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Controversy: Plan to purchase N40bn SUVs splits lawmakers

Twenty four hours after The Sun exclusively reported plans by the two chambers of the National Assembly – the Senate and the House of Representatives to spend N40 billion on Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs) for members, new facts have emerged.


The Sun in the report had revealed plans to purchase 107 2023 model of Toyota Land Cruiser for Senators and 2023 Toyota Prado for members of the House of Representatives.


The planned purchase, it was further reported, would be different from the official vehicles expected to be procured for the four presiding officers of the National Assembly, namely Senate President, Godswill Akpabio; Speaker of the House of Representatives, Tajudeen Abass and Deputy Senate President, Jibrin Barau; and Deputy Speaker, Benjamin Kalu.


Some Senators who spoke to Daily Sun distanced themselves from the plans and called on the leadership of both chambers to settle for locally-assembled vehicles to reduce cost and recycle the funds in Nigeria. He said since the revelation became public they had been inundated with phone calls by their constituents and called on the leadership of the National Assembly to allow lawmakers decide on the best option to settle for.


One of the Senators from the South East said it would be inhuman for him to drive an SUV of over N100 million when there were indigenous companies that assemble vehicles in Nigeria. He listed Innoson Motors, Kia Motors, Hyundai, among others. He said though they had been informed, he said the issue would be taken up again with the Senate Committee on Services to express their misgivings about the plans.


Another lawmaker, who reached out to Daily Sun, following the publication of the story, urged the National Assembly to halt the plan for now and allow for more consultations. He also urged the leadership of both chambers to pass resolutions and bar appointees of government at the federal level from purchasing vehicles for official use not produced or assembled in Nigeria. He said if this initiative is pushed through, big car producing companies may open plans in Nigeria and created jobs for unemployed youths.


Plans irresponsible


Reacting, National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), Emmanuel Onwubiko, has described the plans as irresponsible.


He said: “This is simply ostentatious and absolutely irresponsible for the National Assembly to deploy such humongous fund to procure vehicles and they will probably be expending these huge cash to buy vehicles that are assembled outside of Nigeria thereby denying the competent Nigerian based vehicle’s manufacturing firms such as Innoson the benefit of generating revenues to continuously put Nigeria on the world’s map as a manufacturer of vehicles.


“To begin with, what happened to the exotic cars procured by the immediate past hierarchy of the National Assembly and why does it have to be new sets of highly exorbitant vehicles that have to be purchased every time there are new sets of legislators as if the National Assembly ought to have assets such as serviceable cars that successive heads and law makers should seamlessly inherit from their predecessors.


“This decision is without any economic sense, it is mindless misappropriation of public funds to power the ostentatious lifestyles of a few at heavy costs to the public treasury. This should be resisted by all Nigerians of good conscience.”


Drop plan to spend N110bn on bulletproof cars, others – SERAP


On its part, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) gave the Senate President and Speaker of House of Representatives, a seven-day ultimatum to drop what it termed scandalous plan to spend N40 billion on 465 exotic and bulletproof cars for members and principal officials, and N70 billion as palliative for new members.


It urged them to repeal the 2022 Supplementary Appropriation Act to reduce the budget for the National Assembly by N110 billion, reflect the current economic realities in the country and address the impact of the removal of fuel subsidy on the over 137 million poor Nigerians.


The group also urged the the two principal officers to request President Bola Tinubu to present a fresh supplementary appropriation bill and redirect the N110 billion to address the situation of the over 20 million out-of-school children in Nigeria, for the approval of the National Assembly.


According to reports, N70 billion support allowance is budgeted for 306 new lawmakers, only N500 billion worth of palliative is budgeted for 12 million poor Nigerians while N40 billion is also allocated to buy 465 Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs) and bulletproof cars for members and principal officials.


In the letter dated July 15 and signed by the deputy director, Kolawole Oluwadare, SERAP said: “This travesty, and apparent conflicts of interest and self-dealing by members of the National Assembly must stop.


“It a fundamental breach of their fiduciary duties for members of the National Assembly to arbitrarily increase their own budget and to use the budget as a tool to satisfy the lifestyle of lawmakers.”


