It all began when the Senate requested the Comptroller-General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ami (rtd) to appear before the upper chamber to throw light on the controversial ultimatum issued to car owners and dealers nationwide to pay the duties on their vehicles between March 13, 2016 and April 12, 2019, or risk having their cars impounded. The invitation was not the first extended to the head of a government parastatal, neither was it the first extended to the head of the Nigeria Customs Service. But the invitation graduated from what was meant to be an official interaction to a drama between the Senate and Customs CG. The uproar on appearing in uniform and the refusal of the CG to appear in Customs uniform is still fresh in mind. The CG had stated that being a retired soldier, he would not wear two uniforms in his lifetime. It took the intervention of the presidency to resolve what was becoming an embarrassment. However, when the CG eventually appeared before the Senate, he did so in mufti and was walked out by angry Senators. That encounter appears to have sown a seed of discord between the Senate and Ali with the latter waiting for a good time to retaliate.
The Senate on its part too has resolved to carry on with its oversight function especially in the areas of uncovering corruption in government parastatals. Following a motion raised last year by Senator Mohammed Hassan (PDP, Yobe South) entitled, “Urgent need to investigate and curtail the ongoing monumental economic waste at the Nigerian Customs Service,” the Senate set up an ad-hoc committee on Economic Waste in the Nigeria Customs Service with a mandate to investigate if Customs warehouse loads of seized perishable goods of high economic value, among other things. The visit of the committee to the headquarters of the Nigerian Customs led to another face-off between the CG and Senators present. This time it was not about uniform; rather it was on matters of protocols. An observation by Senator Dino Melaye on matters of protocols turned into an exchange. The CG in a confrontational manner lectured the Senators on the protocols of the Customs and how he was not required to welcome the Senators into the premises even if courtesy demands he does. Media reports further revealed that the CG left the premises while leaving his guests behind after shunning the traditional group photograph. Nothing could have been more disdainful.
One wonders why the CG has chosen this confrontational path with the lawmakers. It is an undeniable fact that some of our legislators have negative baggage that portray them as enemies of the people, but as currently constituted, the lawmakers remain the representatives of the Nigerian people except a court of law says otherwise or there is a major amendment to our constitution. To disregard members of the upper legislative chamber whilst on official duty is to show an embarrassing level of disdain to the parliament, which is a symbol of our democracy. To what end really is this confrontation? Why does the CG enjoy making the headline for being at loggerheads with members of the National Assembly?
Perhaps it is high time the presidency again called the CG to order. Calling the bluff of the members of the National Assembly at every opportunity does not add anything to our democracy; rather it threatens it. Actions by people in revered offices travel from the present into the future; they serve as precedents in the future. The CG is setting an example unworthy of emulation. The nature of our democracy does not give room for the parliament to enforce the law; they depend on the executive arm to do so. And since the legislators cannot arrest the CG, they will naturally resort to other means available to them. What the CG must understand is that being a staff of the President, his misdemeanour can lead to another face-off between the National Assembly and the President. A cold relationship between the executive and legislature does not alleviate the unpleasant plight of the people; it actually worsens it. It is sad that these are avoidable conflicts if only every government official choose to be gentlemanly in their conduct. Confrontation will not bring about the much needed development, what we need is collaboration. The Nigeria Customs Service needs the Senate just as much as the Senate needs Customs to be efficient. Collaboration should be the watchword, not confrontation.
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