The face-off between the Senate and the Comptroller General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali (rtd) over retrospective duty payment of vehicles worsened Tuesday.
The upper chamber insisted that the Custom’s boss must appear before it Wednesday in uniform.
It described Ali’s letter requesting for a new date to appear as “an insult to the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
The Custom CG had through an Assistant Comptroller General of Customs, one Abdulkadir Azarema, written to inform the Senate that he would not be available Wednesday as invited.
The CG requested for a new date to appear claiming that Wednesday 15th, March 2017 he was scheduled to appear before the Senate coincided with the fortnight meeting of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) management.
Apparently to show the disdain with which the Senate regarded the letter, Senate President, Abubakar Bukola Saraki, directed the Clerk to the Senate, Mr. Nelson Ayewoh, to read the CG’s letter.
It read in part, “Letter from CG, Re: Invitation to brief the Senate. “I am directed to acknowledge the receipt of your letter number Nass/CS/8S/R/09/29 of 9th March, 2017 on the above subject matter.
“I am further directed to inform you that the date given to the Comptroller General of the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) Wednesday 15th, March 2017 to brief the senate in plenary on the retrospective duty payment of vehicles in Nigeria as coincided with the fortnight meeting of the NCS management.
“Consequently, the comptroller general is humbly requesting for a new date from the distinguished senate.
“As we await your favourable response, please be assured of the highest regards and esteem of the Comptroller General of Customs. Signed Azarema A. Assistant Comptroller General, headquarters for Comptroller General of Customs”
Hardly had the Clerk concluded reading the letter when Senate Leader, Senator Ahmed Lawan, described the excuse given by the CG for new date to appear before the Senate as frivolous.
Senator Lawan wondered why the CG did not take personal interest to write the Senate but chose a mere assistant comptroller of Customs
The Yobe North lawmaker however prayed the Senate to give the CG a new date since “two wrongs does not make a right.”
Lawan said, “First, the excuse for not appearing Wednesday is because it coincided with routine fortnightly meeting of the management of the Nigerian Customs Service. My opinion is that, that does not take precedence on the invitation by the Senate.
“Secondly, the letter was signed by someone else not the CG. My opinion is that a letter coming to the Senate from the Customs especially an invitation was written for the Customs CG to appear here; he should have taken personal interest to write that letter and signed it. That would have given, in my judgement, some sense of respect for the institution (of the Senate) not for us.
“I feel slighted and am sure everybody feels the same. However, let me add that this Senate should, if possible oblige the request for the extension to show that we are different. Let’s take him on Thursday if he is saying he can’t be available tomorrow. Two wrongs would not make a right if it is possible. I know we feel hurt but whether it is live coverage or not Nigerians have interest in this and Nigerians will like to listen to the responses and explanations of the CG of Customs.”
Senator James Manager, (Delta South) disagreed with Lawan insisting that integrity of the Senate was being tested.
Senator Manager said, “The integrity of this senate is being tested. I want to inform you all particularly those who are first timers here, before you came there was this Senate and Senate remains the same and we have gone very far in terms of building this institution.
“I have been here since 2003 and so many powerful and great men have passed through this particular chamber and therefore when letters like this are coming from executive bodies, Senate must take a very firm stand.
“I disagree with my leader, Senator Ahmed Lawan with the greatest possible respect. If the CG had written and signed by him and then going further if he had established personal contact with the President of the Senate through the chairman of the Senate committee on Customs then that would have been understandable.
“But the man has somebody else to sign this letter to the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria this is very significant, an arm of government although the House of Representatives is there but this is the highest lawmaking body of this country and somebody like CG writing a letter and signed by somebody else.
“Certainly this is not a matter of two wrongs not making a right. Believe you me, the Comptroller General of Customs must appear tomorrow and the reason he gave that his invitation here is coinciding with a small meeting that is taking place over there.
“A meeting that is not beyond his control as a human being but this is Senate of the Federal Republic and the man is saying that because of that reason Senate should defer.
“I think this is an insult of the highest order. I think I met a very powerful Senate in 2003 and the Senate remains the same up till today and by the grace of God when I am leaving here I want to leave behind a very powerful Senate so that while over there I will be proud of the Senate that I left behind.
“As we speak there are so many products of this place who are listening and who are also itching for action and to some that we don’t go below the standards they left behind. The comptroller general must appear in uniform tomorrow and anything short of that certainly is not acceptable to me and I want to believe is not acceptable to all the senators and what is not acceptable to all the senators is not acceptable to all Nigerians.
Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi also explained that the position of the Custom CG was an insult on the Senate and ‘we are not taking it lightly.”
Abdullahi noted that the subject matter for which the CG was invited was dear to Nigerians.
He insisted that the Senate was prepared to stop any policy that impinges on the welfare of Nigerian.
The lawmaker who said that Customs boss was taking Nigerians for granted added Nigerians were being asked to pay for the inefficiency of NCS.
He said that the policy is anti-people and must be shelved.
Saraki in his ruling said that Senator Lawan spoke the way leaders are meant to speak in trying to see how best to move forward ‘but again we are all guided by the general view and opinion and integrity of this institution.
“I think it is clear and it’s a collective position as spoken by Senator James Manager. I don’t think there is need for us to prolong this issue. The position of the Senate is clear, he (CG) should appear tomorrow (today) as directed in uniform by the earlier resolution and we await to see him hereWednesday morning by 10:30am and after we finished because also tomorrow we have the Acting Chairman of EFCC who is also appearing before us for screening Wednesday and it will follow at 11:30am.”