THEWILL Editorial: Hameed Ali and the Nigerian Senate

BEVERLY HILLS, March 27, (THEWILL) – Recently, Nigerians have been kept busy with the spat between the Senate and the Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, Col. Hameed Ali (retd.) at the expense of the attention which ought to be accorded more important issues of state like the speedy passage of the 2017 appropriation bill.

The matter, which had started with an invitation of Ali to appear before the Senate in Customs uniform to defend the parastatal’s move to enforce payment of import duties on old vehicles, degenerated to the call by the upper legislative chamber for Ali to be sacked, saying he is not fit to hold public office.

Hitherto, Ali was walked out of the Senate chamber over his failure to honour the summon dressed in the regalia of his office as the C-G of Customs, as requested.

While the lingering dispute could be seen as a mere exercise of the National Assembly’s oversight obligation on an agency of government, it is worrisome that so much energy has been expended on the impasse at the expense of arduous national challenges.

Meanwhile, Ali’s failure to obey the Senate’s request that he appear before it in Customs uniform calls to question his moral right to expect obedience from Customs officers and men as well as compliance from Nigerians. The face-off, over which the presidency is apparently standing aloof, has again brought to the fore the disconnect between the executive and legislative arms of government.

It is incontrovertible that the people’s Senate is much bigger than the chief executive of any government establishment. To that extent, any act that diminishes or disrespects the institution amounts to disrespecting Nigerians who voted in the lawmaker more so when the executive in question was not elected into the position but was merely appointed.

THEWILL considers it disrespectful to the executive arm for its appointee to flout the constitutional function of another arm, knowing that such could create friction between the arms of government.

To ameliorate the friction now deepened between both arms of government and in other not to slow down the wheel of governance, over which the masses would suffer, THEWILL calls on Ali to immediately resign his appointment as the C-G of Customs. He should have no problem with throwing in the towel since his refusal to spot the uniform has been interpreted to mean the position of Customs C-G is beneath the rank of Colonel he attained in the Nigerian Army before retirement.

Ali should know that his reliance on a court action instituted by a Nigerian over the call on him to wear the Customs uniform as well as the tacit backing of President Muhammadu Buhari may not be enough to save him should the upper legislative chamber decide to use its powers against him. Past Senate’s zero allocation to the Security and Exchange Commission when it had a spat with the DG is still fresh in memory.

Without being sub judicial, the C-G’s action is a breach of the explanation by the Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu that Section 2 of the Customs Act provided that all officers, including the comptroller-general must wear uniform.

THEWILL considers it rude of the CG to openly display indiscipline in a body that he was appointed to reorganize. Besides, Ali is not the first retired Army officer to head a paramilitary outfit. When Major-General Hannaniya Alidu was appointed to head the Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC, he demonstrated loyalty, patriotism and discipline by wearing the corps’ uniform.

It is therefore the height of insensitivity, arrogance, pride and indiscipline for a retired colonel to suggest he is too big to head the Customs. We recall that it took him many weeks to assume the position after his appointment in 2015. The blame can only go to the President, who seems to be indicating that out of the 170 million Nigerians, Ali is the only qualified to be the CGC.

In the light of this, THEWILL urges the Presidency to speak up in matters such as this to avoid the wrong conclusion that it is orchestrating cases of disrespect for the legislature that have arisen in recent times. No matter what it thinks of the lawmakers, it should bear in mind that the National Assembly is the bastion of Nigeria’s democracy and must therefore not allow members of the executive subject it to ridicule.

THEWILL urges the Senate to take all measures within the ambit of the law to ensure that Ali and his like are not given the room to turn the country’s democracy into a kangaroo locale. To allow him to have his way will be setting a dangerous precedent and undermining the Customs as an institution.

However, we are also aware that the Senate has been in the news severally for the wrong allegations and that some of its actions towards the executive have not been altruistic. The Senators should therefore purge themselves of various allegations of corruption and questionable deals. This comes against the backdrop of supposition that it is going against the Customs’ boss in retaliation to his insistence that some exotic vehicles imported by top ranking lawmakers must pay full duty.

He who comes to equity must come with clean hands and an institution that demands compliance with the law must be above board.