TWO Senior Advocates of Nigeria, Femi Falana and Mike Ozekhome, on Wednesday, disagreed with each other on the Senate’s call on the Comptroller General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali, to resign for failing to appear before the lawmakers in uniform.
The Senate had, on Wednesday, criticised the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), for writing the lawmakers to suspend action on the policy of the Nigeria Customs Service on the payment of duties on old vehicles.
The lawmakers described the action as “an insult” to the Senate and interference by the executive in the activities of the legislature.
The upper chamber of the Senate stated that it was wrong for an arm of government to determine for another arm how it played its constitutional role.
While agreeing that a letter be written to President Muhammadu Buhari to report his appointees, the lawmakers described Malami and Ali, as unfit for their positions.
The Senate, specifically, called for Ali’s resignation.
Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over the plenary, had announced that there was a communication from the AGF on a legal action on the matter.
He said, “Yesterday, we got a letter written to the Clerk of the Senate from the Attorney General of the Federation, stating that a case has been filed in court and that the matter is sub judice. So, he advised that every action should stop, including the attendance of the Comptroller General of Customs to this hallowed chamber.”
Ekweremadu directed the Clerk of the Senate, Mr. Nelson Ayewoh, to read the letter to the lawmakers.
The letter read, “The originating summons is seeking, among other declarations, whether the oversight functions of the National Assembly extends to compelling and or giving directive to the first defendant to wear uniform.
“In line with the principles of rule of law, court decisions or, most importantly, the declarations sought have been deeply rooted in the constitutional provisions; I hold the view that this matter is sub judice.
“In view of three above, it is the interest of justice and rule of law to stay all actions in this case until the constitutional issues raised in the matters are resolved by the law courts. ‘‘I wish to further intimate you that as a defendant in the said suit, I intend to file processes and pursue it to a logical conclusion.”
But civil rights groups, Falana, Ozekohome and a member of the Northern Elders Forum, Prof. Ango Abdullahi, flayed the Senate for demanding the resignation of Ali.
Falana, in an interview with The PUNCH, on Wednesday, said the Senate was embarrassing itself by demanding the resignation of Ali.
The Senior advocate stated that the Senate lacked both the legal and moral authorities to ask the Customs boss to resign.
He said the statement by the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, regarding the importation of a N298m armoured Range Rover had confirmed suspicion that the Senate was harassing Ali because he had the audacity to seize the luxury vehicle.
Falana added, “I think they (senators) are just embarrassing themselves. Even if we accept the explanation, it means that the Senate leadership bought a vehicle that was imported to the country with forged documents.
“That has confirmed that the planned humiliation of the Customs boss was borne out of vengeance. So it is no longer a case of individual liability but that of institutional, criminal negligence.’’
While describing the Senate’s action as sub judice, Falana said he would not be surprised if the Senate’s proceedings were considered null and void by the courts.
He further rubbished claims by Senator Dino Melaye that the Senate had the right to debate on the matter based on the principle of separation of powers.
Another SAN, Chief Mike Ozekhome, however, disagreed with Falana, saying the call by the Senate on Ali to resign was both legally and morally justified.
Ozekhome added, “I agree totally with the Senate. The Senate was right in calling on the CCG to humbly resign if he cannot adorn the epaulet and the uniform of the Nigeria Customs Service, which he heads.
“For the avoidance of doubt, Hameed Ali is not a sole administrator like Gen. Ango between 1994 and 1999. He was appointed to the Customs as a full Comptroller General and he is subject to laws, rules and regulations of sections 4, 5 and 8 of the Customs and Excise Management Act and Regulation 31 made pursuant to the Act.”
Ozekhome added that Ali could not be allowed to behave as the Chichidodo bird which hates feaces but enjoyed feasting on maggots that wriggle out of decaying feaces.
Call diversionary, says Abdullahi
On his part, Abdullahi told The PUNCH that the Senate’s call for Ali’s resignation was a diversionary strategy.
He said, “The call by the Senate for Ali’s resignation is not right. It is totally unnecessary; that the Senate insisting on someone appearing before it on a particular duty to be in a particular uniform.
