Senators yesterday told Customs chief Col. Hameed Ali to resign.
The upper chamber declared the Customs Comptroller-General unfit to hold public office.
The lawmakers resolved to ask Col. Ali to immediately throw in the towel in the interest of good governance and rule of law.
The Senate also came down hard on the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, for allegedly advising Col. Ali to shun its invitation.
The resolutions were made after about one hour 30 minutes closed session where issues concerning Col. Ali’s appearance in uniform were discussed.
It was a charged session where senators took turns to criticize Col. Ali for not honoring the Senate’s invitation.
The lawmakers concluded that Col. Ali deliberately refused to honor the invitation to appear at the Senate using an “orchestrated pending suit as a cover”.
Briefing by the Comptroller General of Customs and Excise in line with Senate resolution was listed in Order Paper as one of the businesses of the day.
Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu told the Senate after the closed session that a letter was received on Tuesday from the AGF, asking the Senate to stay action on Col. Ali’s invitation due to a court process on the subject matter of the invitation.
Ekweremadu asked the Clerk, Nelson Ayewoh, to read the letter.
The letter reads: “Re: Suit Number FHC/ABJ/CS/207/2017. Mohammed Ibrahim (ESQ) Versus Col.Hameed Ibrahim Ali (rtd) and four others
“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 (copy attached).
“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 the 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.
“Accept my warm regards. Signed, Abubakar Malami, SAN Hon. Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice.”
Ekweremadu threw the matter open for contributions.
Senator Jude Uwajimogu, (Imo North) who was the first to contribute, noted that Nigeria operates a democracy and no arm of government could not stop another from doing its duty.
He said that the matter had been laid to rest by the Supreme Court that no arm of government had the authority to stop the other from performing its constitutional duty.
Senator Dino Melaye (Kogi West) said President Muhammadu Buhari should choose between rule of law and Col. Ali.
Melaye said: “What we have from the AGF is an insult on the institution of the National assembly, especially on the Senate. Where did he derive his power to suggest to us or direct us on how we should carry out our function. This is the first time that any AGF will have the temerity to do so.
“What we have is not a court order or injunction; it is a mere process. The integrity and the independence of the legislature is at stake. We have a rule which says that a matter already in court cannot be treated here, but not a matter that we are already treating and somebody went to court.
“The CG is not even fit to be the CG of Customs. The position of the CG is a rank and anybody holding that office is a public servant. The compulsory retirement age for the service is 60 years and Hameed Ali is far above 60 and therefore not qualified to hold that office.
“The President has a choice to choose between the rule of law and the CG.
“If we begin to have interference with our rules it will not work and, therefore, no amount of blackmail will deter us from carrying out our duty.”
Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe (Abia South) said the advice of the AGF to Col. Ali not to honor the Senate invitation showed abysmal understanding of the law.
Abaribe said: “The fact of the matter was the obnoxious policy which was introduced by the CG; this is what brought us to the matter of asking the CG to come and explain to Nigerians that policy. I don’t want Nigerians to forget that. I want to question the knowledge of the AGF on Nigeria law. His action shows an abysmal knowledge and understanding of the law. I leave it to those who appointed him to tell us why he advised the Customs CG to disobey and disrespect the Senate.
“I suggest we ignore him….and for the CG we must declare him totally unfit for the office to teach him a lesson.”
Abaribe who quoted Order 53(5) of the Senate Standing Rules, said: “No other person is important in this matter order than the Senate President.
“I want to question the understanding of the AGF of the laws of Nigeria. By going ahead to write to the Clerk to the Senate, it shows an abysmal lack of understanding of how things work here.
“We have an AGF who does not understand the provisions of the law. Finally, there is a decided case by the Supreme Court that no arm of government can stop another arm from doing its work.
“I am sure that the AGF has not seen the judgment in question. The CG has deliberately refused to come here. Let us declare the CG of Customs unfit to head the agency. We need to send a strong signal.”
Senator Ibrahim Gobir (Sokoto East) suggested that the Senate should write the President to urge him to stop the AGF from interfering in the activity of the National Assembly.
He said that the AGF had formed the habit of unduly interfering in the affairs of the National Assembly.
Senator Biodun Olujimi described the position of the Customs CG as “gross impunity and arrogant display of ignorance”.
She said “This is gross impunity. There is arrogant display of the ignorance by the CG who believes that he is bigger than the law and the CG who is ignorant of his duties.
“There is separation of power and he has refused to understand it, forgetting that he is a mere appointee.”
Senator Isa Hamma Misau (Bauchi Central) noted that when President Buhari was away on medial ground there was no tension or killings in the country.
Misau said: “The enemies of this government are within the Presidency. They are trying as much as possible to distract the President from performing.
“The people surrounding the President are creating tension to destroy him from concentrating to do good for the people…..It is, therefore, time for Nigerians to pray for the President. The letter from the AGF is trying to create problem between the President and the National Assembly.
“For the 59 days the President was away did you hear about any killings, did you hear about any herdsmen attack, did you hear about Niger Delta Avengers. On the return of the President people in government are creating tension every where. The people surrounding the president are his enemies.”
Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi (Niger) said that when they intervened it was on the basis of the outcry by Nigerians over the retrospective payment of duty on vehicles.
Abaribe moved that the Senate should declare the Customs CG unfit to hold any public office and that he should resign as Customs CG.
Senator Francis Alimikhena (Edo North) seconded the prayer.
The two prayers were unanimously adopted.
Senator George Thompson Sekibo (Rivers East) moved that the Senate should resolve to condemn the AGF for attempting to derail the Senate from carrying out its functions and to write President Buhari to restrain the AGF from the unconstitutional interference in the work of the Senate.
It said that the service should perfect ways and means to collect customs duty on border and entry points “instead of harassing innocent Nigerians on the hinter roads.”
The Senate resolved to write President Buhari to intimate him about all the resolutions.
Ekweremadu who summed up the contributions insisted that the integrity of all arms of government should be respected at all times.
He said that all arms of government are serving the same people.
Ekweremadu said that Ali was invited because the Senate wanted him to explain a policy majority of Nigerians opposed.