When Hamid Ali, the Comptroller-General of Customs Service gave a one-month grace period for all vehicles in the country whose customs duties have not been paid to do so or risk being impounded, he had no inkling of what awaits him in the Senate. The approved grace period according to reports would last between Monday, March 13 and Wednesday, April 12, 2017. In a statement by Customs Spokesman, Joseph Attah, “all motor dealers and private owners of such vehicles were advised to visit the nearest Customs Zonal Office to pay up the appropriate Customs Duty on such defaulting vehicles. 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 with a view to complying with the provision of the law.”
Following the above step taken by Customs, Senate passed a resolution directing it to suspend the plan. The refusal of the Custom boss to stand down the plan despite Senate’s resolution drew the ire of the red chamber. Senate resolutions are important resolve of the legislative arm of government meant to be respected but such must be reflective of the interest of the people. Ali was subsequently summoned to appear before the Senate in full regalia. In fact, the directive to appear in full Customs regalia has raised a lot of brouhaha. It amounts to intentionally courting for trouble where there is none and a waste of precious time. The insistence that the CG must appear in uniform and his uncompromising stance that no law compels him to do as the Senate demanded has as usual divided Nigerians. The Senate must be told in clear terms that this is a lost battle which they will come out with bloodied nose if they continue with their grandstanding. Common sense should prevail not to magnify certain trivialities which seem to be the lot of the Senate in recent times. Grandstanding will at worst keep our people in perpetual suffering and poverty. Nigerians are hungry, the exchange rate is astronomically high, the governors are accused of siphoning the excess Paris club loan refund, there is no improvement in power supply, the Fulani herdsmen are still on rampage, prices of food and essential commodities are far beyond the reach of ordinary man and the law makers dwell on such frivolities as one appearing before them in uniform?
The Senate has turned a serious business into a petty personality clash. Everything is not politics and must not be politicised or overheated. With one flimsy excuse of having “an important meeting,” the CG of Customs failed to honour the Senate on the first day of invitation. This would have opened the eyes of the Senate to what was in the offing. The slighted Senate threatened to issue a bench warrant on him. The ego-trip has become a ping-pong affair of who blinks first. Penultimate week, the CG honoured the invitation of the Senate without appearing in the said uniform. The Senate deserves better legal advice and should desist from serving all of us their obvious menu of ignorance. They should have known that something gives the CG the audacity and confidence he exudes by showing up without the uniform. He was sent away and once again directed to come back the following week in uniform. Meaning: you can stay put if you will not appear in uniform.
The point has been missed already as the Senate chases shadows and indulges in frivolities. On the other hand the CG has defiantly stood his ground clinging on to the fabrics of the law which is loudly silent on the demand by the Senate. The position of both parties if not well checked will derail the substance of that invitation and possibly confine the truth under the bushel. The inconsequential issue of appearing in uniform has swallowed the very substance of the invitation to appear before the Senate which is at the heart of the socio-economic well being of our nation.
Customs on the other hand must be tasked on their plans on many illegal and porous borders, proliferation of illicit arms found in every nook and crannies of Nigeria, freely used by armed robbers and herdsmen to maim and slaughter our people. Sanity should be returned to the ports while corruption should be made to fizzle out. Ports should be decongested and the window for clearing goods opened with speed. If Customs is indeed determined to do the right, they should have known that stakeholders’ inputs are necessary in the decision making processes in a democracy. The senate and indeed Nigerian are by the law empowered to interrogate the decision of any organ of government seen to be unhelpful. Whose responsibility is it to clear vehicles? How could an agency saddled with the responsibility of clearing goods including vehicles coming into the country push their own responsibility to the end user of goods they are to certify at the point of entry? Nigerians have got their fair share of the socio-economic crisis and to force a vehicle owner who must have bought his vehicle four years ago to begin to worry about customs duty is misplaced. The service should look inward to fish out the worm which eats up the vegetables because it abodes around it. Nigerians must not be compelled to suffer retrospectively and put under duress for the lax of customs officials. It is obvious that customs service do not have the data of vehicles they have cleared annually. If they do, it would have been easier for them to do their home work very well by taking inventory of vehicles having such issue, inform the public about their plans and give a reasonable time frame for compliance if it is necessary. It is not fair for Nigerians to always be at the receiving end of the complacency of some government officials?
Examples of past heads of some paramilitary agencies who did not wear uniforms abound. The former Chairmen/CE of National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) boss Fidelis Oyakhilome who was a former DIG of Police and Ahmadu Giade respectively did not wear uniform at the periods they served as NDLEA bosses. On the other hand Rolly Bode-George was NDLEA boss who liked appearing in uniform. The analogy was to bring to the attention of all that in this case, it is a matter of choice as no law expressly stated so. Therefore, the Senate should in the mean time consider dropping their massaged ego and submit to the reality on ground. While maturity should be the key word in handling this issue before it escalates into an uncontrolled legislative-executive fist-cuff. Did you see it coming?
Sunday Onyemaechi Eze,