•Speaker Abass and Senate President Akpabio
With elected officials choosing comfort over sacrifice, DIRISU YAKUBU interrogates the recent procurement of exotic vehicles for federal lawmakers.
For the advocates of prudent management of resources, given Nigeria’s dwindling revenues, the past few weeks must have been very troubling. In the past decade, life has been nothing short of Thomas Hobbes’s prediction of a state of nature where a man’s life is brutish, nasty and short.
In the later part of President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration and the entirety of the eight years of ex-President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari’s (retd.) regime, Nigerians suffered untold hardship, ranging from inability to afford the necessities of life to an increase in violent campaigns by bandits, terrorists, kidnappers, leading to loss of thousands of lives and property, reports Sunday PUNCH.
Not surprisingly, Nigerians celebrated the end of Buhari’s tenure, as many of them looked up with optimism to a new era of possibilities. Although not all Nigerians were pleased with the outcome of the February 25 presidential election, millions of citizens expected a paradigm shift in the administration of President Bola Tinubu particularly as it concerns the conduct of elected office holders.
A few weeks after taking over from his predecessor, President Tinubu announced the removal of subsidy on the Premium Motor Spirit popularly known as petrol, urging Nigerians to bear the pain of its outcome, which he said, would guarantee a better life. Since June 2023 when the policy commenced, motorists have purchased petrol for various amounts ranging from N534 per litre to about N630 per litre as of the time of filing this report.
But the N640 per litre price is only for residents of cities like Abuja and Lagos as elsewhere, consumers of the product pay as much as N750; a development that has made living hellish in the country. In fairness to the Tinubu-led administration, several palliatives have been rolled out but commuting from home to places of work remains a huge challenge in the Federal Capital Territory and some states of the federation.
Aware of the effect of industrial action, President Tinubu approved a rise in the monthly earnings of civil servants but with a double-digit inflation in the economy; that intervention appears at best a drop in the ocean. One would have therefore expected that a government that called on citizens to bear the brunt of its policies in the interim would show leadership by example by exhibiting sacrificial conduct in its service to the nation.
Only recently, the media was awash with reports of lawmakers on the verge of receiving brand new 2023 models of Toyota Land Cruiser and Prado Sports Utility Vehicles that will cost the nation at least N57.6bn in total.
As criticisms trail the development, the Chairman, Committee on Senate Services, Sunday Karimi, reminded Nigerians that ministers had more cars than legislators, saying, “Somebody that is a minister has more than three Land Cruisers, Prado and other vehicles and you are not asking them questions: why us?
“These vehicles that you see ply Nigerian roads today. If I go home once; my senatorial district, I come back spending a lot on my vehicles because our roads are bad. I said the decision that we took on using Land Cruiser is the cost and durability. It is not the decision of the senators alone; we analyzed arriving at Land Cruisers. It was based on a comparative analysis of the cost of technical issues and durability on Nigerian roads, are you getting me?
“We want something that we can maintain for another four years and the issue of buying vehicles for National Assembly is a reoccurring issue. It occurs in every Assembly; it will always come up.”
Continuing, the lawmaker said, “If you go to state Houses of Assembly today, most of them before they were even inaugurated, the governor would have bought vehicles waiting for them, even local government chairmen. I drove the vehicle my local government chairman uses; so, why the National Assembly?”
He, however, added that the cost of the vehicles was partly informed by the indebtedness of the federal parliament to the suppliers. He said, “I am the Chairman, Senate Service. When I came into the Senate, when they gave me their liability, it was over N16bn, made up of different vehicles of the 7th, 8th and 9th Assemblies.
In the same vein, spokesperson for the House of Representatives, Akin Rotimi, in a statement justifying the procurement of the vehicles, noted that the work of legislators would be better enhanced when the wonders on wheels arrive.
“Honourable members are diligent and patriotic elected representatives. The anticipated allocation of vehicles will contribute to improved representation, constituency outreach and oversight functions. The House of Representatives is monitoring a trending topic across multiple traditional and online media, concerning the allocation of vehicles to honourable members, and because this issue has understandably generated significant public interest, we believe Nigerians deserve feedback from their elected representatives.
“While many versions of this story carry varying exaggerations, we can confirm that the National Assembly bureaucracy is in the phased process of procuring and distributing operational vehicles to honourable members over the coming weeks and months. This development is by extant procurement laws and has been the practice in previous assemblies. It is also not peculiar to the Legislature, as unelected government officials in the Executive arm of government from Director level and above, in most cases, have official vehicles attached to their offices,” he had said, even as he noted that the vehicles were not personal possessions as the public was being made to believe.
