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The Senate vs Hameed Ali: Who is right?

THERE is obviously a power tussle between the Nigerian Senate (the Red Upper Chamber of the National Assembly) and the Nigerian Customs Services, NCS. This tussle has become quite interesting by the day because of the claims of legitimacy each holds “on behalf of the people of Nigeria”.

For example, the Senate claims to be defending Nigerians against the “economic harassment” the NCS wants to subject them (Nigerians) to. Why would the NCS, having released vehicles to importers from the ports (either sea or land) come back to impound them from their owners for re-evaluation and re-assessment of import duty many years after?

The Senate holds a very strong view that if there were to be short-payment of duty in the first place, it is an indictment of the NCS personnel in defrauding the government of accurate and actual revenue. The innocent vehicle owner who got his/her vehicle by employing the services of “Customs Licensed Agents” should not be made the culprit.

But the NCS argues in a judgemental verdict, that the “importer of such vehicles in question, colluded and connived with some bad eggs in its services to deny the Nigerian Government its accurate and rightful revenue” and as such, the long hand of the law must catch up with the defrauder anywhere, any day. It does not matter the number of years it took, the importer of the vehicle must be made to cough out the total amount that ought to have been paid initially.

The agony of this stand is that the NCS pursues only the importer and vehicle owner without bringing its own dubious officers who connive with the licensed agents to book.

These are the issues at play between the Nigerian Customs Services and the Nigerian Senate, though the matter has escalated to include the mode of dress which is proper for the Comptroller General of the NCS as he appears before the Senate.

Another dimension of this issue is   whether the Senate has the powers to question the Comptroller General over implementation/execution of policy regulations in the Service.

These two identified “escalations”, which seems to be stealing the shine out of the main issue that has to do with protection of the Nigerian citizenry, need to be dealt with quickly.

I will like to elucidate the proper and legal way import duties of vehicles are supposed to be collected by the NCS from importers.   Let the fact be made clear that the Nigerian Customs Services is an enforcement agency. It is not a policymaking organisation and it is not created by law, since its inception in 1891, to make policies but to implement or enforce laws created by policy. The body empowered by law to create policies for the implementation or enforcement of the NCS is the “Board of Customs”, which came into existence on June 1, 1972.

And for now, the NCS has no Board; as such, whatever policy being implemented or enforced by the Service, in the absence of a Board, would remain null and void because neither the Comptroller General nor the NCS itself can create/make policy. The Service cannot enforce what was never created. As such, pursuance of importers of vehicles on the high ways or within the cities, for the purpose of re-evaluation and re-assessment of additional import duties is nothing but illegality. It is outside the power of the Comptroller General to make policies for the Services to enforce – that responsibility remains entirely with the Board that is not in existence, at least, for now.

I think the Senate has the legal responsibility in asking retired Colonel Hameed Ali to wear uniform when appearing before it, ditto any public functionary; he must appear as Comptroller General of the NCS. The first Comptroller General of the Nigerian Customs Services (going by the title of Director General then) was TA Wall. He was appointed in 1891 and he came with uniform with the badge of the rank on his shoulder. The Inspector General of the Police wears uniform with his rank; ditto all the other para-military organisations like the Immigration, Prisons, Federal Road Safety Corps and Nigerian Civil Defence & Security Corps.

If Hameed Ali is not willing to wear the uniform, it means  there is something wrong with him. It isn’t  because he is a retired Army officer. His superior in the Army; the respected retired Major General Haladu Hananiya, was appointed Director General of the Federal Road Safety Corps by President Ibrahim Babangida. He happily wore the uniform all through his tenure.

If Colonel Ali refuses to wear the uniform henceforth, then President Muhammadu Buhari should relieve him of the post with immediate effect. Otherwise, this man will embarrass Nigeria at the international community  in  an “agbada” when Heads of Customs from all over the world meet at forums such as the World Customs Council in Geneva, Switzerland.

He must enjoy wearing the uniform just as he enjoys both the salary, the allowances and all the fringe benefits attached to the office of the Comptroller General of the NCS.

Godwin Etakibuebu, a veteran  journalist, wrote from Lagos.


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