Looking back at the struggles before and during the 2023 general election, the least an average Nigerian expects now is respite from all the troubles, no matter how small.
Alas, more troubles are brewing up, killing the masses’ euphoria and deferring their anticipated ‘good days’, especially with the flashy lifestyle, which will see the current lawmakers milking the poor more than their predecessors.
It is no longer news that the National Assembly members are set to receive a whopping N200 million each on SUV cars.
Burn N576bn on cars
Akin Rotimi, spokesman for the Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs confirmed the news, explaining that the vehicles were not personal vehicles gifted to members but are utility operational vehicles tied to their oversight functions in the discharge of their duties in the standing committees.
“This development is in accordance with 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,” the spokesman explained.
Despite how plausible the explanation is, this is coming at a time when about 73 million citizens are caught in the pitiable pit of extreme poverty, and the country’s debt has escalated to over N800 trillion.
Considering the economic realities, the suffering in the land and new waves of crime connected to the high level of unemployment, the National Assembly should have been moderate in their demands, rather than putting more pressure on the nation’s lean resources.
Of course, the N200 million each on SUV, is generating condemnations from Nigerians as buying the cars for 109 senators and 360 House of Representatives will amount to several billions of naira at a time the country should be in a cost-saving mood, especially the removal of subsidy on premium motor spirit.
“It is no surprise that our lawmakers are on spending binge again. We spoiled them, we made them wasteful and we allowed them to carry on. We can recall them. I was expecting sustained calls, threats of protests, but nobody will do that, where are the Civil Society Organisations, we all expect change by sitting in our comfort zones,” Chijioke Umelahi, an Abuja-based lawyer said.
Describing the situation as very sad and the height of selfishness by the lawmakers, Umelahi, a former Abia lawmaker, noted that the lawmakers are after recouping the millions they spent to win their seats, leaving the masses to suffer more.
In his views, Samuel Onikoyi, a Nigerian academic in Brussels, Belgium, noted that the lawmakers deserve cars and other things their office requires to enable them work efficiently, but they can still do that at a cheaper cost to the nation, considering the economic hardship in the country.
“If a lawmaker gets a N200 million SUV, what about maintenance and other costs attached? They can serve Nigerians in cheaper cars, and reduce the pressure on the lean resources of the country. If they go ahead to get the cars, it means they don’t care about the welfare of the country but their selfish interest first. Overseas, it is country first, some are only paid sitting allowances,” Onikoyi said.
Onyechere Ogonna, an All Progressive Alliance (APC) chieftain in Abia State, said that the lawmakers should read the masses’ body language and be sensitive to people’s plights and feelings.
“At the mention of N200million for a car in this inflation era, one will be agitated because ordinarily, 90 percent of the lawmakers cannot cough out such an amount from their pocket to buy it,” he said.
He urged the leadership of the National Assembly to intervene, and get cheaper cars for the members.
The issue for Ushie Adiaga, a northern Cross River politician, is that most of the lawmakers will not visit their constituencies until another election time and they cannot account for the constituency funds allocated to them and other benefits that end up in Abuja or in their private pockets.
“I think parties should wake up, it is not over yet, we have won the election, what about the electorate, even if you bought their votes, they are still the reason you are in the senate. Let’s not make the masses rise in anger, it is getting to that point soon,” Adiaga, a former PDP chieftain warned.
Presidency, NASS must learn from Zambia
However, the members of the National Assembly and even the presidency can learn from the Zambian example.
Since coming to power in August 2021 at the age of 60, Hakainde Hichilema, current president of Zambia, has turned things around in his country.
President Hichilema has moved Zambia currency from being one of the lowest currencies to the best performing currency in Africa, the inflation dropped to single digits from 24.6 percent under year, there is uninterrupted power supply for the first time in Zambia history, among others.
But the most intriguing is the president’s modest and exemplary lifestyle.
“You can drive a nice car, but it must not be a Toyota VX SUV and if you want to drive an VX, buy your own, and not with taxpayers money,” the Zambian president charged members of his cabinet and legislature in a video that has gone viral for months now.
“Why buy a car that costs $200, 000. With that amount you can put toilets in all the markets in your constituencies
“Since I came into that State House, I have not bought any new car. I refused $1.8 million for the president’s new cars and I refused to sign. I will use the one left behind by my predecessor,” he insisted.
