Much Ado About Uniform

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The inimitable afro beat maestro, the late Fela Anikulapo Kuti, in the lyrics of one of his anti-establishment songs in the heydays of the military in politics, sang ‘uniform na cloth, na tailor sew am. That evergreen melody re-echoes even today as the Senate and the Comptroller- General of Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), Col Hameed Ali (rtd), flex muscles and exchange brickbats over a non-issue that has to do with whether or not he should appear before the Senate in uniform. The retired soldier said that he was not disposed to wearing uniform again after retiring from service as a soldier many years ago. His reason is that he cannot wear uniform twice.
We understand that as an after-thought because, at the time the appointment was made, he knew that Customs is a uniformed service and its dress code is clearly defined. He had an option not to accept the offer if he was so averse to wearing uniform. The Senate, on its part, is insisting that he has no choice in the matter and even turned him back from the Red Chamber when, recently, he made a bold attempt to appear in the Assembly premises in mufti. The issue which is capable of demonstrating the lack of seriousness of some of the nation’s leaders to State matters has been going back and forth as if uniform per se has any contribution to make to the overall welfare of the man in the street. Customs is entangling itself with some controversial policies which the Senate wants clarification on. This uniform debate is an unnecessary diversion.
Col Ali may decide not to wear uniform in the exercise of his duties as the boss of the Customs Service and he will be in good company because, before him, there were some Customs chiefs who did not have to bother about uniform. That was because some of them, like Ali himself, were appointed from outside the service.
In our opinion, Col Ali may likely lose public sympathy in this showdown with the Senate not because he refused to dress appropriately as the service code demands but because of the way he is going about it. He is too daring and is creating the impression that he is in a position to pick and choose which national rules to obey. It is an incontrovertible fact that this is a democracy. The members of the Senate represent the whole country who elected them to serve as their lawmakers. They are not talking to the Customs boss in their private capacities but as the collective voice of the people who elected them. Challenging their authority in the manner Col Ali did and is still doing by appearing before them in mufti, is alarmingly disrespectful of the will of the people which, in our view, is unacceptable. He was a top notch soldier, military Governor and a respected Northern leader. These should influence his public conduct for the simple reason that he is a role model who must consistently show good example. Disobeying the Senate President, the office and not Bukola Saraki the person, may send out the wrong signals to the younger generation who look up to him.
We had thought that the Customs Comptroller-General would have appeared before the Senate to show that he is a law abiding citizen even if he will subsequently continue his duties in mufti. Or use the opportunity of his appearance to explain to the lawmakers why uniform is not convenient for him at this point. For him to have boasted publicly that he will not wear it and went ahead to make good his boast is sufficient proof that something is wrong somewhere. We are afraid that ego is fast creeping into the matter and the Senate is threatening to order the arrest of the Customs boss. We hope it does not degenerate to that level.
It is pertinent to stress that the Senate has the constitutional powers to invite any government official to appear before it to shed more light on grey areas in public policy and that includes the President, Commander-in-Chief. The Senate wants the Comptroller-General of Customs to appear before it to explain some of its most recent policies. If the Senate insists that he must appear before it in the appropriate dress code, so be it.

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