Hameed Ali, the Comptroller-General of Customs, said on Tuesday that he will not appear before the Senate as summoned last week.
Senators had last week Thursday asked Mr. Ali to appear before them in Customs uniform for questioning no later than Wednesday, this week.
The request is part of a lingering dogfight between the Customs boss and lawmakers over issues bordering on Customs operations across the country, especially on the recent policy regarding vehicle papers.
Mr. Ali was sent away from the Senate chambers last week when he turned up to answer the questions, because he failed to appear in uniform as directed.
But Mr. Ali said Tuesday afternoon that the matter had become a subject of judicial intervention and honouring the summons could prove prejudicial.
“The case is in court already. Somebody has sued us. I have gotten my writ of summons and they said status quo ante should remain; which means nothing should be done until the court makes a pronouncement,” the Customs boss told reporters in the State House.
“A private individual sued all of us; he wants an interpretation of the section that is in contention,” the News Agency of Nigeria quoted Mr. Ali as saying. “I don’t want to talk so that I am not held in contempt of court.”
Similarly, Joseph Attah, NCS spokesperson, told PREMIUM TIMES Thursday evening that Mr. Ali will not be honouring the mandatory appearance which senators issued to him last week.
Consequently, the instruction that Mr. Ali must appear in uniform will also be discarded, Mr. Attah said.
Mr. Attah said Mr. Ali’s decision not to appear before the Senate on Wednesday was based on a written instruction from the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami.
He said Mr. Malami was acting based on a writ of summons filed by a lawyer in Abuja.
The lawyer, identified as Mohammed Ibrahim, dragged Mr. Ali, the Senate, the Attorney General and the Nigerian government before the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court, seeking judicial intervention in the ongoing controversy about Mr. Ali’s refusal to wear Customs uniform.
Mr. Attah said Mr. Ali “just received a written advice from the Attorney-General’s office urging all parties to stay action on the matter.”
The spokesman further stated that, “based on that new development,” Mr. Ali “will not be appearing before the Senate tomorrow.”
He said the Senate was also copied in the advice issued by Mr. Malami for all parties to stay action.
In his suit, Mr. Ibrahim asked the court to clarify if there is any legal basis for Senate’s demand that Mr. Ali must appear before it in uniform.
PREMIUM TIMES saw a copy of the court filing Tuesday evening.
Senate spokesperson, Sabi Abdullahi, could not be reached for comment Tuesday evening. His number indicated it was switched off.
A spokesman for the Attorney-General was not available for comments Tuesday evening.
Mr. Ali, a retired colonel, has not been seen in Customs uniform since he was appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015, sparking confrontation between him and senators who threatened serious consequences if he failed to do so by Wednesday.
Earlier this month, he told the lawmakers he was not appointed to wear uniform, in an apparent response to their request that he must appear in appropriate uniform.
Mr. Ali’s supporters have argued that he was not a career Customs official and had already worn the uniform of the Nigerian Army where he rose to be a colonel and thus could not wear the uniform of a para-military agency like the Customs.
But PREMIUM TIMES’ findings revealed last week that one of Mr. Ali’s predecessors, Bello Haliru, wore uniform despite being appointed outside the service.
Our findings also showed that Haladu Hananiya, a former Corps Marshal of the Federal Road Safety Corps, wore the agency’s uniform even though his appointment came years after he retired as a major general in the Nigerian Army.
But Mr. Attah said Nigerians should look at Mr. Ali’s performance since he took charge of Customs nearly two years ago rather than focusing on uniform.
“He was appointed to restructure, reform and raise revenue for the country and he has been found to have performed greatly,” he told PREMIUM TIMES last week.