THE issue of whether the Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Col Hammed Ali should wear the uniform of the organisation he is heading has sharply divided the country. While some Nigerians feel that the Senate is being unduly difficult on the matter, there are some who feel the CG is equally arrogant by insisting he would not wear the uniform. I must confess I am among the later group. While not seeing it as arrogance, I want to describe Ali’s attitude as ignorance of what is proper and suitable.
The argument of those in support of the CG ‘s stand is that it if he had not been found wanting in the discharge of his duties and has been able to increase the revenue of the Customs exponentially, between the months of January to June 2016, the NCS made N385.7billion compared to N438.2 billion generated within the same period last year, also in the month of August, 2016, the Service made N95b which was the highest in the last 10 years, he should be left alone, uniform or no uniform.
To those in his support, he has been getting results and has been able to curtail corrupt practices which helped to increase revenue, and that is what matters.
Those with opposing view sees it differently. Their argument is that it is his job to tackle corruption and in the process increase revenue. So he is not doing anything new. It is what any focused individual would also do. They went further to say that he was brought in for that purpose, adding that as the leader of the organisation, he should also lead by example-He should diligently discharge his duty, encourage his men and promote the discipline and tradition of the organisation.
In the midst of the controversy generated by the uniform saga, another revelation came to the fore. Senator Dino Melaye, the outspoken senator from Kogi who has spoken vehemently against Ali’s refusal to wear the uniform and one of those who took on the acting Chairman of the Economics and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu during the failed confirmation exercise, was accused of parading a fake result from the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU). He was accused of not completing his degree contrary to his claims. The second of the scandal was that the Senate president, Senator Bukola Saraki has an axe to grind with the NCS because he had imported a bullet-proof jeep without paying the appropriate duty.
The vehicle was seized in January. All these, it was argued made the senate to want to go out of its way to humiliate the Custom’s boss. As much as I am averse to presentation of fake results, if found to be true and short-changing the system, I have issues with the timing of the two incidents. Why is it that
nobody knew about all these before the Senate-Ali uniform saga broke? Why was it that Nigerians were not aware of these two incidents and it only came to the fore because the senate took on two major institutions-EFCC and NCS. Is it now a case of, “If you Tarka me, I will Daboh you”, reminiscent of the quarrel between late Benue politician, Joseph Tarka and his kinsman, Godwin A. Daboh?
In all these, I think Nigerians should not be distracted about the substantive issue. The CG was called by the Senate to appear to defend his directive that Nigerians would be stopped on the road by operatives of Customs to ascertain whether they paid the complete duty on their vehicle. They stand the risk of such vehicle being impounded. The directive caused consternation in the populace as no car was exempted, whether bought from a dealer or it was a direct importation. It was a recipe for disaster and Nigerians saw it for that. There was protestation on the social media by Nigerians against the directive with many saying it lacks originality and smacks of the obnoxious military decree Nigerians felt was long gone and would not want to remember, especially with the berth of democracy in the country. It was based on the outcry that the Senate waded into the matter and ordered its suspension while calling on the CG to appear in order to defend his action. So those who want to link the seizure of the Senate president’s vehicle to the present situation are only being mischievous. The Senate only responded to public outcry and Nigerians were not aware that the Senate president even had issues with the Customs when the entire problem started. The CG was in mufti when he appeared before the Senate, saying that the directive did not state that he should appear in uniform. The Senate, of course described his dressing as improper.
“We have invited CGs of Customs here before; we have invited Army officers here before – the service chiefs, including 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, ”the deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu who presided over the session said. Ali responded that he had not flouted any law in 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 has gone to court to challenge the Senate on the matter. While I am not trying to be prejudicial, I think the Custom’s boss is taking the matter a bit too far and he is laying a bad precedent which has started sprouting seeds. The question is, would his skin peel off if he wore the uniform? Would it diminish him? What about the tradition in the service that he presides over? How would the officers of NCS feel, is he not trying to say the uniform he had donned in the past and had removed due to retirement from the army is more superior to the Customs’? What sort of example is he laying? Senator Abiodun Olujinmi (Ekiti) described his action as an “arrogant display of ignorance”, one tends to agree with her.
By going to court, he has laid a precedent, albeit a bad one. Every other top government official can now go to court to challenge the highest law making organ in the country whenever they feel like it . And it is already happening.
The Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir Lawal who was also ordered to appear before the Senate to defend himself over allegations that funds meant for victims of Boko Haram crises in the NorthEast, was diverted has also gone to court to challenge his invitation. Likewise, the Managing Director of Lawal’s company, Rholavision Engineering Company has also gone to court to challenge the Senate over his invitation. All thanks to Ali. While putting certain actions and directives to test by going to court as a way of strengthening democracy and knowing the limits of what is doable, we should also be careful not to set a bad precedent. Anyone can just wake up one morning to challenge any of the law making organs of the country on any action it takes, whether such action has merit or not.
This should not be allowed to continue. If Ali, who has enjoyed all the privileges associated with that office cannot wear the uniform, the honourable thing is for him to bow out as a mark of respect for all those hard working, career customs officer who are not ashamed to wear their uniform.
Also, from the foregoing, it’s obvious that there is a grand assignation to make the Senate a toothless bulldog, the objective of which is not clear now, but this does not bode well for that institution and our democracy.