“The vehicles to be allocated to the offices of honourable members are utility operational vehicles tied to their oversight functions in the discharge of their duties in the standing committees. They are not personal vehicles gifted to honourable members. For the duration of the 10th assembly (2023 – 2027), the vehicles shall remain the property of the National Assembly.
“At the expiration of the tenure of the 10th Assembly in 2027, should the extant assets deboarding policy of government still be in place, honorable members may have the option of making payment for the outstanding value of the vehicles to government coffers before they can become theirs, otherwise it remains the property of the National Assembly,” he added.
These clarifications notwithstanding, prominent Nigerians have continued to berate the federal lawmakers for failing to demonstrate sacrificial representation at a time when average Nigerians are barely able to cope with the challenge of everyday existence. They argue that the pledge of a paradigm shift in the way of doing things is already defeated by the purchase of vehicles which cost is enough to set up thriving industries to cater to the mass unemployment in the land.
In a telephone conversation with our correspondent, human rights activist and constitutional lawyer, Mike Ozekhome, came short of describing the decision to purchase the exotic vehicles in unprintable words.
He said, “The decision is sickening, insensitive, provocative, taunting and a political rascality.”
On his part, former Secretary General of the Arewa Consultative Forum, Anthony Sani, noted that the legislators in choosing to toe this path had betrayed the trust of the people who elected them to represent them.
“The purchase of SUVs for members of the National Assembly at exorbitant prices suggests that the members are not sensitive to the economic hardship most Nigerians are going through. This is because members are not expected to live a standard of life that is over and above those of the citizens they profess to govern.
“The practice of buying vehicles for each member negates the monetisation policies of the government. National Assembly members and ministers are expected to use vehicles in the common pool for official duties.
“The practice of buying vehicles for members and ministers lend credence to the view that no group of Nigerians is more removed from the hard economic environment, more protected from the consequences of their inactions and more compensated for their inadequacy than the public office holders,” he said.
Not agreeing less with others, newspaper columnist and public affairs commentator, Jide Ojo, has this to say, “What the federal lawmakers did smack of high level of indifference to the plight of Nigerian masses. Which of them did not have posh and exotic cars before coming to the National Assembly? Why are they comparing themselves to ministers who do not have tenure of office and belong to the executive arm? If they want to be treated as ministers, let them resign and lobby to be appointed as one. The ostentatious lifestyle of our political office holders is what has made the cost of governance exorbitant. This development is very unfortunate and heart-rending.”
Joining the conversation is pro-democracy activist and constitutional lawyer, Abdul Mahmud, who sees both the legislative and executive arms of government as a crop of insensitive officials who understand little or nothing about the challenges of life in Nigeria today.
His words: “What I find most confounding is this; our government, more particularly those who run it, both in the executive and legislative branches, doesn’t understand the scales and dimensions of the economic crisis our country faces. For me, it is the unrealistic grasp of the scales and dimensions of the crisis that are compounding the crisis.
“The revenue accruable from oil has dwindled, largely due to the massive oil theft going on in the Niger Delta, with the economy tottering towards imminent collapse. The government’s receipts on public expenditure have dwindled in the provision of social services – which are non-existent anyway. Added to this is the spiraling inflation which now stands at 26.7 per cent as of September 2023 and is likely to climb further in October. All this significantly points to the death of the naira.
“It is against this dismal backdrop that the National Assembly has procured SUV at N160m for each lawmaker. The question one would ask is, can’t they see that the economy has tanked?
With a budget deficit, as of July 2022, of N4.63tn, with the government proposing to spend N4.99tn as personnel cost in 2023, with capital expenditure standing at N5.35tn; only a country that has become an asylum of mad people can undertake the thing the parliament is doing today. Here’s the stark truth: our politicians are what youths jokingly describe today in our nation as ‘werey disguised’ – folks who beautify the asylum, when they ought to wedge the nation against hurtling down the abyss.”
As it were, the culture of prolificacy may have come to stay, as calls by civil society organisations for cost-cutting by government officials continue to fall on deaf ears. Important as the visit to constituencies and senatorial districts is, these lawmakers are wealthy enough to travel to any part of the country in their vehicles. With a host of them owning at least a dozen cars, hapless Nigerian taxpayers should have been spared the burden of another needless expenditure.
Long before the controversy surrounding the expensive car purchase for the federal lawmakers, the issue had been the jumbo pay of the lawmakers. While the national minimum wage is pegged at N30,000, the lawmakers have been taking millions of naira every month as salaries without minding the big hole their inexplicable earnings are creating in the nation’s coffers.
In all these controversies, the federal lawmakers in the middle of the controversies have not shifted their positions as they still take jumbo pay and have begun to take delivery of the expensive SUVs, even when the purchasing power of many Nigerians has been rubbished by the removal of fuel subsidy.