Recently, a rift arose between the Comptroller-General of the Nigerian Customs and the Nigerian Senate. The Senate has accused the Customs boss, Colonel Hameed Ali (retd) of disrespect to constituted authority.
Reports have it that the rift started when the lawmakers rejected the proposed new regulations on vehicle duties by the Nigerian Customs service. The Nigeria Customs Service had announced through a circular, defying the order of the senate, that they were giving vehicle owners across the country between March 13 and April 12 to clear their outstanding import duties. The action while being considered on the floor of the senate on Thursday 9th of March drew submissions from Senator Dino Melaye and Senator Solomon Adeola recommending that the Customs boss be summoned to a hearing “unfailingly” by Wednesday 15th March to explain the new law, adding the phrase that has since gone viral – “in his uniform”. They went ahead to express their readiness to deny him admission into the senate if he fails to don his uniform to the hearing.
However, while speaking on a breakfast TV programme on TVC, and in response to the invitation by the upper chamber, (Rtd) Colonel Ali Hammed stated that he would answer the invitation but he would not be wearing his uniform, as he was not appointed to wear the uniform but to work. He explained further that the work he does is more important than the uniform, and that the execution of his tasks should be the concern of senate, not the apparently frivolous issue of the uniform. The face-off between the two has created a gap between civilians with some taking the side of the senate while others think it is within the rights of the senate to summon him to plenary and demand that he appear in his institutional uniform which carries his rank as the Comptroller-General. Whichever way one decides to look at this, the Senate would not end up on the wrong side.
It should be noted that this would not be the first time Alli would be summoned by the senate. He was first summoned by the senate in February to explain the arbitrary sacking and promotion of some officers of the Nigerian Customs Service without the ratification of the Customs board. It was at the session the issue of the uniform was first raised. Alli, in response, explained that tradition does not allow him as a Retired Colonel of the Nigerian Army to wear a paramilitary uniform. The response prompted Senator Dino Melaye to mention a former Corps Marshal of the Federal Road Safety corps, Halidu Hannaniya who wore the uniform while discharging his duties despite being a retired General in the Nigerian Army. Alli, in his defence, maintained that Hannaniya acted out of order. His defiance made some of the senators stage a walk out on him. It was only then normal for the senators to want to correct such anomaly at their next meeting.
Hence, at the plenary on Thursday, Senate Deputy Majority Leader, Senator Bala Ibn Na’allah prayed the house to summon the customs boss to explain the rationale behind the new Import duty policy which could empower custom officials to collect duties from motorists across the country. The senate deemed the law inappropriate and in contravention of the constitution, enjoining the Customs to seek another way to shore up its revenue. The senators which apparently had been watching the flagrant disrespect of the institution the Customs boss represents by refusing to wear the uniform, even to official functions, decided to use that moment to correct the anomaly once and for all. They therefore mandated him to appear before the house in his uniform. In this case, the senate is acting within their rights to arrest anomalies within the Nigerian state.
A careful look at Alli’s reasons shows that he is only relying on an unknown tradition to defy and abuse a greater necessity. The tradition that guides retired army officers cannot be greater than the necessities by which heads and officers of paramilitary agencies are bound. The officers and heads of every paramilitary agency are expected to wear the uniforms of their institutions, indicating their rank. It is the norm. Anything otherwise is a flagrant disobedience of the laws and ethics that guide that institution. Alli Hammed being a retired Colonel from the Nigerian Army is not excusable as there is no extant code stopping him from putting on the uniform of a paramilitary institution. If there was, then he should never have been appointed. He should have outrightly rejected the appointment. Accepting the job means accepting every condition that comes with it. if he would not comply with any, then he is better off not there.
The issue has little do not with the senate as a body. It has a lot to do with an individual claiming exception on an unexplainable ground. If there is a law that stops him from putting on a paramilitary uniform, he should come forward with it.
While the issue surrounding the uniform is never as important as the duty of the Customs boss, it is still notwithstanding central to the position occupied by the man, Alli Hammed. It is a symbol of his authority and identification.
More so, the position of Alli appears more as a determined undermining of the laws of the institution he heads. No law supports his decision, no recorded event supports it. His reply reeks pride and impunity. Alli basically has no valid reason for his insistence on not wearing the uniform of his institution. And to all truth, we thought we had gone beyond the era of an individual being bigger than an institution of the state.
At the plenary on Wednesday, Alli would first be expected to appear in uniform before the senators, and then provide a clear explanation of his new import duties. And this he would have to do if he intends to implement that policy as the law, as of now, remains suspended until he clears the air.