From Kemi Yesufu, Abuja The decision to retain health maintenance organisations (HMOs) as part of the country’s health insurance programme caused a major disagreement between the House of Representatives Committee on Health Services and the executive secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Prof. Yusuf Usman. Usman, at the just concluded two-day investigative hearing…
Senators compel Customs CG to appear today
From Uche Usim, Abuja
The Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) yesterday succumbed to pressure to temporarily suspend enforcement of duty payment on used vehicles.
This is coming on the heels of failure of Customs Comptroller General, Colonel Hammed Ali, to appear before the Senate, prompting senators to issue an ultimatum for him to honour the invitation unfailingly today.
Announcing the suspension of the duty payment, spokesman of Customs, Joseph Attah, said in a statement that, the Senate Committee on Customs & Excise would interface with the Customs for further discussions on the controversial matter.
His words: “Following the unnecessary tension generated as a result of misconception and misrepresentation of the Nigeria Customs Service’s planned motor duty payment, the leadership of the National Assembly and the Comptroller-General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali (retd.) met, with a view to resolving the impasse. They both agreed that the proposed motor duty payment, though in line with the provision of Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA) Cap C.45, LFN 2004, should be put on hold while the Senate Committee on Customs & Excise interfaces with the NCS for further discussions.
“While payment of duty on vehicles or, indeed, any dutiable imported item remains a civic responsibility of every patriotic Nigerian, NCS Management has directed that the exercise be put on hold, while expressing readiness to engage the Senate Committee on further discussions to bring them on board to understand the importance of the exercise to national security and economy.”
Meanwhile, Col. Ali yesterday failed to appear before the Senate to defend why he refused to suspend action on the implementation of the controversial duty payment policy.
During plenary yesterday, Senate Leader, Ahmad Lawan, moved a motion that the Customs CG be invited into the chamber at about 11.18am.
The Senate President, Bukola Saraki, thereafter, explained that he held a meeting with Col. Ali on Tuesday, where they both agreed that the policy would be suspended, as consultations are made with relevant stakeholders and the Nigerian public.
Soon after Saraki’s remarks, Senator Kabiru Marafa from Zamfara State, released the first salvo, when he suggested that the relevant portions of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, be invoked to compel Col. Ali to appear.
Senator George Sekibo, from Rivers State, was more forceful in his remarks. Relying on Section 89 of the Constitution, Sekibo urged his colleagues to act in line with the provisions of the constitution.
He suggested: “This matter has gone beyond the Comptroller-General of Nigerian Customs Service. It has gone beyond the Senate. It is now about the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Section 88 and 89 of the Constitution is clear on the powers vested on the National Assembly to act. “My suggestion is that instead of oration, let us issue a warrant and compel him to come. Every other thing is unnecessary at this moment.”
Part of Section 89 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, which was extensively quoted by Senator Sekibo reads: “The National Assembly can summon any person in Nigeria to give evidence at any place or produce any document or other thing in his possession or under his control, and examine him as a witness and require him to produce any document or other thing in his possession or under his control, subject to all just exceptions.
“Or issue a warrant to compel the attendance of any person who, after having been summoned to attend, fails, refuses or neglects to do so and does not excuse such failure, refusal or neglect to the satisfaction of the House or the committee in question, and order him to pay all costs, which may have been occasioned in compelling his attendance or by reason of his failure, refusal or neglect to obey the summons, and also to impose such fine as may be prescribed for any such failure, refused or neglect; and any fine so imposed shall be recoverable in the same manner as a fine imposed by a court of law.
“A summons or warrant issued under this section may be served or executed by any member of the Nigeria Police Force or by any person authorised in that behalf by the President of the Senate or the Speaker of the House of Representatives, as the case may require.”
While responding to Senator Sekibo’s contribution, Saraki pleaded that Col. Ali be invited at another date. His voice was overwhelmed by a loud shout of ‘no’ from lawmakers.
Sekibo again spoke and added: “In line with Section 89, I rise to move that this Senate compels the CG of NCS to appear here at a given date. Specifically, he should appear tomorrow.”
The floor of the Senate became rowdy. At this point, the Chief Whip of the Senate, Senator Olusola Adeyeye, got up to second the motion moved by Sekibo. His voice was drowned by shouts of angry lawmakers, who protested his suggestion to add to the position made by Sekibo. For about three minutes, Adeyeye and his colleagues engaged in a shouting match.
Angered by the refusal of other lawmakers to allow him make his contribution, he withdrew his support for the motion and sat down afterwards.
Senator Ike Ekweremadu intervened at this moment. He explained: “I want to second this motion. In doing this, I want to tell Nigerians that this issue is not about the CG of Customs. This is about the rule of law. This is about plans by the NCS to harass Nigerians. It is not the duty of end users to pay duties on vehicles or rice imported. I strongly maintain that the CG of NCS must come to explain his position.”
Saraki, in his final remarks, said: “This action by the Senate would have been easily avoided if these institutions of government had obeyed w hat we agreed on and what we all swore to obey. I hope that the CG of Customs will make himself available tomorrow (today) to explain himself.”
Customs: CSOs stage ‘Ali must go’ protest in Onitsha
Coalition of Civil Society Organisations of Nigeria (COSCON), yesterday, demonstrated against a proposed duty on old vehicles by Comptroller-General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali (retd).
Ali has since suspended the exercise pending legal consultations.
Regardless, COSON drew members from Campaign for Democracy; Human Rights, Justice and Peace Foundation; the Flagship, Peoples Liberation Initiative, Revolutionary Ambassadors, Action for Socio-political and Economical Change and Enugu Forum of Patriots, among others.
The protesters, dressed in black, carried placards with inscriptions from the Onitsha South mini stadium, Fegge to Customs Zonal Office on Onitsha–Enugu expressway in Onitsha.
Some of their placards read: “Blame your officers not Nigerians”, “Nigerian CSOs condemn Ali’s illegalities”, “Stop the executive recklessness”, and “Hameed Ali is not above the law” , among others. The National Coordinator of COSCON, Mr Noel Udeoji said the group was not against generating revenue for the Federal Government, but against imposition of duty on old vehicles already plying the roads.
Udeoji said it is the responsibility of the NCS to collect duty on imported vehicles from importers at the entry points or car dealers and not buyers or owners of such vehicles. “We condemn in its entirety the recent order that owners of all old vehicles must pay custom duties on or before April 12.
“This is totally unacceptable and, hereby, rejected. We, hereby, call for the resignation or sack of the customs boss”, he said.
President of the Flagship, Omobude Agho described the policy as “obnoxious, evil, demonic and retrogressive”, stressing that “the policy is detrimental to hungry Nigerian masses
“We must remind Ali that we are in democracy and not in military era, and he must learn to respect the wishes and aspirations of Nigerians, more so, when the National Assembly has called him to order.
“He is trying to impose outrageous policy which will only encourage poverty the more”, Agho said. Publicity Secretary of CD, Mr Dede Uzor said CSOs should not fold their arms and allow the Comptroller-General of Customs rip-off Nigerians through such policy.
Uzor disclosed that the protest would be carried out in other states of the country if the policy was not reversed within 48 hours.
The protesters from Edo, Enugu, Rivers, Delta and Anambra states, chanted solidarity songs and were accompanied by security officials.