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Senate walks out Customs boss over improper dressing

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•Says anybody can wear mufti and claim CG
•Asks him to return in uniform next Wednesday
•No law compels me to wear uniform – Ali
•Customs N8.5bn request to complete HQ stalled in House of Reps
•Reps query variation of consultancy fee from N206m to N1bn

By Henry Umoru,  Emman Ovuakporie & Johnbosco Agbakwuru

ABUJA – FOR not wearing complete uniform as instructed, the Senate, yesterday, walked out the Comptroller-General of Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, Col. Hameed Ibrahim Ali, retd, and asked him to return next Wednesday in complete Customs uniform.

Senators asked Ali to leave the plenary because rather than wear Customs uniform, he appeared in a white kaftan dress with white cap and black shoes to match. According to them, Ali is not a sole administrator; as Customs CG, he has to be dressed as such to appear before them because anybody can wear a mufti and claim to be the NCS boss.

The lawmakers disagreed with Ali that no law compels him to wear the Customs uniform as one of them recalled that Ali was one of those who got the current uniform introduced in 2004

Ali’s thorny visit to the Senate occurred as the NCS’ N8.5 billion virement request to complete its headquarters sufered a setback in the House of Representatives with the legislators querying the variation of consultancy fee from N206 million to one billion naira.

Ali, who arrived the Senate at about 9.30am was ushered into the Senate chambers at 12.05 pm and was promptly asked by Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over the sitting, why he was not in uniform. It took the senators some 40 minutes to deliberate on Ali’s matter before he was sent out of the chamber for what the lawmakers termed ‘’improper dressing.’’

Custom boss Hameed Ali

The Customs boss who came with Customs officers who all wore uniform, was asked to leave the chamber at12.40 pm.

The lawmakers had insisted on Wednesday that Ali must appear before them, yesterday, unfailingly after he had submitted a letter to the office of Senate President Bukola Saraki to explain his inability to appear at the Wednesday’s plenary.

No law compels me to wear uniform —Ali

After introducing himself to the lawmakers, the Customs boss, who noted that he has no knowledge of any that law compels him to wear the agency’s uniform, said that his letter of appointment did not ask him to wear uniform.

You’re wrong, senators rebuke Ali

The senators, however,  took a swipe at him, citing sections of the Customs and Excise Act to affirm the need for him to wear uniform.

Deputy Senate Leader, Bala Ibn Na’Allah, who provided a detailed background to Ali’s invitation, said that the Act setting up the Customs Service provide that the Comptroller-General should wear uniform, even as he said that the motion leading to Ali’s invitation was moved by him, upon sighting the circular on old vehicles issued by the Customs.

Senator Na’Allah said that the issue would have been resolved peacefully but for the manner the CG reacted and claimed that he was not employed to wear uniform.

Making reference to Section 7 (2) and Section 8 of the Customs and Excise Act, he insisted that the law requires the CG to wear uniform.

His words: “I crave your indulgence to try and put a recital with what I can best refer to as unnecessary. You will recall that I raised a motion on the floor of the Senate based on a circular issued or allegedly issued by the Comptroller General. The requirement was simple: you issued a circular in which we have a lot of calls from constituents entertaining anxiety as to what will happen to them. What we wanted, clearly, was in keeping with the terms and tradition of our democratic governance.

“We require that you come before the committee of the Senate to say this is how the circular is and this is how we intended to implement it. This would have given us the opportunity to allay the fears of our constituents.

“Unfortunately, it was alleged that in reaction to that resolution, you allegedly made certain comments that appear to be derogatory to the institution of the Senate by saying the Senate has no business whether you wear the uniform or not. Now, the Senate is not privileged to see your letter of appointment but what is important is that you issued that circular in your capacity as the Comptroller General and at all material time you have answered and acted the office of the CG.

“Today, you are in this chamber because the Senate summoned the comptroller general of Customs and let me refer you to Section 7 (2) of the Customs and Excise Act. It reads: ‘Any proceeding for an offence under this law will be taken in the name of Comptroller General.’ The intendment of this is that it has given you legal power in your capacity as comptroller general. Then Section 8 of the same law says: ‘For the purpose of carrying out or enforcing the provisions of the customs and Excise law, all officers shall have the same powers, authorities, privileges as given by law to police officers…” I want you to read the recital.

“And under Section 10, it says: ‘Unlawful assumptions and character of an officer.’ Don’t forget it is referring to Comptroller General of Customs to which at all material time you have answered. It says ‘If for the purpose of telling admission to any building or either place or any ship or aircraft or vehicle or of procuring to be done of his own authority or for any other unlawful purpose. Any person not being an officer assumes the name, designation or character of an officer he fails in addition to any other punishment to which he may have being rendered himself liable to a fine of N1000.’

“The combined effect of this, the power to prosecute is entirely that of the executive and in this democracy it belongs to the President. But the constitution which we have made and enacted and given to us says the attorney general of the federation has that power but went ahead to say certain officers which include Comptroller General has that power and it is statutory power. It means your appointment is statutory.”

Anybody can dress in mufti and claim CG – Adeola

In his contribution, Senator Solomon Adeola, APC, Lagos West, said: “To start with, this Senate, the highest lawmaking body of the Federal Republic of Nigeria issued a resolution and the content of the resolution is crystal clear and which states that the Comptroller General of Customs appear before it in uniform. The resolution still stands and what is happening here today is contrary to the resolution passed by the 109 senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

“I believe it is only right and proper for the CG of customs to comply with that resolution and as you can see here this afternoon other persons that followed the CG of customs into this chamber are fully dressed in their attire as members of the NCS and I want to say this anybody can dress in mufti and call himself CG.

