By Nelson Ekujumi
Ever since the Nigeria Senate passed a resolution summoning the Comptroller General of Nigeria Customs Service to appear before it in his uniform to clear the air on some policies of the organization, Nigerians have been sharply divided about the propriety or otherwise of the Senate summons.
While some people are of the opinion that since the senate is made up of representatives of the people, then their actions and activities must be conformed with, whether it is constitutional or not, is immaterial. By inference, the protagonists of this school of thought, are of the view that the senate is greater than the constitution as they don’t need the constitution which is the Groundnorm to guide their activities, infact, they are the law themselves.
However, there is another school of thought which holds that since we operate a constitutional democracy, then institutions of state must operate according to law, whatever is not in the law cannot be conjured by mere resolutions of the legislative chamber because the Senate itself, is also a creation of the law. Proponents of this school have asked repeatedly for the Senate or its supporters to identify the relevant sections of the constitution or the customs act, which makes the wearing of uniform by the customs CG, mandatory, but till date, it has remained unanswered. To this group, the customs CG is in order.
There is however a third school which holds the view that the customs CG should just wear the uniform to the senate because that is what the Senators wants, that the CGC should please douse the tension being created by the wearing of uniform impasse. This group wants peace just for the sake of it, notwithstanding the implication that whatever we do today, becomes history and reference point for future actions, their motto is simply peace, peace and peace.
There is also a fourth school of thought which believes that the Customs CG is arrogant, stubborn, etc. According to this school, what will it cost him to wear the uniform? Why did he take up the job if he was not prepared to wear the uniform? If he is not ready to comply with the senate directive on the uniform, then he should resign.
And when he did appear before the senate last week in mufti despite all the threats and muscle flexing, Col. Hameed Ali was simply told to leave and reappear in official uniform on a new date, but before he took his leave, the Customs CG advised our lawmakers to consult their lawyers while he consult his about the legality of the Senate directives.
For the information of our Senators and Nigerians, what Col. Hameed Ali (Rtd.) did by advising the Senate to seek legal interpretation of its directives to him to wear customs uniform, was a clarion call on Nigerians not to allow the Senate ridicule our legislative mandate and by extension our democracy by ignorance, intimidation, harassment, arrogating and usurping to itself, powers not constitutionally enshrined.
Well, in order to be a beneficiary of the reward as admonished in the Holy Book which asserts that “Blessed are the peacemakers, for theirs is the kingdom of God”. One has decided to come up with a way out of the present imbroglio which has put a question mark on the integrity and responsibility of our senators with regards to civility and understanding of their constitutional functions.
Since the Senate is constitutionally empowered to make or amend laws for the good governance of the country, may we admonish our lawmakers to be focused on their functions by immediately setting in motion, the process of amending the Customs act to make it mandatory for whoever is appointed as the Customs CG, to put on the official uniform and save Nigerians the distraction and embarrassment of a muscle flexing legislative house.
May we also demand that the Senate put on hold its directive to the Customs CG to appear before it in uniform until a law to that effect is put in place.
However, one wants it placed on record that if the Senate insist on going ahead with its illegal, undemocratic and bully tactics on wearing of the uniform by the Customs CG, then it would have succeeded in undermining our democracy as built on due process and respect for the rule of law rather than brute force, which is rather unfortunate.
Ekujumi, Public analyst writes from Lagos