Our lawmakers have started receiving their N160m SUVs. We should be happy for them. After all, it is not easy to win elections into either the House of Representatives or the Senate. If you begrudge them, go and run for office.
Lawmakers in the House of Representatives were the first set of beneficiaries. And the distribution process was transparent. Female lawmakers were the first on the list, perhaps, in the spirit of ‘ladies first’. Then the gesture was extended to the elderly among the members in the Green Chamber. They need the comfort of the lush interior of their jeeps to make them more comfortable for the ‘rigours’ of their office. The younger ones can wait a little bit and ride it out in their used vehicles for the time being.
Their big brothers in the Senate are expected to start taking delivery of their jeeps before the end of the month, and all 469 members in the National Assembly should have their jeeps before the end of the year.
Lawmakers with cases in court will however not benefit from the largesse, due to the possibility of their election being truncated by the court. The National Assembly does not want a situation where it would release a jeep to a lawmaker only for his/her election to be nullified by the court. Getting such a vehicle back would be a herculean task, given that the newly elected Honourable would not let such a largesse go without creating a scene. No need making a messy affair messier.
With the lawmakers brandishing their new toys, Christmas and New Year celebrations would be grand for them. Who amongst us will not cherish riding a brand-new imported jeep, designed to make commuting smooth and comfortable, even on the worst form of roads that we have in the country? Who amongst us would not like travelling to his or her village to ‘paint the town red’ during the Yuletide with such wonder on wheels? Who amongst us would not like ‘oppressing’ others with a brand-new toy?
I think it is their time, and we should allow them to flex. In fact, we should be happy for them. They have joined the class of those in the upper echelon of society; the less-than-10 per cent of Nigerians who are rich and can now afford such opulence. Going home for Christmas and New Year celebrations would be accompanied by another ‘prayer-point’ sent to their bank accounts. A few months ago, most of the Senators went home with N2 million each to enjoy their short recess.
We elected them to represent us in the National Assembly but they are now our bosses. In spite of our noise that they should not purchase N160m SUVs when the economy was in dire straits, they simply refused to listen to us. They told us that we should not poke our noses into their affairs and that we should also look in the direction of the Executives.
One of the lawmakers, Sunday Karimi, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Services, was even angry that Nigerians focus more on lawmakers while Ministers and other elected government officials have more than three SUVs. “Somebody that is a Minister has more than three Land Cruisers, Prado, and other vehicles and you are not asking them questions. Why us?”, he queried. He should forgive us!
Karimi went on to say that some State Governors also purchase utility vehicles for members of State Houses of Assembly and Local Government Chairmen as their official cars. “If you go to State Houses of Assembly today, check out most of them. Before they were even inaugurated, the Governor would have bought vehicles waiting for them, and even Local Government Chairman”. It is now a competition among our elected leaders, for whose jeep is bigger than the other’s! What a country!
By next month, Karimi would be proud to drive his brand-new SUV to Kogi West to visit members of his constituent. Let me just remind him of the situation back home. Twenty-eight per cent of the 4.7 million people in Kogi State live in abject poverty. Karimi would be happy to drive his SUV jeep to Kogi State where the unemployment figure rose from 17.6 per cent in 2017 to 39 per cent in 2020 under Governor Yahaya Bello. But with a few bundles of crisp naira notes, Karimi would be welcomed back home by his people as a worthy son who has gone to Abuja and come back ‘made’. Cows will be slaughtered and drinks, including the local burukutu will flow like a river. His people, like majority of Nigerians, will celebrate and rejoice once again with their oppressors.
But the SUVs that cost taxpayers N160 million, if effectively utilized, could have renovated many of the dilapidated primary schools in his constituency. It could have put hundreds of out-of-school children back in the classrooms. The N160 million, if deployed at the rate of N1 million is enough to lift 160 poor Kogi indigenes out of poverty with proper guidance. But Karimi and his colleagues prefer their comfort over the growth and development of the nation.
After four years of their tenure, the N160m SUV would become scrap and likely sold to Karimi and his colleagues by the National Assembly for peanuts.
