David Jemibewon, a retired major general and former governor of defunct Western State, has weighed in on the ongoing face-off between the Comptroller-General of Nigeria Customs Service and the Senate.
Hameed Ali, a retired colonel, has not been seen in Customs uniform since he was appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015, sparking confrontation between him and senators who threatened serious consequences if he failed to do so by next week.
The senate before then had passed a resolution demanding that the customs boss appears before it on the service uniform to explain issues bordering on duty payment for imported vehicles.
Mr. Jemibewon said the demand from the senators was unnecessary.
“We tend to create controversy where there ought not to be controversy. In a situation we are today, we should not be focusing on wearing a uniform,” Mr. Jemibewon said.
Nonetheless, he threw his support behind Mr. Ali, describing him as a fine military man who should not belittle himself with Customs uniform.
“It would be belittling the position of the uniform of a member of the Armed forces,” Mr. Jemibewon said.
Mr. Jemibewon, a former Minister of Police Affairs, said he would have resigned if anyone had compelled him to wear police uniform as a minister.
“There was no way anybody could have compelled me to wear uniform. I would have resigned,” Mr. Jemibewon said. “Even if the law said so I would have resigned.”
The comments came days after reported that a former Customs chief appointed outside the service in similar manner as Mr. Ali wore uniform.
“The moment I was appointed, I became a career Customs officer,” Bello Haliru explain last week. “I knew I must comply with all rules and regulations of the organization I am leading and that included wearing a uniform.”
Similarly, Haladu Hananiya, a former Corps Marshal of the Federal Road Safety Commission, wore uniform of the agency following his appointment by former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
This was despite the fact that Mr. Hananiya retired from the Nigerian Army as a major-general, years before his appointment to the FRSC.
When reminded about these past events, Mr. Jemibewon praised their humility, but stood his ground, still.
“That is very good and I am happy about that. He probably just wanted to identify with them,” Mr. Jemibewon said of Mr. Hananiya, adding that they joined the Army together on the same day.
Mr. Jemibewon also admitted that he doesn’t know what Customs rules and regulations stipulate, but repeated that an Army officer should be above a Customs’ uniform.
“The highest patriotic body in any country in the world is the Army,” Mr. Jemibewon said.
“You don’t expect someone who has risen to that position in the Army to wear customs uniform.”
“Here is a man who has excelled in his military career and you’re asking that one to wear Customs uniform? I don’t see how that will ensure competence and efficiency.”
But a former Minister of Aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode, disagreed, writing on Twitter that the Senate must assert its position and a foremost authority in the country.
“The Senate should insist that he appears before them stark Unclad. If he refuses they should arrest him and have him brought in chains,” Mr. Fani-Kayode, who had been standing trial for alleged corruption since last year, tweeted on Sunday.
The Senate rescheduled Mr. Ali’s appearance to March 22 during which he must appear in uniform.