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Ali versus Senate: The way forward, By Bernard Balogun

By •Bernard Balogun. on 28/03/2017

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•Bernard Balogun.
•Bernard Balogun.

In the last two or three weeks, the nation has been treated to an interesting drama between Col Hameed Ibrahim Ali (retd), a lawyer who holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Criminology. Ali retired as a Colonel from the Nigerian Army.

During his military career, long before his appointment by President Muhammadu Buhari as Comptroller-General of the Nigerian Custom Services, Ali has held military positions, including Training Officer, TRADOC, Minna, General Staff Officer II in 1 Mechanised Division in Kaduna, before Gen Sani Abacha appointed him a military administrator (Milad) 1996 – 1998. So little was known of him before his appointment as military administrator. But after retirement, he became as secretary of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF). That was the position from where he was appointed Comptroller-General of the Nigerian Custom Services.  That is the synopsis on the controversial Customs boss.

On the other hand, in a democratic setting, the legislature is an important arm of government.  The legislature, succinctly put, is the voice of the people. Democratic structures, world over, stand on a tripod of the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary. During military coup, which is an aberration, the legislature is the only arm of government that is annihilated. The other two, the executive and judiciary remain untouched.

It is, therefore, understandable when the Senate decided, rightly so, to intervene on behalf of the Nigerian people and encouraged the Nigerian Customs Services to rescind its unpopular and anti-people decision on the issue of ‘Custom duty papers’ on cars already plying Nigerian roads. Nigerians were united in condemning that decision and consequently asked the Senate to intervene, by calling the Nigerian Customs Services to order. The Senate invited the Comptroller-General of Customs to defend this obnoxious policy, but the Customs boss was quick and in an arrogant fashion went ahead to say he would honour the invitation, but will not wear Customs uniform. Consequently, Customs reversed itself on the obnoxious policy, even at that the Senate insisted that the Customs boss must still appear before it in uniform. The Senate was genuinely provoked by the undignified and unfriendly remark of the Customs boss, a remark least expected from a top-ranking official of the President Buhari administration.

Let me quickly add that the two institutions (Senate and the military) view and treat each other with mutual suspicion and disdain. In a democratic dispensation, the military is subordinate to the civilian authority and the military high command has repeatedly alluded to this fact. I have gone into this analysis to bring to the fore the importance of the Senate, representing the voice of the Nigerian people, as an institution and Col Ali, though not so expressly stated, but representing the military institution, which has, with some level of hidden disdain, treated the civilian authority, meaning the legislature, which is the hallmark of democracy, with suspicion and disdain. So, the flagrant refusal of Col Ali to respect the Senate’s directive to wear its official uniform before he could appear before it is therefore understandable.

Let us go back in history. There was a man called Maj-Gen Haladu Hananiya (retd), who was once the General Officer Commanding 2 Mechanised Division in Agodi, Ibadan. On his appointment, by the then President Olusegun Obasanjo administration, as the Corps Marshal of the Federal Road Safety Corps, Gen Hananiya humbled himself and proudly wore the uniform of Corps Marshal throughout his tenure. Permit me to restate for emphasis, Maj-Gen Hananiya retired as a two-star General of the Nigerian Army and also General Officer Commanding (a GOC).

I cannot remember if Gen Obasanjo wore military uniform during his eight years’ tenure as civilian president. But I do know, as a statement of fact, that former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, a man rich in humility and simplicity, wore proudly military uniform on an official visit to the North East (as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces).

I have repeatedly asked myself: what would wearing the Customs uniform do to the ego or personality of Hameed Ali, who was just a Colonel and General Staff Officer, compared to a Major-General and a General Officer Commanding Division? I am so confused about his refusal.

My confusion is further compounded by the recent statement of our revered Maj-Gen David Medayese Jemibewon (retd), two-time military governor of the defunct Western State (August 1975 to March 1976), subsequently Governor of Oyo State, after it had been created from part of the old Western State (March 1976 – July 1978) during the regime of Gen Olusegun Obasanjo (retd), as military head of state.

Jemibewon, an indigene of Iyah-Gbede in Kogi State, made me proud because of his “people-oriented” policies, very open and friendly with the people he governed and, especially, students of University of Ibadan and Ibadan Polytechnic. Whenever there was riot in either of the institutions, he (Jemibewon) would drive to the centre of the riot to pacify the students. When some of his security aides wanted to display over-zealous instinct to protect their boss, Jemibewon was quick to call them to order. On each occasion, he won the hearts of the students and the wonderful people of the old Oyo State, which included the present Osun State.

Jemibewon eventually retired as the Adjutant-General of the Nigerian Army, a prestigious position by any standard.

I am sorry for the digression, but it is necessary so that we can properly internalise Gen Jemibewon’s remark on this matter. He thinks Ali is right to have refused to wear the Customs Comptroller-General’s uniform. And here are his reasons:

“It would be belittling the position of the uniform of a member of the Armed Forces. There was no way anybody could have compelled me to wear uniform. I would have resigned, even if the law said so. I would have resigned.”

General, permit me to respectfully disagree with you, sir, on this. The Nigerian Customs Service is a respectable para-military organisation. Any retired military officer so appointed to head such para-military organisation should proudly wear the uniform, just like Major-General Haladu Hananiya did so proudly, and it did not take anything away from him; that is humility. And I salute him!

Conclusion

President Muhammadu Buhari appointed Col Hameed Ibrahim Ali, who had once worked with candidate Buhari in his political campaign office; a man described as “of steely character suitable for incorruptible value” (courtesy Naij.com) to head the Nigerian Customs Services, an important service that generates and contributes enormously to the economic wealth of this nation. Ali should, therefore, bring to the table some level of credibility to the executive arm, which has appointed him in the first place, by proving less-stubborn and respect constituted institution, which is so vital to the survival of our flourishing nascent democracy. By his current obstinate attitude, he is, indeed, heating up the polity unnecessarily. And that does not agree with the present thinking of Mr President, who is desirous of a harmonious working relationship with the various arms of government.  

However, there is a window open to Col Ali to take, if he insists that he cannot wear the Customs Comptroller-General’s uniform. That window is for him to apply to Mr President for approval to consider his appointment as “part-time”. In that case, the issue of wearing Comptroller-General’s uniform will not generate controversy as it is now. But he should realise that the benefit of office, in this instance, shall be pro-rata in conformity with his status as a “part-time” and not that of a “full-time” comptroller-general. I think that is the way forward.

Balogun writes from Wuse District of Abuja and can be reached on 08037879275 or bernardbalogun1@yahoo.com

Source News Express

Posted 28/03/2017 4:53:56 PM

 

 

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