Hope Uzodinma, Chairman, Senate Committee on Customs, is at the hub of the spat between the Nigeria Senate and the Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Colonel Hameed Ali.
It would be recalled that earlier this month, the Upper House ordered Mr. Ali to appear in uniform before it in connection with the service’s directive against owners of vehicles not duly registered with it.
He declined to obey either order. Among others, he asserted he was not a career Customs official and had in fact risen to the rank of colonel in the Nigerian Army and would therefore not wear the uniform of a para-military agency such as the Customs. The Senate threatened to have him arrested.
SaharaReporters has learned that the the origin of the spat is a letter, dated November 17, 2016, written by Mr. Uzodinma's in his capacity as Senate Committee Chairman on Customs. In it, he requested from Colonel Ali the release of 30 seized containers of rice which had been smuggled into the country via Tin Can Island Port and were fraudulently declared as yeast.
Titled "Thirty (30) Containers of Rice Seized By The Nigeria Customs Service At Tin Can Port Owned By Masters Energy Commodities Trading Limited," Mr. Uzodinma's letter had a tone of faux deference to the Comptroller-General. The letter put the blame for the passing off of rice as yeast on the clearing agents hired by Masters Energy Commodities Trading Limited and argued that the seizure of the consignment was unjust.
"We have gone through the documents, as submitted, and wish to suggest that you use your good office to look into the case of this company, Masters Energy Commodities Trading Limited," wrote Mr. Uzodinma.
The Senator then proceeded to make an excuse for the importer, saying it may not have consented to its clearing agents' fraudulent decision to pass of rice as yeast in a bid to evade paying appropriate duties.
"The owner of these containers was probably shortchanged by their agents. The declaration by the agents that the content of the containers was yeast may not be with the consent of the importer of the 30 containers. May we, therefore, suggest that you take a second look at this case, subject to your internal mechanism because the committee is of the opinion that it would be unjust to punish the owners of the 30 containers because of the sins of the agent. We suggest that agents should rather be punished to act as a deterrent to others," wrote Uzondima, whose conclusions were based on probability, not evidence.
It would appear from subsequent developments that Mr. Ali brushed that letter aside, setting the stage for hostilities from the Senate to him.
Recently, SaharaReporters exposed Senate President Bukola Saraki, for willful evasion of appropriate customs duties on a bullet-proof vehicle he imported which was seized by the Customs. Mr. Saraki had deployed the same trick of trying to use official muscle through a letter signed by a Mr. O.A Ojo, a Director in the National Assembly Service Commission, demanding-unsuccessfully-the release of the vehicle from the Customs boss.