Following Senate’s tough stand on Ibrahim Magu and Hameed Ali, helmsmen of the EFCC and Nigerian Customs Service, respectively and key kitchen members of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration last week, EZREL TABIOWO examines how the intrigues might affect the career of the duo, and determine future executive-legislative relationship
Ensuring Legislative Compliance
The Senate, in what it described as a battle to resist the excesses and impunity of the executive arm of government, last week invoked the Sword of Damocles on two members of President Muhammadu Buhari’s cabinet.
The upper chamber had severally during defense of the 2017 budget proposal by Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government (MDAs) early this year, lamented the poor conduct of the leadership of the various establishments, some of who displayed complete disregard for the institution of the National Assembly.
The upper chamber, bent on addressing the impunity of MDAs and the executive arm of government by ensuring compliance with legislative resolutions on their part, matched words with action, when it rejected the President’s nomination of the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Ibrahim Magu, as substantive chairman of the agency.
The Senate anchored Magu’s rejection on a letter received from the Department of State Security (DSS), which stated that the Acting Chairman, upon being subject to security vetting, failed the agency’s integrity test.
Recall that following his rejection by the Senate last December, President Muhammadu Buhari re-nominated Magu in January, explaining that he had been cleared of wrongdoing, following investigations into the DSS’ allegations by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami.
But according to another letter written by the DSS, and which was addressed to the Clerk of the Senate, Nelson Ayewoh, going ahead to confirm Ibrahim Magu as substantive Chairman of EFCC would constitute a liability to the anti-corruption war of the agency.
Chairman, Senate committee on Federal Capital Territory, Senator Dino Melaye, who raised the alarm drew the attention of his colleagues to the content of the letter written by the DSS.
“I also want to inform you Mr. Magu, if you are not aware that for every nominee that comes to this Senate, we do request for screening by the DSS.
“It did not start with you, it will not end with you. So on the premise of this request that we have received this from the DSS, the DSS is to us what the FBI and CIA are to the United States of America, and we cannot ridicule, we cannot undermine, and we cannot put in abeyance the report of the DSS,” Melaye said.
Despite Magu’s rejection by the Senate last week Wednesday, and its call on President Buhari to have him replaced immediately at the EFCC, alongside forwarding a fresh nomination to the National Assembly, the anti-corruption Czar has insisted that the anti-graft war continues under his watch.
Some observers have also called on the President to retain the rejected nominee as Acting Chairman of the EFCC or have his nomination resent to the National Assembly for confirmation a third time.
But in a swift reaction, Chairman of the Senate Committee on FCT over the weekend foreclosed any chance of the upper chamber reconsidering Magu’s re-nomination if sent to the National Assembly by President Buhari.
Citing Senate Rules, Order 131, Senator Dino Melaye (APC Kogi West) said President Muhammadu Buhari could not validly re-nominate Magu for the job again as the provision would not allow members consider his nomination, having been rejected at a senate session.
Order 131 of the Senate Rules states that: “nominations neither confirmed nor rejected during the session or within 21 working days in the case of ministerial nominees shall be returned by the Clerk to the National Assembly to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and shall not again be made to the Senate by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”.
Findings by our correspondent however revealed that though majority of lawmakers voted against Magu’s confirmation, there are some Senators staunchly backing his nomination.
For instance, ousted Majority Leader of the Senate, Senator Ali Ndume, in the full glare of plenary last week Wednesday, protested and accused the Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki, of applying double standard after Magu’s rejection by the upper legislative chamber.
Also, Ndume while appearing the following day on a live telecast, said the moral justification applied for Magu’s rejection, if adopted by the upper chamber, would have stopped Senator Saraki from being the Senate President as well.
Consequently, it was reliably gathered that though the Senate had written President Buhari informing him of the upper chamber’s decision to reject Magu nomination, the letter was yet to be dispatched from the office of the Senior Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate).
According to a source who craved anonymity when speaking with our correspondent, the delay in delivering the letter was an idea sold to the Senior Special Adviser, Senator It Enang, by those lawmakers throwing their weight behind Magu’s confirmation as substantive Chairman of EFCC.
All attempts made by our correspondent to get the reaction of Senator Ita Enang to the allegations raised, proved futile as he refused to pick up calls placed to his mobile phone.
