The National Assembly found itself embroiled in a contentious debate over the acquisition of luxury vehicles for its 469 members. This move, which went against the guidelines set by the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), ignited a firestorm of public outrage.
The RMAFC, entrusted with the task of determining the salaries and allowances of public officials, including members of the National Assembly, had set specific limits on remuneration.
According to Section 84 of the Nigerian 1999 Constitution, the commission’s recommendations were not to be exceeded. Members of the National Assembly were entitled to an optional car loan, capped at 400 percent of their annual basic salaries.
This means that, in theory, a senator with an annual basic salary of N2.02 million could receive a car loan of up to N8.1 million, while a House of Representatives member with an annual basic salary of N1.9 million could draw a loan of up to N7.9 million.
However, the 10th National Assembly are not following the recommendations, opting instead to purchase luxury sport utility vehicles (SUVs) for their “legislative oversight” duties. The move, in the midst of Nigeria’s challenging economic climate, was widely criticised as insensitive.
Akin Rotimi, the spokesperson of the House of Representatives, defended the decision, stating that the lawmakers could take ownership of the vehicles at the end of their tenure in 2027 if they paid off the National Assembly. However, this justification did little to quell public discontent.
“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 asset deboarding policy of the government still be in place, honourable 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,” Rotimi said.
This deviation from the constitution was not a solitary instance of the National Assembly granting themselves allowances beyond what the RMAFC had prescribed. In a particularly egregious example, the Senate had distributed N2 million to each member as a recess allowance, contrary to the 10 percent of annual basic salary outlined in the law.
In the past, the National Assembly had been lavish with public funds when it came to the acquisition of vehicles. In 2015, they purchased Peugeot 508 saloon cars, and in 2020, Toyota Camry saloon cars, both times exceeding the RMAFC’s recommended limits. This time, their choice of SUVs elevated their taste in vehicles to a status symbol, showcasing the access they had to public funds.
Some members of the House explained that their preference for SUVs over saloon cars was due to the fact that many from the previous Assembly had not used the Camry cars they were allocated for official functions, and these vehicles had ended up with their wives. However, this explanation hardly justified their blatant disregard for the RMAFC’s recommendations.
Critics also pointed out that the decision to purchase foreign-branded vehicles was detrimental to the local automobile industry. Several indigenous manufacturers had approached the lawmakers with proposals for locally-made vehicles, but their offers were rebuffed.
Oluwatobi Ajayi, the CEO of Nord Motors, a local automobile company, expressed his disappointment, stating that the lawmakers ignored their proposals despite the potential benefits for the Nigerian economy.
The legislators’ choice to buy foreign vehicles was seen as a missed opportunity to promote “Buy Nigeria” and support local industries, he said.
“The National Assembly buying foreign-built vehicles at this time is dispiriting, especially when you consider that we are all trying to promote buy Nigeria to grow the Naira.
“A sad part of this is that we (assemblers and manufacturers of vehicles in Nigeria) actually proposed our vehicles and explained how it would make a lot of financial, technical and political sense to buy from us but they didn’t even entertain the idea for long,” Ajayi tweeted in his X account, formerly known as Twitter.
The controversy surrounding the National Assembly’s extravagant spending was at odds with Nigeria’s economic realities and the public’s demand for reduced governance costs. While the lawmakers revelled in their luxury SUVs, many Nigerians were left wondering whether their representatives truly understood the needs and concerns of the people they were elected to serve.