by Mark Amaza
Yesterday, a mild drama ensued at the Senate chambers when the upper legislative chamber walked out the Comptroller-General of the Nigerian Customs Service, Hameed Ali for refusing to appear before it in his uniform as they had requested.
The drama was no surprise to many as a week ago, the Senate had asked him to appear before it to provide more information on the directive of the Customs that gave vehicle owners a grace period of one month to pay Customs duty on 2015 models downwards. It then added that he should appear before it in uniform, which Ali defiantly refused, saying there was no law that compels him to wear the Customs uniform.
Ali’s appointment as Comptroller-General of the Customs in 2015 had not gone down well with many, by virtue of him never having served in the service. In fact, there were a few news reports who said that Ali himself was unhappy with the appointment and had considered rejecting it. While everyone had the no-nonsense, former military governor of Kaduna State and retired army colonel penciled down for the post of the Chairperson of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), President Muhammadu Buhari had other ideas – to sanitize the Customs Service, long regarded as a cesspool of corruption which results in their remitting less revenue to the nation’s treasury than they earn.
Ali is the first Customs Comptroller-General to be appointed from outside the Customs Service; naturally, this caused a lot of protest from people who said that he lacked the experience to run the service to those who said it will cause a drop in morale. Some reports even had it that the World Customs Organization considered suspending Nigeria from the organization over his appointment.
However, the Senate has a strong point and the law on its side in insisting that the Comptroller-General must wear uniform, as Section 2 of the Customs and Excise Management Act does specify that all officers of the service wear the uniform.
Not only that, there is precedence to be taken from other paramilitary organizations, such as the Federal Road Safety Corps: Haladu Hananiya, a retired Major-General who was appointed to lead the road safety agency did not have any qualms with wearing the uniform of the Corps-Marshall. Also, when Osita Chidoka succeeded him in 2007, again, from outside the Commission, he also wore the uniform of the Corps-Marshall without having to be compelled to.
It is indeed absurd to have a paramilitary organization led by a person who does not wear the uniform of the organization. Not only that, Hameed Ali does seem to be breaking the law by refusing to wear the uniform of his rank in the Customs Service.
This does not look like a battle he can win. The more he digs his heels in on this matter, the more he keeps getting distracted from his main job, which is to collect customs duties appropriately for the country.
It is evident that what is at stake most for Ali is his pride. But he needs to remember – sometimes, you have to stoop to conquer.