Embattled Comptroller-General (CG) of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Colonel Hameed Ali, will today face fire, as senators insisted he must appear before them in uniform.
This is coming at a time Ali yesterday made a surprise visit to the Senate, where he met with Senate President, Bukola Saraki, and some principal officers.
Colonel Ali arrived the Senate complex in a black Peugeot 508 saloon car with registration number, HQ 89CS at 5.30pm, dressed in a long white shirt, with black shoes and a cap to match. He was accompanied by the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Customs and Excise, Senator Hope Uzodinma.
The Customs boss first went to the office of the Senate Leader, Ahmed Lawan, after which he proceeded to the Senate President’s office, along with Lawan and Uzodinma, where they held a meeting till 6.38pm, when the Senate President left.
Ali later met briefly with a former Governor of Kano State, Senator Kabiru Gaya. He was accompanied out of the Senate complex by Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang, and Gaya at 6.49pm.
Although details of the closed-door meeting were not made public, it was learnt that the request by senators that he appears in uniform before the Senate today topped the agenda.
Earlier, The Customs CG had written to the Senate, demanding a new date to appear.
During plenary, Saraki had told his colleagues that there was a letter from the CG of NCS. He instructed the Clerk to the Senate, Nelson Ayewoh, to read the letter written by Abdulkadir Azarema, an assistant CG of NCS, on behalf of Colonel Ali.
In the letter, the Customs boss told lawmakers that March 15, 2017 coincided with his monthly meeting and, therefore, he would be engaged and not be available to honour the Senate’s invitation. He urged the Senate to pick a date during which he would appear.
The letter reads: “I am directed to inform you (the Senate) that the date given to the Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Wednesday 15th of March, 2017, to brief the Senate in plenary on the retrospective duty payment of vehicles in Nigeria has coincided with the fortnightly meeting of the NCS management.
“Consequently, the Comptroller General is humbly requesting for a new date from the Senate. As we await your favourable response, please be assured of the highest regards and esteem of the Comptroller General of Customs.”
The content of the letter infuriated lawmakers, who murmured, as the Clerk read the letter.
Senator Lawan, who spoke first, said he felt slighted and expressed his displeasure at the letter. He said: “First, the excuse for not appearing tomorrow (today) is because it coincided with a routine fortnightly meeting of the management of the Nigeria Customs Service. My opinion is that, it does not take precedence over the invitation by the Senate.
Lawan, however, shocked his colleagues when he made a sudden U-turn and begged lawmakers to adopt a new date.
He stated: “However, let me add that this Senate, if possible, should oblige the request for the extension to show that we are different. Let us take him (Ali) on Thursday if he is saying he cannot be available tomorrow (today). Two wrongs would not make a right. I know we feel hurt, but whether it is, a live coverage or not, Nigerians have an interest in this and Nigerians will like to listen to the responses and explanations from the CG of customs.”
Displeased by the appeal, angry senators shouted, as Lawan spoke. Senator James Manager, disagreed sharply with the Senate Leader. He urged his colleagues to remain firm and insist on Ali’s appearance today.
He countered: “I disagree with my leader, Senator Ahmed Lawan. If the CG of NCS had written a letter signed by him and then going further, if he had established personal contact with the President of the Senate through the chairman of the Senate committee on Customs, then that will be understandable.
“Certainly, this is not a matter of two wrongs not making a right. The CG of NCS must appear tomorrow (today). I think this is an insult of the highest order. I think I met a very powerful Senate in 2003 and the Senate remains the same till today and by the grace of God, when I am leaving, here I want to leave behind a very powerful Senate.”
Saraki concurred. In his remarks, he said the Senate Leader spoke based on his position, but added that his suggestion was not binding on other members.
He said the position of the Senate was clear and insisted that the Customs boss would appear in service uniform today.
Saraki noted: “The leader spoke as the way leaders are meant to speak in trying to see how best to move forward, but again, we are all guided by the general view and opinion and integrity of this institution. I think it is clear and it’s a collective position as spoken by Senator James Manager.
“I do not think there is need for us to prolong this issue and the position of the Senate is clear. The CG should appear tomorrow (today), as directed, in uniform, and in line with the earlier resolution. We are waiting to see him here tomorrow morning (today) by 10:30am.
After the Senate rejected his request to shift the date, the Customs CG wrote another letter in which he disclosed that he had already begun to seek legal advice over the insistence of the Senate that he should wear Customs uniform.
The Customs boss also asked the Senate to avail itself of the legal basis for its insistence that he wears uniform.
Ali explained that the policy on payment of Customs duties by vehicle owners who do not have them, as prescribed by law, was already being reviewed.
The second letter, which did not make any reference to the first one, said: “May I respectfully refer to your letter dated March 9, 2017 and inform Your Excellency that the decision on payment of Customs duties by vehicle owners who do not have them, as prescribed by law, is currently being reviewed. The goal of the review is to take a broad additional input from the stakeholders and the public. I will welcome the opportunity to avail the Senate of our findings