Omololu Ogunmade, Damilola Oyedele and Alexander Enumah in Abuja
The Senate on Tuesday directed its Committee on Ethics and Privileges to conduct investigations into allegations that the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) in January this year impounded an armoured Range Rover Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) belonging to Senate President Bukola Saraki.
Saraki has however denied any links with the importation of the seized vehicle, stating that the matter was purely between the Customs Service and the supplier of the car, as the Senate has not taken delivery of the vehicle in question.
The Senate’s face off with the Comptroller General of Customs, Colonel Hameed Ali (rtd) has been linked to the seizure of the armoured vehicle.
The vehicle, according to an online news website, was seized following the failure to pay the appropriate customs duty for the car valued at N298 million, for which only N8 million was paid instead of N74 million.
The Ethics and Privileges Committee was also directed to investigate allegations that the Senate President’s close ally, Senator Dino Melaye (Kogi West) does not possess an authentic first degree certificate from the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria.
At the Senate plenary yesterday presided over by Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, the upper legislative chamber decided to conduct the investigations, following a point of order raised by ousted Senate Leader, Senator Ali Ndume, who noted that both issues, raised by the online medium, borders on the privileges of the senators.
Ndume, brandishing a copy of a newspaper which reported the alleged certificate forgery, said the reports have caused insults to be rained on the Senate by Nigerians.
“My colleagues that are following events, particularly online, have seen, heard or read the rain of abuses on this Senate and the misconception of the fact that we invited the Customs CG based on a very unpopular policy that affects the people we represent, but now we are faced with this and the president has been found to be involved in this National Assembly,” Ndume said.
Ndume also argued that there had been cases of investigations into allegations of certificate forgery by lawmakers in previous assemblies, citing those involving Hon. Salisu Buhari, Hon. Bello Masari and Hon. Dimeji Bankole.
“Here in the Senate, in the Fourth Assembly, (Evans) Enwerem was accused and it was also investigated, (Adolphus) Wabara was accused of collecting bribe and it was investigated and determined.
“So, a lot of precedents have been set,” he said, and prayed that the matter be referred to the ethics committee.
“Accordingly, I will appeal we refer the matters to Ethics and Privileges Committee to investigate so that our colleagues would be cleared and this Senate will stand as it is supposed to,” Ndume said.
After allowing Ndume to raise his point of order, Ekweremadu referred the issues to the Ethics and Privileges Committee, which is expected to report back in four weeks.
Reacting to the development, Saraki’s spokesman, Mr. Yusuph Olaniyonu, said the facts and documents concerning the seized vehicle, showed that the Senate President had nothing to do with its importation.
“A supplier was engaged by the Senate to supply a vehicle. While transferring the vehicle between Lagos and Abuja, it was impounded by the Customs Service.
“We believe that it is an issue between the supplier and the Customs Service because the Senate has not taken delivery of the vehicle.
“So, why is somebody trying to drag in the name of Saraki into the issue,” he said in a statement.
“The documents on the vehicle are there for the general public to view and draw their conclusions. Now that the matter has been referred to the Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, all the facts will be out,” Olaniyonu added.
In his reaction, Melaye said he was ready to submit himself to the committee’s investigation.
Melaye, who is a member of the Ethics Committee, would however be required to recuse himself while he is being investigated.
Addressing newsmen after plenary, Melaye threw a verbal jab at Ndume, describing him as a “Boko Haram suspect senator”.
“To say that I did not graduate from ABU is to say I am not a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The investigation is a welcome development.
“I already know the result (of the investigation). I have my results, admission letter and certificate of discharge. Thrice I was voted most popular student. I was President of the Students’ Union Government,” he said.
Melaye also disclosed that he possesses a Master’s degree in International Relations and Diplomacy from ABU, and is currently pursuing another Master’s degree in Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice, “making it the eighth degree I am pursuing”.
“It is surprising that people would stoop so low,” he added.
Customs CG to Shun Senate
But as the fallout of the face off between the Senate and the Customs CG reverberated in the upper legislative chamber and was threatening to give Saraki a new headache to deal with, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, yesterday wrote to the Senate, informing it that its directive asking Col. Ali to appear before it today in uniform had been challenged in court.
