Fred Itua, Abuja
The anger over plans by the Senate to spend N5.5 billion on 109 Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) for its members is still raging. Nigerians, irrespective of their political persuasions and religious leanings, are unanimously against the plans.
Their anger is primarily borne out of the age long ‘blackmail’ that Nigerian senators are among the highest paid in the world, despite the biting poverty that permeates every nook and cranny of the country.
Some commentators, opinion leaders and pundits, are angry, and insisting that senators should not be allowed to own SUVs. They’re claiming that the allowances they earn in the realm of N13.5 million, should accommodate any plans to buy new vehicles.
On the other side of the divide, those who support the move are angry that senators are unnecessarily being vilified, while civil servants, ministers, heads of agencies and parastatals, as well as service Chiefs are entitled to a fleet of cars, without any public outcry.
If the leadership of the Senate doesn’t cave in and goes ahead to approve the purchase of the vehicles, about N5.5 billion will be expended. Each of the Lexus Land Cruiser SUVs, valued at N50 million, will be distributed to the 109 senators, including the presiding officers.
Already, over 15 vehicles have been purchased as escort rides for the president of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan and his deputy, Ovie Omo-Agege. Each of the cars is valued at about N50 million. Principal officers, beside the proposed 109 SUVs, will likely get an additional vehicle. In the end, over N8 billion will be spent on vehicles for senators.
The purchase of vehicles for senators is as old as the current Republic. Although purchase of vehicles has been addressed under the monetisation policy, the National Assembly since the exit of Olusegun Obasanjo as president, hah always manufactured acceptable excuses on why they deserve new SUVs.
In 2015 for instance, the Senate spent approximately N4 billion on purchase of vehicles for lawmakers. Each vehicle gulped N36 million. The crisis that engulfed the Senate led by Bukola Saraki at the time, kept Nigerians busy. Not much attention was paid to the purchase.
The unending outcry has incurred the wrath of the leadership of the Senate. Though belatedly, it is fighting back to justify why every lawmaker deserves a befitting vehicle. It is also threatening brimstone and fire, reminding Nigerians to compare notes with the niceties of office ministers appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari are savouring.
Leader of the Senate, Abdullahi Yayaya, who addressed Senate correspondents last week, described the outcry as an insult on the upper legislative chamber. He said the status of a senator is not undeserving of an SUV.
Yahaya said: “What is the problem there. It is an insult to say that a senator of the Federal Republic cannot ride a jeep in Nigeria. It is an insult. The N5.5 billion is from the National Assembly fund and it is budgeted for every year which they will pay back at the end of their tenure.
“I was a permanent secretary. I know what ministers get. We cannot even compare ourselves with ministers because we are higher than a minister. For you to say that a senator of the Federal Republic cannot drive a jeep today, come on, that is an insult.
“Go and tell the people that the work that we do is more than the work of ministers. The weight that is on me today, there is no minister of the Federal Republic that has it.”
Despite Yahaya’s outburst, Nigerians are unrelenting. They’re willing to sustain the fight until lawmakers jettison the idea.
Convener, Concerned Nigerians, Deji Adeyanju, described the Senate leader’s statement as “insulting the sensibility of Nigerians”, and added that Nigerians have the constitutional right to demand accountability and should not be cowed and shutdown.
According to Adeyanju, the move by the lawmakers will be a waste of taxpayers’ money, hence it will be to import the SUVs instead to patronize a local manufacturer and assembler of cars, Innoson Motors, in Nigeria.
He said: “Anything they are doing is criminality against the Nigerian people and a crime against humanity because how can you justify the high level of exploitation of the Nigerian people?
“The Senate President is insulting the sensibility of Nigerians that it is even ridiculous for the Nigerian people to challenge wastage of government. We are in a very sad place as a country.
“The revolution that they are avoiding will inevitably happen in this country because when this kind of behavior continues, Nigeria is sitting on a keg of gun powder and it is only a matter of time. A country where people who are not up to 5, 000 are holding the destiny of 200 million people to ransom.
“A country where just 109 senators will drive vehicles that can take care of several hospitals nationwide and the Senate President will insult the sensibility of Nigerians. How can such a country make progress?
“You bought cars of millions last year and this year again. Look at the convoy of the President and all you see in the convoy of the President are German cars (Mercedes Benz) and Japanese cars. Look at the convoy of the United States President and all you see in the convoy are American made cars. When you come to car production and assembly of cars, it is our national pride.
“We have a local manufacturer and assembler of cars, Innoson, and he is an employer of labour, and his cars should be national pride. US President uses Chevrolet, Limousines, and GMCs. The German Chancellor use Mercedes cars; also look at the Chinese and Japanese, but in Nigeria, we have a manufacturer and assembler of cars none of the government officials patronize him.
“Look at the convoy of the Nigerian Senate President, none of Nigeria made cars is in his convoy. These are the same people who ban the importation of rice and that Nigerians must eat local rice but they want to drive Japanese and German cars, all their food and clothing are imported, but they want the poor people to die and this is the same government that has partially closed the land borders. The President does not support local content. They are importing cars and that is waste upon waste.”
As part of moves to frustrate the plans, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), BudgIT, Enough is Enough (EiE) and 6,721 concerned Nigerians have filed a lawsuit asking the Federal High Court to restrain, prevent and stop the National Assembly Service Commission from paying or releasing the sum of N5.5 billion budgeted for purchase of luxury cars for principal members of the ninth Senate.
In suit number FHC/L/CS/1511/2019 filed at the Federal High Court, Ikoyi, Lagos, the plaintiffs argued that the proposed spending negates the constitutional oath of office made by members to perform their functions in the interest of the well-being and prosperity of Nigeria and its citizens, as contained in the Seventh Schedule of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended).
The plaintiffs also argued: “The proposed spending by the ninth Senate raises pertinent questions: What is the economic value and contribution of the vehicles sought to be purchased to the grand scheme of Nigeria’s economy? What are the parameters used to arrive at cost efficiency and value for money in the decision to purchase the vehicles? Where are the vehicles purchased by the eighth Senate?
“The failure or refusal by the Senate to comply with legal and constitutional provisions is nothing but an act of arbitrariness. The money could be better allocated to more important sectors of the National Assembly expenditure – like constituency projects and National Assembly-endowed educational scholarships.”
When the Senate resumes plenary tomorrow afternoon after its eight-week break, it is unclear if it will debate the issue or ignore the public outcry.