The unending feud between the Senate and the Comptroller General of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Col Hammed Ali (rtd), worsened on Monday when both parties exchanged tacit insults at the Customs headquarters.
The senators, however, came out worse as they were roundly embarrassed by the Custom CG, who gave the senators lecture on etiquette which got them humiliated.
Trouble came the way of the senators from the Customs CG through their ad hoc committee on economic waste in the Nigeria Customs Service during the committee’s visit to the Customs headquarters in Abuja.
The remarks made by the Chairman of the Committee, Dino Melaye (APC, Kogi West) stirred the hornets’ nest when he raised his voice in speaking to the Customs CG, accusing him of violating protocol in the way he ignored the senators on their arrival.
According to Dino, by way of protocol, the Customs CG should have come down from his office to welcome the committee members into the premises and not just meeting them at the conference room.
He said the protocol has been the practice with statutory bodies like Customs, Immigration, Prisons etc. over the years and wondered why such etiquette was not accorded the committee.
“Before reading the prepared speech of the committee, let me make this small remarks on what we have just observed here in form of breach of protocols.
“Mr. CG, rather than meeting us here at the conference room by way of courtesy, you are supposed to have met us at the ground floor on arrival into the premises.
“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, Prisons Service etc., making us to wonder why it is 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”, he said.
Melaye in an already charged atmosphere, bemused the Customs top management officers further by declaring that the committee’s meeting with them was more or less that of the Senate by hitting the gavel on the table before him to declare the meeting open.
He, thereafter, read a prepared speech outlining how the committee would carry out its investigation on alleged economic waste in Customs Service.
However, the senators got a raw deal from the Customs CG, who responded to the speech made by Melaye and tactically derided the senators.
The Customs boss in a more potent counter attack told the committee that Customs has its own protocols different from other public establishment and should not be dictated to on matters of etiquette or protocol.
“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 protocol for not coming down to welcome you since appropriate officers have been assigned to do so. Our protocol is our protocol and should be allowed to be.
“In fact, by way of etiquette, it is the committee that is supposed to come to my office first on arrival and not just coming straight to the conference room.
“Let me state clear 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 railroaded in anyway.
“Personally, I took this job because of my commitment to serve this country selflessly having earlier done so in the military. So, nobody can tell me that I’m not a committed Nigerian.
“On your assignment you called economic waste, we shall cooperate with you to unearth whatever you want to unearth and effect any correction if there is any?” Hammed Ali said.
The verbal counter punching thereafter moved to practical exhibition of bitterness between the Senate Committee and the Customs management first with boycott of group photographs by members of the Senate committee after the interaction.
The angry CG seeing the lukewarm attitude of the senators toward the call for a group photograph, disgraced them by walking out of the meeting room through another door as the senators filed out through the main door.
Further humiliation was visited on the senators as they were prevented from leaving the premises of the Customs headquarters even when they had taken their seats in the Coater bus that brought them to the place, in preparation to leave.
While the bus conveying the senators was prepared to move, it was prevented from doing so as the aides of the CG had lined the convoy of their boss on the main road leading out of the premises, effectively blocking the senators from leaving, blaring their siren loudly, and prevented anyone from moving until the Customs CG came down, entered his vehicle and was driven out of the premises to the consternation of the embarrassed senators.
Senators who suffered the humiliation along with Melaye were Sam Anyanwu (PDP, Imo East); Gilbert Nnaji (PDP, Enugu East); Hamman Isah Misau (APC, Bauchi Central) and Babajide Omoworare (APC, Osun East).
It would be recalled that the Customs CG before Monday’s bitter encounter with the Senate’s ad hoc committee had running battle with the Senate as a whole between 2016 and early 2017 over his mode of dressing.
While the Customs boss has been performing his official function in mufti since 2015 after his appointment, the Senate wanted him to appear in uniform by ordering him to do so last year in plenary but stood his ground by appearing in mufti after which he went to court which brought an end to the tussle.