The Sun News

Senate, Customs’ Hameed Ali at daggers drawn

We had waited with bated breath for it to happen yesterday. It never did. The much-touted collision between the Senate and the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), nay, Hameed Ali, its Comptroller-General, never happened.

Thankfully, it was not altogether aborted. It was only postponed. The D-Day is today, and we are expectant. Its genesis? We need to remind ourselves.

Don’t let us easily forget what Prof. Itse Sagay said some two weeks back.  We cannot risk to wave those serious allegations aside.  We dare not sweep them under our dirty carpet.

We refuse to dump them into the dustbin of history.  That would be uncharitable.  We just have to re-visit these sweeping allegations.  They are common knowledge anyway.  They are not entirely new to us.

Dateline:  Thursday, March 3, 2017.  The stage was set for the Presidential Advisory Committee’s National Dialogue on Corruption, in Abuja.  Sagay, PACA’s chairman, was determined to make the best use of the event.  And he adequately did.

He went for the Customs’ jugular. He seized it and strangulated it.  His verdict: Customs is rotten to the marrow. Everything about the NCS stinks of corruption.

He was furious: “There is no difference in Customs since May 29, 2015.  If you go to Tin Can Island (Apapa, Lagos), it is business as usual.”

Daily Sun explained it this way: “He (Sagay) gave an instance at the Tin Can Island, where Customs officials charged fees to physically examine goods, following the breakdown of the scanner.

“Sagay described it as brazen corruption, citing many other instances, which he said PACA brought to the attention of the Comptroller-General (Hameed Ali) during a recent visit to him.”

Now, see why we must re-visit those sweeping allegations? We won’t allow time to erase them from our awful and short memory. Agreed,  Sagay was not saying anything practically new. The rot in the NCS is “ageless.” It as old as the service itself.  Everyone knows this.

Sagay was playing a familiar tune, the same, old, odd and cracked song. It has refused to go away. This “Change” has not changed anything in Customs. It has even got worse.

The Senate wisely picked its fight with the NCS from where Sagay stopped. It aligned with the masses, waited for the right opportunity to strike. On a platter of gold, it saw one in Customs’ obnoxious policy on old vehicle duties.

Customs had said it would collect duties on all vehicles, even on the street, no matter the age. It would do this between March 13 and April 12, 2017: “All persons in possession of such vehicles should take advantage of the grace period to pay appropriate dues on them. For the avoidance of doubt, all private car owners who are not sure of the authenticity of their vehicles’ Customs documents can also approach the zonal offices to verify.”

This irked the senators. They did not hide their anger. For Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, the directive was illegal, lacked common sense and was retrogressive: “Just last week, a motion was raised in respect of people who bought bags of rice and tins of groundnut oil. Customs came into their houses (in the night), harassed them and took away those items on the pretence that appropriate duties were not paid or they were prohibited.”

It is the height of reckless impunity. All these “contraband” passed through the borders while the Customs and other agencies looked the other way. Customs has turned our houses, shops and stalls into international borders.

Senator Dino Melaye put it succinctly: “What the Customs has done by this announcement is pure advertisement of incapacitation and (gross) incompetence.”  He was dead right!

Promptly, the Senate put a solid stop to this in its motion. Yet, Customs was arrogantly adamant. It opted to ignore the Senate. Its spokesman, Joseph Attah, was bold enough to call a press conference to that effect.

He said the Senate’s “rantings” notwithstanding, Customs would go ahead to collect duties on old vehicles on April 12, 2017. This got the senators further pissed off.  Who would not?

Immediately, the focus shifted. It centred on Ali, retired Colonel in the Nigerian Army.  They literally declared war on him to appear before them Wednesday (yesterday), and he must come wearing the service uniform. Ali had vehemently argued that, as a retired Army officer, he could not wear the uniform of the NCS, a “mere” para-military organisation.

Melaye came on board again: “We have asked this man (Ali) why he does not wear the rank of a Comptroller-General. He said uniformed men do not wear uniform twice.

“I asked, under which law? I reminded him that he retired as Colonel and that General (Halladu) Hananiya retired as a General. He was appointed as the Corps Marshal of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC). He wore the uniform promptly and daily.”

The fight is getting messier by the day. And trust us, we are enjoying every bit of the treat. The messier the fight, the merrier.

All we yearn for is that Ali’s Customs must not be allowed to get away with its incompetence and arrogance. Its job is to prevent contraband at the borders. As it is now, the Customs relaxes the rules at the borders and tightens the noose on the streets. They even have the evil guts of harassing us in markets shops, stalls and our homes.

Things are not done upside down like this in other humane and sane climes. You can then imagine the chaos Customs is planning for us. From April 12, 2017, the NCS will let loose on us. Things will fall apart and the centre will not be able to hold.

From that day, dreaded Customs men will come down heavily on us. They will bully us and yell at us. We will become their prey, at their beck and call. We will be made pawns in their dirty hands.

This is our genuine fear. By our peculiar system and experience, the policy will only work to the greatest advantage of a very, very few individuals. And we can easily identify these individual beneficiaries.

Customs men, of course! They are already getting set for the bumper harvest. Clearly, Ali has no grips of the workings in Customs. His actions and inactions demonstrate that much. He is stiff-necked and unyielding, the reason there is so much rot in Customs today than ever before.

That some people perish for lack of knowledge is playing out graphically in Ali’s NCS right now. We don’t want to be consumed by his repulsive and odious policies.

If Ali stubbornly enforces that vile policy on duties for old vehicles, there will be disorder, confusion, mayhem, commotion et al.  We will be in serious disarray. That is the scenario he is striving to create.

He needs to be stopped before he stops us. It is very urgent!

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