Much ado about Ali’s uniform
By Chukwudi Enekwechi
In recent times, Nigerians have been inundated with the refusal of the Senate to grant audience to Mr Hameed Ali, the Comptroller General of Customs based on the excuse that he was not wearing the official uniform. Meanwhile, the crux of the matter was the decision of the customs department to charge duties for all vehicles without verifiable payment of duties, notwithstanding the method used in acquiring the car.
Since the invitation to the Customs helmsman by the Senate, the department had made some concessions, and even reviewed the policy in response to public opinion on the matter.
Having been magnanimous in heeding to the voice of the people, and substantially solving the problem that led to the Senate’s summons in the first place, it beats one’s imagination why the upper chamber will continue to insist that the Comptroller General appear before them in uniform.
Me thinks the most important thing is the ability of Col. Hameed Ali to reposition the Customs and Exercise department in a way that it serves all Nigerians more efficiently. Of what particular importance is wearing of uniform if the Comptroller General is discharging the responsibilities of his office?
So far he has intensified efforts aimed at restoring sanity to the Customs department, and this move appears to have ruffled some feathers. His refusal to auction some seized contraband goods, mostly expensive cars to allegedly some senators without due process is beginning to attract enmity and opposition to his reforms at the Customs. The decision of the Senate to insist on Col. Ali adorning the Custom uniform, rather than appreciating the good work he is doing amounts to chasing shadows.
With the revelations emanating from the activities of the agency under previous administrations, it is obvious that Col. Ali needed to clean the Aegean stable. And so far, he has given a good account of the high office he occupies, as corruption has been reduced to the barest minimum.
The Senate should save Nigerians the needless stress of raising issues that fall outside their jurisdiction, rather than focus on making useful laws that will translate into good governance for the generality of Nigerians.
Agreed that Colonel Hameed Ali leaves a Spartan life, yet this is commendable for it has helped in sanitising the agency. Before his appointment, corruption was on the upswing in the Customs department, and the recent report of refund of the sum of one billion naira by Alhaji Inde Diko further makes it imperative for the Senate to support him in the arduous task before him.
From the grapevine, it has been revealed that part of the reasons for the ceaseless haranguing of Colonel Ali is the fear of some senators that with his policy on vehicle duties that they may be compelled to pay heavy duties on some high-profile vehicles in their garages.
Time has come to stop the flagrant violation of our laws by some privileged individuals. Granted that we are in a democracy, but this cannot be a license for the Senate to usurp the duties of the executive by directing the Customs boss to do their bidding.
At a time when most oil-producing countries including Nigeria are experiencing a drastic drop in revenue generation, the Nigerian Customs should be encouraged and well positioned to fill the yawning gap. However with the ceaseless invitations, and politicisation of the Nigerian Customs, it is doubtful if they can be able to achieve their mandate.
From all indications, there is no law in the 1999 constitution as amended which expressly requires the Comptroller General of Customs to wear uniform, and as lawmakers they owe it as an obligation to allow Colonel Hameed Ali to use his discretion on the issue. There is no need to over flog the matter, as wearing of uniform by the Comptroller General does not enhance his primary responsibility of being a major revenue earner for the country.
It is also gratifying that Colonel Ali as a law abiding citizen has approached the court to seek relief against the Senate over the issue. The Senate must at this point sheathe their sword and give the court an opportunity to decide on the matter one way or another.
Perhaps the Senate ought to be reminded that the successful implementation of the 2017 budget which is still within the purview of the legislature will be hinged on how the Customs department is able to operate without hindrances and undue interference. Definitely the needless meddlesomeness of the Senate into the activities of the Customs will not augur well towards reaching the objectives.
While Colonel Hameed Ali is focused on injecting new blood into the Customs, it is expected that the Senate will act as partners in progress. By doing so the Senate would be seen to compliment the executive in its avowed commitment towards delivering the promised “change” to Nigerians and accelerating infrastructural development in the country.
Chukwudi Enekwechi, Journalist and Politician, writes from Abuja and can be reached via [email protected]