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Lawmakers between asset and liability

Following media reports on the purported plan by the National Assembly to spend over N5 billion to purchase vehicles for lawmakers, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), BudgIT, Enough is Enough (EiE) and 6,721 concerned Nigerians filed a lawsuit asking a Federal High Court to “restrain, prevent and stop the National Assembly Service Commission from paying or releasing the sum of N5.550 billion budgeted for purchase of luxury cars for principal members of the ninth Senate, and to restrain and stop the Senate from collecting the money.”

In a suit with reference number FHC/L/CS/1511/2019 filed at the Federal High Court in Ikoyi, Lagos, the plaintiffs argued that “Spending a huge sum of N5.5 billion to buy luxury cars for principal members of the ninth Senate is unjust and unfair. It negates the constitutional oath of office made by members to perform their functions in the interest of the well-being and prosperity of Nigeria and its citizens, as contained in the Seventh Schedule of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended).”

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The plaintiffs further argued that the proposed spending by the ninth Senate raises pertinent questions. The questions they are asking include: What is the economic value and contribution of the vehicles sought to be purchased to the grand scheme of Nigeria’s economy? What are the parameters used to arrive at cost efficiency and value for money in the decision to purchase the vehicles? Where are the vehicles purchased by the eighth Senate? According to the petitioners, the failure or refusal by the Senate to comply with legal and constitutional provisions is nothing but an act of arbitrariness. They contended that such a huge amount of money could be allocated to more important sectors of the National Assembly expenditure.

On the other hand, the suit filed by Kolawole Oluwadare and supported by an affidavit of urgency read in part: “A public officer shall not put himself in a position where his personal interest conflicts with his official duties. But the plan to spend N5.5 billion to buy vehicles for principal members of the Senate is a textbook case of a conflict of their personal interests with national interest of fiscal efficiency; a conflict eventually resolved in favour of personal and self-interest.”

Meanwhile, the Senate has faulted the suit seeking to stop it from utilising the sum of N5.5 billion it has allegedly earmarked for the purchase of official vehicles for its principal officers.  Chairman of the Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Adedayo Adeyeye, described the court process as the handiwork work of detractors that is bound to fail. Adeyeye said that he was not aware of any such plan and wondered why some people decided to act on mere rumours being peddled in the media. He said the “suit is an exercise in futility; a complete exercise in futility;” adding that it would be legal and alright for the Senate to do so “if it is budgeted for.”

Adeyeye expressed surprise at why the National Assembly should earn public fuss for planning to execute a legitimate exercise. He asked: “Why are they focusing on the National Assembly and not looking at the Executive, Judiciary arms of government? All of these people are entitled to official cars and do use official cars.” He continued and said, “Directors of agencies, even minor officials in agencies use official cars. So why will the National Assembly be different? Why should it be a problem that the National Assembly is entitled to cars, to use official cars?”

If all Nigerians have heard and read about this matter and were later discovered to be another pack of fake news, the media that circulated it would be guilty of professional misconduct. However, if the alleged budgetary allocations were found to be true, the lawmakers owe Nigerians some explanations on why such a huge sum of money should be expended on few citizens called ‘principal officers’ of the National Assembly who do not even add up to 0.00001 percent of the country’s population. This is even as the remaining 99.99999 percent of Nigeria’s 200 million people remain in dire need of every kobo from that N5.5 billion to enable them access basic necessities of life including clean water, primary healthcare, quality education, shelter, and good roads.

It would be recalled that the former Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and now the Emir of Kano, Malam Muhammadu Sanusi II told Nigerians in 2010 while he was the CBN governor that a quarter of the country’s annual budget was spent on the National Assembly. He argued that the National Assembly was allocated 25 percent of the recurrent expenditure of the federal government’s budget in the 2010. Following the hullabaloo that trailed his remarks, Sanusi told distinguished members of the red chambers that he had no apology over his comments on the matter. In spite of this overburdening overheads it is public knowledge that members of the Senate are still eligible to collect huge sums of money as monthly allowances and severance pay on conclusion of their respective terms at the National Assembly.

The earnings and privileges of Nigerian lawmakers compared to the income of workers in the civil service do not at all reflect the current economic realities of the country. It is really sorrowful that this kind of budgetary expenditure is being thought of at a time when the implementation of a new national minimum wage that has been signed in to law kept going forward and backward like what native Hausa speakers would refer to as “rawan yan mata”. The organised labour under the auspices of the Trade Union Side of the Joint National Public Service Negotiating Council announced last Tuesday that it would give no further notice to the federal government before millions of its members at the federal and the 36 states public services commence strike over the non-implementation of the new national minimum wage and appropriate consequential adjustment.

Conventionally, lawmakers are believed to be assets elected to serve their people. Contrary to this supposition, however, lawmakers in Nigeria rather constitute a bunch of liabilities that devour the largest chunk of the resources meant to cater for the basic rights and interests of all Nigerians. A law that provides for a group of public officers as members of the National Assembly to fix salaries and allowances for themselves, in the opinion of this writer, is to a large extent a bad law. May Allah (SWT) touch the hearts of Nigerian lawmakers so that they would fear the Omniscience and Omnipotent as they enjoy a kind of ‘exclusive’ right to our collective resources, amin.

 

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