By Mohammed Adamn
THIS unending controversy about whether retired Army Colonel Hameed Ali, Customs’ non-career Comptroller General, wears the Service’s uniform or not, is symptomatic of the unending schism –in a democracy- between law and impunity or between strict lawmaking and stark arbitrariness. Ironically those who are pro-Senate in this needless debate insist it is a stubborn and recalcitrant Ali that is guilty of the ‘impunity’ or the ‘arbitrariness’ –even though the law is on his side- and not an arrogant and intransigent Senate that we know to be driven more by legislative ego than by law to demand that he must wear uniform.
Nothing defines ‘impunity’ or ‘arbitrariness’ better than a law-making chamber –the Senate in this case- throwing all legislative decency to the wind and insisting rather extra-legally that a particular act or omission, must be performed or observed by an appointee of the President notwithstanding that such act or omission is neither unambiguously legislated for nor manifestly legislated against. And in fact one wonders, to command the performance of a desirable conduct or to prohibit the commission of an undesirable one, will it not be more desirable that a law-making body proceeds to legislate in order to expressly redress a legal situation, than to resort to extra-legally issuing legislative orders that may be legitimately disobeyed?
The primary essence of the legislative arm in a democracy –besides its secondary duty of oversight- is to make laws where there are none, to amend existing ones where there are defects and in extreme circumstances even to abrogate laws that have outlived their usefulness. Thus only laws duly made by parliament are to be obeyed unquestionably and not the emotive motions and self-serving resolutions of the legislature which have no force of law but are –like the opinions of courts of coordinate jurisdictions- merely persuasive. It is unbecoming of a legal sovereign whose every legislative conduct should edify rather than ossify public discourse, engaging in such muckraking legislative brinksmanship and brigandage in which blackmail and vengeance-seeking against a reputedly high-performing official of government are clearly at play?
Ironically, in all the debate thus far, no law has been cited obligating Ali to wear the Customs uniform because he has been appointed to head it, the reason being there is no such law either in the Act establishing the Customs or anywhere for that matter, which obligates a non-career head of Customs or any paramilitary organization for that matter, to wear the uniform of such bodies because they have been appointed to head them; nor is there any law preventing them also from wearing uniforms if they choose to. And so the question is asked: ‘is Ali as Comptroller-General of Customs, obligated by law or is he merely persuaded by operational tradition to wear the Customs uniform? I thought that where the law has not expressly commanded or prohibited a conduct, it should not matter -as China’s Deng Zio Ping would say- “whether the cat is black or white, as long as it catches the mouse”.
They say that when he headed the Federal Roads Safety Commission FRSC, Major General Haladu Hannaniya wore the Commission’s uniform. But they did not say whether Hannaniya did so in compliance with the Act establishing the Commission or merely in deference to a non-mandatory tradition. If the law is silent on whether or not non-career political appointees heading paramilitary bodies should wear uniform, why should any who chooses to wear uniform be deemed in compliance of that law or any who chooses not to, be adjudged in breach? By the way if the precedent of Hannaniya wearing FRSC uniform in deference to operational tradition, is the compelling yardstick for judging Ali’s obduracy in not wearing one, why should the precedent of Wole Soyinka, who pioneered the same FRSC but did not wear its uniform, not be even more compelling?
And by the way should we, because Hannaniya wore the FRSC uniform, then compel the Minister for Interior who heads mostly uniform-wearing paramilitary bodies to also wear uniform? Or should we compel the Minister for defense to wear the uniforms of the military forces he ministers to? Or maybe even expect the President who is the Commander In Chief (C-IN-C) of all the armed and the unarmed forces of the federation to create an equitable robe-roster by which to don the various uniforms of the different military and paramilitary forces under his command! And to be bonhomie ludicrous maybe we should ask, like some face-booker did ‘when are we sewing sports jerseys for the sports minister’. This is how ridiculous extra-legal matters sometimes can get especially when institutional ego gets in the way of administrative duties.
And the questions must be asked: ‘are we a law-governed society or we are merely a loud-mouth, probative and re-probative society who make a public show of respect for law only when it suits our convenience? Is a thing right or wrong because the laws enacted by the legislature say it is, or is a thing right or wrong because the whims and caprices of egotistic lawmakers insist it is? How come as a people we are still unable to make a clear choice strictly between the ‘due process of law’ and the self-grown rules of the jungle?
Singsong birds of so-called doctrine of ‘rule of law’ amaze me; often they have this nauseating ambivalent tendency, whenever it avails them to cite the ‘law’, brandishing it as the primum mobile of all debates, and whenever it avails them not, to resort to this uncanny –even if dubious- attitude of hiding behind non-binding principles like tradition and convention and which they are prepared to pass sometimes even as more sacred than the law in statute!
Ali has not been appointed as an aspiring professional to lead a career in Customs. Nor is his appointment necessarily an aberration considering the prerogative and discretionary powers of the president in a democracy to appoint political heads to man such bodies especially where no extant statutes expressly regulate; and particularly too in emergency situations or in circumstances requiring emergency action to cure a festering mischief. Ali is more like a sole administrator appointed in response to the exigencies of a reformative regime that is determined to restore sanity in one of the nation’s ailing revenue cash cows –Customs- which hitherto had been the object of institutional and extra-institutional rape and pillaged both by its so called ‘career managers’ and by the high and mighty –not excluding many of the lawmakers that are now vengefully vituperative, -making a legislative mountain out of a puny, little administrative mole hill.