Incidents of the next couple of weeks, however shall tell if the President would respect the resolution of the National Assembly, or simply ignore same by retaining Magu in Acting capacity to oversee the activities of the commission (EFCC).
Between Senate and Customs CG
Barely a day after the upper chamber dealt a decisive blow on Magu that seems to have sealed the fate of his likely re-nomination by the President, the red chamber in another jaw-breaking move swerved in the direction of the Customs boss, Hameed Ali.
Ali, who in the past had severally demonstrated flagrant disregard for the resolutions of the upper chamber over ban on imported vehicles and rice imports through land borders, was recently entangled in another round of controversy following his refusal to wear the uniform of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) since assuming office as Comptroller-General, and the introduction of the suspended vehicle duty policy.
The Customs boss, who was compelled to appear before the red chamber last week Thursday, following a resolution reached a day earlier, was turned back and not allowed to brief lawmakers on the suspended vehicle duty policy, since he refused to wear the customs uniform as directed.
He was also given a week’s deadline to comply with the directive of the Senate, and appear on Wednesday this week to brief Senators on the vehicle duty policy.
The Comptroller General, who was invited into the red chamber five minutes after the Senate resolved into the committee of whole at 11:59am, and in the company of other officers well dressed in uniform from the service, was accompanied by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters, Senator Ita Enang.
When asked by the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over yesterday’s plenary, to give reasons for his refusal to appear in his uniform, Ali explained that there was no written directive to that effect in the letter requesting his appearance by the Senate.
Ali, while stating that he is in the middle of seeking legal advice, posited that there is no provision in the law that makes it mandatory for him to wear the uniform of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) as the Comptroller-General of the service.
But the Deputy Majority Leader, Senator Ibn Na’Allah, who was first recognised by Senator Ekweremadu to speak, expressed outright displeasure with the insistence of the customs boss, and also accused the Comptroller General of making derogatory comments in the media that ridiculed of the institution of the National Assembly.
Citing Sections 7(2), 8 and 10 of the Customs Act which duly provides for Unlawful assumption and character of an officer, anchored his argument on a provision which states that, “Any person not being an officer assumes the name, designation of character of an officer” upon appointment.
According to him, in order for the Customs boss to be known as the Comptroller-General, he must conform with the provisions of the law as contained in the Customs Act.
He added that the Ali, having served all this period since his appointment, did not deem it fit before now to seek legal advise as to whether to wear the uniform of the Nigerian Customs or not.
Senator Barau Jibril (Kano), in his contribution, called on his colleagues to compel the DG to comply with the provision of the law before he is allowed to brief the Senate.
Throwing his weight behind Barau’s position, Senator Solomon Olamilekan, said the upper legislative chamber should stick to the resolution of the senate by ensuring that the customs boss is made to brief the chamber in uniform.
Another lawmaker, Senator Magnus Abe (APC Rivers), on his path, who pleaded with the Customs boss to wear his uniform, was severally booed by his colleagues who disagreed with him while making his contribution.
Apparently sensing the rage and disapproval of Senators, Abe who advanced his argument along a new course to appease his colleagues, ended his contribution by adding that the controversy and conflict brewing between the NCS and the Senate over his refusal to wear the uniform was uncalled for.
Senator Thompson Sekibo (PDP Rivers), at this point moved a motion that the Comptroller-General be given another date, next week, to reappear in uniform, saying that “the Senate cannot be allowed to be ridiculed”.
In his remark, Ekweremadu, while citing Section 2 of the Customs Act, told the Comptroller General that “as the leader of the customs service, you must lead by example by obeying the law”.
The Comptroller General was then given a one-week deadline to appear before the Senate in uniform this week Wednesday to brief the upper chamber on the vehicle duty policy.
However, in view of the Senate’s staunch stance on the matter, what remains unclear is whether the Customs boss will bulge to the directive of the upper chamber by appearing in uniform this week, or damn the consequences by shunning the summons; and possibly giving up his job eventually.
Either way, observers predict that President Buhari’s decision on Magu and his stance on Hammed Ali going forward, would concretely determine the direction of Executive-Legislature relations under his administration which has two more years before the 2019 general elections.