There have been heated reactions from Nigerians, especially on social media platforms surrounding the purchase of 360 SUVs for members of the House of Representatives valued at N57.6 billion, and rumored to cost at least N160 million each.
The decision of the federal lawmakers to purchase the luxury vehicles for their oversight functions and to travel all over their constituencies was based on a comparative analysis of the cost of technical issues and durability from the perspective of the terrible state of Nigeria roads which the executives of past dispensations refused to fix.
The Senate Committee Chairman on Procurement Services, Senator Sunday Karimi reinforced this argument when he said anytime he travels home with vehicles of lesser quality, he comes back spending a lot of money to recondition these vehicles because Nigerian roads are bad. By implication, these vehicles are easily maintained for another four years as against the option canvassed by a civil society group that asked the Federal High Court in Lagos to stop the lawmakers from taking delivery of the SUVs.
Worthy of note here is that the decision to purchase these vehicles was recommended by the procurement department of the National Assembly after engaging in a thorough benchmark study and not that of the legislators.
Besides, it was the latest demand for such sleek vehicles by government functionaries that sparked the public outcry that greeted the planned expenditure of N57.6 billion on luxury cars for members of the National Assembly, where, unknowingly to the public, the purchase of these vehicles have been provided for in the 2022 Budget by 9th National Assembly.
Reports have it that members of the House of Representatives said they also deserve to drive SUVs and not any other because they are the pivot of any democratic government and their arm is the closest to the people who bear the brunt of their frustrations from the executive arm of government.
Those known for political savvy said it is against the spirit of moral and natural justice for some sections of the public to isolate the lawmakers for crucifixion while leaving the Executive and Judiciary arms of government free.
They posited that the other two arms of government hardly use any other car less in class than SUVs in the execution of their assignments.
Many who are familiar with the workings of the system know quite well that in the order of protocol in the National Order of Precedence Act, Senators and Members of the House of Representatives ranked quite higher than Ministers, Ambassadors, Senior Advisers to the President, the Secretary to the Government of Federation, the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, the Service Chiefs, the Inspector General of Police, Court of Appeal Justices, Federal High Court Judges, Permanent Secretaries, Directors and Heads of Agencies, etc.
Yet, several of these persons have approved for themselves up to three vehicles (including escort vehicles) to enable them to conduct their official assignments.
It is therefore superfluous to stress the discriminatory nature of this misconception which deliberately overlooks the fact that all Honourable Ministers, Permanent Secretaries, Directors, Deputy Directors, Assistant Directors, and management-level staff of the 44 ministries and over 400 parastatals of the executive arm, with its over 15,000 nationwide offices that are routinely given official vehicles. This does not include the over 180 judges of the federal judiciary along with their senior-level staff who are entitled to official vehicles including SUVs.
Where then is the fairness or moral justification for anyone to complain when legislators get just one vehicle each if other arms of government routinely use SUVs as official vehicles? Is it fair to reduce the entitlements of Federal Legislators who do more for the nation to less than what is obtainable at the same level of service cadre?
Again, how do we reconcile the fact that every year, legislators sit in Appropriation Committees validating the purchase of SUVs for public servants they oversee, yet, they cannot drive the same vehicles to visit project sites for supervision and/or investigations?
The issue of buying vehicles for legislators is a recurring one. It occurs in every Assembly and it will always come up unlike what obtains in the states where, before state Houses of Assembly are inaugurated and Commissioners appointed, the governor would have bought vehicles waiting for them. Even local government chairmen would have bought vehicles waiting for them.
It is rather unfortunate that we easily lose sight of the importance and utilitarian value of the legislature whenever we relish that red-hot chili stew of sweet outrage at the government.
As earlier mentioned, the pivot of any democratic government is the legislature, often described as the assembly of the elected representatives of the people. Its presence is the key identifier of a democracy.
As such, the institution where representatives from all parts of Nigeria sit daily to deliberate on the affairs of the nation and make laws for the benefit of the country should be cherished, preserved, and accorded all tools necessary to function.