HEADLINE

Friday, 10 March 2017

FACE-OFF LOOMS, SENATE SUMMONS CUSTOMS BOSS OVER CAR DUTY PAYMENTS



* Orders him to appear in uniform
A face-off may be brewing between the Senate and the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), following the directive issued Thursday by the Senate that the Comptroller-General of the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), Col. Hammeed Ali (rtd.), must appear unfailingly in full uniform to explain the decision by the Customs Service to stay the course on the ultimatum given to car owners nationwide to pay duties on their vehicles between March 13 and April 12, 2019, or risk having their cars impounded.

The Senate directed that he appears next Wednesday at plenary.

The directive that Col. Ali, a retired Nigerian Army officer, appears in the uniform of the NCS, is not unconnected to the fact that the comptroller-general has never worn the uniform of the service since his appointment two years ago.
The NCS last week gave a one-month long grace period to car owners to visit payment points across the country to verify the status of their vehicles and pay duties if this had not been done.

Despite a Senate resolution on Tuesday asking the Customs Service to suspend the policy on duty payments by vehicles owners, the NCS revised its directive the next day by granting a 60 per cent rebate on all vehicles imported into the country before 2016, but retained the grace period of one month within which all car owners and dealers are expected to verify the status of their cars and pay duties on uncustomised vehicles.
The stance by NCS, however, miffed the senators who expressed their anger at plenary Thursday.

Hon. Dino Melaye (Kogi West), raising a motion of urgent public importance, queried why a government agency would blatantly ignore a directive from the Senate.

Brandishing a copy of a newspaper with the headline "Customs Dares Senate", Melaye described it as "a very dark day for democracy", when the Senate makes a resolution and an agency of government has the temerity, guts and strength to disregard the resolution.
He recalled that Ali had told the Committee on Customs that even though the position of CGC (Comptroller-General of Customs) was a rank, he could not wear the NCS uniform, because uniformed men do not wear uniforms "twice".

"I asked under which law he got that and educated him by reminding him that while he retired as a Colonel, General Hananniya retired as a General, and when he was appointed Corps Marshal of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), he wore the uniform of the commission daily.

"Then if that position (CGC) is a rank and you are not wearing that rank, it means you are not even proud of the Nigerian Customs Service," Melaye said.
The senator added that since government exists to serve the people, any position taken in the interest of Nigerians must be respected and not disparaged.

"While the president, senators and high-ranking government officials may not be affected when Customs officials start checking cars, ordinary Nigerians would bear the brunt of the policy," Melaye said.
"If the president or a senator is driving past, no Customs man would stop him to ask for his papers, they will standstill till his convoy passes.

"But we are doing this in the interest of the Nigerian people and they have now confronted the institution of the Nigerian Senate," Melaye added.
Senator Solomon Adeola Olamilekan (Lagos West) also accused men of the NCS of operating like "gansters" in their manner of operations.

He cited Ogun State, where men of the NCS allegedly broke into the shops of rice merchants for selling imported rice and allegedly broke into safes.
Senator Kabir Marafa (Zamfara Central) further stressed that it was not the responsibility of Nigerians to ascertain if their custom duty papers were fake or real.

"The timeframe given is not adequate and people need to be educated. Customs needs to know that they are under the people of Nigeria and Nigeria is under democratic rule and we have a duty to protect the people of Nigeria.
"This kind of impunity cannot be allowed to continue. This is one issue that all Nigerians are unanimously against, it is condemnable and we cannot allow it to see the light of day," he argued.

The senators also directed the Committee on Customs to set in motion the process of amending the Customs Act.

Presiding, Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, said the activities of men of the NCS in recent times, had given cause for concern.
"The CJN (Chief Justice of Nigeria), when he appeared before us, identified as our major problem, impunity, so while we fight corruption we must also in equal measures fight impunity.
"We cannot allow impunity to take root in this country. Today we are talking about vehicles that were imported many years ago, but we forget that there are beds in our rooms that were also imported and prohibited. I believe that the earlier we deal with this matter the better for all of us," he said.

It remains to be seen if Ali would honour the summons, as he has is the past shunned the summons of both chambers of the National Assembly.
-Thisday
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