By Tunde Adetunji and Francis Etuko, Abuja.
The needless battle for supremacy between the Customs Comptroller-General and the Senate has come to a dead end with a call with the Upper House declaring that the former army colonel, Hammed Ali, is unfit for public office and should resign forthwith.
The lawmakers did not spare the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, as it stopped short of describing him as incompetent for advising Ali not to heed Senate summons. Ali was to appear before the lawmakers in his uniform, but he hid under a court action by one Mohammed Ibrahim to keep away.
A source said yesterday it hat though the presidency may choose to keep Ali, but it was a “dicey situation because hey can choose not to do business with him or allocate funds to him in the budget, it is a bad situation for Customs because of this heaviness.”
Opening the discussion , Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu said:
There will be no need to go into the committee on the whole. Yesterday we got a letter written to the clerk of the Senate from the Attorney General of the federation stating that a case has been filed in court and that the matter is subjudice. So he advised that every action should stop including the attendance of the comptroller general of customs to this hallowed chambers. So if it is your wish I invite the clerk of the Senate to read the letter so that we have a full understanding on the content and intent of the letter for our consideration.
The letter by AGF reads:
Refrence Number HAGF/NASS/2017 volume 1/28
Re: Suit Number FHC/ABJ/CS/207/2017
Mohammed Ibrahim (ESQ) Versus Col.Hameed Ibrahim Ali (rtd) and four others
I wish to formally intimate you that I am in receipt of a letter dated 20th, March 2017 wherein I have been served with an originating summons in respect of the above subject matter (copy attached).
2. The originating summons is seeking among other declarations “whether the oversight functions of the National Assembly extends to compelling and/ or giving directive to the first defendant to wear uniform”
3. In line with the principles of rule of law, Court decisions or most importantly, the declarations sought have been deeply rooted in the constitutional provisions; I hold the view that this matter is sub-judice.
4. In view of three above, it is the interest of justice and rule of law to stay all actions in this case until the constitutional issues raised in the matters are resolved by the law courts. I wish to further intimate you that as a defendant in the said suit, I intend to file processes and pursue it to a logical conclusion.
5. Accept my warm regards
Signed, Abubakar Malami, SAN, Hon. Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice
And then the contributions by the lawmakers:
Senator Uwajumogu: My opinion is that Nigeria operates democracy which is established on separation of powers. We have executive, legislative and the Judiciary and that means that no arm of government can stop the other from carrying out its constitutional responsibility.
Senator Enyinaya Abaribe: I need to preface my comments by three words “lest we forget”. The issue that has generated everything today was the fact that the customs service under the comptroller general made an obnoxious policy which Nigerians condemned. It was in the process of looking into that obnoxious policy of asking people to pay duty whether they were the importers of a vehicle or not and going so many years back that brought us to the matter of the comptroller general having to be summoned to come and explain to Nigerians to the Senate.
Why I am saying that we shouldn’t forget that there is….of every matter concerning this to look as if this senate is more interested in whether Hameed Ali coming to explain his policy and I don’t want Nigerians to forget that. What we did was to say you are not doing the right thing then he went ahead to now get to this point.
Our standing order says in section 53 (5) says reference shall not be made to any matter in which a judicial decision is pending in such a way as might in the opinion of the president of the senate prejudice the interest of parties thereto”. So no other person outside is important in this matter except the president of the Senate when the matter of something having a judicial decision pending comes up.
In that light, I really questioned the understanding of the Attorney General of the federation of the laws of Nigeria because by the Attorney General going ahead to write to the clerk of the Senate to say that there’s a judicial matter pending therefore it is subjudice. It shows abysmal lack of understanding of what our democracy is all about.
We expect that if there’s a challenge to the Senate, if there’s a challenge to the executive, the next person to go to is the Attorney General and now we have the Attorney General that doesn’t even understand the law. What do we do in this kind of circumstance I leave him to those who appointed him to tell us what to do
Finally, our very distinguished senator has given us a decided case by the Supreme Court in 2012; Jude Agbazor Vs the Imo House of Assembly where the Supreme Court held that no arm of government can take a decision to stop another arm of government from doing their work. It is clear, therefore I suggest and make this suggestion to my distinguished colleagues.
1.Ignore totally the Attorney General because he probably has not even seen this decision of the Supreme Court.
2. By the fact that the comptroller General of customs was properly summoned before this Assembly and he has deliberately refused to come. We must declare him unfit for public office and we send a signal to them so that no other person will wake up tomorrow and if there’s any pending case he will run and command somebody to sue him and turn around and tell us I am sued and therefore I will not come.
Senator Abiodun Olujimi: I will want to add that this is a serious breach of the constitution and this government has been talking about impunity, this is gross impunity and there’s no other way to describe what is on ground between the main issue of an obnoxious policy that went against every game of justice and fair play in the society on one hand. The fact that there’s an arrogant display of ignorance by the CG of customs who believes he is bigger than the law and does not have any reason to abide by the law and AG that was quoted earlier who does not know anything about the law for which he is a guardian.
We need to let the executive know that between this two people who are quite unfit for the positions they are occupying, there has to be a determination because this is not the first time the AG will meddle in affairs that are not his and will also meddle in the affairs of this chamber. There is separation of powers and he has refused to understand it forgetting that he’s a mere nominee, an appointee of the government and we are elected members representing our various constituencies.
The executive is sitting pretty pretending that nothing is happening. I am here to tell them that the cane that was used to whip the senior is waiting for the junior one. When they are done these human beings that are not doing well in government and people are sitting down and taking the position of “sit down look” and not cautioning them to respect the rule of law and tow the line they will finish with the other institutions and come back to the executive.
“The President on the 29th of May, 2015, promised to obey the rule of law. It is up to the President to determine if he wants to sack Ali today or continue to allow him act. He has to choose between the rule of law and Ali. Enough is enough!
Closing the Senate that led to the damning decision, presiding officer, Ekweremadu said:
Distinguished colleagues I will like to thank all of you for your maturity and for your desire determination to protect this particular institution. We all pass through this place and this place will remain. It is important that the integrity of this institution be maintained, just as we also we are in the position and must as well maintain the integrity of other institution of government.
Distinguished colleagues, recall that this was just a simple request by the Senate that a policy that is putting more hardship on our people should be reconsidered. A policy that sounds to be retrospective and we say please reconsider this request and what we got was that it was irreversible upon which we invited the CG of customs to come and have a conversation with us and to properly dress up while coming here.
I don’t see any big deal in somebody dressing up in uniform of the organisation he heads. No problem about that. People should be proud to do that and we expect him to lead by example because if he comes here properly dressed, the other officers and men will also follow the same example. We don’t want a situation where we would be telling people by our conduct that you are free to go to the customs duty wearing agbada. I think that is not a good example that we should encourage.
We as public officers and people in authority must lead by example. It is the conduct you portray that those who are following us will be able to adopt. So, that for us is unacceptable and I think we have condemned it sufficiently.
And of course for the Attorney General, it is important that a message be sent to him that we are a different arm of government and that we obey the law in accordance with our constitution. We have our responsibility here to make laws. God forbid a day where we stopped considering the budget because somebody has gone to court to challenge any aspect of the budget or we stopped considering of ministers because somebody somewhere is questioning in court the qualifications of a particular ministerial nominee. So that is why it is important that this matter be settled and the president needs to caution his appointees in making sure that we obey the law, we obey the constitution, we act in harmony. There is nothing like they versus us; we are the same government, we are the same people serving the same people.