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Background
Upon appointment as the Nigerian Customs
Service Comptroller General by the President, Comptroller-General Hameed
Ibrahim Ali has refused to wear the uniform of the paramilitary establishment[1]
– the Nigerian Customs Service.

The attitude is a continuing one, but met a
rather strong force capable of changing it recently when the National Assembly
(exercising its power under section 89 of the 1999 Constitution) summoned the
Comptroller General to appear before it, and explain some policy put in place by
the customs service as regards custom duties to be paid by vehicles  owners. It was like the National Assembly was
waiting for the Customs Comptroller
General to default in appearing in his uniform. Senator Dino Melaye (APC –
Kogi), with the support of his colleagues,
posed the question why the Comptroller General has chosen not to appear before
them in uniform to answer their questions. On Thursday, 16th of
March, the Comptroller General was asked to leave the National Assembly, to
return next week Wednesday – 22nd March – but by then in his
uniform. The Comptroller General has expressed his interest in seeking legal advice on whether he must wear his
uniform or otherwise in a letter he addressed to the National Assembly – dated
14th March, 2017.

Paragraph 3 of the letter reads: “Regarding the wearing of uniform, I wish to advise that the Senate avails
itself of the legal basis of its decision to compel me to wear uniform. I am similarly seeking legal advice on
this issue, so that both the Senate and I
will operate within the proper legal framework”.
Analysis and arguments
The question this article tries to answer
is whether the Comptroller General as the (highest) Head of the Nigerian
Customs must or can be forced to wear his uniform. It must be noted that the
Comptroller General’s refusal to wear his uniform is not an attitude developed
for the purpose of his summon before the National Assembly alone. As according
to him, he has no desire to wear the uniform now or ever because “I am not
aware of any law that states I should wear uniform…”[2].
The National Assembly while reprimanding
the Comptroller General (hereinafter referred to as CG) referred to some
provisions in the Customs and Excise Management Act, 1959 (hereinafter referred
to as CEMA), and the Regulations made pursuant to it (by the President),
pursuant to section 194 of the Act. These relevant provisions would be examined
in determining whether the CG must or can be forced to wear his uniform. The
foremost relevant provision is the “Interpretation section” – section 2 of
CEMA. The term “Officer” was defined as “…any person employed in the Department
of Customs and Excise, or for the time being performing duties in relation to
customs or excise”. This provision makes the CG an officer of the Nigerian
Customs Service. Thus, arguments he, and some of his agitators are propounding
that he was “appointed” from the outside and not commissioned as the CG, and
thus not an officer of the agency is not only false, it cannot be substantiated
within legal provisions. The CG is an officer of the Nigerian Customs Service.
Other relevant provisions are in the
Customs & Excise (Preventive) Service Regulations, 1962. Now, contrary to
the references made by the National Assembly, especially Hon. Mohammed Mahmud
to Regulation 13 or 31, those provisions do not expressly mandate the CG to
wear a uniform. In fact, construing the whole of CEMA and the 1962 Regulation,
there is nowhere it was stated that the
CG must wear his uniform. This represents the strength of the CG’s argument
refusing to wear his uniform. No legal provision requires him to wear his
uniform. An argument as that he is a retired colonel of the Nigerian Army, and ‘tradition’
does not allow him to wear a paramilitary
uniform lacks merit. One Bello Haliru (a former CG) had been in the same
situation (albeit not previously in the army), and he wore the Nigerian Customs
Service uniform. Also, a former Corps Marshal of the Federal Road Safety Corps,
Haladu Hananiya who was a former Major General wore the FRSC uniform following
his appointment. So, the argument that as a retired colonel he can’t be found
wearing the Customs uniform is not a good argument, a better argument is that
there is no law expressly compelling him to wear the Customs uniform.
Despite the ongoing argument, and lack of
an express provision in the law or Regulation mandating that the CG wear a
uniform, the combined effect and interpretation of some of the provisions in the
Regulation (especially) shows that wearing of uniform
