By Henry Umoru
ABUJA— THE crisis between the Senate and Comptroller General of Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, Col Hameed Ali (retd), reared its head yesterday, following verbal attacks from both sides, this time, on etiquette.
This time, the location was not the Senate building or premises but Wuse Zone 3, Customs Headquarters in Abuja.
The verbal exchanges took place during the visit of the Senator Dino Melaye (APC, Kogi West)-led Senate Ad- hoc Committee on Economic Waste in the Nigeria Customs Service to the NCS office.
The fight between the Senate and the Customs boss was triggered by remarks made by Senator Melaye that the Customs C-G, by way of protocol, ought to have come down from his office to welcome and usher the committee members into the premises and not just meeting them at the conference room.
Senator Melaye, who noted that the protocol and practice had been that statutory bodies such as Customs, Immigration, Prisons etc over the years come down to welcome them, wondered why such etiquette was not accorded them by the incumbent Customs boss.
Melaye to Hameed Ali
Melaye said: “Before reading the prepared speech of the committee, let me make this small remarks on what we have just observed here in form of breach of protocols.
“Mr C-G, rather than meeting us here at the conference room by way of courtesy, you were supposed to have met us at the ground floor on arrival into the premises.
“That had been the practice of statutory bodies headed by chief executive officers like you. Relevant Senate committees have over the years been accorded this by bosses of Immigration Service, Prison Service etc, making us to wonder why it is not so here today under your leadership.
“Therefore, before proceeding further, on account of this observation, we want the Customs management to know that the presence of this committee before it implies that the Senate itself is before it to put things in order as regards the economic waste taking place in the Customs Service, requiring the seriousness it deserves from you and the entire management.
If this thing happens next time, we will take a walk out.”
Following his comments, the atmosphere was already charged, just as Senator Melaye further harassed the Customs top management officers by declaring that the committee’s meeting with them was more or less that of the Senate by hitting the gavel on the table before him to declare the meeting open.
After hitting the gavel on the table, Melaye then read a prepared speech where he marshalled out how the committee would carry out its investigation on economic waste in Customs Service .
But after the speech, the senators who may have invited trouble, got more than they bargained for.
Ali replies, shocks senators
Responding to Melaye’s earlier remarks, the Customs boss told the committee that Customs has its own protocols which are quite different from other public establishments, insisting that the agency would not allow itself to be dictated to on matters of etiquette or protocol.
Col. Ali said: “We have our own protocol as regards receiving visitors like you. I don’t need to come downstairs to receive you just as nobody in the Senate or House of Representatives has ever come out to receive us anytime we visit the National Assembly.
“So, there is no breach of protocol for not coming down to welcome you since appropriate officers have been assigned to do so. Our protocol is our protocol and should be allowed to be.
“In fact, by way of etiquette, it is the committee that is supposed to come to my office first on arrival and not just coming straight to the conference room. Let me state clearly that we in the Nigeria Customs Service are servants of the people. We believe in Nigeria and working with others to make it great without being railroaded in anyway .
“Personally, I took this job because of my commitment to serve this country selflessly, having earlier done so in the military. So, nobody can tell me that am not a committed Nigerian. On your assignment you called economic waste, we shall cooperate with you to unearth whatever you want to unearth and effect any correction if there is any.’’
Ali shuns group photograph, walks out on senators
With this development, the usual group photograph which is a tradition was, however, jettisoned as the Senate Committee members refused having the photograph with the top management of Customs, a development that further got the committee members bruised by the Customs C-G who apparently out of annoyance, walked out of the visitors from the premises by using his convoy to block them from leaving the place before him.
While the Customs C-G left the Customs Headquarters at about 2:15pm with his siren-blaring convoy, humiliated members of the Senate committee left at about 2:20pm after being held up in their bus for about 15 minutes by the Customs C-G’s convoy stationed at the exit gate immediately after the unpalatable encounter at the conference room.
Senators, who suffered the humiliation along with Senator Melaye were Samuel Anyanwu (PDP Imo East); Gilbert Nnaji (PDP, Enugu East); Hamman Isah Misau (APC Bauchi Central) and Babajide Omoworare (APC, Osun East).
It would be recalled that the Customs C-G, prior to yesterday’s encounter with the Committee, had had a running battle with the entire Senate between 2016 and early 2017 over his mode of dressing.
It would also be recalled that while the Customs boss has been carrying out his duties in mufti since 2015 after appointment, the Senate had asked him to appear in uniform by ordering him to do so last year in plenary, but Ali stood his ground by appearing in mufti.