Hameed Ali’s troubling tale has become all too familiar. The retired Army Colonel and Comptroller-General (CG) of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), has been in the news these past weeks, perhaps, for all the wrong reasons or right reasons, if you choose.
The brewing war between him and members of the Nigerian Senate was expected to reach a head on March, 22. And, it did! The subject of discord was as mundane as what the Customs boss should wear to honor an invitation extended by the Senate, led by corruption-tainted Senate President, Bukola Saraki.
What was thought a silly joke has now taken the shape of a full blown war! Clear battle lines have been drawn with each side digging into the trenches. While Ali, with the backing of the executive through the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), has refused to appear before the Senate, the latter has described the former as unfit and recommended his sack.
The plot is yet unfolding but the intrigues and power play cannot be lost on keen observers of Nigeria’s troubled political space. The loud silence at the presidency is instructive. Will Buhari sack Ali on the strength of Senate’s contrived advice? This shall be revisited shortly.
Known for his trademark white beard and reticent looks, Ali is considered one of President Muhammadu Buhari’s most strategic appointments. From what is known, the President, daring to stem the smelly rot in the agency, had charged Ali to restructure reform and make the NCS a money-spinning establishment.
Buhari’s unbelief in the system he met was visible. He trusted not one of the Customs leadership! A whole class was sacked just to ensure a clean beginning for Ali, who is also said to be a close relation of the President. While Buhari may have had his way, it is thought that the imposition of Ali, a retiree, over a generation of well-trained officers marked early resentments in the establishment.
How right Buhari was in setting off a fireball at Customs remains an on-going debate. One thing though, that the presidency cannot wish away so quickly is the widely held perception that the CG may have earned the President’s nod more out of nepotistic considerations.
Anyways, the belief is that though Ali may have acquitted himself so far on the job, it was his decision to pursue the largely contentious policy of hounding car owners on the roads for non-payment of custom duties that, first, drew the anger of the Senate.
At least, that was what it seemed at the beginning until news filtered in that a different set of reasons may have triggered Senate’s inquisition into Ali’s fresh initiative on custom duties. This time the allegation was that the Senate President, already burdened with graft accusations, had been caught trying to evade custom duties on a Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) ordered by his office.
The leaked details of the SUV, coming two days before the Customs boss was meant to answer Senate summon in his official regalia, appeared well timed. If the objective was to change the narrative, it worked like magic. It got the public debating the issue while Saraki’s office was forced to fight the fire by initiating a hurried defense to the allegations contained in the newspaper leaks.
Ali’s plot not to honour the Senate was perfected with a quickly procured court Order, allegedly arranged by the AGF, Abubakar Malami, an instrument he relied on to advice the CG against visiting the Senate. His intervention left no one in doubt as to the direction the presidency wanted the dispute to go. Expectedly, Buhari’s team has kept sealed lips on the power play.
But in a game of wits, the Nigerian Senate on Wednesday ordered the immediate sack of Hameed Ali, a call that is sure to be ignored or treated with levity. The reasons are obvious- Buhari retains the right to choose his cabinet. He has ignored such requests in the past, and would most certainly trash the call for Ali’s sack.
However, Wednesday’s call marks a return to the trenches in a largely proxy war between the two major organs of government, the Executive and the Legislature. It is a sad reminder to the stifling chaos within the ruling All Progressives Congress, (APC), which has left many wondering why a party in power will constitute an opposition to itself.
The crisis is evident and deep enough too, for the party leadership to admit that it was immediately dispatching the National Chairman, John Odigie Oyegun, to settle whatever perceived disputes there were. The success of his mission is in great doubt and this is because Oyegun himself is an interested party in the power play. The plot to extinguish the much tainted Senate President is largely contrived from the top and this is common knowledge.
The intricate plots, and dubious power games, all look horned in the Ministry of Justice presided over by the AGF who, through design remains a foot soldier of Buhari, and by extension, a member of the executive arm of government. Malami cannot lay claims to being an ‘innocent bystander’ or impartial observer in the unfolding political chess games.
Indeed, the Hameed Wars are a proxy war by any definition. The Customs boss is but a pawn in a high-wired political game where the executive, uncomfortable with the legislature, seeks to have the latter fully tamed.
It remains to be seen how long more Saraki’s Senate will last. The war from within further compounds the woes as allegations of corruption continue to mount, fueled this time by Senator Ali Ndume who the Senate President dethroned as Majority Leader.
So, is this whole contest about a dubious, power-hungry clique and less about the interest of a rising class of indigent Nigerians? Well, just may be.
Mounting doubts will continue to envelope the real intention of the face-off between and among members of Nigeria’s ruling elite. And, this is for as long as it becomes increasingly discernible that the ‘wars’ have been largely driven by ego trips, greed and clannish disputations over such mundane stuff as what a man wears to a meeting place, instead of the substance of his delivery.
It is sad that the ruling class, deeply engrossed with selfish pursuits, has failed to see the urgency of building enduring democratic institutions that will power the country’s significant leap into genuine development and growth. Even worse, is the failure of the ruling APC to maintain cohesion within its ranks, a gap that has left the ship of state adrift on many occasions.