Nigerian federal lawmakers have allocated themselves expensive luxury sport utility vehicles (SUVs).
The National Assembly says it is buying “operational vehicles” for its 469 members, even though the cost is above the package prescribed for the lawmakers by the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC).
The federal lawmakers had rejected cheaper Sedan and Salon cars and choosen instead expensive luxury sport utility vehicles (SUVs), in violation of the revenue package put together for them and other public office holders by the RMAFC.
Section 84 of the Nigerian 1999 constitution gives RMAFC the mandate for determining the salaries and allowances of public officials, including members of the National Assembly.
“There shall be paid to the holders of the offices mentioned in this section such remuneration, salaries and allowances as may be prescribed by the National Assembly, but not exceeding the amount as shall have been determined by the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission,” section 84 of the constitution reads.
In the discharge of that responsibility, RMFAC publishes details of the remuneration package for political, public and judicial office holders. According to the last list published in 2007, members of the National Assembly are not entitled to operational vehicles, but rather an optional car loan that must not exceed 400 per cent of their annual basic salaries.
According to the last published list, a senator gets an annual basic salary of N2.02 million. Therefore, they are entitled to a car loan of not more than N8.1 million, which is 400 per cent of their basic salary. By the same calculation, a member of the House of Representatives whose annual basic salary is N1.9 million can draw a car loan from the National Assembly not exceeding N7.9 million.
However, the members of the 10th National Assembly, despite the tough economic situation Nigerians are grappling with, have jettisoned the recommendation of RMFAC and instead opted to buy luxury vehicles as operational vehicles for “legislative oversight”, a move that many Nigerians have described as insensitive.
The spokesperson of the House of Representatives, Akin Rotimi, in a statement he issued on Sunday, said the lawmakers can also take away the vehicles at the end of their tenure in 2027, if they pay off the National Assembly.
“For the duration of the 10th assembly (2023 – 2027), the vehicles shall remain the property of the National Assembly. At the expiration of the tenure of the 10th Assembly in 2027, should the extant assets deboarding policy of government still be in place, honourable members may have the option of making payment for the outstanding value of the vehicles to government coffers before they can become theirs, otherwise it remains the property of the National Assembly,” he said.
Despite the clear provisions of the constitution to the contrary, the National Assembly has always arbitrarily fixed for themselves allowances far above what RMFAC prescribes. In July, the Senate shared N2 million to each member as recess allowance against the 10 per cent of annual basic salary prescribed by law.
In 2015 the Senate spent N4.7 billion on cars for members, snatching for themselves scarce funds that could have been spent on vaccinating newborns and save them from dying or on providing electricity for remote communities where kids do school assignments using paraffin lamps.
Members of the National Assembly appear to have put themselves in in competition with the executive arm in profligacy, especially as expressed in the allocation of cars and allowances.
Hear the House of Representatives’ spokesperson in his Sunday statement: “It is also not peculiar to the Legislature, as unelected government officials in the Executive arm of government from the Assistant Director level and above, in most cases, have official vehicles attached to their offices.”
Lawmakers reject saloon cars
In 2015, Nigerian lawmakers bought Peugeot 508 saloon cars for themselves from the public purse and in 2020 bought Toyota Camry saloon cars. On both occasions, the National Assembly went above the threshold recommended in the RMFAC list. This time around, they have choosen SUVs. The brand has become a status symbol for Nigerian politicians who have access to public funds.
A member of the House, who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES on condition of anonymity, said members insisted on either Toyota Prado or Toyota Land Cruisers because many in the last Assembly did not use the Camry cars they collected for official functions.
“Most of the lawmakers rejected the option of saloon cars because many had to give the one shared in the 9th Assembly to their wives. Those vehicles are probably not more than N80-N90 million, that particular vehicle we are talking about. In fact, some people are not going to get the vehicle until January,” the lawmaker said.
Insatiable appetite for foreign brands
The decision of the federal lawmakers to buy foreign brands has also drawn criticism from Nigerians, who complained that the lawmakers could have patronised Nigerian brands to boost the local aitomobile industry.
The Centre for Social Justice, in a statement on Tuesday, said the lawmakers exported jobs by ordering from foreign brands instead of local brands.
Speaking in the same vein, Oluwatobi Ajayi, the CEO of Nord Motors, an indigenous local automobile company, took to X, formerly known as Twitter, to express his dissatisfaction with the action of the lawmakers by ordering foreign bands.
In the post, he disclosed that some local automobile manufacturers approached the lawmakers and submitted proposals offering local vehicles but the legislators refused.
“The National Assembly buying foreign-built vehicles at this time is dispiriting, especially when you consider that we are all trying to promote buy Nigeria to grow the Naira.
“A sad part of this is that we (assemblers and manufacturers of vehicles in Nigeria) actually proposed our vehicles and explained how it would make a lot of financial, technical and political sense to buy from us but they didn’t even entertain the idea for long,” Mr Ajayi wrote.
The Nigerian automobile industry has grown in recent years, with brands like Innoson, Nords, Pro-Force and others producing high-end vehicles, including SUVs. However, it seems Nigerian lawmakers consider them beneath their status.
The appetite of the lawmakers for luxury appears to be at variance with the economic realities of Nigeria and the call for a cut in the cost of governance.
The Laurels International Magazine