BY COMRADE FRED NWAOZOR
If you are yet to hear, then you aren’t in Nigeria or not a Nigerian, that our federal lawmakers are vigorously planning to expend the sum of N5.5bn on purchase of new official vehicles.
In my last telephone conversion with a bosom friend who currently resides in Italy, he reechoed the figure by saying “5.5 billion naira…, Comrade Fred Nwaozor?” as if I was the one making effort to utilize the fund for my private use.
I could sense and feel how bitter he was, even though I lacked the powers to calm his ‘venom’ down. Hence, I made effort to digress towards averting a nervous wreck on his side, but he stubbornly insisted that the topic must be treated and duly analyzed.
There has been mixed reactions since the plan by the leadership of the 9th Senate led by Sen. Ahmed Lawan to purchase some exotic cars for Senate committee chairmen and their deputies, became public.
The lamentation by concerned Nigerians wasn’t unconnected with the obvious economic situation beclouding the existence of even countries with highly-developed economy in the world such as the United States of America (U.S.A), among others.
Until he issued another Executive Order early this year, precisely on 28th March 2019, the America’s President Mr. Donald Trump had previously on December 29, 2018 issued an executive order freezing federal workers’ pay for 2019. Trump told lawmakers he planned to scrap the “2019 big pay” for federal workers in August, saying the federal budget couldn’t support it.
In addition to the 2.1% pay increase, the executive order also canceled a yearly adjustment of paychecks based on the region of the country where workers are posted, called the “locality pay increase” that was due to take effect in January this year.
But on March 28, 2019, Trump issued another executive order authorizing the retroactive pay raise. The pay raise granted a 1.4 per cent across the board raise for federal employees with an additional 0.5% for locality pay.
President Muhammadu Buhari had on 18th April 2019 signed into law the Minimum Wage Repeal and Re-enactment Bill, 2019, after the National Assembly (NASS) on 27th March 2019 transmitted the bill for his assent. He ordered immediate implementation of the law, but the economic reality has conspicuously affected the president’s order till date.
Amidst the nation’s glaring economic challenges, came reports of moves by the leadership of the NASS to procure operational vehicles for the lawmakers that make up its dual legislative chambers.
This is just as the NASS officials confirmed to pressmen on condition of anonymity that meetings in respect of that commenced among presiding officers in the Red Chamber even before the apex legislative body embarked on its eight-week recess, which ends on 24th September 2019.
As usual, the preferred brand being considered for the senators is Toyota Land Cruiser Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV), which would be served to the 69 Senate Standing-Committee chairmen and their deputies.
The 109 senators are either chairmen or deputy chairmen of the Senate committees. It suffices to say that they would all be entitled to one each of the SUV coupled with other official assets. It is estimated that the cars would cost N50mn each, which would totally amount to about N5.5bn.
Similar exotic cars were reportedly purchased for the senators of the 8th Assembly. Some of them who are still serving in the 9th Senate got one each and those ones are still in their possession. It is even alleged that some of the items sold to members of the eight NASS at scandalous prices included SUVs and office equipment such as computers, photocopiers and refrigerators.
The NASS’ management allegedly sold the SUVs, which were reportedly acquired at about N26mn each, to the departing legislators at just N1mn. Funnily enough, it was equally reported to have received only N360,000 from the lawmakers for a set comprising two televisions, a photocopier, scanners, desktop computers, and a big refrigerator.
This ugly and lamentable development implies that, aside the vehicles, all other required official items would be purchased afresh for these currently serving legislators.
One can now comprehend wholly the kind of country we found ourselves as a people; a country that apparently pays much attention to frivolities to the detriment of priorities; a country that relegates cogent issues to the background at the expense of our overall good.
It’s more baffling to acknowledge that most of these lawmakers were members of the just concluded eight Assembly, and were duly decorated with brand-new official vehicles coupled with sundry incentives upon inauguration.
Even if some of them weren’t present at the 8th Assembly, taking into cognizance that government is a continuum, they are required to inherit the official assets allocated to their predecessors.
But when realized that virtually all the tangible assets allocated to the 8th Assembly members had already been sold at “give-away prices” as we learnt, it simply means that the members of the 9th Assembly ought to be headed for the market to purchase another set of official assets.
If it has abruptly become a norm that every four years, brand-new assets would be allocated to our lawmakers, then it’s unequivocally needless and preposterous to go in search of the real genesis of the country’s economic plight, because the answer lies under our nose.
If at the point where the Federal Government (FG) is conspicuously finding it every difficult to fully implement the N30,000 new national minimum wage, the legislators that supposed to be deeply troubled by the anomaly are proposing to purchase new cars worth about N5.5bn for themselves, then there is definitely fire on the mountain; hence, enough reason to worry.
It’s more worrisome to note that this set of Nigerians expected to safeguard the country’s constitution and extant laws are ostensibly thwarting or jeopardizing the said laws.
The above assertion isn’t unconnected with the fact that the country’s Public Procurement Acts have been violated by these ‘lawmakers’ by disposing the properties within the jurisdiction of the legislature without adhering to due process as enshrined in the aforementioned Act.
Does it imply that these lawmakers have turned around to be lawbreakers? Think about it!