Ali and His Customs Uniform

Ali and His Customs Uniform

Sunday, April 2, 2017 5:07 pm


Bolaji Adebiyi

By Bolaji Adebiyi

One of the good things about democracy is that the exercise of citizens’ freedom of expression at times provides the polity some comic reliefs even at moments of great depression. Listening to varied views on the fight between the Senate and Hameed Ali, a retired Army colonel, over his customs uniform, one cannot fail to come to the conclusion that out there, there are many dishonest jesters, masquerading as public opinion leaders, who would rather turn logic on its head in order to mask their personal interest dressed as public good.

Erstwhile civil rights agitators who now work for President Muhammadu Buhari have been very vociferous in setting up the Senate for the guillotine over a matter that, were they honest believers in due process of law, rules and regulations, they would have roundly lashed the President for his abuse of the discretion donated to his office by the Constitution.

The President in August 2015 appointed a non-career officer as the Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service. This obviously did not go down well with the carrier officers, the top management of which sent in its retirement notice in protest of the presidential action. Of course many people familiar with the sector criticised the appointment on the ground that customs service is too technical for a non-carrier officer to quickly come to grasp with its intricacies, and could be counterproductive particularly when the principal objectives are to reform, restructure and increase revenue generation.

Colonel Hameed Ali inspects guards of honour at Customs headquarters


One year plus, the appointment would appear to have been ill-advised as the ongoing controversy over the refusal of Ali to wear the customs uniform points. Interestingly, the uniform was a side issue; the main point of the Senate was the policy of the customs to transfer the burden of payment of unpaid duties on imported cars to the end users. The policy was born out of Ali’s desire to increase the customs revenue profile having failed consistently in the last two years to meet its target. Believing that many vehicles in the country were either not properly assessed or not assessed at all, he felt subjecting every vehicle to a test of proper assessment would shore up his revenue profile. The policy had no cut-off date of importation as every vehicle on the road, including those purchased 20 years ago would be affected.

Carrier officers advised against the policy on point of law and capacity. Although under the Customs and Excise Management Act, the service is empowered to impound or levy duties on goods that have made their ways into the country even when they have successfully evaded the customs at the entry point. But this applies only to goods that have not exceeded seven years. Besides, officials expressed reservations about the capacity of the service to implement the policy nationwide having regards to the limited human and technological resources available to it. Both concerns were brought to the attention of Ali who peremptorily overruled them.

Were Ali a carrier officer or knowledgeable about the rules, he would have understood the impracticability of the policy and would have been minded to give it further thoughts particularly given the concerns of those whose mandate it is to implement it. Of course as it was expected public objection to the policy was instant and massive, attracting the intervention of the Senate, which invited him to come and defend the controversial policy.

If the sponsors and handlers of Ali had been discerning enough they would have known that the Senate hearing was bound to be explosive and would have taken steps to forestall what is eventually playing out. His contempt for the customs as an institution, exhibited by his refusal to wear its uniform, had been revolting to officers and men of the service and had been an issue of public interest since his appointment in 2015. His handlers failed woefully to understand that it is part of the democratic rights of the servicemen to take their lobby for the protection of the dignity of their institution to the legislature.

The resolution of the Senate summoning Ali to appear before it in his Comptroller-General uniform was probably the first manifestation of the effectiveness of the carrier officers’ lobby. The CG, seen as a repulsive impostor by his officers, obviously did not see this and proceeded to walk into a well-laid landmine with his contemptuous media reaction to the summons. Dismissing the uniform aspect of the resolution as a non-issue, Ali asked the Senate to concentrate more on substance than inanities , insisting what was important was that he was doing his job creditably well. Really?

After an initial grandstanding, Ali reluctantly appeared before the Senate in mufti, telling the senators that no law requires him, a CG, to wear the customs uniform. If the Senate was a court of law, it would have sentenced Ali to 12 months imprisonment for contempt in the face of the court. The Senate resolution was clear: “The Comptroller-General should appear in his uniform.” His conduct, no doubt, was defiant of the authority of the Senate, which walked him out of its chambers.

If the sponsors and handlers of Ali had been discerning enough they would have known that the Senate hearing was bound to be explosive and would have taken steps to forestall what is eventually playing out. His contempt for the customs as an institution, exhibited by his refusal to wear its uniform, had been revolting to officers and men of the service and had been an issue of public interest since his appointment in 2015. His handlers failed woefully to understand that it is part of the democratic rights of the servicemen to take their lobby for the protection of the dignity of their institution to the legislature.

Serial social critics and civil rights contractors have since entered the fray on the side of an otherwise impetuous public officer who has scant regard for constituted authority simply because of his closeness to a president that himself observes rules according to his whim and caprices. They assail Senate’s insistence on respect for its authority as egoistic and without substance. Without a doubt, this is an impertinent conclusion having regards to the constitutional powers of the legislature not only to oversight the executive but to compel compliance with its resolutions. Indeed, the House of Representatives has a committee on legislative compliance. What is the job of that committee if the legislature has no powers to compel compliance with its resolutions?

Interestingly, the professional agitators pretend that the Senate has not accomplished its substantive objective of compelling the abortion of the vexed policy of transferring payment of duties on imported cars from the importers to the end users. On the eve of Ali’s appearance at the Senate the custom service announced the suspension of the policy because of the legislative intervention. But the service only met the demand of the Senate half way having suspended rather than cancel the policy as demanded by the upper arm of the legislature.


