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HAMEED ALI'S REFUSAL TO WEAR CUSTOMS UNIFORM, THE LETTERS OF THE LAW AND THE FLIGHT OF COMMONSENSE- Baba Isa

First BabaIsa, Legal Practitioner

Hameed Ali, a retired colonel, the head of Nigeria Customs has refused to wear the uniform of a Customs officer.

Why?

Let's look at the letters of the law concerning this before we look at the commonsense ethos that should govern this.

Femi Falana, SAN, has this to say: “With respect to the customs service, its officers are required to wear uniforms. But since the CGC is not a serving customs officer the senate lacks the vires to force him to wear any uniform.

“The suit challenging the legal validity of Col. Hameed Ali’s appointment has been dismissed on the ground that the President has the power to appoint a non-customs officer to head the customs service. Since the court has held that he is not a customs officer, Col. Ali cannot be made to wear any uniform.

“I challenge the Senate to refer to any law that supports the wearing of uniform by the head of customs service, who is not a serving customs officer.”

Falana, vide the first paragraph of his above quoted submission, agreed that the Senate has the powers to compel a CGC to wear uniform only if he is a serving Customs officer. His contention is only that the present CGC cannot be compelled to wear customs uniform because he is not a serving customs officer.

And his conclusion that Hameed is not a Customs officer is drawn from a court decision that declared that the President has the powers to appoint a non-customs officer as the CGC.

This is one of the most intelligent reasonings I have read in this whole saga but with the deepest respect, the revered Learned Silk misled himself in the interpretation of the said court ruling.

The president, according to the court ruling, the Learned Silk made reference to, has the powers to appoint a non-customs officer to head the service. But can we successfully argue that once such an appointment is made, the non-customs officer who is now the CGC remains a non-customs officer? Any reasoning with such a complexion will be bereft of sound logic and deliberately deployed to oil a particular narrative.

Take for instance, it's the law that a lawyer can be appointed a justice of the Supreme Court. That's the law. Though traditionally, members of the bench of the High Court or Court of Appeal are elevated to the Apex Court. When this happens, it's simply seen as a promotion within the bench. However, when a lawyer is elevated straight to the Apex Court (or even to become the Chief Justice) it will be ridiculous to argue that because he was not a judge or member of the bench before his appointment, then his appointment to the Apex doesn't make him a justice of that court.

The President may have the powers to appoint a non-customs officer as the head of the service but once such an appointment is made, the appointee becomes an officer of the service for all intents and purposes.

The Nigerian Customs is a paramilitary establishment with the legal mandate to wear uniforms. Regulation 31 of the subsidiary legislation of the Customs and Excise Preventive Service Regulations provides that: “clothing and equipment shall be of such pattern and worn in such manner as the Board shall determine.” The CGC is not exempted from wearing uniforms. Since the fact that the Nigerian Customs Service is a uniform wearing establishment is not in dispute, I think Femi Falana should be the one that should be challenged to show us any law that exempts the head of customs not to wear uniforms.

Section 8 of the Customs and Excise Management Act states that: "For  the  purpose  of  carrying  out  or  enforcing  the  provisions  of  the  customs  and  excise  laws,  all  officers shall  have  the  same  powers,  authorities  and  privileges  as  are  given  by  law  to  police  officers." One of such statutory privileges is to wear a uniform.

Infact this particular privilege is protect by our extant laws. Section 251 of the Criminal Code states that "any person who, not being a person serving in any of the armed or police forces of Nigeria, wears the uniform of any of these forces, or any dress having the appearance or bearing any of the regimental or other distinctive marks of any such uniform, in such manner or in such circumstances as to be likely to bring contempt on that uniform, or employs any other person so to wear such uniform or dress, is guilty of a simple offence, and is liable to imprisonment for three months or to a fine of N40 (Forty Naira). This section is replicated in Section 79 of the Criminal Law of Lagos State 2011, however the penalty for the offence is 2 years imprisonment with no option of a fine.

I submit forcefully that since by the letters of sections 101 and 251 of the Criminal Code, a civilian can wear the uniform in contempt, a serving CGC (who is an officer of Customs by recruitment or appointment) can also be held to be treating the uniform in contempt by refusing to wear it.

Ali cannot be allowed to cheery pick his duties and privileges as the Customs Boss. He doesn't want to wear the uniform but he lives in the palatial CGC quarters, he flies in the private jet of the service and he is being guarded and served by uniformed custom officers.

Why will Ali refuse to wear the uniform? Discard the legal and political toga of reasoning. Where goeth our commonsense?

The man is simply saying the uniform is beneath him. He considers it infra dig to wear the uniform. He insults our gallant brothers and sisters in the service who wear that uniform proudly. He insults us.

When former President Obasanjo appointed Retired Army General, Haldu Hananiya, as head of Federal Road Safety Corps, he wore the corps uniform to show that he is part of it. And a Retired Colonel thinks he is too big to wear Customs uniform?

Someone wrote: "To demonstrate how proper dressing symbolizes discipline, officers are even promoted instantly on the basis of how well they dress. What will Ali tell a senior officer found donning beret while eating or wearing No 2 customs uniform without tucking? How could you instil discipline when you are appearing in mufti, bearded like Mufti Menk, and expect others to look clean-shaven and appropriately dressed?"

Some persons are missing the fine point simply because it's the Senate that is asking Hameed Ali to wear his service uniform. I understand that. This Senate has earned their bad reputation and untrustworthiness from Nigeria; but we should not let that distract us from the horrendous fact that Hameed Ali is acting above the law and need to be checked.

Firsts Baba Isa (FBI) is a Legal Practitioner and writes from Abuja.
07037162029.

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