Customs Auction Sales: Will Ali Honour Lawmakers Invitation?
BY EGUONO ODJEGBA
Those whose business it is know say uneasy calm presently envelope the management cadre of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), following summon of the Customs Comptroller General Col. Hameed Ali (Rtd) by the lower chamber of the parliament, the House of Representatives.
The Customs boss is expected to answer questions about the controversial authorization of the sales of seized posh vehicles allegedly to his family members and cronies, reportedly in violation of the due process.
His summon is coming on the heels of a petition by the National President of Nigerian Association of Licensed Auctioneers (NALA), Alhaji Musa Kura Abubakar, who accused the customs leadership of official and ethical misconduct, and abuse of office.
Whereas it is believed that Col. Ali did not honour his earlier invitation slated for Wednesday, last week, the House Committee on Public Petitions offered him a second chance to appear before it today to clarify the contentious auction sales which the service has so far dubbed scraps; and permitted to be disposed off through direct allocation.
However, Pinnacle Time report that there is heavy air of anxiety both within the camps of the executive and legislature; as this particular case is believed to be very dicey and could rupture the fragile relationship between the two arms of government if not handled carefully, political pundits posit.
The apprehension is more so against the background of fear that the former military chief may not also show up later today, which development might force the lawmakers to order his arrest and forceful appearance before the committee. But insiders say that Ali has greatly improved on his democratic credentials, and coupled with his gentleman military discipline, is not the kind of leader to look down on the parliament; hinting that the soldier who took over the running of the customs service since August 2015 will be at the National Assembly.
The invitation letter to Ali signed by the House of Reps Committee Chairman, Hon. Jerry Alagbaoso and titled, ‘Nigeria Association of Auctioneers (petitioner) against Nigeria Customs Service on direct auction allocation of scrap vehicles and other items’, reads:
“Whereas the above-named petition is now pending before this committee and the particulars of the petition aforesaid are already within your knowledge, whereas the petition has been assigned to be heard by the committee for determination.
“You are hereby required to note sections 88 and 89 (c) of our constitution (as amended) and appear in person before this committee on Tuesday, November 29, 2022 at 2pm or so soon thereafter as the committee shall direct. Please, bear in mind the NCDC protocols. Venue: House of Representatives Room 429 (new wing).
In anticipation of his appearance, the House Committee on Petition further directed: “You are to submit one soft copy and 10 hard copies of your brief on the matter. And further take notice that if you do not attend the hearing as required, the case may be heard or determined in your absence.”
Following news report about the controversy, the NCS was believed to have invited Abubaker to appear before a panel of inquiry it set up on November 8, to wit with documents to buttress his allegations. It was gathered that Abubakar did not however honour the invitation, purportedly on the ground that the NCS does not possess the powers to summon him, and reportedly noted that the National Assembly should be the arbiter.
In our report last week titled ‘Auction Sales: Ali Walks Tight Rope’, it was mentioned that NALA which few months ago spilled the racketeering, penultimate week, again stirred the hornet’s nest, as the NALA President reaffirmed his earlier allegations during a radio programme on Ray Power, claiming his association has evidences of the corrupt transactions; adding he has petitioned the House of Reps.
Reacting however, the NCS had urged Nigerians to disregard the chief auctioneer’s claims, noting they are fabricated and done with intent for mischief making. Indeed, the NCS challenged Abubakar to make public the evidences of their allegations at his disposal, or forever remain silent.
According to NALA leader, the beneficiaries of the auction racketeering are customs boss family members, friends and cronies, believed to have picked the alleged vehicles at a ridiculous N10, 000 per car.