The story of the exemplary leadership style of President Hichilema is still making waves across the world and on social media platforms.
“If anyone tells you that the problems of Nigeria are insurmountable, tell them all it takes is political will!” Kweku The Hustler, Commander Of The Headless Mob, said on the twitter handle, @urchilla01.
African Hub on its twitter handle, @AfricanHub_, highlighted President Hichilema’s comment on transparency, “Zambians don’t have to thank me for the job I’m doing. It’s what they voted for me to do. They must not agree when I do wrong things like acquiring excessive debt.”
The bottom-line for Adetunji Adedoyin, a senior lecturer of Political Science in a federal university, is moderation and human feelings for the masses who are always at the receiving end of any government policy, from Naira redesign, currency floating and subsidy removal.
“We have the highest level of unemployment in Africa, one of the highest crime rates, very high inflation rate, food insecurity, low purchasing power and poor standard of living. These are enough to be moderate in whatever we do because more people are hungry and angry out there. The lawmakers should bear this in mind and go for cheaper cars and moderate lifestyle; they should not milk the masses dry with their ostentatious living. With expensive cars, are they helping the economy or stifling it?” he argued.
Onikoyi suggested that the masses should not sit on the fence on such issues because it will continue, and sadly give government functionaries an opportunity to plunder the lean resources and leave the country worse for it.
“There should be calls for lawmakers to go for cheaper cars, there should be enough noise on the issue if you don’t want it to continue, act and don’t compromise,” Onikoyi charged the masses, who are usually the worst hit.
Also condemning the procurement of the Toyota SUVs, Oby Ezekwesili, a former minister of Education, wrote on her Twitter (X) page: “You all had the audacity to spend scarce public resources on luxury cars at a time majority of your citizens cannot feed, transport themselves, pay school fees and hospital Bill’s due to cost of living crisis.”
She further said: “At this stage, it is evident you want to continue with your seria bad behaviour. Since not even 1 of you fellows @nassnigeria @HouseNGR @NGRSenate saw the heartless ness of that decision to buy 360 new Toyita SUVs for yourselves at this time of severe economic distress of the citizens and country, please know that you all are the biggest threat to our Democracy.”
Meanwhile, Nigerians are worried that no member of the opposition in the House of Representatives has spoken up to reject the vehicle on grounds of integrity. They all seem united in their deeds against the masses
A public sector operator, who was a commissioner for justice of a state in Nigeria, said: “They’ve even justified it, saying that they vehicles are ‘project vehicles’ and not their personal vehicles registered in their names; and that any member who wishes to buy his ‘project vehicle’ at the end of 4 years may do so after paying the residual value of the vehicle (which, I assure you 100% will be zero in 2027).
The former state attorney general raised a lot of questions to clearly understand what really happened.
He said: “This then begs a number of questions: (1) How much was ACTUALLY paid for each vehicle (i.e., is 160m list price or discounted price)? If it is a discounted price, who took the benefit of the discount?
“(2) Since they are ‘project vehicles’ what projects are we talking about and where are they located? Can we have a table of the projects in each Federal constituency for which these vehicles are to be used and the state of completion for reach project and the reports/records to be rendered by each member.
“(3) Can the NASS and the Clerk of the House confirm the rules under which these vehicles are to be used, since they belong to the NASS.
Particularly, legislators whose constituencies do not cover the FCT CANNOT possibly use these vehicles to check on projects in the FCT and cannot be driving them around the FCT. Similarly, there MUST be a specific curfew after which these vehicles should not be seen on the roads and if seen the Police should be authorized to apprehend the drivers of auch vehicle.
“(4) Above all, can the NASS and the Speaker explain why a single Land Cruiser gives the citizenry more value for money as a “project vehicle” than the 3 HiLux trucks that 160m can equally buy.
“(5) if the Senate had done the same thing and given the same explanation they should kindly explain answers to these same questions.
“(6) Who is responsible for oversight of the NASS because this is a case of ‘qui custodiet ipsos custodes’…who will guard the guards?
“Bottom line, we KNOW that none of these 360 freeloaders have any intention of driving these vehicles on any rough roads. These are actually STATUS VEHICLES as befits ‘big men and women’. It’s up to the press and civil society to hold these people accountable for this kind of expenditure. 160m x 360 is =N=576bn.
“Also, I really would want to know whether the LP, PDP and other opposition members said yes to these project vehicles.”