By Ochereome Nnanna
WHEN retired Col. Hameed Ali, the Comptroller General of the Customs, CGC, finally yielded to the language and pressure of force and appeared before the Senate on summons on Thursday, 16th March 2017, the only thing I wanted to see on him was his uniform as the overall boss of that organisation.
Once I saw he was still wearing his white kaftan, my gaze went beyond him to the bevy of the Customs top brass, all proudly and smartly outfitted in their grey khaki uniforms and looking resplendent indeed. Some of the “oga madams” (or female officers) seemed to make a meal of the situation, all dolled up in comely (even sexy) make-ups and slanting their caps at rakish angles, as if to say: “to hell with Oga Hameed Ali for insulting the dignity of this uniform”.
Meanwhile, Hameed Ali stood before the Senators like a truant schoolboy physically bundled to the assembly ground to receive his due punishments from the school principal. Receive the punishment he did: he was dismissed with ignominy to go and wear his uniform and come back a week later. Otherwise, he would face the wrath of 109 Senators with the mandates of millions of Nigerians. The arrogant will always be humiliated, and the proud put to shame.
I hear people parrot Ali’s nonsensical claim that no law compels him to wear the uniform. Which law compels Africans to respect their elders? Which law compels us to greet people when we meet them? Which law compels Barrister Femi Falana, one of the clangorous defenders of Hameed Ali, to wear his wig and gown to court? Put in another way, how would it look like if Femi Falana appears in court dressed in agbada when representing a client? Is code of dressing not a convention stronger than law? Must we be compelled by law before we do the right thing? In any case, I hope Hameed Ali listened to the law that Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah referred to as justification for him to wear his uniform?
There is no ground on which Ali can be exculpated for refusing to wear his Customs’ uniform. His argument that he could not wear the Customs uniform after wearing that of the Army is puerile. If he finds the Customs a good enough institution of government to go and head (“sanitise” was the word President Muhammadu Buhari used, though a container hiding the 661 pump action rifles still escaped detection at the ports 20 months after Hameed Ali assumed office as Customs CG), he must find their uniform good enough to wear. He is drawing salaries from their allocations, flying around with their private jet and enjoying all the perks attached to that highly priced, plum job. It is most nauseating for him to turn around and regard the organisation that keeps him in opulent comfort and arms him with great authority with disdain. What cheek!
It has been pointed out that his superior in the Army, retired Major General Haladu Hananiya, gamely wore the uniform of the Federal Roads Safety Commission, FRSC, as its Corps Marshall. So also had Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, its pioneer Corps Marshall and young erudite whippersnapper, Osita Chidoka.
It was Soyinka and Hananiya’s towering images that eventually “liberated” the FRSC from the apron strings, shadows and oppressive grips of the Nigerian Police Force, from which the Commission was created by military President Ibrahim Babangida. If Hameed Ali had a positive mindset to the job he was given to reform the Customs, wearing its uniform would be one of the personal good examples he would have set to inspire its officers and men to recommit to their duties.
The only thing I could see in all this childish Hameed Ali pomposity is that he has been a trusted personal aide of President Buhari for a long time. He feels he can get away with anything. He knows that with President Buhari behind him, he is “untouchable”.
Unfortunately, there are many Nigerians who yearn for and applaud people with wild-hair dispositions; anyone who can provide drama becomes their idol. They don’t even understand the dos and don’ts of a democracy, which is governed not only by laws but more importantly, conventions, precedents and laid-down orthodoxies. These misguided Nigerians fail to appreciate the fact that institutions are more important than tin-pot tyrants and false messiahs who, in a split-second of hubris and bravura, destroy what others took lots of sweat, intellectual energy and tons of public funds to build, all in the name of “sanitising” public institutions.
I am wondering to myself: if Hameed Ali truly loves his principal, President Buhari, should he allow himself and the Federal Government under Buhari to be reduced to a circus figure in the public arena in view of the President’s current frail health condition? What does it take to wear a uniform, allow peace to reign and give Buhari’s government a break? Why continue with this billy-goat recalcitrance, even when President Buhari had sent his Presidential Assistant on National Assembly Matters, Senator Eta Eng, to secure some soft landing to enable Hameed Ali get the ears of the Senators on crucial matters between the Customs and the general public?
On Monday, I will examine another case that has brought the Senate out at loggerheads with a blue-eyed and blond-haired “untouchable” of the Muhammadu Buhari regime, Ibrahim Magu, who has been caught in a crossfire in his bid for confirmation as the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission ,EFCC. I will reiterate the importance of the legislature in our democracy in view of the persistent quest by some Nigerians for false messiahs.