It was a visit with the prospect of easing the frosty relations between the Senate and the comptroller general of the Nigeria Customs Service, Col. Hameed Ali (rtd). Coming against the backdrop of the long drawn game of wits and ego that characterised the aborted visit of Ali to the Senate to respond to an official summon when the lawmakers insisted, albeit, vainly that Ali should appear before it in Customs uniform, an uneasy calm pervaded the atmosphere.
When the Senate Ad- hoc Committee on Economic Waste in Nigeria on Monday visited the Customs Headquarters in Abuja as part of its oversight functions, it was hoped that would reset the relationship between the senators and Ali.
However, ego and protocol issues marred the visit and took the shine off the major issue slated for discussion.
The drama was triggered by remarks made by Chairman of the Committee, Senator Dino Melaye, over the way the Senate delegation was received by the Customs high command.
Melaye said by protocol, the Customs chief was expected to come down from his office to welcome the committee members into the Custom premises.
The Kogi West lawmaker said it was a breach of protocol for the Customs boss to casually meet the delegation at the conference room.
Melaye said the practice of ushering in the Senate delegation has been the practice with statutory bodies like Customs, Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), Nigeria Prisons Service (NPS) and others over the years.
He wondered why such established etiquette which was the norm under previous Customs chiefs was not accorded the committee by Ali.
“Before reading the prepared speech of the committee, let me make this small remark on what we have just observed here in form of breach of protocols.
“That has been the practice of statutory bodies headed by Chief Executive Officers like you. Relevant Senate committees have over the years been accorded this by bosses of Immigration Service, Prison Service and others, making us to wonder why it was not so here today under your leadership.
“Therefore before proceeding further, on account of this observation, we want the Customs management to know that the presence of this committee before it implies that the Senate itself is before it to put things in order as regards the economic waste taking place in the Customs Service requiring the seriousness it deserves from you and the entire management.”
The Customs CG told the Senate delegation that the agency has its own protocol that is different from other public establishments.
Ali said: “We have our own protocol as regards receiving visitors like you. I don’t need to come downstairs to receive you just as nobody in the Senate or House of Representatives has ever come out to receive us anytime we visit the National Assembly.”
“So, there is no breach of etiquette, it is the committee that is supposed to come to my office first on arrival and not coming straight to the conference room. It is the committee that breached the protocol. Let me state clearly that we in the Nigeria Customs Service are servants of the people. We believe in Nigeria and working with others to make it great without being harrased and railroaded in any way”.
The altercation further resulted in show of power by the CG after the meeting. Because of the perceived shabby treatment from the customs helmsman, the Senators refused having the traditional group photograph with top echelon of customs management. Ali, in show of utter contempt, stormed out and left the legislative visitors stranded at customs premises.
The CG used fleet of cars in his convoy to block them from leaving the premises before him. The humiliation lasted for about 15 minutes, as Senators were held up in their bus till the CG in his siren blaring convoy was driven out of the customs headquarters. It was after his majestic exit that the Senators were allowed to go.
Amehnews recalled the sometime last year of Senate insisted that Customs CG must wear uniform before them.The Senate insisted that for you to be a Comptroller General, you must be a Customs officer, but they cleared him in his capacity as a retired military officer