The Senate, on Thursday, walked out the Comptroller-General of Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), Col. Hameed Ali, over his refusal to be properly kitted in his service uniforms.
The Customs boss came to the Senate Wing of the National Assembly at about 9.30, long before lawmakers came to the chamber for the day’s legislative business.
He was however ushered into the chamber by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang at about 12.05 noon.
Deputy Senate Leader, Senator Bala Na’Allah, kick started the move against Customs boss, when he told him that he could not be accommodated, following his refusal to wear his Service uniforms.
His position was put in a proper perspective by Senator George Sekibo, who moved a motion that Ali be walked out for failing to follow the Senate’s order.
His motion was supported by Senator Barnabas Gemade. The Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu who presided over the day’s legislative business, thereafter, lampooned Ali.
He was pointedly told that he should return next Wednesday in proper service uniforms or face proper sanctions.
The Customs boss, had failed on two occasions, to honour previous invitations from the Senate. He was invited, following the tension which greeted the Service’s planned policy on import duties on old and new vehicles.
On Wednesday, the Senate was pushed to evoke its powers, contained in section 89 of the 1999 Constitution as amended, to compel Col. Ali to appear before it.
On Tuesday, Ali wrote a letter to the Senate and informed it of his inability to honour their invitation. Infuriated by the tone of the letter, the Senate threatened to order his arrest, which eventually prompted him to appear today.
Trouble started on Wednesday, March 8th, Senator Dino Melaye also told the Senate that the Customs CG vowed to go ahead with the policy.
The motion by Melaye, compelled the Senate to reinforce its earlier resolution that Col. Ali should appear before it in plenary and in appropriate Service uniform on March 15th.
The Customs CG who failed to appear on March 15th claimed that he was bereaved.
Following the Senate’s resolution, Ali appeared on Thursday, but was left waiting in the office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang, for about two and half hours.
At exactly 12.05pm, Ali was ushered into the chamber by Enang, following a motion, moved by the Senate leader, Senator Ahmed Lawan.
Ekweremadu, had reminded Ali why he was invited. He went ahead to ask him why he did not wear his appropriate Service uniform, in line with the directive of the Senate.
The Customs boss acknowledged receipt of the first summon, which required him to appear in Customs uniform, but claimed that the second summon was silent on whether or not he should appear in uniform.
Ekweremadu informed him that the second invitation was a reminder that he must appear before the Senate.
Ali responded that on the issue of whether to wear uniform or not, he was seeking legal opinion and pleaded with the Senate to also seek legal advice so that they could operate on the same level.
Ekweremadu thereafter, threw the matter to the floor for comments.
Deputy Senate Leader, Senator Bala Na’Allah, who was the first to speak, reminded the Customs boss that he raised the motion over the policy on retrospective payment of duty on old vehicles.
He said: “I crave your indulgence to try and put a recital with what I can best refer to as unnecessary controversy. You will recall that I raised a motion on the floor of the senate based on a circular issued or allegedly issued by the Comptroller General.
“The requirement was simple you issued a circular in which we have a lot of calls from our constituents entertaining anxiety as to what will happen to them and what we wanted clearly was in terms and in keeping with the terms and tradition of our democratic governance.
“We require that you come before the committee of the Senate to say this is how the circular is and this is how we intended to implement it. This would have given us the opportunity to allay the fears of our constituents.
“Unfortunately, it was alleged that in reaction to that resolution, you allegedly made certain comments that appeared 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 in your capacity as the Comptroller General and at all material time you have answered and acted the office of the CG.
“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 given by law to police officers…” I want you to read the recital.
“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 have 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 Solomon Adeola, elaborated more on the issue. Adeola said: “To start with, this senate the highest lawmaking body of the Federal Republic of Nigeria issued a resolution and the content of the resolution is crystal clear and which states that the Comptroller General of Customs appear before it in uniform. The resolution still stands and what is happening here today is contrary to the resolution passed by the 109 senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“I believe it is only right and proper for the CG of customs to comply with that resolution and as you can see here this afternoon every other person that have followed the CG of customs into this chamber are fully dressed in their attire as member of the NCS and I want to say this anybody can dress in mufti and call himself CG.
“The Comptroller General is a rank and if the rank is not here I don’t know who is before us, and yes they have identified the CG but the question still remains that the CG still needs to appear before us in full comptroller general of customs uniform. His car carry a signal of the rank of Comptroller General, the official aircraft of the customs carry an insignia of the NCS and I believe we should just stick by the resolution of the senate and asks the CG to comply with that resolution.”
Senator Jibrin Barau, in his contribution, noted that having heard what Na’Allah said, the Customs boss should go back and comply before he would be allowed to address the Senate.
Senator Magnus Abe, reminded Ali that he is the image maker of the NCS and should work to build the image of the Service he superintends.
Abe added that even if there was no law that compels the CG to wear the uniform he should wear the attire for the sake of the NCS and the Senate.
The position of Abe did not go down well with some of his colleagues, but the Rivers South East lawmaker persisted on the grounds that he has the right to speak his mind.
Abe noted that rather than consult his lawyers, Ali should seek advice from his public relations managers.
He insisted that Ali should work to build good will for the NCS describing the unfolding controversy as completely unnecessary and uncalled for.
“In the interest of the NCS and Nigeria the CG should go back and do the needful,” Abe said.
Senator Thompson Sekibo, also from Rivers State, said that the business of governance should always be based on the rule of law.
He moved that Ali should be given another date, Wednesday next week to comply with the Senate resolution by wearing appropriate uniform before he could be allowed to address the Senate.
Senator Barnabas Gemade seconded the motion.
Before Ekweremadu put the question to vote, he said: “Distinguished colleagues, we have heard every body and the CG. I’m going to put the question but let me just do a further explanation to the CG of Customs. Mr. CG, if you look at Section 2 of the Customs Act, it defines the officer and that definition is so comprehensive to include the Comptroller-General of Customs.
“I believe there are certain things the officers take for granted, which includes wearing uniforms. So, if that is what they should take for granted, I believe as the number one Customs officer, you should lead by example. Because if you create the impression that you should not wear uniform, then every other officer can also say there is no law telling them to wear uniform.
“So, we as leaders we must lead by example and example is the best teacher. So, I think we need to encourage those we supervise to obey the law, by ourselves obeying the law.
“Let me also further explain to you that while we still need to meet with you regarding the policy is that you simply suspended it. The suspension means that it can still come into force. We will like to have a conversation with you on the propriety or otherwise of that policy.
“So, you have an opportunity to explain to Nigerians through their elected representatives the propriety or otherwise of that. And then you will hear a feedback of Nigerians, also through their representatives. If Nigerians say we don’t like this, of course we are not going to force any policy on them. I think that’s why it is necessary that even after the suspension, we still need to have that conversation with you.
“We must ensure that we lead by example. The Senate, as you can see, is of the view that you need to come back in the proper uniform.”
The adoption of the motion that the Customs CG should go back and appear next Wednesday in proper uniform was unanimously carried.
Ekweremadu amplified the resolution, saying: “The Senate observed that the Comptroller-General was not properly dressed. The Senate therefore insists to see the Comptroller-General of Customs in uniform on Wednesday, 22 of March at 10am prompt.”
As the Customs CG walked out of the Senate chamber, he appeared to be unrepentant. He left at about 12.40pm.
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