For the past few months one thing has virtually dominated the airways, headlines, various discussions and gobbled up space on social media – the refusal of the Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service, Col Hameed Ali (rtd) to wear the uniform reflecting his position.
And of course like any discuss there are various arguments being put forward for and against the position of the retired colonel of the Nigerian Army towards wearing his uniform.
For instance, writing on the issue in his weekly column for Sunday Telegraph last Sunday, legal luminary Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN) argued in his piece titled: “Hameed Ali: Raising the bar of Impunity” that the Col. Ali was wrong not to wear the uniform of his office.
“The present hubbub and brouhaha generated by him in his defiant refusal to wear Customs uniform to the Senate is as pompous, cocky, narcistic, as it is vainglorious.
What is in a uniform? Oh, EVERYTHING! By simple definition, “uniform” is a particular set of clothes that has to be worn by the members of the same organisation or group of people, e.g.: military/school uniform, a nurse’s uniform.
“Merriam-Webster defines uniform as a “dress of a distinctive design or fashion worn by members of a particular group and serving as a means of identification; broadly: distinctive or characteristic clothing”.
“Virtually every professional wears uniform: Lawyers, judges, Doctors, Engineers, Nurses, Capital Market operators, Army, Navy, Air Force, Police, Customs, Fire Service, Civil Defence, FRSC, Boys Scouts, Girls Guild, Knights, Priests, Reverend Sisters, Bishops, Pope, Imams, Traditional Rulers, School children, Graduands; just name it.”
Chief Ozekhome goes on to cite himself as an example of how the allure of belonging to a group, which had a uniform, made him give up one year in university. Hear him: “I lost one full year at the then University of Ife (now OAU), to enable me read law, as I had to downgrade myself from 300 level (English Department), to 200 level (Law).
“The greatest attractions I had for this self-immolation were simply two: the first was the uniform (wig, gown, bib and collar…” He then goes on to state the clincher why Col. Ali’s position is actually an infraction of the law.
“The law governing Nigerian Customs is the Customs & Excise Management Act (CEMA), Cap 45, LFN, 2004. CEMA is silent as to whether it is mandatory for the Comptroller General of Custom (CGC) to wear uniform.
“However, the Customs and Excise Preventive Service Regulations made pursuant to CEMA make specific reference to uniform. Regulation 31 provides that clothing and equipment shall be of such pattern and worn in such manner as the Board shall determine.
“Thus, it makes reference to uniform to be worn by officers of the Nigeria Customs Service. Interestingly, CEMA defines ‘officer’ to mean: “any person employed in the Nigerian Customs Service, or for the time being performing duties in relation to customs or excise”.
“Under Sections 4 and 5 of the Act, the power to act on behalf of and subject to the government of the federation in all Customs matters, is vested in the Board of the Nigeria Customs Service, of which the CGC is Vice Chairman, while the Minister of Finance, is Chairman.
“Since the said Regulation 31 provides that: “clothing shall be of such pattern and worn by officers as the Board shall determine”, it follows, as the night the day, that by a community reading of the Act and the Regulations, clearly show that the CGC is and remains an “officer” of the Service. “He must therefore comply with the provisions of both the Act and the Regulations, by wearing of uniform.
“Similarly, Section 8 of the Act provides 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. Everyone knows that part of the paraphernalia of the “powers, authorities and privileges”, of Police officers is wearing official uniform.
Why must Ali be an exemption?” Well-articulated by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria! In the early days of the ruckus over his refusal to wear his Customs’ uniform, Col. Ali had argued that as a senior army officer it was wrong for him to be seen in the uniform of another service.
However, even this argument has been torpedoed with clear example of officers, even more senior than him donning the uniform of the new position they found themselves in. For instance, retired Major-General Haladu Hananiya, Hameed Ali’s superior, was Corps Marshall of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC). He wore his uniform throughout his service with pride and dignity.
Colonel Emeka Okoro, same rank with Ali, upon retirement from the military, was appointed the Sergeant-at-Arms of the NASS. He proudly wore the Sergeant-at- Arms uniform. Retired Major Argungu was appointed the FCT Head of the Vehicle Inspection Office (VIO) and he gallantly wore VIO uniform. Dr John Ade Abolurin, erstwhile Commandant of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) adorned the Corps uniform with élan.
In seeking to find out if actually there existed a law (either written or otherwise) against an army officer being seen in the uniform of another service, a serving Major- General I spoke to insisted that there was none to the best of his knowledge.
“Honestly, I don’t know of any such law in the military that prevents such,” he told me. He then pointed out that perhaps the unwritten creed in which army personnel often see themselves as being above all other military and para-military organisations could be the reason.
“You do know that we (army personnel) believe that we are the top dogs and so ego may be the reason why he (Ali) cannot bring himself to be seen in another uniform other than the army’s,” he explained.
However, whatever is the reason, late musician Fela Anikulapo-Kuti summed it up in a witty but pungent manner in his 1974 hit: “Alagbon Close” when he said:
“Uniform na cloth na tailor dey so am, nothing special about uniform!” It may appear flippant but at the end of the day uniforms are actually sown by tailors and thus my take is that wearing one should not be a big issue!