Monday’s encounter between Senate ad hoc committee members and the Comptroller-General of Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, Col. Hameed Ali (retd) at the NCS headquarters in Abuja threw up dramatic scenes which started over the refusal of the latter to come downstairs to welcome the lawmakers upon arrival.
Members of the Senate ad hoc committee on Economic Waste had arrived the Zone 3 Abuja headquarters of the NCS to carry out some investigations in purported economic waste in the Service. They included Senators Dino Melaye (APC Kogi West), Sam Anyanwu (PDP Imo East), Gilbert Nnaji (PDP Enugu East), Hamman Isah Misau (APC Bauchi Central) and Babajide Omoworare (APC Osun East).
It all started when Melaye observed that the Customs CG breached protocol by not coming down from his office to receive members of the committee into the premises but rather waited to meet them at the conference room.
Noting that the protocol had been observed by statutory bodies like Customs, Immigration and Prisons over the years, he wondered why Ali did not accord the committee such courtesy.
Melaye drew the attention of the Customs CG to the fact that the meeting was like a typical Senate session, thus must be treated with respect despite the fact that it was taking place at the headquarters of the NCS. To drive home his point, the lawmaker hit the gavel on the table before him to declare the meeting open.
His words, “Before reading the prepared speech of the committee, let me make these 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, Prison Service etc., making us to wonder why it is not so here today under your leadership. If this repeats itself another time, we will take a walk.
“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”.
After making the observation, Melaye read a prepared speech outlining how the committee would carry out its investigation on economic waste in the Customs service.
Not letting go, the Customs CG responded by informing members of the ad hoc committee that Customs has its own protocols different from other public establishments and should not be dictated to on matters of etiquette or protocol.
Ali said, “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 clearly 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 am not a committed Nigeria.
“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”.
The palpable exhibition of anger and resentment between the Senate ad hoc committee and the Customs leadership resulted in the boycott of group photographs by members of the Senate committee.
The tension was worsened when the lawmakers realised that the Customs CG had used his convoy stationed at the exit gate to block them from leaving the place before him. The Customs CG eventually left the Customs headquarters at about 2:15pm with his siren-blaring convoy, while members of the ad hoc committee left at about 2:30pm after being delayed in their bus for about 15 minutes.