Senate declares customs’ CG Ali unfit for public office
• Asks him to quit, berates AGF
• SGF rejects invitation by lawmakers
From Azimazi Momoh Jimoh and Segun Olaniyi, Abuja
The face-off between the Senate and the Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Col. Hameed Ali (rtd) took a turn for the worse yesterday as the lawmakers unanimously declared him unfit to hold any public office. They, therefore, asked him to resign immediately.
The Senate has been in a running battle with Ali over a controversial vehicles duty policy which he was later forced to suspend.
The NCS is an important revenue generating agency of government. For it to achieve its target, it has to enjoy a harmonious relationship with the National Assembly which also oversights in the democratic schedule. The absence of such synergy will adversely affect the operations of the service , a consequence of which will be low revenue for government to meet its commitments.
Following the initial reluctance of the customs’ boss to honour its invitation, the Senate threatened to issue an arrest warrant to compel him to appear before it to answer questions on the policy. When Ali eventually appeared at the Senate last week, the upper chamber walked him out for improper dressing . He did not wear the NCS uniform. He was ordered to re- appear with his uniform yesterday.
But at yesterday’s sitting, the CG could not be found. Instead, the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, wrote a letter urging the lawmakers to stay action on the matter, claiming that it was already before a court of law.
But the Senate resolved to disregard the letter which it described as an attempt to stop it from performing its constitutional duties.
After an initial closed-door session on the matter which lasted for about one and a half hours, Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu who presided over the plenary, instructed the Clerk to the Senate, Nelson Ayewoh, to read the letter from the AGF.
The letter reads: “I wish to formally intimate you that I am in receipt of a letter dated 20th, March 2017, wherein I have been served with an originating summons in respect of the above subject matter.
“The originating summons is seeking among other declarations ‘whether the oversight functions of the National Assembly extends to compelling and/or giving directive to the first defendant to wear uniform.’
“In line with the principles of rule of law, court decisions or most importantly, the declarations sought have been deeply rooted in the constitutional provisions; I hold the view that this matter is sub-judice.
“In view of three above, it is the interest of justice and rule of law to stay all actions in this case until the constitutional issues raised in the matters are resolved by the law courts. I wish to further intimate you that as a defendant in the said suit, I intend to file processes and pursue it to a logical conclusion.”
This attracted anger from the senators, many of whom simultaneously raised motions on how to deal with the matter.
Abdullahi Sabi, (APC, Niger State) moved the first motion stating that the NCS be compelled to cancel the controversial policy on vehicle inspection and come up with better ways of carrying out their responsibilities. His motion was endorsed.
Enyinnaya Abaribe moved the other motion suggesting that the Senate should declare the customs’ boss unfit to hold any public office. He added that Ali should be asked to immediately resign from office as comptroller general of NCS. His motion was overwhelmingly supported.
George Sekibo moved another motion that the Senate should condemn the AGF for allegedly flouting the provisions of separation of powers and the rule of law. It was equally approved.
Abdullahi Gobir’s motion that the Senate should write to President Muhammadu Buhari to call the AGF and other government officials to order failed as no one seconded it.
Biodun Olujimi added that the Senate should write a letter and attach the resolutions which would be forwarded to Buhari to deter other government officials from flouting the decisions of the Senate.
The letter from the AGF generated a serious debate during which Benjamin Uwajunogu (APC Imo State) declared that in line with an existing Supreme Court judgment, no arm of government, including the courts, can stop another from performing its duties.
Dino Melaye described the letter as an insult. He said never in the history of any democracy in Africa has a minister of government written a letter to the parliament, advising it not to carry out its constitutional functions.
Drawing instances from the Civil Service Rule, he said the position of the CG of customs means the occupant is a public servant and is subject to the laws. By the provision of the Civil Service Rule, Ali is therefore not qualified to be the CG as he is over 60 years.
In his concluding remarks, Ekweremadu warned against frivolous court cases, maintaining that if caution was not exercised, aggrieved Nigerians might begin to file cases in court to stop the confirmation of ministers and other government appointees.
Also yesterday, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), David Babachir Lawal toed Ali’s line when he communicated to the Senate Ad-Hoc committee on Mounting Humanitarian Crises in the North East that he would not honour their invitation today.
The SGF, in a personally signed letter addressed to the Chairman of the committee, Senator Shehu Sani, said he would not honour the committee’s invitation because he had already gone to court over the matter upon which he is being invited.
The letter dated 22nd March 2017 and titled: “Re-Invitation for public hearing”, reads: “Your letter of invitation to appear before the above committee refers.
“I wish to kindly request that you draw the attention of the other members of the committee that I will not be able to appear before the committee primarily because I have gone to court to challenge the invitation among others.”