The letter, read in part: “It is a grave violation of the public trust and constitutional oath of office for members of the National Assembly to unjustifiably increase their own budget at a time when over 137 million poor Nigerians are living in extreme poverty exacerbated by the removal of fuel subsidy.


“We would be grateful if the recommended measures are taken within seven days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then, SERAP shall take all appropriate legal actions to compel you and the National Assembly to comply with our request in the public interest.”


Allocation of N110bn palliative to NASS illegal, contemptuous, outrageous – Falana


Human rights lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Femi Falana, lashed the lawmakers for allocating N110 billion as palliative for themselves.


In a statement, he described their action as illegal, contemptuous and outrageous, pointing out that it was a blatant breach of the relevant provisions of the Nigerian Constitution. He called for the immediate reversal of the decision which he described as the “controversial allowances and the purchase of luxury vehicles.”


Falana accused the Assembly members of conspiring against the nation’s constitution out of sheer insensitivity coupled with impunity.


“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.”


Falana reminded Nigerians that the judiciary had already ruled against such excessive allowances to lawmakers. He said the Federal High Court had declared that the National Assembly Service Commission has no authority to determine the remuneration and allowances of its members.


“The callous and insensitive decisions of the members of the National Assembly constitute a flagrant contravention of Section 70 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended.”


N8,000 another deceitful programme – UAFCS


Meanwhile, the United Action Front of Civil Society lambasted the President Tinubu-led government over the N8,000 monthly palliative approved for 12 million poor Nigerian families.


It noted that 12 million people is a “mere fraction of the poverty-stifled masses” and added that there is no guarantee that the funds would get to the target audience.


A statement by Olawale Okunniyi, the Head, National Coordinating Centre for the group, noted the N8,000 palliative could be another deceitful programme like the trader moni scheme, the direct cash transfer and the school feeding programme supervised by the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management during the immediate past administration of former President Muhammadu Buhari.


The statement read in part, “The leadership of the organised platform of the Nigerian civil society unequivocally decries as another grand deceit; the N8,000 monthly handouts proposed by the government for the yet-to-be-disclosed (or otherwise covertly selected) 12 million poor and vulnerable households.


“The United Action Front of Civil Society laments the reality of making poor citizens of Nigeria take the bitter pill of repaying a wrongheaded loan supposedly being acquired in their interest in the nearest future.”


It added that the N8,000, even if it got to the intended target group would not make any impact on their lives because of the price hike caused by the subsidy removal.


“It is beyond doubt that the meagre monetary palliative could barely feed a family of two for five days because the fuel price hike in the name of subsidy removal has deepened the proportion of multi-dimensional poverty in the country.


“We consider the intervention as erroneous and a poorly conceived ploy to hoodwink the masses.


“There are enough reasons to conclude that the N8,000 monthly handout to a mere fraction of the poverty-stifled masses would end up another avenue for the corrupt enrichment of a few cliques in power, as witnessed with previous supposed poverty alleviation programmes of the APC, namely the trader moni scheme, the direct cash transfer and the school feeding programme supervised by the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management.


“It is unfortunate that the government could be contemplating a meagre N8,000 six-monthly handout per tiny fraction of the several millions of households across the country at a time that a whooping N70 billion has been voted for 469 members of the National Assembly. We make bold to assert that the N8,000 monthly handout is therefore not only insufficient but ludicrous and therefore cannot and won’t be the remedy for the deep hardship attributable to the government’s reckless economic policy.


“It speaks to a lack of compassion and utter display of insensitivity and arrogance on the part of the leadership of the new administration to have concluded that the N8,000 monthly per household could sufficiently ameliorate the profound hardship aggravated by the hike in fuel price across urban and rural communities in Nigeria.


“It is also a matter of serious concern that the new administration is evidently unmindful of the overriding implication of the worsening debt burden under which the Nigerian economy continues to asphyxiate.


“The chocking debt profile has further been worsened by the $800 million World Bank loan which is bound to widen the 2023 budget deficit.”


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