By Douglas Anele
President Buhari, as usual, sided with his appointee. He claimed that the Senate contravened the principle of rule of law and fair hearing in its investigations by not inviting the SGF and Rholavision to hear their own side of the story. In addition, the Senate’s decision was based on an interim report which, according to the President, is improper. In his opinion, considering the seriousness of the allegations against Lawal, Senator Shehu Sani and his colleagues should have waited for the final report before reaching a definitive conclusion.
Now, while defending his committee’s report in a plenary session of the Senate, Senator Sani accused President Buhari of fighting corruption in other arms of government with insecticide whereas he uses air freshener or deodorant to fight it in the executive. He then brandished a letter of invitation asking Lawal to appear before his committee which the SGF ignored. In spite of the SGF’s intransigence, the Senate still deferred to the President: Lawal was invited again to answer the allegations against him. But this time around, he informed senators that he had gone to court to challenge the invitation. Shortly afterwards, after realising the futility of his refusal to honour Senate’sinvitation, he transmitted a letter stating that he would comply and that he needed more time.
Considering all this, it is very tempting to conclude that the SGF, Babachir Lawal, is taking the Senate for a ride. Clearly, unless there is an extant law which expressly prohibits indictment of public officials on the basis of interim report by the National Assembly, President Buhari’s argument does not hold water. Remember, Buhari and his subalterns claim repeatedly that this administration has sub-zero tolerance for corruption. Rholavision Engineering Limited, the company whose account Babachir Lawal is a signatory to, is an IT firm which was awarded a contract of N200 million to clear invasive plant in the IDP camp in Yobe.
How can a government that claims to be fighting corruption award a multi-million naira grass cutting contract to an IT firm? Can that happen if a top Buhari loyalist was not involved one way or another? Moreover, if the SGF had absolutely nothing to do with the bizarre contract, why was he unwilling to meet the senators and prove Sani and members of his committee wrong? And even if the investigation by the committee was a ploy to denigrate him, is honouring the committee’s summons not the best way to rebut the allegations and clear his name? Something tells me that there is more to the matter than the SGF is willing to admit. Going by the intent and contents of sections 88 and 89 of the 1999 constitution, Babachir Lawal has no option than to appear before the senate. As I suggested in the case of Magu, Lawal must have been misled by his closeness to President Buhari to treat senators with condescension. But closeness to Buhari cannot override the investigative powers of the National Assembly as embodied in the two sections cited above.
We now come to the case of retired Col. Hameed Ali, Comptroller-General of Nigeria Customs Service (CGNCS). Right from the very beginning, Ali’s appointment to that post is one of the appalling instances of President Buhari’serrors of judgment in placing ethnicity and loyalty to himself above merit and demonstrable competence. The job of a Comptroller-General requires technical knowledge and skill that must be acquired through experience in Nigeria Customs Service (NCS). Hameed Ali had no cognate experience in customs; yet, the President appointed him over and above Deputy Comptroller-Generals that had the requisite technical knowledge and experience.
Again, reports and comments in the media indicate that Ali has been engaging in “ethnic cleansing” of NCS by filling the top echelons of customs with northerners to the detriment of their southern compatriots. The final straws that broke Ali’s back were the proposed retroactive payment of customs duties on vehicles imported into the country several years ago and his refusal to appear before the Senate in the uniform of Comptroller-General to explain the rationale for that obnoxious proposal.
Ali, just like Magu and Lawal, seems not to fully understand that the legislature is the fulcrum of our democracy. Considering the powers of the National Assembly and provisions of the Customs Service Act, the Senate was right in summoning Ali to appear before it and in uniform as the Comptroller-General, never mind the invalid arguments of Prof. Sagay, Abubakar Malami(Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice) and other buharimaniacs who deliberately treat the National Assembly as if it were inferior to the executive. One does not have to be a lawyer to fully appreciate the wide-ranging powers that sections 88 and 89 of the 1999 constitution vested on federal legislators.
Besides, as in the other two cases we have discussed, why is the Comptroller-General unwilling to meet senators appropriately attired to defend a proposal that would have serious negative impact on Nigerians? What is wrong in Hameed Ali dressing in a manner that best symbolises the authority of his office? Some buharimaniacs criticise senators unfairly by accusing them of focusing on uniform instead of dealing with more pressing issues that would enhance the operational efficiency of Nigeria Customs Service. Of course, the proposed retroactive payment of import duties is serious; its unequivocal rejection by the Senate is a step in the right direction. On the matter of Ali wearing the appropriate uniform, the legislators are right also, the hair-splitting legal arguments of buharimaniacs notwithstanding.
A uniform, which is actually an institutionally approved formal mode of dressing specifically meant to differentiate a group of human beings engaged in a certain job or profession, is important. Lawyers, members of the armed forces, nurses, the clergy, and so on generally understand the prestige, respect and symbolic value of their uniforms. Indeed, the psychological advantages that uniforms confer on doctors wearing white coats, police officers, soldiers, pilots etc. are not quantifiable. All over the world people respect uniformed police officers, soldiers and members of paramilitary organisations because they know that the uniform carries weight and authority and makes them more confident to carry out their duties effectively. Even, the career choices of a significant number of people are heavily influenced by considerations relating to uniforms. Those downplaying the importance of uniform seem oblivious of this fact.
While defending the Comptroller-General for refusing to wear the uniform appropriate for his office, some commentators gleefully referred to the aphorism that “the hood does not make the monk,” without noticing that that aphorism merely affirms that sometimes the monk does not deserve the hood in the first place. In other words, the aphorism does not say that the hood is not important for the monk; it merely acknowledges the fact that sometimes the monk does not meet the standard expected from someone wearing the hood. One can as well argue that, because some soldiers or police officers abuse their powers therefore uniforms are not necessary for the police and the military. If allegations of ethnic bias against Hameed Ali are correct, then his arrogant disposition towards senators is an added incentive for the hard-line posture against him by the lawmakers.
The situation was aggravated by the meddlesomeness of Abubakar Malami. Meanwhile, since Buhari became President, Prof. Sagay has been reacting to national issues as if he is the unofficial attack dog of this government, as if he and other ardent buharimaniacs are the only morally upright Nigerians whereas critics of Buhari are morally depraved simply because they do not support the President sheepishly, forgetting that there is no human being without blemish. On any matter connected to Buhari no matter how remotely, Sagay responds impulsively without serious reflection; he seems to lack the degree of disinterestedness, intellectual depth and circumspection expected of a seasoned Professor of law and a septuagenarian. His castigation of the Senate as an institution “filled with people of questionable character who put personal interest ahead nation” and his characterisation of the Senate’s tough stance on Magu as “childish and irresponsible” is, to put it mildly, reckless and totally uncalled for.
I have said it earlier that Sagay seems to be carried away by the relatively obscure position given to him by Buhari – his utterances since that appointment are unbecoming of a genuine intellectual. Because of his uncouth remarks against senators, he has been asked to appear before it to substantiate his claims. His response to the summons is typical of a man intoxicated by status and power: he declared the invitation illegal based on the combined reading of sections 82 to 89 of the constitution. But as chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, he owes his appointment to President Buhari,and the National Assembly has oversight powers on Buhari and his appointees. Therefore, he is not completely shielded from the radar of the National Assembly.
To be continued…