President Olusegun Obasanjo filled the lacuna in the law when in 2002 he issued a guideline on the appointment of the CG. Section 3.11:1 of the guideline entitled: Federal Republic of Nigeria Official Gazette No 24 Vol. 89 of 25th March 2002 provides that the choice of the comptroller-general of customs shall be by “appointment of a suitable Deputy Comptroller-General of Customs (General Duty).”

Perhaps this uniform palaver would have been avoided if the President had followed the spirit of the law with respect to the appointment of the CG of the service. Although the Customs and Excise Management Act did not stipulate the mode of appointment of the CG, there is little or no doubt that the intention of the law makers was that the head of the service would be appointed from within its senior ranks. President Olusegun Obasanjo filled the lacuna in the law when in 2002 he issued a guideline on the appointment of the CG. Section 3.11:1 of the guideline entitled: Federal Republic of Nigeria Official Gazette No 24 Vol. 89 of 25th March 2002 provides that the choice of the comptroller-general of customs shall be by “appointment of a suitable Deputy Comptroller-General of Customs (General Duty).”

But intent on appointing his protégée as the CG, the President preferred to use the nebulous Section 171 of the constitution to appoint Ali even when it was obvious that the exercise of his discretion in that regard would undermine the stability of the service. Meanwhile, there is nothing exceptional about Ali’s military record to justify a departure from a presidential policy that has been in operation since 2002.

Perhaps this arbitrary departure from policy emboldened Ali to act without regard for established norms and respect for the customs hierarchy and rules. First, he refused to wear the service uniform. Second, he does not discuss but dictates directives to the service management. The CG’s claim that no law requires him to wear the service uniform is inappropriate because it could be argued too that no law requires any customs officer to wear uniform. But there are service regulations that compel every officer not only to wear uniform, but to also wear it appropriately. The Nigeria Customs Service Codes made pursuant to the Customs and Excise Management Act, and revised last in 1998 contains instructions relating to the civil establishment of the service. A section is devoted to the importance of uniform in the service.


The makers of the Code for obvious reasons exempted some category of officers from wearing uniform. The CG is not one of them. Section 54 (b) (iv) says: “Officers of the Customs Intelligent Unit and Investigation Divisions of the Inspectorate and Investigation Department need not wear uniforms as prescribed under 56(b) above.” Meanwhile Section 1 (A) of the Code Part 1, which provides for the structure of the service and line of communication states: “The service is headed by the Comptroller-General and there six Deputy Comptrollers-General, each heading one of the six Departments of the Service…” So anyone who bears the title CG is required by the Establishment Code to wear the service uniform.

Section 54 of Part 1 of the Codes says: (a) “The officers and men of the Service should be issued with the standard uniforms. Senior Officers are to pay for their Service uniforms while junior officers are issued the uniform free.” (b) “Officers and men are to be issued with complete set of uniforms as to ensure their neatness at all times.” So important is the uniform to the service that the Codes states in 54 (C): “This Service takes a great pride in the uniform of officers and men and proper wearing of uniform is of such importance to the Service that it has placed it in the schedule of the Inspectorate Division of the Department of Inspectorate and Investigation.”

The makers of the Code for obvious reasons exempted some category of officers from wearing uniform. The CG is not one of them. Section 54 (b) (iv) says: “Officers of the Customs Intelligent Unit and Investigation Divisions of the Inspectorate and Investigation Department need not wear uniforms as prescribed under 56(b) above.” Meanwhile Section 1 (A) of the Code Part 1, which provides for the structure of the service and line of communication states: “The service is headed by the Comptroller-General and there six Deputy Comptrollers-General, each heading one of the six Departments of the Service…” So anyone who bears the title CG is required by the Establishment Code to wear the service uniform.

Ali’s supporters have since argued that the uniform issue was trivial and that the Senate should have concerned itself more with his performance. That is a very fine point no doubt. So what is the fellow’s performance since he came into the saddle almost two years ago? Upon ascendance to office, the retired soldier told the service officers and men that his mission at the customs was to “reform, restructure and increase revenue generation.” Which of this has he done? Officers in the service grumble loudly that Ali’s tenure has been the worst and most disruptive in the entire history of the service. To date the service is yet to appoint DCGs who should form the management team as required by the Establishment Code. According to officers, the CG preferred to run things with his military aides who know next to nothing about customs work.

Ali’s defiance of established procedures has had negative effects on the delivery of other mandates. He has consistently failed to meet his revenue targets since 2015. Meanwhile, corruption, which his sponsors said they sent him to the service to fight, has by many accounts worsened under his watch. The most outstanding testimony to his monumental failure so far comes from no other person than the Buhari administration’s chief advisor on the war on corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN).

“Nothing has changed in Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) since May 29, 2015. It still reeks of corruption,” he said during the opening of a two-day national dialogue on corruption organised by the Presidential Advisory Committee on Corruption (PACAC),‎ in collaboration with the Office of the Vice President.

Adebiyi is Deputy Editor, Thisday Newspaper (08053069321). He originally wrote the piece for Thisday.

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