• Wednesday, November 29, 2023
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Alleged ₦16bn cars for Nigerian ministers raise dust

FEC approves ₦2.17trn supplementary budget for 2023

Nigerians have condemned the alleged ₦16 billion proposed by the Federal Government to procure cars for the recently confirmed ministers.

The social and some traditional media were awash last week with the news that each of the ministers would get up to three SUVs for official and personal use.

The alleged move to spend the huge amount is despite the loud clamour for a slim government and a reduction in the cost of governance.

President Bola Ahmed Tinubu recently unveiled a 48-member cabinet, the largest since 1984.

Read also:Tinubu’s record cabinet in 24 years ignores costs

As usual in Nigeria, tax payers would have to shell out tens of billions of naira to pay and transport the new ministers. Each minister as was the case in the past would likely be gifted three to four brand new cars to enable them go to work “securely” and in that very distinctively Nigerian luxury.

These cars would most likely include a Landcruiser valued at around N170million, one Prado Jeep valued at around N75 million and two Hilux trucks valued at around N90 million at the current market rate.

These would likely amount to around N16 billion. A huge amount of money that would be spent on 48 persons in a nation where the minimum wage remains N30,000 and where Tinubu’s slate of economic policies has triggered a histrionic rise in fuel prices which has doubled transport costs and food prices.

In addition, the president has inflicted new taxes on diesel and car ownership certificates but is yet to demonstrate action that indicates this pain will be shared by himself and those in government.

Extra billions of naira would also be spent to maintain the president’s growing coterie of special advisers and special assistants.

In July, it was reported that the National Assembly planned to spend a whopping N40 billion on 465 exotic and bulletproof cars for members and principal officials.

Nigeria’s economy is at a critical juncture, having been weakened by falling per capita income, double-digit inflation, limited buffers, significant governance vulnerabilities, and the global pandemic. Its government is struggling to service its debts. Social services are dreadful and the miserable economy has contributed to the violence that afflicts much of the country.

Nigeria’s president knows how to talk the talk of cutting costs but has unempathetically refused to walk the talk of reduced cost of governance and a lean government.

In June, he was sighted in Lagos with an ostentatious convoy of over 100 cars which human rights lawyer, Inihebe Effiong noted was, “another reminder that the political class is not ready to make the sacrifices which they expect from citizens. A nation that has a devastating debt burden shouldn’t be run this way.”

Read also: Turbulent economy: How Nigerians are thinking out of the box

A few days to his installation as president, then president-elect Bola Tinubu put up a flamboyant inauguration lecture in which he was conspicuously absent.

At the lecture, the president of the African Development Bank (AfDB), Akinwumi Adesina, advised Tinubu, to cut down the cost of governance.

The bloated size of government, the AFDB chief warned, comes with high cost of public sector expenditure and its negative impact on the development process in the country.

“The cost of governance in Nigeria is way too high and should be drastically reduced to free up more resources for development. Nigeria is spending very little on development,” he said.

“Today, Nigeria is ranked among countries with the lowest human development index in the world, with a rank of 167 among 174 countries globally, according to the World Bank 2022 Public Expenditure Review report.

“Unless the economy is revived and fiscal challenges addressed boldly, resources to develop will not be there. No, bird can fly if its wings are tied. Nigeria currently faces huge fiscal deficits, estimated at 6% of GDP. This has been due to huge federal and state government expenditures…” Adesina cautioned.

Nigeria’s economy has not been revived and the current government is refusing to cut down on the massive cost of governance that places more premium on frivolities and personal luxuries over alleviating the unprecedented economic hardship faced by Nigerians.

Tinubu’s impulsive economic policies has led to sky-high cost of living challenges for most Nigerians

While the president says he is aware of the hardship Nigerians are facing due to the various policy decisions of his administration, his government is doing little to cut costs from its end by reducing the excessive cost of governance.

“I think the major problem is the size of our ministers,” Seun Onigbinde, a fiscal transparency advocate and co-founder and CEO of BudgIT noted in a recent TV interview.