If he is lucky to return to the National Assembly in 2027, the management of NASS would, among other things, purchase another brand-new SUV for him. He will either allocate the old SUV to Madam, or convert it to a backup car meant for school runs for his children. And the circle of fleecing the nation would continue.
We are the architects of our own underdevelopment. Nigeria has been described as a ‘fantastically corrupt’ country where the system is designed to favour only those at the top. And that is why politicians do all sorts to get to power at all costs.
Either as a member of the Executive or the Legislative, it is the same old song. They are all after their personal interests and what they can milk from the system. Whether in APC, Labour Party, or the PDP, politicians have one common goal – to feather their nests over national development.
When the National Chairman of the Labour Party, Julius Abure, directed members of his party in the National Assembly to kick against the unnecessary waste of resources which the purchase of the SUVs represented, he was told to shut up by his own party members. They told him to his face that those jeeps were operational vehicles and that if he is not happy with NASS buying those vehicles for them, he could provide the same brand of vehicles for them to enable them to perform their duties effectively in the NASS.
While the legislative arm of government is filled with opportunistic politicians who are looking for where their bread would be buttered, the Executive is also not left out, as outlandish amounts of money have been set aside for several projects many of which are unnecessary. In the now-approved 2023 supplementary budget, a total of N28 billion has been allocated for various purposes, including house renovation and the purchase of vehicles for the President, Vice President, as well as official vehicles for villa staff.
Specifically, N4 billion has been earmarked for the renovation of the President’s residential quarters in Abuja, with an additional N4 billion allocated for the renovation of Dodan Barracks for the President. Moreover, N3 billion is reserved for the renovation of the Vice President’s official quarters in Lagos, while N2.5 billion is allocated for the renovation of Aguda House. For vehicle purchases, the breakdown is as follows: N2.9 billion for the replacement of pool vehicles and N1.5 billion for the purchase of official vehicles for the office of the First Lady. A new office complex is to be added to Aso Rock with N4 billion already allocated for that. Also, there are allocations for the acquisition, renovation, and rehabilitation of two EFCC-fortified quarters as part of the State House Complex in Mabushi, with each receiving N1.5 billion. A similar complex in Guzape is also designated for N1.5 billion in funding, even as N200 million is set aside for the computerization and digitization of the State House.
Yet, all this spending is coming when the masses are being told to tighten their belts, when most Nigerians are finding it difficult to feed, and when many have lost hope and are desperate to leave the country by any means possible. The masses should tighten their belts but the leaders can loosen theirs to feed fat on our commonwealth. How ironic!
Like we say in Nigeria, “God is watching them in 3D”, and the day of reckoning would soon be here. Whilst our leaders are playing Ludo with our commonwealth, Malawi President, Lazarus Chakwera, has imposed a travel ban on himself and his government in a bid to cut public spending and as a means of helping the country’s ailing economy.
“I am imposing a freeze on all publicly funded international trips for public officers at all levels… until the end of the financial year in March”, Chakwera said in a televised address to his people. It means the former evangelical preacher will skip a scheduled attendance at the COP28 Climate Summit later this month in the UAE. Chakwera also mandated that all cabinet members currently abroad on publicly-funded trips to promptly return home. He has also ordered a 50-percent reduction in fuel allowances for senior government officials.
Last week, the landlocked country announced a 44-percent devaluation of its currency as it worked to secure a fresh IMF loan. The move was announced after the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved a $175-million loan for the southern African nation.
That is a country with a purpose. It has identified its challenges and is assiduously working towards resolving them.
Back home, we know that we are in trouble in Nigeria, but our leaders are not ready to brace up for the tough tasks ahead. We mouth austerity and push the burden on the masses while leaders continue as if all is well. By the time we realize what hit us, I pray it won’t be too late. Many are suffering but our leaders continue to live their life of vanity, choosing to leave the led to their fate. The consolation of the masses is the knowledge that everything that has a beginning, has an end. Things won’t go on like this forever.
See you next week.