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Senate is right, customs is correct

By Tonnie Iredia

In my early days as a television reporter I had a boss who was a great fellow with a unique way of dealing with every issue. His decisions always made everyone involved in any problem he sought to solve, sad and hilarious at the end because he often made otherwise hardened enemies to involuntarily become friends.

His strategy which was simple to follow, involved agreeing with both sides to a conflict. I thought of him all week after watching how our senate resolved two issues- first, the one with Ibrahim Magu who is now like emeritus acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and second, the controversy with Col Hammed Ali, a retired army colonel and Comptroller General of the nation’s customs service. Today, this column highlights the customs’ case.

Our senate had summoned the customs’ boss to come forth and throw light on the controversial decision of his service to collect duties on vehicles that had not been paid. My first reaction was to advocate that top leaders of our government organizations should be annually checked by psychiatrists to ascertain their status before allowing them to remain in office.

This is because it sounds strange that a car such as that of Joshua my neighbour that is 10 years old may be required to pay duties if customs thinks so. Joshua being a bedridden retired colleague asked me if customs would visit the car park in his house to carry out a check.

If so, would the service hold him accountable if the receipt of his payment revealed that the seller of the car wrongly paid duties to a cabal within the customs’ office? Well all I could guess was that even if they do not visit Joshua’s house, they are likely to join the Police, VIO, Road Safety etc who are currently collecting all manner of fees, dues, duties etc on our roads. Almost immediately, the great news came that the senate had taken steps to stop the policy.

Joshua and I could not but commend the senate for at least seeking to be on the same page as the people. I was particularly happy that someone had at last listened to my plea to leave harmless beggars on our streets and drive away the government street exploiters.

Consequently, I supported the steps the senate took to deal with the matter. Democracy as it is said is really the best form of government, unlike dictatorship with ample impunity; democracy is premised on the rule of law with no room for arbitrariness. It is indeed wrong to make rules, regulations and laws that are targeted at a set of people; it is worse when such laws and rules are retrospective.

The senate was right, it is wrong for customs to backdate payment of duties on old vehicles. Unfortunately instead of falling in line on sighting the hammer of the senate, Col Ali, the customs’ boss declined to honour the summons on the premise of having an earlier official engagement.

To such a response the senate had to make sure that customs was fully dealt with. So, the senate decided that the customs’ boss who has for awhile been leading the place without wearing the organization’s uniform must be made to know that he is just one of the heads of a government agency.

Our distinguished senators therefore resolved that Ali must appear before them in his uniform. On his part, Ali said he would do no such thing as he was seeking legal advice on the propriety of the summons. With two sides holding on to opposite views on a subject and clearly heading for a show down, I remembered my old time boss and thought of the ease with which he would have dealt with the subject.

I am convinced he would have agreed that the senate was right in stopping the obnoxious custom’s policy, so he would have supported the summons by the senate. Like our senators, my Oga would have thought the letter from the customs’ delegate was rude or evasive.

He would also have agreed that the customs’ boss ought to wear the uniform of his office or let those who can wear it take the place. He would no doubt have also bought the idea that a football captain should not refuse to wear his jersey if he wants to remain in the team.

Interestingly, my Oga wouldn’t on these grounds say Ali guilty is wrong because of a whole lot of other things. First, he would have accepted the idea that our senators being people oriented democrats should not use military terms or approach. In other words they should have merely invited and not intimidated Ali.

Second, he would have agreed that since Ali or any other public officer was appointed to serve the people in a particular area of service, invitations from the legislature should not disorganize the man’s primary assignment because every job is important especially in this era in which change begins with everyone.

Third, he would have agreed that in line with the principles of separation of powers, the legislature should send its observations about the head of a government agency to the head of the executive branch to which the officer is ordinarily answerable instead of castigating him on national television.

I would not have been surprised if my Oga also agreed that the substance of the issue at hand, was the obnoxious retroactive regulation on custom duties rather than who wears or doesn’t wear official uniforms. In summary, the senate would have been seen as right just as the customs’ service would be seen as correct.

Now that customs has reversed the policy it should not in anger increase duties of past or future vehicles of my boss and I. Similarly, now that the senate has resolved to issue a summons of arrest on Ali we should not be included in the summons because we are essentially media operatives who merely raised all the sides to the issues in line with our ethical value of balance and objectivity in the coverage of events. All we are saying is:  senate and customs should leave ego and humbly SERVE our people.



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