From: FRED ITUA, Abuja
The ongoing war of words between the Senate and the Controller-General (CG) of Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), Col. Hameed Ali, took a new twist, on Tuesday.
The fresh trouble started when the Senate President Bukola Saraki, told his colleagues that there was a letter from the CG of NCS, Hameed Ali.
Against tradition, Saraki declined to read the letter. Instead, he instructed the Clerk to the Senate, Mr. Nelson Ayewoh, to read the letter.
Embattled Col. Ali, through one Abdulkadir Azarema, an Assistant CG of NCS, told lawmakers that Wednesday, March 15, coincides with his monthly meeting and he would therefore not be available.
Col. Ali, instead, urged the Senate to pick a new date during which he would appear. Ali was silent on whether or not he will wear the Service uniforms when he eventually appears.
Ali, in the letter read by the Senate Clerk, noted: “I directed to inform you (the Senate) that the date given to the Comptroller General of the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), Wednesday 15th, March, 2017 to brief the Senate in plenary on the retrospective duty payment of vehicles in Nigeria has coincided with the fortnight meeting of the NCS management.
“Consequently, the Comptroller General is humbly requesting for a new date from the Senate. As we await your favourable response, please be assured of the highest regards and esteem of the Comptroller General of Customs.”
The content of the letter infuriated lawmakers who murmured, while the Clerk to the Senate was still speaking.
Senate Leader, Senator Ahmad Lawan was the first to speak. In his submission, Lawan said he felt slighted and expressed his displeasure.
He said: “First, the excuse for not appearing tomorrow (today) is because it coincided with a routine forthnightly meeting of the management of the Nigerian Customs Service. My opinion is that, it does not take precedence over the invitation by the Senate.
“Secondly, the letter was signed by someone else and not the CG. My opinion is that, a letter coming to the Senate from the Customs, especially an invitation, ought to have been written by the CG himself.
“He should have taken personal interest to write that letter. It would have given my judgment some sense of respect for the institution.”
He, however, shocked his colleagues when he made a sudden U-turn and begged lawmakers to adopt a new date. Angry lawmakers who were displeased, shouted, while Lawan spoke.
He stated: “However, let me add that this Senate, if possible, oblige the request for the extension to show that we are different. Let us take him (Ali) on Thursday if he is saying he cannot be available tomorrow (today).
“Two wrongs would not make a right. I know we feel hurt, but whether it is a live coverage or not, Nigerians have an interest in this and Nigerians will like to listen to the responses and explanations from the CG of customs.”
Senator James Manager disagreed sharply with the Senate Leader. He said the Senate should not accept the position canvassed by the Senate Leader. He urged his colleagues to remain firm and insist on Ali’s appearance, Wednesday.
He countered: “The integrity of this Senate is being tested. I have been here since 2003 and so many powerful and great men have passed through this particular chamber and therefore, when letters like this are coming from executive bodies, Senate must take a very firm stand.
“I disagree with my leader, Senator Ahmed Lawan. If the CG of NCS had written a letter signed by him and then going further, if he had established personal contact with the President of the Senate through the chairman of the Senate committee on Customs, then that will have been understandable.
“But, the man has somebody else to sign this letter to the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. This is very significant. This is an arm of government and this is the highest law making body in this country and somebody like CG writing a letter and signed by somebody else?
“Certainly, this is not a matter of two wrongs not making a right. The CG of NCS must appear tomorrow (today). I think this is an insult of the highest order. I think I met a very powerful Senate in 2003 and the Senate remains the same till today and by the grace of God, when I am leaving, here I want to leave behind a very powerful Senate.
“The CG must appear in uniform tomorrow (today) and anything short of that certainly is not acceptable to me and I want to believe is not acceptable to all the Senators. What is not acceptable to all the Senators is not acceptable to all Nigerians.”
Senate President Saraki concurred. In his remarks, Saraki said the Senate Leader spoke based on his position, but added that his suggestion was not binding on other members.
He said the position of the Senate was clear and insisted that the Customs boss must appear in Service uniform on Wednesday.
Saraki noted: “The Leader spoke as the way leaders are meant to speak in trying to see how best to move forward, but again, we are all guided by the general view and opinion and integrity of this institution. I think it is clear and it is a collective position as spoken by Senator James Manager.
“I do not think there is need for us to prolong this issue and the position of the Senate is clear. The CG should appear tomorrow (today) as directed in uniform and in line with the earlier resolution. We are waiting to see him here tomorrow morning (today) by 10:30am.
Last week, the Senate issued directive to the CG of NCSthat it should not go ahead with the implementation of collection of duties on old and new vehicles in the country.
Ali, twenty four hours after the Senate passed the resolution, said the Service will go ahead with the implementation of duties on old vehicles and new vehicles. He said the Customs would provide adequate information to explain the objective to the National Assembly.
Speaking through the Service’s head of media relations, Attah, Ali said: “Senators are respected representatives of the people. When we visit them, we shall discuss and I’m confident that with the gains in this action, they’ll see reasons.”
Ali in an interview last week, blatantly told the Senate that it should be more concerned about his performance and not his uniform.
“No, I was not appointed the Comptroller General to wear uniform,” stressed Mr. Ali. “Does the uniform work or the person behind the uniform? Am I doing my job or not? I think that’s what should interest the National Assembly.”
“If we suspect that smuggled items are brought into your own house, we have the rights to condone that house, and go in and search,” Ali had noted in the interview.
The NCS, had in a statement issued a fortnight ago on its behalf by the acting spokesman, Mr Joseph Attah, urged car owners, who were yet to pay Customs duty to do so between. Car owners are expected to comply between March 13 and April 12, 2017.