by the CG was contemplated. For example, Regulation 31 on “Clothing and
equipment” states that “Clothing and equipment shall be of such pattern and
worn in such manner as the Board shall determine.” The said board had
already mandated a uniform, and it is that uniform that the CG has refused to
wear. This provision must be understood in the light that the Regulation was
made for customs officer, and the CG has earlier been characterized as an
officer of the Nigeria Customs Service.
Also, examining Regulation 13 on “Offences
against discipline”, that Regulation states that “any member of the Service
(hereinafter referred to as “defaulter”) who is guilty of an offence
specified in the Second Schedule to these Regulations shall suffer punishment
according to the degree and nature of the offence as may be awarded in
accordance with these Regulations.” Unfortunately, in the said Schedule 2 –
which enlists likely offenses punishable
under the Regulations – refusal to wear a uniform
is not enlisted. However, section 9 of the Second Schedule describes as
indiscipline “appearing on duty, dirty or untidy in his person, arms, clothing
or accouterments.” Although this
provision does not necessitate a
mandatory wearing of uniform, it
nevertheless contemplates wearing of uniform first, followed by making it an
indiscipline not to wear a tidy one. There are other provisions in the
Regulation suggesting the wearing of the Nigerian Customs Service uniform, see
for example Regulation 22, 24, 31, and section 6 of the Second Schedule to the
Regulation.
In conclusion, the CG can be forced to wear
his uniform, the fact that same is not expressly mentioned in the Act or
Regulation does not obviate the necessity
of wearing the uniform. Although, one might be fast to chastise the legislature
for creating such lacuna, but such chastisement is rather overbroad, as the
legislature cannot be expected to have aforethought
that an officer of a paramilitary agency would refuse to wear the military garb
of the agency. Truly, there is no express provision mandating the CG to wear
his uniform, but the Regulation made pursuant to the Act regulating the Nigeria
Customs Service anticipates, contemplates, and supposes that an officer of the
agency would and should wear a uniform. This argument is further bolstered by
the idea of the meaning of the word “paramilitary” which the Nigerian Customs
Service is characterized as. At the mention of the word “military”, certain
words as “discipline”, and “uniform” pops in the mind. How can the Head of a
paramilitary body then portray ‘discipline’ when he has refused to wear a
uniform – showing allegiance and affiliation to those he heads or directs?. An
effort to ask for legal advice on whether
to wear a uniform or otherwise by the CG
is not only dead on arrival, such attitude is capable of breeding similar
attitude amongst the Nigerian Customs. The long-term
consequence would be a confusion amongst the populace of who belongs to a
military agency and who is a civilian, and insubordination might just creep in.
The CG must understand that he now has a bi-persona in the society – a civilian
and an officer of a paramilitary body. Thus, the ego falsely smuggled into the
army tradition to negate affiliation by wearing a uniform is baseless.  
On the issue of illegality and radicalism,
it must be noted that while arguing for the necessity of wearing a uniform by
the CG, such argument is only viable under a Regulation, and not a law. There
is a difference between a Regulation and a law. The Customs & Excise
(Preventive) Service Regulations, 1962 is made pursuant to the President’s
power in section 194 of the CEMA, the Regulation is therefore not a law, since laws are conventionally made by the
legislature. The President is an executive. It is,
therefore, safe to say the CG’s refusal to wear a uniform is not illegal, although it might contravene the
intendment of an associated Regulation. Regulations do not have the same effect
as laws. All these supposes that the CG’s attitude is just an expression of
radicalism, and egoism, although not illegal, but contrary to regulatory
expectations.
Gbenga Odugbemi.
     



[1]
The today Nigerian Customs Service was moved from Ministry of Internal Affairs
back to the Ministry of Finance (where it was earlier moved) in 1992, and was
subsequently in the same year recognized as a para-military organization under
the then Head of State leadership – General Ibrahim Babangida. See: https://www.customs.gov.ng/About/historical_information.php
[2] https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.naij.com/amp/1094066-breaking-nigerian-senate-tells-customs-boss-uniform-video.html