The suit, with the Senate as defendant, wants the court to determine whether the Senate has the powers to compel Ali to wear the uniform of his rank.
The letter addressed to the Clerk of the Senate, Mr. Nelson Ayewoh, would be read on the floor of the Senate today.
The Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Sabi Aliyu Abdullahi confirmed to newsmen that the letter was received by the clerk, but did not divulge the contents.
Ali is scheduled to appear before the Senate today to explain the policy on the customs duties verification for vehicles imported into the country before 2016.
The Senate had refused to grant him audience last week after he showed up in mufti, in contravention of the Senate resolution directing him to appear in his uniform.
Also, Ali who ran into newsmen at the State House yesterday evening while visiting the mosque located beside President Muhammadu Buhari’s office, confirmed that he will be a no show at the Senate today.
Ali, who appeared not to be ruffled by the Senate’s seeming threat to his job, did not hesitate to rule out the possibility of appearing before the legislature as directed.
He insisted that the matter had already been overtaken by events and sub judiced given the lawsuit challenging the Senate’s directive.
According to him, he had been served with a writ of summons following a suit instituted by a concerned Nigerian in the court.
“The case is in court already. Somebody has sued us. It is sub judiced. I have gotten my writ of summons and they said the status quo should remain, which means nothing must move until the court makes a pronouncement.
“A private individual sued all of us. He wants an interpretation of the section that is in contention. I don’t want to talk so that I am not held in contempt of court,” Ali said.
Ali’s decision stemmed from a suit instituted by a maritime lawyer, Mohammed Ibrahim, who has asked the Federal High Court, Abuja, to stop the National Assembly and its agents from compelling him to wear the uniform of the NCS in the performance of his duties.
In the suit filed yesterday, the defendants include the Comptroller General of the NCS, the NCS, National Assembly, the Senate and the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) as the first to fifth defendants, respectively.
The plaintiff, Mohammed Ibrahim is seeking for a court declaration that Ali’s appointment as the CGC cannot be subject to the provisions of Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA) or any other law. The plaintiff is also seeking “a declaration that Col. Ali who is not a commissioned officer of the NCS is not mandated by law to wear the NCS uniform and that the oversight functions of the National Assembly do not extend to compelling and mandating Col. Ali to appear before it in uniform”.
The plaintiff is therefore praying the court for an order of perpetual injunction restraining both the National Assembly and the Senate from compelling Ali to wear a uniform in the performance of his duties.
In a three-paragraph affidavit deposed to by one John Kyauta in support of the case, the plaintiff said that he is a lawyer who specialises in human rights enforcement, maritime matters and business law.
The plaintiff also wants the court to determine whether Ali’s appointment by the president, having been made pursuant to Section 5 and 171 of the constitution, can be subjected to the provisions of the Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA) or any other law.
The plaintiff is asking the court to declare whether there is any legal provision that prescribes the wearing of a uniform as a condition precedent by Ali and whether he, not being a commissioned Customs officer, is mandated or under compulsion to wear the NCS uniform before the performance of the duties of CGC.
No date has been fixed for hearing of the case.
APC Steps into the Fray
But with the stand off between the Senate and Ali threatening to snowball into a full-blown crisis, the All Progressives Congress (APC) moved yesterday to settle the rift.
A statement by the National Publicity Secretary of the party, Mr. Bolaji Abdullahi, said the National Chairman of the APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun will lead the “party’s peace mission to meet with the leadership of the National Assembly”.
The statement said having watched the situation with “growing concern”, the party found it necessary to intervene.
“The APC has keenly observed the controversy that has trailed the invitation extended to the Comptroller-General of the Nigerian Customs Service, Col. Hameed Ali (rtd.) by the senate.
“We have watched the issues with growing concern and the expectation that they would be resolved in a manner that would be agreeable to all the parties involved.
“However, we wish to state that at this point, we have found it necessary to intervene. Accordingly, the National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun will lead the party’s peace mission to the leadership of the National Assembly and the concerned party member.
“We are confident that the party’s effort to broker peace would resolve the matter amicably,” APC said.