Senate declares Customs boss unfit to hold office
The Senate on Wednesday called for the resignation Col. Hameed Ali (retd) as Comptroller-General of Customs, saying he was unfit to hold public office.
The call followed a unanimous adoption of a four-point prayer at plenary and reading of a letter sent to the senate by the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Mr Abubakar Malami.
The Senate had on Thursday summoned Ali to appear before it on Wednesday in the uniform designated for his office and rank in the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS).
His appearance was to brief the lawmakers on the retrospective policy of payment of customs duty on vehicles by motorists.
In Wednesday’s resolution, the senate held that for refusing to honour the summons on the NCS retrospective policy on duty payment and refusal to wear Customs uniform, Ali was unfit to hold any public office.
The upper chamber also said that Ali was not fit to be addressed as Comptroller-General of Customs after refusing to wear the service’s uniform.
It condemned the action of the AGF for attempting to derail it from carrying out its legislative responsibilities as enshrined in the Constitution, especially in section 4, 5 and 6 that define the separation of powers.
According to the senate, the AGF’s action is against Sections 88 and 89 of the Constitution that empower the National Assembly to carryout investigation on any person or authority.
The lawmakers also resolved to send a strong-worded letter to the Executive arm of government, attaching the resolution to serve as deterrent to others, who would want to flout the same Constitutional provisions.
In the debate that preceded the resolution, Sen. Dino Melaye (APC-Kogi) said it was an abnormality for an arm of government to stop another arm of government from carrying out its legitimate duties.
According to him, the action of the Attorney-General of the Federation was uncalled for, given the importance of the position he held.
“Where did the AGF derive his powers to authorize or direct the Senate on what to do? He has no such powers to imply by inference on our constitutional responsibility.
“This is the first time in history of black Africa that an AGF would write to the senate authorizing and compelling it to put a hold on its duties.
“What we have is not even a court order but a mere process filed in the court by a third party asking us to abandon our constitutional responsibility.
“ It is another dark day for democracy. The integrity and independence of the legislature is on the line,’’ he said.
The lawmaker went further to state that the Senate Standing Order provide that it senate should stay action on court orders not court process,’’ he said.
He said that the action was a clear indication that that the customs boss was not fit to occupy such office, adding that by the Civil Service Rule, Ali ought to resign his position because he was above 60.
Melaye therefore advised President Muhammadu Buhari to make Ali a sole administrator, pointing out that the present position he held was a rank that demanded that he wore uniform.
He assured that no amount of blackmail would stop the senate from carrying out its constitutional duty, and said “enough is enough.
Sen. Ibrahim Gobir (APC-Sokoto) said it was important for Nigerians to know that the reasons given by Ali for not wearing Customs uniform were unjustified.
He suggested that the senate should write to Buhari asking him to call the AGF to order.
According to him, we should write a letter to the president to ask that the AGF to stop interfering in our duty.
“ The arms of government are independent of one another, so, we don’t need interference.’’
Sen. Ennyinaya Abaribe (PDP-Abia) said the issue of uniform was prompted by the retrospective policy on payment of customs duty on vehicles by motorists.
He added that the lawmakers should also deliberate on the policy, adding that it was an obnoxious one meant to put Nigerians through more hardship.
Abaribe urged the chamber not to derail from the main issue of proposed Customs policy, saying that there were insinuations that the senate was derailing from the matter.
“In the light of this, I want to question the understanding of the AGF of the laws of Nigeria.
“This is because by writing to the senate to say that there is a judicial order shows his abysmal lack of understanding of our laws.
“If there is a challenge we go to the AGF and now we have an AGF that does not know the law, does not know what to do.
“We have a decided case by the Supreme Court in 2015 where it held that no arm of government can take decision to stop any other arm of government.
“The AGF may not have seen this decision of the Supreme Court,’’ he said.
Abaribe called on the senate to declare Ali unfit to hold public office following his refusal to appear before the senate.
Many senators spoke on the issue and in his remarks, the Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, who presided at plenary, commended the lawmakers for their maturity and determination to protect the National Assembly.
He said that the gesture was a sign that they meant well for the country, adding, “we will all pass through this place and this place will remain.
“ It is important that the integrity of this institution be maintained just as also we are in a position and as well as maintain the integrity of other institutions of government.
“Recall that this was just a simple request by the senate that a policy that is putting more hardship on our people should be reconsidered.
“A policy that sounds to be retrospective and we say please, reconsider your request. What we got was that it was irreversible.
“I don’t see any big deal in somebody dressing up in uniform of the organisation he heads. We expect him to live by example.
“If he comes here properly dressed the other officers and men will follow the same example.
“We don’t want a situation where we will be telling people by our conduct that we are free to go to customs duties wearing `babanriga’.
Ekweremadu said that the action of the customs boss was unacceptable.
He also condemned the action of the AGF, saying “ it is important that a message be sent to him.
“We are a different arm of government that we also obey the law, but we obey the law in accordance with our Constitution.
“This matter has to be resolved. The President also has to caution his appointees in making sure they obey the law and Constitution. We act in harmony for the interest of our people,’’ he said.
He pointed out that there was no dispute between the legislature and the executive, adding that “all we want is to agree that we cannot put pressure on our people for policies that cannot be explained.’’
NAN recalls that the Senate on Thursday turned back the Ali from the chamber for not appearing before it in Customs uniform.
The senators directed him to return on Wednesday in proper uniform designated for the rank of Comptroller-General of Customs.
They lawmakers had earlier invited Ali to appear before them on March 8 but he declined on the ground that he had a management meeting.
Not satisfied with the reason, the senate issued a warrant mandating him to appear on March 16 and in uniform.
He appeared but not in uniform and he was turned back and asked to return on Wednesday, properly dressed.