Like a phoenix, the feud between the Senate and the Comptroller General of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Col. Hameed Ali (rtd), yesterday got a fresh life of its own as members of an ad hoc committee of the Red Chamber engaged the Custom CG in a verbal exchange.
The lawmakers and Ali resumed their protracted feud at the NCS headquarters in Abuja, with both parties addressing each other with foul languages in a manner that is uncomplimentary of their status.
Members of the Senate ad hoc committee on Economic Waste had gone to the headquarters of the NCS to carry out some investigations on allegations of economic waste in the Service.
Drama started when chairman of the committee, Senator Dino Melaye (APC Kogi West), observed that the Customs CG, by way of protocol, was supposed to have come down from his office to welcome the committee members into the premises instead of just meeting them at the conference room.
Noting that the protocol had been the practice with statutory bodies like Customs, Immigration and Prisons over the years, Melaye wondered why Ali did not accord the committee such etiquette.
The Senator said, “Before reading the prepared speech of the committee, let me make these small remarks on what we have just observed here in form of breach of protocols. Mr CG, rather than meeting us here at the conference room by way of courtesy, you are supposed to have met us at the ground floor on arrival into the premises.
“That has been the practice of statutory bodies headed by Chief Executive Officers like you. Relevant Senate committees have over the years been accorded this by bosses of Immigration Service, Prison Service etc., making us to wonder why it is not so here today under your leadership. If this repeats itself another time, we will take a walk”.
He drew the attention of the Customs CG to the fact that the meeting was like a typical Senate session, which must be accorded the same respect despite the fact that it was taking place at the headquarters of the NCS.
“Therefore before proceeding further, on account of this observation, we want the Customs management to know that the presence of this committee before it implies that the Senate itself is before it to put things in order as regards the economic waste taking place in the Customs Service requiring the seriousness it deserves from you and the entire management”, he added.
Senator Melaye, in an already charged atmosphere, bemused the Customs top management officers further by declaring that the committee’s meeting with them was more or less that of the Senate Plenary.
To drive home his point, the lawmaker hit the gavel on the table before him to declare the meeting open, after which he read a prepared speech outlining how the committee would carry out its investigation on economic waste in Customs Service.
But no sooner had Melaye delivered his speech than the Customs boss, in a more potent counter attack, told the committee that Customs has its own protocols different from other public establishments and should not be dictated to on matters of etiquette or protocol.
Ali said, “We have our own protocol as regards receiving visitors like you. I don’t need to come downstairs to receive you just as nobody in the Senate or House of Representatives has ever come out to receive us anytime we visit the National Assembly.
“So, there is no breach of protocol for not coming down to welcome you since appropriate officers have been assigned to do so. Our protocol is our protocol and should be allowed to be. In fact, by way of etiquette, it is the committee that is supposed to come to my office first on arrival and not just coming straight to the conference room.
Schooling the committee members the more on etiquette, Ali thundered: “Let me state clearly that we in the Nigeria Customs Service are servants of the people. We believe in Nigeria and working with others to make it great without being railroaded in anyway. Personally, I took this job because of my commitment to serve this country selflessly, having earlier done so in the Military. So, nobody can tell me that I am not a committed Nigeria.
“On your assignment you called economic waste, we shall cooperate with you to unearth whatever you want to unearth and effect any correction if there is any”.
The verbal attacks and counter attack culminated in a practical exhibition of anger and resentment between the Senate ad hoc committee and the Customs management, first with the boycott of group photographs by members of the senate committee.
Immediately after the unpalatable encounter at the conference room, the committee members got more bruised by the Customs CG who apparently out of annoyance walked out on the visitors from the premises after using his convoy to block them from leaving the place before him.
The Customs CG eventually left the Customs headquarters in zone 3 at about 2:15pm with his siren-blaring convoy, while the humiliated members of the Senate committee left at about 2:30pm after being held up in their bus for about 15 minutes by Ali’s convoy, which was stationed at the exit gate.
Senators who suffered the humiliation along with Senator Melaye were Sam Anyanwu (PDP IMO East), Gilbert Nnaji (PDP Enugu East), Hamman Isah Misau (APC Bauchi Central) and Babajide Omoworare (APC Osun East).
LEADERSHIP recalls that before yesterday’s bitter encounter with the Senate’s ad hoc committee, the Customs CG had a running battle with the Senate between 2016 and early 2017 over his mode of dressing.
While Customs boss had been performing his official function in mufti since 2015 when he was appointed, the Senate wanted him to appear in uniform and ordered him to do so in plenary.
But Ali stood his ground by appearing in mufti, a development that landed the lawmakers and the CG in court.
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