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That a whopping N160 million has been allocated for the purchase of Special Utility Vehicle, SUV, each for the 469 members of the 10th National Assembly, at a time over 40percent of Nigerians live below the poverty line, struggling to afford basic necessities such as food, water, shelter, healthcare, education and particularly when the government has told citizens to tighten their belts for a better future is not only provocative, insensitive, unfortunate and unacceptable but capable of igniting public disobedience and a major social crisis.
Unfortunately, their penchant for luxury lifestyle amid current excruciating economic hardship and worsening insecurity in the land as well as recent revelation that the federal government too, voted ₦16billion for ministers’ new SUVs and additional N5billion presidential yacht provision, in the N2.1 trillion 2023 supplementary budget approved by the affected lawmakers is particularly troubling, regrettable and an affront on the sensibilities of taxpayers and the constituents whom the legislators purport to represent.
Though there has been no official confirmation on total cost of these SUVs by relevant government officials due to possible backlash from Nigerians, it is clear to all that both the executive and legislative arms of government are united in deliberate attempt to perpetuate the bloated cost of governance that continues to impede national socio-economic and technological development as well as deviate from the primary purpose of government, which is the security and welfare of the people as stipulated in section 14 of the 1999 Constitution as amended.
Against the backdrop of the current suffering in the land, we consider an allocation of over N75billion for the purchase of SUVs for ministers and federal legislators nauseating, condemnable and colossal waste of scarce public funds for the comfort of just 109 senators, 360 members of the House of Representatives and 48 ministers appointed by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who campaigned vigorously and got elected into office on the mantra of Renewed Hope Agenda in a country of over 200million people majority of whom had been adjudged multi-dimensionally poor.
In other words there is actually little or no hope for the masses of Nigeria, who faced with the current high cost of food prices and services including transport fares, can barely afford two square meals daily due to inflation triggered by the May 29 removal of fuel subsidy by Tinubu. Sadly also, those who by their words and deeds should be the true representatives of their constituents have suddenly turned against them because of their insatiable appetite for luxury lifestyle as manifested in the purchase of SUVs.
It is particularly regrettable that those who should know better among them members of Labour Party’s federal legislators publicly disowned their leaders and expressed willingness to receive the SUVs alongside their colleagues thereby deliberately ignoring the negative repercussions of opting for imported Land Cruisers, Prado and other exotic vehicles in preference for locally assembled vehicles by INNOSONS company, and justified their unpatriotic stand.
Recall that the Chairman, Committee on Senate Services, Sunday Karimi while defending the purchase pointed at cabinet ministers having more than three Land Cruisers, Prado and other expensive vehicles each without the media raising issues with them but beaming their searchlight on federal lawmakers and insisting that the “decision that we took on using Land Cruiser is the cost and durability” even as he lamented the current deplorable state of roads nationwide.
Karimi’s unconvincing and hollow defence in our view, didn’t attempt to address the root cause of the poor condition of most federal and state roads which unfortunately constitute death traps to motorists and commuters alike due mostly to dwindling budgetary allocations to the ministry of works by federal and state governments, lack of diligent supervision and oversights by the legislature and shoddy execution of projects by contractors resulting in substandard road networks.
It is worrisome that within the Red Chamber of the National Assembly are many former governors who are sitting members, some of them ranking senators that were part of the 8th and 9th Senate and beneficiaries of the SUVs largesse. The Senate President for instance, apart from been a ranking senator, previously served as governor of Akwa Ibom state and minister of Niger Delta ministry under Muhammadu Buhari administration while most of the ex-Governors are still receiving pensions from their home states in addition to humongous salaries and allowances.
The point we are making here is that contrary to the argument that the SUVs would considerably assist the lawmakers in their statutory oversight functions, promote good governance, and that technical issues and durability on Nigerian roads informed acquisition of the vehicles, at a period of widespread clamour for a slim government and a reduction in the cost of governance as well as socio-economic crisis, with the masses they claim to be representing sliding deeper into poverty, their decision is evidently self serving and smacks of grave insensitivity on the part President Tinubu and the National Assembly.
The alternative wise and economical step legislators would have taken is to insist on the purchase of fewer vehicles that should be made available to the various committees for oversight functions which would cost the taxpayers less and still facilitate the constitutional roles of the legislature at this difficult times.
This is particularly note worthy and in tandem with the stand of the president of the African Development Bank (AfDB), Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, who at a public lecture days before Tinubu, made a strong case for Nigeria to cut down the high cost of governance and warned against high cost of public sector recurrent expenditure given its negative impact on the development process in the country.
In his assessment, the cost of governance in Nigeria is “way too high and should be drastically reduced to free up more resources for development” adding that the country is spending “very little on development. Today, Nigeria is ranked among countries with the lowest human development index in the world, with a rank of 167 among 174 countries globally, according to the World Bank 2022 Public Expenditure Review report. As a result, a child born in Nigeria today will only be 36% as productive when he grows up as he could be if he had access to effective education and health services.
We totally agree with his submission that “Unless the economy is revived and fiscal challenges addressed boldly, resources to develop will not be there. No, bird can fly if its wings are tied. Nigeria currently faces huge fiscal deficits, estimated at 6% of Gross Domestic Product, GDP” which he attributed to “huge federal and state government expenditures”.
In our view, the National Assembly should reconsider its decision on SUVs and allocate more funds for the provision of basic necessities of life and in a manner that best serves the interests of the masses particularly at a period when prudent financial management and economic growth are of paramount importance just as the lawmakers’ proclivity for luxury vehicles ran counter to Nigeria’s economic realities and the pressing need for reduced governance costs.
We challenge the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Trade Union Congress TUC, civil society organizations and the masses need to rise against the current insensitivity of National Assembly members and the executive arm of government by wholeheartedly rejecting this latest extravagant spending and all oppressive policies capable of further aggravating their suffering. The truth is that such money being spent on the vehicles could have been reallocated to the education sector since empirical evidence shows that N160million can pay for the salaries of 12 Professors in public universities for more than two years.
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