Despite an order from the Nigerian Senate telling him to appear before them today in Customs uniform, Hameed Ali, the head of the agency, rolled up at around 9:30am in civilian clothes. He was promptly walked out of the session and asked to return on Wednesday in uniform.
Ali is a retired army colonel who was parachuted into the agency by President Muhammadu Buhari. Unlike career Customs officers, there is really no reasonable need for him to wear the uniform of Customs officers. Uniform or plain clothes have no reflection on how he heads the agency. But the Senate has been determined to turn this side issue into the main event.
Ali has insisted, quite rightly, that “there is no law compelling” him to wear the Customs uniform. He said he will seek legal advice to see if such law exists and asked the Senate to do the same.
But some senators chose instead to make it up as they went along. Senator Ibn Na’Allah said that sections 7,8 and 10 of the Customs Act was relevant in the argument that Ali should wear the uniform.
Section 7 is about information in pursuance of customs laws being confidential. Clearly nothing to do with wearing a uniform.
Section 8. Officers to have powers of police officers
For the purpose of carrying out or enforcing the provisions of the customs and excise laws, all officers
shall have the same powers, authorities and privileges as are given by law to police officers.
This has nothing to do with wearing uniforms, more about powers of arrest, investigation and prosecution.
Section 10: Unlawful assumption of character of officer
If, for the purpose of obtaining admission to any building or other place or to any ship, aircraft or
vehicle, or of doing or procuring to be done any act which he would not be entitled to do or procure to
be done of his own authority, or for any other unlawful purpose, any person, not being an officer,
assumes the name, designation or character of an officer, he shall, in addition to any other punishment
to which he may have rendered himself liable, be liable to a fine of one thousand naira or to
imprisonment for two years, or to both.
This is about impersonating a Customs officer. It has nothing to do with any law requiring Ali to don the uniform. Senator Na’Allah was the object of ridicule for his attempts in 2015 to regulate comments on social media.
Senator Barau Jibrin asked Ali to go and apply the law of the land by wearing a uniform before he addresses the Senate as stipulated in the constitution. He cleverly didn’t quote any relevant provisions of the constitution to support the wearing of Customs uniform.
One report claimed that the senators were visibly upset about Ali’s failure to wear the uniform with one senator describing it as “derogatory”. What is not clear is why the lawmakers have chosen to go down this ridiculous and clearly unlawful route. It is not like Nigerians do not already hold the legislators in low regard. But this is custom-made folly of the type Nigerians have come to expect from overpaid senators with little work to do.
The entire drama has overshadowed why the Senate wanted Ali to appear in the first place – to explain the policy on import duties on vehicles.