“The Comptroller General is a rank and if the rank is not here I don’t know who is before us, and yes they have identified the CG but the question still remains that the CG still needs to appear before us in full comptroller general of customs uniform. His car carry a signal of the rank of Comptroller General, the official aircraft of the customs carry an insignia of the NCS and I believe we should just stick by the resolution of the Senate and ask the CG to comply with that resolution.”

Barau, Abe concur

Senator Jibrin Barau, APC, Kano North said that having heard what Na’Allah said, the customs boss should go back and comply before he could be allowed to address that Senate.

Also, Senator Magnus Abe, APC, Rivers South East who noted that Ali that should remember that he remains the  image maker of the NCS and should work to build the image of the Service he superintends, said that even if there was no law that compelled the CG to wear the uniform he should wear the attire for the sake of the NCS and the Senate.

Senator Thompson Sekibo, PDP, Rivers East reminded his colleagues that the business of governance should always be based on rule of law and moved a motion that Ali should be given another date, next Wednesday to comply with the Senate resolution by wearing appropriate uniform before he could be allowed to address the Senate.

Senator Barnabas Gemade who seconded the motion, said that even Nigerian Presidents wear uniform of different legs of the Armed forces to signify their position as Commander-in-Chief and as a mark of respect for constitutionally established institutions.

Wakili Ali’s senator intervenes

Senator Ali Wakili, APC, Bauchi Central and the Senator representing the Customs boss told his colleagues that he wanted a middle of the road approach as an Amicus Curiae, just as he said that the laws guiding Customs and Excise are very clear on the need to appear in uniform.

He, however, pleaded with the Senate to allow Ali go, while the Senate Committee on Customs intervene to effect a change of his rank to Sole Administrator and advised Ali to stop grandstanding.

He said: “With humility and great respect, I will prefer to borrow from you lawyers that let me start as an amicus jury, so if I don’t pronounce it very well do forgive me.

“As a distinguished member of this Senate either within or outside I will never do anything that will denigrade this institution. As a senator representing the comptroller general Hameed Ali, I hold obligation to him to be his guide and guard.

“Most of you that watched the television, some few months back when we had cause at the committee level to raise this issue with the comptroller general, I did advise him publicly …let us go and change his designation to sole administrator.

“As an amicus curiae, the Armed Forces Act is very explicit that my brother is relying on, the Nigerian Customs Service Board Cap 100 that established the Nigerian Customs Service is very explicit. The Customs Excise Management Act 1958 with all the substituting legislation is very explicit.

“The Preventive Cct 1963, the subsequent government decision especially 1976 when the then technical branch and then preventive branch were merged to form then the Department of Customs and Excise where the issue of uniform arose is very explicit.

“We are very unfortunate that my brother comptroller general was part of the administration that came into being in 2004. He was part of those that organised the Customs Service where the customs say that there was need to have an attitudinal change concerning any customs uniform of brown, that the green over the brown trouser should be changed to the bluish so that Nigerians can have a better something.

“The resolution of the Senate is very explicit and I want you to temper justice with mercy to give us the last chance to go back to see what we can do, so that some of these things will be addressed. I regret his grandstanding, I saw him on TVC when he was grandstanding that he is not going to wear the uniform. None of us has never doubted his integrity and his performance. The only nitty gritty is that because we are the real representatives of the people, when this issue of circular and the border came up we came up with a resolution but the customs service grandstanded and even went to the public.’’

You must lead by example, Ekweremadu tells CG

Before Deputy Senate President Ekweremadu put the question to vote, he told the Customs boss that leaders must lead by example and that if he refuses to wear the uniform, other officers of the service can also claim that no law compels them to wear uniform.

The senators unanimously voted to have Ali return to the chamber next week Wednesday, March 22, in proper dressing, to brief the lawmakers.

Customs N8.5bn virement request to complete HQ stalled in House

Meanwhile, the inability to produce details of N8.5billion virement request to make up N17 billion to complete the corporate headquarters of the NCS stalled a scheduled hearing by members of the House of Representatives Committee on Customs, yesterday.

The lawmakers also queried why the consultancy fee of the project was varied from N206 million in 2006 to N1billion in 2017.

The Rep Abiodun Faleke-led committee, during the hearing, yesterday, had asked the main consultant of the project, Design Cost Associate, to explain why N8.5bn was needed and whether it will be enough to complete the Customs House, which was started in 2006.

Mr Hussaini Dikko, who represented the main consultant was asked by the committee to make a presentation on how the money was expended on the project from 2006 till date.

But in his presentation, Dikko failed to give all the relevant information required to actually ascertain how the initial amount of N2.8bn cost of the project migrated to N9bn and then to N17bn.

At this point, Faleke was forced to ask Dikko to sit and think properly as the information he was presenting to the committee was not really communicating any information.

He said: “You have a presentation, please talk to your presentation so that we can properly understand what you are saying because we simply want to know why you are asking for this money to complete this project.’’

Another member, Rep Zaphaniah Bitrus Jisalo, PDP, FCT said: “Ordinarily, this project should be revoked because most information in your presentation has not said anything about the state of completion of the headquarter.’’

The chairman at this stage intervened and asked Dikko to tell the committee whether the increase in dollar or building equipment affected the increase.

Dikko said, “we are lucky that we had purchased all the equipment before the fall of the dollar so the virement for now will complete the entire building sitting on a 38-hectare piece of land.’’

The lawmakers also queried why his consultancy fee rose from N206m to N1bn. Dikko could not give a convincing answer as he was told that consultancy fees are never varied, it is always fixed.

Apparently realising that he could not answer the questions of the committee members, Dikko begged the members to give him time to produce the 300-page details of how far the building process has gone.

Faleke adjourned the meeting sine die after giving Dikko time to produce the details.


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