawful purpose. Any person not being an officer assumes the name, designation or character of an officer he fails in addition to any other punishment to which he may have being rendered himself liable be liable to a fine of N1000”.
“Let me tell you the combined effect of this, the power to prosecute is entirely that of the executive and in this democracy it belongs to the President. But the constitution which we have made and enacted and given to us says the attorney general of the federation has that power but went ahead to say certain officers which include Comptroller General has that power and it is statutory power. It means your appointment is statutory.”
Senator Barau Jibrin in his contribution stressed that ‘‘what the CG needs to do is to go back and wear his uniform before he can come back and address us’’.
‘’There is nothing more we can do until he complies with the law, it is right and proper the CG complies with the resolution of the senate’’.
However, in trying to pacify his colleagues, Senator Aliyu Wakil who represents the CG in the Senate appealed to his adamant colleagues, but they would have none of it.
Further attempts to appeal to Senators fell on deaf ears when Senator Magnus Abe rose to speak and attempts were made to shout him down but the Rivers East Senatorial District lawmaker remained resolute.
‘‘My view is based on my understanding of how things work. As chief officer of the NCS, you are their chief representative and an embodiment of the NCS’’
‘‘I will plead that you wear the uniform for the sake of the Customs and Senate…the Senate is the body of Nigerians that are asking you to wear the uniform’’.
‘‘As chief PRO of NCS anything that you do that will build goodwill for the Customs, do it, it will add value to the Nigeria Customs Service’’ he said.
‘‘This controversy is totally uncalled for there is no need for any ego trip between you and the Nigerian Senate’’.
Further counsel was also offered by Senator Sekibo Thompson who sighted Sections 1[1 ] and 2(13) of the Constitution stressing the need for compliance and respect for institutions and legislative authorities.
Sekibo then moved a motion urging the Senate to compel the CG to appear before it on Wednesday 23, march 2017 at 10 a.m.
The motion was seconded by Barnabas Gemade who reminded that that the President of Nigeria, when occasion demands, wears the Army uniform to represent his role as the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces.
On this note the Deputy President of the Senate reminded the Customs CG that “certain things like wearing of uniforms should not be taken for granted.”
Ekweremadu said, ‘‘as leaders we must lead by example, sir. We need to encourage those under us by ourselves obeying the law’’
‘‘We still need to meet with you over the policy that you simply suspended, because it was suspended means it can be possibly brought back’’
‘’Senate as you can see is in support that you come back in uniform’’