Prior to this time most Nigerians would do anything to wear the Nigerian Customs uniform. The not so attractive grey ensemble was the toast of most young Nigerians who are desirous of making a good life out of the quagmire we daily find ourselves in. No doubt the Nigerian Customs have been consistent in coming among the top three whenever government agencies are placed in a transparency and anti-corruption microscope. Until last year and in fact 2015, we have never heard of a customs recruit resigning not to talk of the very high echelons. First to resign was the former comptroller general of Customs, Dikko Inde, who woke up one day and turned in his resignation.
Next were a slew of deputy and assistant comptrollers who threw in the towels when it became apparent that it was not going to be business as usual. At some point, Customs officials were asked to declare their assets. This was a masterstroke that led to even more top and mid-level resignations. Since then the Service continued with its mandate until the little matter of uniforms or not for the comptroller general. Colonel Hamid Ali (retd) the not so new CG had implemented these transparency initiatives since coming to power. However, his last initiative which compels every motorist, dealers and car owners to revalidate their vehicles’ Customs papers in five offices nationwide drew the ire of Nigerians. This necessitated the Senate to summon Ali to appear before it to explain the policy better.
But the little matter of Custom uniform has so far stalled the appearance. The senate insists that the Ali, the former Army Colonel and military police must wear his uniform as the CG of customs. This has not gone down well with Ali. And this has equally divided opinions across board. Ali hinges his official dress in mufti as a result of the absence of a legal basis to compel him to appear officially before the senate; while his traducers say the matter is not about law but respect and morality. They claim that appearing in mufti could damage moral of the rank and file, especially so after he was appointed by the president as a non-career Customs boss. The senate and many Nigerians wonder how Ali can instill discipline and by extension enduring transparency if he cannot as little as put on his uniform, yet expects other officials to be well kitted.
Ali has been known as a no nonsense military officer both in and out of uniform. The former Kaduna military administrator is seen as incorrigible. However, his stance on Customs uniform presents him as an arrogant and stubborn official who has to be cut to size. In fact, people argue that there is no space for such character flaw in public administration. It is worse in a politically charged environment like ours. Commentators believe that if the uniform issue is not well handled it could snowball into a major crisis within the ruling party and the government. It is indeed interesting that the senate and indeed the National Assembly is controlled by the same All Progressives Congress, APC that also produced president Buhari and the Customs boss.
It is our view that the uniform saga should not be blown out of proportion. The major reason why he is to appear before the senate must not be lost while fighting over uniform or not. However, it beggars believe that Ali appears to have very little respect for the Customs. If he cannot put on their uniform then he should not take up the job in the first place. Taking the job means you will abide by the spirit and letters of the Customs culture. The basis for wearing the uniform has nothing to do with law and it is not everything that must be written into our laws. We are rational human beings, thus should make certain decisions. Yes, no law says he should wear the uniform, by the same token no law says he should not wear it.
The president should move quickly to get Ali to do the needful. It is not every time you win. The senate should also learn to use their powers by discretion. It’s not all battles that must be waged, especially when we have left the main issue to begin to discuss trivialities. Show of power or control isn’t the best way to legislate.