Wednesday, 15 March 2017 20:52

Wearing of Customs uniform by comptroller general : The legal perspective

BY EZEKIEL VEM OFOU, ESQ.

On Tuesday, the 14th of March 2017 being my birthday, the social media was awash with reports that Col Hameed Ibrahim Ali (Rtd) wrote a letter to the Senate President intimating the distinguished senators that he will not be able to honour the senate’s invitation to appear before it on Wednesday the 15th of March 2017.

The letter was reportedly signed by an Assistant Comptroller General; an act, the senators considered to have undermined their resolution. 

The senate had earlier directed the Comptroller General to ensure that he appears before it on Wednesday with ‘proper custom uniform’. The uniform directive became necessary in view of the fact that since his appointment as Comptroller General of Customs, Col Hameed Ali (Rtd), has never worn the custom uniform. In his second letter to the senate personally signed by him on Tuesday 14th March 2017, Col Hameed Ali advised the senate to avail itself of the legal basis of its decision to compel him to wear uniform. He further hinted the senate that he is seeking legal advice on the uniform issue so as to enable him and the senate to operate within the legal proper framework. 

This write up is to x-ray the legal position as to whether it is compulsory for a comptroller General of Custom to wear custom uniform.
The Customs & Excise Management Act (CEMA) Cap 45, Law of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 vests Legal Authority in the Nigeria Customs Service to act on behalf of the Federal Government of Nigeria in all Customs matters. CEMA is the guiding law in relation to customs matters. Sadly, the Act seems to be silent as to whether it is compulsory for the Comptroller General of Custom to wear uniform. 

It is this perceived silence and lack of clear statutory provision that has necessitated the current brouhaha and muzzle flexing between the senate and the Comptroller General of Customs. It is to be noted that a subsidiary regulation to the Act- i.e. The CUSTOMS AND EXCISE PREVENTIVE SERVICE REGULATIONS makes reference to uniform. Regulation 31 of the subsidiary legislation provides that Clothing and equipment shall be of such pattern and worn in such manner as the Board shall determine.

The said regulation is undoubtedly making reference to uniform to be worn by officers of the Nigeria Customs. The primary legislation defined Officer as any person employed in the Nigerian Customs Service, or for the time being performing duties in relation to customs or excise.

Unarguably, the Comptroller General of Customs is an officer and Regulation 31 of the subsidiary legislation says "clothing shall be of such pattern and worn by officers as the board shall determine". The Board being referred to in the Act is the Nigeria Customs Service Board being chaired by the Honorable Minister of finance. Interestingly, the Comptroller General of Customs is the Deputy Chairman of the board. Both of them are to preside over the board that determines clothing {uniform}.

It is yet to be established whether the Board in its discretion has excused the Comptroller General from wearing uniform in view of the fact that he is a retired soldier. Until this is proven, the Comptroller General being an officer is bound to wear the custom uniform. I hold the view that drafters of CEMA never envisaged that the Comptroller General of Customs will ever be appointed outside of the service. 
In 2015, when President Buhari appointed Col Hameed Ibrahim Ali to head the Nigeria Customs Service, most Nigerians were dazed as they wonder why no professional was handpicked from within the system. Many say it is an appointment in error primarily because Customs administration the world over is more of a professional than a political set up. They argue that any greenhorn has much learning to do and would really drag the sector behind during the period of study.  It is the third time a total stranger to the service will be so appointed to head the Nigerian Customs. The first was Dr Haliru Bello Mohammed from Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, who wore uniform, then Brigadier General Ango, who was appointed as Comptroller General of Customs while he was still serving in the Army. The Service was said to have been at its lowest ebb under this ‘stranger’. Today, the Nigerian Customs is about repeating history as another total ‘stranger’ currently steers the helm of affairs of the Nigerian customs generating unnecessary controversy as expected from a greenhorn. 

Nigerians would have been spared this trouble if President Buhari had appointed a Comptroller General from within the service. 
Upon assumption of office as Comptroller General of Customs, Col Hameed Ibrahim Ali Rtd emphasized that he will ensure the strict application of Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA) CAP-C45 Laws of Federation of Nigeria (LFN) as amended 2004, Customs codes, Extant Laws and Federal government’s circulars in all customs operations, through training and re-training of officers and men on how to apply them in their day to day operations. This is the time for him to work the talk.  

I urge him to abide by these extant laws and commence wearing of uniform. When you are in Rome, you must behave as a Roman. It is an error for him to argue that he was not appointed to wear uniform. He has repeatedly argued that the National Assembly should be concern about his performance and not lack of uniform. He must however know that professionals are mindful of the processes that produce the products.

Uniform creates a professional business image, improve security, foster team spirit amongst the rank and file of the Nigerian Customs. The uniform help instill a sense of pride and responsibility. If he considers himself above the uniform, he may as well tow the path of honour and resign from the position. If you don't want a tail of a monkey to touch you then don't attend the monkey dance. Finally, I urge the National Assembly to amend the Customs and Excise Mgt Act and expressly provide for wearing of Uniform by CG whether appointed from within or imported from Association of Retired Old Soldiers. I REST MY CASE.

Ofou writes in from Abuja

Last modified on Sunday, 26 March 2017 22:05

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