Senate, Hameed Ali: Who Blinks First?

KINGSLEY OPURUM, chronicles the intrigues arising from the intense face-off between the Senate and Comtroller-General of Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), Col Hameed Ali (rtd)
The ongoing battle between the Senate and the Comptroller-General of Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), Col Hameed Ali (rtd) over his refusal to wear the agency’s uniform, snowballed from the planned implementation of collection of duties on old and new vehicles
Before now, the Upper Legislative Chamber issued a directive to Ali to put the plan on the ice, but Ali called the lawmakers’ bluff and vowed to go ahead with the implementation of the controversial policy.
Subsequently, the Customs chief shifted his ground and suspend the policy in compliance with the Senate’s directive.
Recall that the embattled Col Ali was alleged to be disappointed with the appointment by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015 to head the nation’s revenue generating agency, which was not unconnected to the underlying reason why he procrastinated his resumption as the Customs Comptroller-General. Ali is the second outsider to be appointed as head of NCS since the agency was created.
As Customs boss, Ali has courted a number of controversies and has been accused of coming up with anti-people policies. In 2016, he banned the importation of rice into the country, despite a loud public outcry.
That is not all. That same year, he also came up with another policy to ban the importation of used vehicles to the country through land borders. Again, Ali stuck to his guns and turned deaf eyes to public outcry.
But his unending feud with the Senate took another twist last Thursday, when the lawmakers walked Ali out because he defied the Upper Chamber’s instruction to wear his Customs uniform and appear before it. They urged him to reappear on Wednesday well kitted with his uniform.
In a strong bid to continue to defy the Upper Legislative Chamber’s order to wear his uniform and appear before it, Ali went to court.
This move ruffled the lawmakers’ feathers, as they carpeted the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, accusing him of interfering in their constitutional obligation.
The Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu who presided over the day’s legislative business on Wednesday when Ali was supposed to appear before the Senate, instructed the Clerk to the Senate to read a letter from the AGF.
The Clerk, Mr Nelson Ayewoh read the letter. “I wish to formally intimate you that I am in receipt of a letter dated 20th, March 2017, wherein I have been served with an originating summons in respect of the above subject matter.
“The originating summons is seeking among other declarations “whether the oversight functions of the National Assembly extends to compelling and/ or giving directive to the first defendant to wear uniform”.
“In line with the principles of rule of law, court decisions or most importantly, the declarations sought have been deeply rooted in the constitutional provisions; I hold the view that this matter is sub-judice.
“In view of three above, it is the interest of justice and rule of law to stay all actions in this case until the constitutional issues raised in the matters are resolved by the law courts. I wish to further intimate you that as a defendant in the said suit, I intend to file processes and pursue it to a logical conclusion.”
After reading the letter, Ekweremadu opened the floor for lawmakers to make their contributions. The Senate came up with three major resolutions.
Senate spokesman, Abdullahi Sabi, moved the first motion. Senator Sabi moved that the NCS should cancel the controversial policy on vehicle inspection and come up with better ways of carrying out their responsibilities. His motion was carried by lawmakers.
Abaribe moved the other key motion. He moved that the Senate declares Customs boss, Ali as unfit to hold any public office. He added that he should be called upon to immediately resign from office as Comptroller General of NCS. His motion was overwhelmingly supported.
Senator George Sekibo, on his part, moved another motion. He moved that the Senate condemns the AGF for flouting the provisions of separation of powers and the rule of law. His motion was also carried by lawmakers.
Senator Biodun Olujimi, added that the Senate should write a letter and attach to the resolution which will be forwarded to President Buhari in order to deter other government officials from flouting decisions taken by the Senate. She described the refusal by the CG of NCS to appear as an act of arrogance. She said that the duo, Malami and Ali were unfit to hold public offices.
Senator Dino Melaye, on his part, described the letter from the AGF, as an insult. He said never in the history of any democracy in Africa, has a Minister of Government, written a letter to a parliamentary, advising it not to carry out its constitutional functions.
The Red Chamber Meanwhile, resolved to disregard a letter from the AGF. They also unanimously declared the NCS boss unfit to superintend the agency and urged him to resign.
An Abuja-based lawyer, Suleiman Yakubu posited; “According to Regulation 31 of the Customs and Excise (Preventive) Service Regulations of 1963, a subsidiary legislation preserved by the Customs and Excise Management Act, “clothing and equipment shall be such pattern and worn in such manner as the Board shall determine.” In line with this portion of the Act, the Senate’s instruction that Ali must appear in uniform is in order.
“Again, Regulation 13, Second Schedule of the Customs and Excise (Preventive) Service Regulations which deals with offences provides in S.38 that “Any act, conduct, disorder or neglect to the prejudice of good order and discipline though not herein specified is an offence and shall suffer punishment according to the nature and degree of the offence.”
Observers are of the opinion that the Senate should not relent in dealing with the retired army officer to send a strong message to the executive by using Col. Ali as a scapegoat, and other heads of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) will follow suit.
They worry that if such matter is swept under the carpet, the independence of the legislative arm may be precipitated under a serious jeopardy.
