The Senate has said it will not engage the Comptroller General, Nigeria Customs Service, Col. Hameed Ali (retd.) in a war of words. The legislature insisted that Ali must answer its summons on Wednesday by appearing before it.
The Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Sabi Abdullahi, told our correspondent on Saturday that instead of going to the media, Ali should appear before the lawmakers and defend himself.
The Senate had, on Thursday, asked the Customs boss to appear before it “unfailingly” on Wednesday, adding that Ali would not be admitted into the chamber if he failed to appear in the uniform of the service showing his rank as the DG.
The lawmakers, who took turns to condemn the service for defying an order stopping it from implementing its new policy on vehicle duty, resolved that, “We invite the Comptroller General of Customs to appear in plenary and in uniform.”
But Ali, who appeared on a breakfast programme of Television Continental on Friday, pointed out that he would answer the summons by the Senate but would not appear before the lawmakers in uniform.
He said, “I was not appointed Comptroller General to wear uniform. Does uniform work or the person behind the uniform? If we suspect that smuggled items are taken into your own house, we have the right to cordon off that house and search it. Am I doing my job or not? I think that should worry the National Assembly.”
In his reaction, the Senate’s spokesman, however, said the lawmakers would take the next line of action on Ali based on the events that would play out on Wednesday.
He said, “For now, we have made our statement. Until he comes, it is not a media war; we are not going to engage him in a media war. We have a procedure and since we have invited him, let him come. When he comes and the Senate discusses with him, whatever the outcome reached will be declared to Nigerians.
“One thing I have to state and reiterate is that we stand by Nigerians and we will defend the interests of Nigerians. We do not subscribe to and will never support impunity by any agent of government because we are designed to work for the people and must be seen to be working for the people.”
Also, Senator Solomon Adeola (Lagos-West) said the order by the Senate that Ali wears Custom’s uniform when answering the summons was “to protect the organisational integrity and discipline of the institution of the Nigeria Customs Service as well as to protect the interest of the people.”
Adeola, in a statement by his Media Adviser, Mr. Kayode Odunaro, said it was regrettable that as a retired army colonel who should know the importance of uniforms, Ali “wants to demean and undermine the symbolic importance of uniforms, discipline as well as the authority it confers on the agency in its operation as a lawful body”.
He added, “Military and paramilitary uniforms, inclusive of ranks, are part of the symbol of legitimate authority conferred on the wearer to carry out certain duties on behalf of the government. Except in covert operations, an officer in these organisations operating without a uniform could be taken to be performing an illegal duty or, worse, be taken as not representing the institution at all. And as stated on the floor of the Senate in plenary, the Comptroller General is a rank that can only be worm on uniform and not in mufti.”
Ali had on March 9, 2017, through a circular, issued a one-month ultimatum – from March 13 to April 12, 2017 – for owners of all vehicles within the country whose correct customs duties had not been fully paid to do so.
The Customs boss had advised all motor dealers and private vehicle owners to visit the nearest zonal office of the service to pay the appropriate duties on them.
But last Tuesday, the upper chamber of the National Assembly rejected the policy, stating that the NCS had no legal backing to implement such a directive.
The next day, the service defied the directive from the Senate, insisting that the one-month ultimatum for vehicles owners to pay the appropriate duties remained sacrosanct.
The Acting Public Relations Officer of Customs, Mr. Joseph Attah, at a press conference on Wednesday, said in a bid to reduce the burden of the duty payment on Nigerians, a rebate of 60 per cent had been approved by the NCS for vehicles imported prior to the 2016 fiscal period.
Consequently, the Senate summoned Ali to appear before it and explain the policy.