“I don’t see how the Senate believes that being in a particular uniform will make someone more effective. This call is usually a diversionary strategy by the Senate.”
The President, Nigeria Voters Assembly, Mashood Erubami, said it was not right for the Senate to demand the sack of a government appointee for not appearing before it or not wearing uniform.
“In the case of Col. Ali, the Senate has not been steadfast with its calls but it is clear it wants him to be punished for what they called his insubordination.”
The Manager, Media and Events, Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education, Armsfree Ajanaku, said the Senate had been busy chasing shadows over the issue of the Customs helmsman wearing uniform.
“For us therefore, the endless distraction and dysfunction of this Senate send a clear message to Nigerians that in the next elections, they must elect credible people who understand what it means to legislate on good governance; not career charlatans, who are merely interested in how to use key institutions for ego trips and personal aggrandisement.”
CG didn’t go to Senate based on AGF’s legal advice – NCS
Meanwhile, the Acting Public Relations Officer, Nigeria Customs Service, Mr. Joseph Attah, said the failure of the Customs CG to appear before the Senate was in line with the legal advice given by the AGF.
He said, “The CGC action is in line with the legal advice of the AGF that says all parties should stay action pending the determination of the court.”
However, Senator Benjamin Uwajumogu stated that in line with an existing Supreme Court judgment on the removal of a deputy governor in Imo State, no arm of government, including the courts, could stop another from performing its duties.
He said, “Nigeria operates a system established on separation of powers. If we give in to this today, it means somebody can go to court and stop Senate proceedings. Can we pass a resolution and stop a court proceeding? I maintain that no court case can stop Senate proceedings.”
Also, Senator Dino Melaye described the letter from the AGF as an insult to the Senate
He said, “I want to ask a question: Can a court process stop an arm of government from carrying out its constitutional responsibility? What we have from the AGF is an insult to the Senate and the National Assembly. Where does the AGF, who was screened here, derive his powers to stop the National Assembly from carrying out its functions?
Senator Ibrahim Gobir, on his part, urged the Senate to write to the AGF and warn him of his “unnecessary interference” in the parliament.
“We should write to the AGF to inform him of the unnecessary interference in the affairs of the Senate. We should understand that there is separation of powers. We need to respect that,” he said.
Also, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe described Malami as being ignorant of the law by interfering with the proceedings of the Senate. He stated that no court case could stop an ongoing matter in the Senate.
He said, “The issue that has generated this controversy was the fact that the CG made an obnoxious policy and which Nigerians condemned. I do not want Nigerians to forget that. What we did was to let Ali know that what he did was wrong.”
The Deputy Minority Whip, Senator Abiodun Olujimi, while describing the Customs CG as arrogant, said both Ali and Malami were unfit to hold public offices.
She said, “I will want to add that this letter is a serious breach of the Constitution. This is gross impunity. Arrogance is at play here by the CG. We need to let the executive know that between the AGF and CG of Customs, who are unfit to hold office, there is separation of powers.
In his submission, Senator Isa Misau from Bauchi State, said crises were returning to the country since the return of Buhari from his medical vacation in the United Kingdom.
He said some of those working with Buhari were there to frustrate his administration.
Misau said, “If you see what is happening, you will see that the enemies of this government are within the Presidency. If you see the kind of advice people in government are giving to the Presidency, you will know that some people do not want him to succeed. When the President was away for 49 days, did you hear about any attacks – Niger Delta attacks or herdsmen attacks?
“Since the President returned, there have been attacks every day. Some people are intentionally causing trouble for this government. We need to tell the President that the enemies of this government are within this government. The people surrounding the government are enemies of the President.”
Ekwemadu, thereafter, asked the lawmakers to present their prayers, all of which were granted.
Abaribe moved that the Senate should declare Ali as “unfit to hold any public office.”
The lawmaker added that Ali should resign as Comptroller General of NCS.
On his part, Senator George Sekibo moved that the Senate should condemn the AGF for abusing the principles of separation of powers and the rule of law.