Some public affairs commentators have commended the 8th National Assembly for jettisoning any move to become an appendage of the executive arm or a rubberstamp for the presidency, adding that for any democracy to thrive in a modern society, the principle of separation power must take a centre stage.
They said that this laudable feat by the Red Chamber to exercise its constitutional power as an independent arm of the government should be well appreciated by Nigerians in as much as such act will keep the presidency on its toe, and any sign of tyranny will melt away.
However, Human rights lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), has lent his voice, saying that the Senate lacks the power to compel Hameed Ali to wear Customs uniform.
He added that, although Ali was the Comptroller-General of Customs, the retired military officer was not a member of the service.
His words, “With respect to the customs service, its officers are required to wear uniforms. But since the CGC is not a serving customs officer the senate lacks the vires to force him to wear any uniform.
“The suit challenging the legal validity of Col. Hameed Ali’s appointment has been dismissed on the ground that the President has the power to appoint a non-customs officer to head the customs service. Since the court has held that he is not a customs officer, Col. Ali cannot be made to wear any uniform.
“I challenge the Senate to refer to any law that supports the wearing of uniform by the head of customs service, who is not a serving customs officer.
“In many countries, including South Africa, customs officers do not wear uniforms.
“In Nigeria, they wear uniforms because under the defunct military junta security agencies claimed that they were either military or paramilitary forces. It was part of the intimidation of the civilian population.”
But while the Senate was fixated on dealing with the Customs CG, some of its members were displeased with what they felt was doubled standards by the upper chamber.
In another twist, the Senate resolved to investigate the weighty allegation that an armoured Range Rover car said to be worth N298m and seized by the Nigeria Customs Service belongs to the President of the Senate, Senator Bukola Saraki.
The move was based on a point of order raised by former Majority Leader of the Senate, Senator Ali Ndume, who also called on the upper chamber of the National Assembly to investigate the certificate scandal involving Senator Dino Melaye.
Recall that an online news portal, Sahara Reporters had raised an allegation in a report published on March 18, 2017, that the seizure of the Sports Utility Vehicle, allegedly belonging to Saraki, was the reason why the Senate was moving against the Controller General of the NCS, Col. Hammed Ali (retd.).
The medium reported that the car was intercepted and impounded on January 11, 2017, by the service for allegedly having fake documents.
Sahara Reporters had also in another report alleged that Melaye did not graduate from the Ahmad Bello University Zaria, Kaduna State, but was parading a fake certificate.
In a bid to cash in on that, the aggrieved ousted Senate Leader, at the plenary on Tuesday, insisted that the duo must be probed, noting that the previous certificate scandals involving members of the National Assembly were probed by the lawmakers.
He said, “One has to do with the distinguished Senator Bukola Saraki, the Senate President, and it was reported in a paper; I have it here. With your permission, I will want to, after making presentation, lay it down. It says that, ‘Senate on Vengeance After Nigeria Customs seized Senator Saraki’s bullet-proof Range Rover Over Fake Documents.’
“My colleagues that are following events, particularly online, have seen, heard or read the train of abuses on this Senate and the misconception of the fact that we invited the Customs CG based on a very unpopular policy that affects the people we represent. But now, we are faced with this and the (Senate) President has been found in this National Assembly.
“During the 4th Assembly, Salisu Buhari was accused of certificate forgery; he was investigated and determined. After that, in the 5th Assembly, Bello Masari was accused of certificate forgery (secondary school); it was investigated and was cleared. In the 6th Senate, Dimeji Bankole was accused of not having NYSC certificate; it was investigated and he had to show his NYSC certificate.
“Now, that brings me to the second matter. In the National Assembly, here in the Senate of the 4th Assembly, Enwerem was accused and it was also investigated. Wabara was accused of collecting bribe and it was investigated and determined. So, a lot of precedence has been set. Now, the second matter of privilege affects my colleague, Sheikh Dino Melaye, and it is in the Punch of today (Tuesday) on Page 10; I have the newspaper. In Punch, it says, ‘Dino Melaye in first-degree certificate scandal.’”
While the probe gets underway, some observers opine that these allegations leveled against Saraki and Melaye in the media could be sponsored just to besmirch their reputations and also frustrate their effort to carry out their constitutional responsibilities.
They querried; “if these weighty allegations were true, why are they surfacing now that the Senate is in cold war with NCS boss, and the affected are the key warriors who are at the war front? “Why didn’t these allegations surface prior to the melee? “Does it mean that if the dispute didn’t break out, these accusations wouldn’t have come up?
However others believe that  since the Senate is set at sanitizing the polity, it must do so from a stand point of its members being squeaky clean of perceived malfeasance.
The fear is that this ongoing rift may degenerate into another frosty relations between the Senate and the Presidency. It is important to recall that the both arms had been in the grip of fragile and thorny relations until recently, they decided to mend their fences.
So far, deliberations on the 2017 budget has been relegated. A popular saying has it that ‘when they two elephants fight, the grasses suffer.’ The escalation of this long-running feud between the Upper Legislative Chamber and Ali into Presidency vs Senate will surely not bode well for the country and its populace, especially at this time the nation is undergoing hard times.
Source: News

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