A Senate that cowardly and with malicious intent sits on the confirmation of an excellently performing anti-corruption Caesar, Magu is the same that is now shamelessly magnifying a trivia about Ali’s non-wearing of uniform when the same Senate had never in the past bothered about previous Customs heads who had in fact daily worn the Services uniform but had also raped the agency in the goriest and most bestial manner ever possible!
Some lawyer said that the argument that there is no law obligating Ali to wear uniform is redundant to the extent that there is no law also obligating any customs officer from wearing uniform. And he argued therefore that other Customs officials may avail the same right Ali arrogates to himself not to wear uniform. And to buttress this argument in line with the sanctity of administrative ‘tradition’ or ‘convention’, he said for example that filling the ‘visitors’ form’ to see a governor although is not provided for by law, it is still a mandatory prerequisite to being admitted to see the governor. But I say no! Filling the visitors’ form will not be mandatory on the governor to demand, but it will be on the visitors to comply with -if the governor insists. It is a requirement that the governor can waive, in much the same way Hameed Ali can waive for himself the wearing of uniform but demand it from other personnel.
SOME, even as they admit the absence of any law compelling Ali to wear uniform, still argue that his refusal to do so breaches administrative or operational tradition of the Customs Service. Others say that it grossly abuses the paramilitary character and integrity of the Service.
Some in fact cite universal tradition saying that Nigeria is exposed to ridicule whenever Ali appears in mufti amidst his global pears. Yet others say that his refusal to wear uniform is a disdainful poke on the eye of paramilitary discipline and that it has the tendency to demoralise both the officer corps and the rank-and-file. But how can a Service not de-motivated by decadent corruption suddenly be, by reforms simply because the reformer is un-uniformed? If systemic corruption by both officer-corps and the rank-and-file did not encourage ‘indiscipline’ in the service, how can the mere headship of it by a man of proven discipline set it on the path of ‘indiscipline’ simply because he is in mufti?
Since Ali’s refusal to wear uniform is not in breach of any written law, and since the National Assembly has both the superfluity of legislative time, the surfeit of legislative instrument and unquestionably too the numbers, why should it not embark on a legislative process to amend the Customs Act? That way it can also further aggrandize itself by using that same legislative window to bring to an end the now controversial tradition of appointing non-career persons to head the Service.
Any wonder why the Senate will not toe this legislative path of least resistance? Ego! Our ‘distinguished’ senators are on an ego-trip again. This hyper-sensitive ‘legislative ego’ of our ‘egotistic legislators’ has been bruised again. And our senators have mounted the chivalry charge of self-redemption. They will not dismount until they have broken the neck of Ali’s rebellion; until they have plucked the feathers of this upstart craw and dressed him in ‘all ash’! The rancorous, bare-knuckle, arm-twisting path to the resolution of issues appeals to the Senate more than the dignified, edifying resort to the legislative process.And that is the tragedy.
Re:‘Buhari’s hale and heartiness’
“Dear Adamu, I have just read your masterpiece treatise ‘On Buhari’s Hale and Heartiness’, and I appreciate you on your combination of medical, biblical, literary, logical and philosophical ideas to elucidate the theme. Thanks a million. Keep it up!”
-Rev(Dr) Lawrence S Okori
“Damn Right, but Ronald Reagan never at any time hide his sicknesses from the American people. Any body or any living thing can be sick, humans, animals or even plants. Let’s try not to turn an ordinary sickness into a national calamity”.–Christian Nnaemeka
“Very well put! Taking your views, put so lucidly here and, those of Aliyu Tilde, who fingered fatigue ‘because PMB still worked like a 40 year-old, it is ok to say no attempt was made to conceal any sickness which never existed. If Aliyu Tilde is the good guide we know him to be, considering his closeness to the President, it will be safe to say the President developed a bunch of contradictory health challenges for operating a tight schedule. Not many CEOs are at their tables at 7am, with an hour tea break, another hour for three or four schedule praying times and sign off at 10pm’” -Abdulrazaq Magaji
Re:‘Now that Jonathan is the menu’
“Hi Mohammed Adamu. From your article today (‘Now that Jonathan is on the menu’)”, which Nigerian leader –past and present- has not stolen from the treasury? Look at OBJ’s Library. You are simply a full hypocrite”.
“Adamu, while I loud the aptness of your piece on your today’s column, please start that of Buhari too. Really dismal as well”.
“I think Jonathan has rightly decided to leave to God, ill-motivated and ethno-centric critics like you. And it is becoming clearer by the day that he is being vindicated by God at every turn. Your biases will not allow you see the massive corruption in the present administration which ordinarily should be your new focus. Those of you bred in sectional advantage will always find it extremely difficult to see this country and its diverse people from broad perspective”.–Ame Oriakhi.