“Somehow, we have to go back to the Constitution and say we don’t need 36 Ministers because I know we will do well with 20, if we are honest about it.

“Every time we are buying brand new cars for Ministers and heads of agencies. People want to sit down and say, you cannot have people struggling, passing through hard times and you have those in public offices lounging or enjoying themselves. Also, the agencies and ministries that draw funds from public treasury, how many are they?

“My own idea is that citizens are bearing the brunt and they have accepted that to some extent. But they (citizens) are also concerned on issues such as: Is government also being fair to them and is the cost of governance going down?”

There is a strong sentiment in the country that Nigeria’s political leaders are keener on asking citizens to cut costs and bear the burden of hurtful economic policies of government while they continue in their unending profligacy.

Nigeria’s wasteful legislature recently awarded itself N70 billion as palliative for its members. It was a decision that procured the fury of most citizens, including Lagos lawyer, Femi Falana who vented, “out of sheer insensitivity coupled with impunity, the members of the National Assembly, regardless of political affiliation, conspired to breach the relevant provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 by padding the Supplementary Appropriation Bill, 2023 to provide the so-called palliative of N70 billion for 306 newly elected members

“While the masses of Nigeria are groaning under the excruciating economic pains unleashed on them by the ruling class, the National Assembly has awarded N228.7 million to each newly elected legislator. As if that is not enough, the members of the National Assembly have earmarked N40 billion to purchase 465 Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs) and bulletproof cars for principal officials and members. However, the legislators approved the sum of N500 billion for 12 million indigent people in a country where the National Bureau of Statistics said, “62.9 percent of people (133 million) are multidimensionally poor,” he said.

Earlier this month, each serving senator received not less than N2 million as allowance before proceeding on seven weeks of vacation. Their vacation is coming just a little over a month after they convened.

The senators were paid a total of N218 million, having received N2 million each to enjoy the vacation.

The president of Nigeria’s Senate, Godswill Akpabio told senators on live television that some money had been credited to their accounts to enjoy their holidays.

“In order to enable all of us to enjoy our holidays, a token has been sent to our various accounts by the Clerk of the National Assembly,” he said shortly after screening and confirming the ministerial nominees.

The Senate president was immediately informed by his colleagues that he was speaking on live television.

Upon realising the seriousness of his remarks, he quickly announced its withdrawal and rephrased his statement, saying that the senate president sent prayers to the mailboxes of the senators.

“I withdraw that statement. In order to allow you to enjoy your holiday, the senate president has sent prayers to your mailboxes to assist you to go on a safe journey and return,” he said.

Nigeria’s legislature has a notorious history of money grabbing from tax payers, and government institutions they oversight.

The ₦2 million paid to each of the legislator is illegal as there is no provision in their remuneration package for the “token” paid to them.

Nigeria’s cost of governance challenge is leading to suboptimal outcomes for its citizens. The country continues to finance regressive investments in new cars, furniture, overheads as well as other luxuries for its government officials.

Read also: Why Tinubu must address cost of governance

“Fuel subsidies had to go for Nigeria’s economy to survive. Having done it, what’s the sacrifice for our political elite? The cost of governance is too high,” Kingsley Moghalu, founder and president of IGET and a former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, recently tweeted.

Despite its vast development needs, the World Bank says Nigeria spends only $220 per Nigerian per year, and at merely 12% of GDP, this is one of the lowest levels of spending in the world.

Unfortunately, low public spending translates into poor development outcomes. The country is among the eight economies with the lowest human capital in the world, ranked 167th out of 174 countries on the World Bank’s Human Capital Index. As a result, a child born in Nigeria today will only be 36% as productive when he grows up as he could be if he had access to effective education and health services. In addition, infrastructure needs also remain extremely high: to provide all the infrastructure the economy needs to maximize its potential, the country would need to invest $ 3 trillion by 2050.

“Nigeria has ignored its revenue challenge by going on a recurrent expenditure spree. Yet, this has not impacted the economy, which has been stuck in a low growth path despite higher cost of governance,” Lekan Ademola, a Lagos-based asset manager recently noted.