THE Comptroller General (CG) of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Colonel Hameed Ali (retd), on Tuesday, made a U-turn in respect of his face-off with the Senate, as he visited Saraki at the National Assembly, Abuja.
The Customs boss was first sighted at the office of the Senate leader, Senator Ahmad Lawan, alongside the chairman, Senate Committee on Customs, Senator Hope Uzordinma and the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters, Senator Ita Enang, at 5.30 p.m., where he was said to have held consultations.
He was later led to the office of the Senate President by Lawan and Uzordinma, alongside Enang, while Senator Kabiru Gaya joined them before a meeting was held behind closed doors.
Ali, at the meeting with Senate President, promised to work with the National Assembly and also pleaded for time to enable him to sort out the uniform issue.
The Customs boss left the office of the Senate President at 6.49 p.m., accompanied by Senator Gaya and Senator Enang.
Ali had earlier written another letter to the Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, assuring that he was ready to answer Senate’s invitation.
Ali, in a letter he personally signed, dated March 14, 2017 and which did not make any reference to the letter written on his behalf by the Assistant Comptroller-General of Customs, Headquarters, Azarema Abubakar, regretted his inability to answer the invitation earlier because of a recent bereavement.
The letter by Ali, with reference number NCS/ADM/MGT/018/S.88/Customs, also informed the Senate that he was already reviewing the policy on Customs duties and that he would wish to fully brief the Senate on his findings when the review was completed.
The letter, which was sighted by the Nigerian Tribune, read: “May I respectfully refer to your letter reference No. NASS/CS/8S/R/09/29, dated 9th March 2017 and inform your Excellency that the decision on payment of Customs duties by vehicle owners who do not have them as prescribed by law is currently being reviewed.
“The goal of the review is to take a broad additional input from stakeholders and the public on all its aspects. I will welcome opportunity to avail the Senate on our findings and the way forward on improving our capabilities to plug major drainages in the nation economy without adding to hardship and within our mandate.
“Regarding the wearing of uniform, I wish to advise that the Senate avails itself of the legal basis of its decision to compel me to wear uniform. I am similarly seeking legal advice on this issue, so that both the Senate and I will operate within the proper legal framework.
“I regret my inability to answer the Senate invitation owing, to a recent bereavement. I will however, make myself available whenever I am needed in the future.”
Sources in the polity had confirmed to the Nigerian Tribune that Ali’s U-turn may not be unconnected with the intervention of the Presidency which advised on a ceasefire.
It was learnt that President Muhammadu Buhari had personally intervened on the matter and asked the Customs boss to answer the Senate promptly.
Sources said Buhari further pleaded with Senate President when he, alongside Speaker, House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogaraa, visited the Presidential Villa on Tuesday.
A source in the Presidency said Buhari was emphatic in telling Ali that whoever loved Nigeria at this moment would not engage in conflicts between the executive and the legislature.
Buhari’s words apparently did the magic as Ali promptly dispatched a letter to the office of the Senate President and followed up with a visit to Saraki later on Tuesday.
Earlier on Tuesday, the Senate had resolved to compel Ali to appear before it, despite a letter written on his behalf by one of his subordinates.
At that stage, the face-off appeared to have deepened as the Senate insisted on having him at today’s plenary, notwithstanding his plea that he should be excused on account of a management meeting.
The Senate insisted on receiving Ali in person and in Customs uniform, despite a letter he earlier sent to the clerk of Senate, Nelson Ayewoh, in which he asked to be excused from the sitting today.
Ali, the letter signed on his behalf by Abubakar, asked for the postponement of his appointment with the senators on the grounds of internal management meeting of the Customs Service he was due to attend on today.
But the senators rejected the excuse as some of them saw it as an affront.
When the letter was read by the clerk, Saraki had asked senators to comment about it.
Lawan, who was first to comment on it, faulted the letter on two grounds. He condemned the reason given by the Customs boss which, to him, was not cogent in any way. Also, he said the letter was not signed by Ali himself.
Senator James Manager insisted that Ali’s request should not be entertained since it was empty and highly insulting to the institution of the Senate.
Saraki, ruling on the matter, said the decision of the Senate was that Ali must appear before it as earlier invited.
“We are all guided by the general view and opinion and integrity of this institution and I think it is clear and it’s a collective position as spoken by Senator James Manager. I don’t think there is the need for us to prolong this issue and the position of the Senate is clear. He should appear tomorrow (today) in his uniform as directed by the Senate last week Thursday,” Saraki said.