The Senate, on Thursday, refused to grant the Comptroller General, Nigeria Customs Service, Col. Hameed Ali (retd.), audience, describing the dressing of the NCS boss as “improper.”
The lawmakers asked Ali to reappear on Wednesday next week in the uniform of the NCS.
The Senate had said the retired colonel must appear before it in NCS uniform, depicting his rank as the DG.
While Ali was waiting to be called into the chamber in the office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang, the lawmakers held an executive session, which started at about 10.45am and lasted for about 25 minutes.
When Ali, who came for the session in white babaringa,
was invited into the chamber by the Committee of the Whole, he was challenged for appearing before the lawmakers in mufti.
The Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over the plenary, asked Ali why he failed to appear in uniform as requested.
In his response, the Customs boss said in the last letter from the Senate to him, the lawmakers did not state that he should appear in uniform.
“What I am saying, Mr.President, is that this letter did not connote that I should wear uniform. It is in obedience to this letter that I am here,” he said.
Ekweremadu, however, said the last letter only served as a reminder to the first letter to Ali, in which the Senate asked him to appear before the lawmakers in NCS uniform.
He said, “We have listened to you but as you read in the letter, it said ‘further to the earlier letter’ and the first indicated that you should appear in uniform. This (second letter) is more like a reminder. And more importantly, this is an official invitation.
“We have invited CGs of Customs here before; we have invited Army officers here before – the service chiefs, included the Inspector General of Police – and they have all been here in their appropriate uniforms. If you have any reason why you should not be in uniform, you should oblige us.”
Ali, however, stated that he had not flouted any known law of the Customs by not appearing in uniform.
“My not wearing uniform has not gone contrary to the Act of the Customs. There is no law, to my knowledge, that compels me to wear the uniform. As such, I have no rule before me that says during my service, I have to wear uniform,” he said.
The Deputy Majority Leader, Senator Bala Na’Allah, recalled that he moved the motion that led to the invitation of the Customs boss, noting that it was necessitated by the public outcry that followed the directive of the NCS that Nigerians should pay duties on old vehicles already in the country.
He said, “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 (with) 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 in the office of the CG.”
Also, Senator Olamilekan Adeola accused the Customs CG of flouting the resolution of the Senate, being the highest lawmaking body in the country.
He said, “The Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria issued out a resolution and the content of the resolution is crystal clear, which states that the Comptroller General of Customs appear before us in his uniform. The resolution still stands. But what is happening here today is contrary to the resolution passed by the 109 senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“Anybody can dress in mufti and call himself the CG. The Comptroller General is a rank and if the rank is not here, I don’t know who is before us. Yes, they have identified the CG but the question still remains that he still needs to appear before us in full uniform as the Comptroller General of Customs.”
Senator Jibrin Barau also said the lawmakers should not allow Ali to speak before the Senate until he appeared in uniform.
Senator Ali Wakili however criticised the Customs boss as grandstanding against the resolution of the Senate.
He said, “I regret his grandstanding. I saw him on TVC
when he was grandstanding, that he was not going to wear the uniform. None of us has ever doubted his integrity and his performance. The only nitty-gritty is that we are the real representatives of the people. When the issue of this circular and the border came up, and we came up with a resolution, and the Customs bragged and even went to the public; those are some of the issues.”
The Senate, after the debate, resolved that the Customs CG be asked to return to the Senate on Wednesday next week in the NCS uniform.
Meanwhile, some eminent Nigerians have expressed support for the Senate for turning back Ali for his refusal to appear before the lawmakers in the Customs uniform.
The Vice-President, Nigerian Bar Association, Monday Ubani, said although no law compelled the Customs CG to appear before the Senate in uniform, Ali must demonstrate discipline and respect for national institutions by wearing uniform.
Ubani said this on Thursday, just as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Yusuf Ali, added that if Ali would not wear the uniform of the agency he headed, the Presidency should reconsider his appointment.
Ubani said, “There are people who have retired in the military and later appointed to head sister agencies, and they still wore that agency’s uniform. Someone like that was retired General Hananiyyah, who was appointed as the FRSC boss and he still wore the FRSC uniform.
“The Senate is being insulted by Ali’s supposed indiscipline. This is democracy and the Senate, as the institution representing the people, deserves some level of obedience. The way forward is for Ali to behave himself and respect himself.
“Ali is saying he wants to get legal advice, but why didn’t he seek the advice when taking up the appointment? Why is it now that he knows that he, as a head of a uniformed agency, has to appear before the Senate in uniform that he is seeking legal advice?
“There is no known law that Ali has flouted, but wearing uniform simply shows discipline, identification and respect for the agency one is heading.”
Also Ali, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, said, “If Ali has been appointed to head an agency that wears uniform , and he says it is not his tradition to wear such, decency and discipline demand him to simply reject the appointment, rather than become the subject of controversy.
“If he insists on his refusal, what precedent is he setting for Customs officials? To me, it is more than the issue of law, it is about national ethos and discipline.
“The way forward is for the President, who appointed him, to take the decision. He is an appointee of the President, and the President should decide what is best for him since he is not comfortable to wear the Customs uniform.
“We were not consulted when he was appointed. Those who have the power to hire reserve the power to fire.”
The SAN added, “I have never heard that the head of the Customs wears anything apart from the service uniform. It will look mischievous if the head of the Customs wears caftan to review a parade. If someone knows he cannot conform to tradition of an institution, then he should leave. It is like a lawyer, who says he doesn’t want to wear wig and gown to the high court. Is that possible? You don’t expect a lawyer to go to court with babaringa.
“I think there is a law in Customs Act that stipulates that uniform should be worn. Why would someone say because ‘I am a Colonel, I don’t want to wear uniform (of Customs)’.
In his reaction, a Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Jiti Ogunye, said the senators were being unreasonable for their insistence that Ali must appear before the Senate dressed in the uniform of the NCS when they knew all along that he was a retired military officer and not a commissioned customs officer.
“The Comptroller General was appointed by the President and cleared by the Senate. The Senate knew while he was being cleared that he was and he is still a retired military officer. Everyone in the country knew he was not a commissioned customs officer. What is the rationale or the reasonableness of the insistence that he should be dressed in Customs uniform before appearing before them?
“Not being a commissioned Customs officer, can he even wear the Customs uniform? Apart from the absence of any law that compels him (Ali) to wear the Customs uniform, I am underscoring the unreasonableness of the insistence of the Senate on his wearing the customs uniform,” Ogunye said.