Date: December 7, 2023 4:35 am
The recent brouhaha over confirmation by the House of Representatives that cars reportedly worth of about N130 billion were being awaited for delivery to the 360 members for oversight purposes, will not be the first time such moves generated controversies. JOSHUA EGBODO writes on the different twists
Not the first time
Over the years, the decision to procure exotic vehicles for members of Nigeria’s apex parliament; the National Assembly, usually explained to be for the purpose of oversight function of lawmakers had remained an undying subject of controversy. While in some cases, allegations of corruption or using same to silent dissent, especially from opposition were the prominent issues, outrage against perceived insensitivity of the people’s representatives has seemingly taken over the stage.
A review of the last four assemblies of the House have shown that issues surrounding procurement of vehicles for members usually take same dimensions, but with originate through diverse platforms.
The 6th Assembly under Dimeji Bankole
Though speakership of the 6th House of Representatives did not start with Hon. Dimeji Bankole, it however ended with him after pressure were mounted on Hon. Patricia Olubunmi Etteh over allegations of corruption in the award of contract for the renovation of the Speaker’s official residence at the Apo Legislative Quarters, Abuja. She was forced to step aside in spite of former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s intense efforts at saving her.
Bankole after taking over the speakership was to alongside other principal officers, later face the scandalous allegation of corruption in procurement of vehicles for members, at the cost of about N2.3 billion.
The protest then was not just over the propriety of procuring the 360 Peugeot cars, but also over breach of due process in the contract award, and alleged inflated contract sum. There was also the issue of the contractor supplying the cars of lesser cost values than the models specified in the contract papers, as all then put forward by Festus Keyamo in a petition. Pundits say while many Nigerians were wallowing in abject poverty, the House of Representatives still considered it necessary to buy cars worth N6.2 million each for the oversight function of members, and for the leadership of the House, bulletproof cars worth N52.8 million each for the speaker and his deputy.
The internal disciplinary committee, one of the special panels within the system; the Ethics and Privileges Committee investigated the allegations and exonerate Bankole and his other principal officers. This was however after Keyamo couldn’t prove his allegation before the panel. One key discrepancy was him having a purported cheque for the procurement of the vehicles, which did not match the file copies of the National Assembly Management and Peugeot Automobile Nigeria (PAN), supplier of the cars.
Many believed then that the affected members were exonerated to protect the leadership and key members who have been rewarded. Questions were raised on why the House would sit over an issues it was accused of wrongdong, but the House was already up in arms, accusing some members of trying to fuel crisis with the intent to destabilising the House.
The 7th House under Tambuwal
A similar controversy reared head during the reign of Aminu Waziri Tambuwal as Speaker of the House. There was a reported scandal over the procurement of 400 units of a model of Toyota Camry cars at the cost of about N4.8 billion, still for oversight purposes by members.
After a lot of back and forth movement even in the face of allegations that some members were involved in promoting the divisive and public incitement over the cars, the House later ended up passing a resolution, giving Tambuwal a vote of its confidence and the leadership. The motion for the vote of confidence was moved by Bello Osagie, ACN-Edo State, following an earlier motion by Hon. Ogbuefi Ozomgbachi under matters of privileges of members, over media reports he said was a plot to impeach Tambuwal. He said it was a clear design to create disharmony, insisting that the decision to install anybody as Speaker of the House lies with the 360 members.
Tambuwal expressed deep regrets that this was happening at a time members were working relentlessly to improve on the integrity of the House as an institution, however, urged his colleagues to ignore the publications, as well as see the allegations as challenges associated with representing their people. While urging members to ignore the publications, Tambuwal said members should continue to be in the promotion of those things that have helped in keeping Nigeria as one united country.
The Dogara’s 8th assembly era
In the 8th assembly of the House of Representatives during which Hon. Yakubu Dogara held sway as Speaker, Kano State-born lawmaker, Abdulmumin Jibrin ran into some stormy waters with his erstwhile ally, Dogara, and the conflict ended up with Jibrin’s suspension for 180 legislative days in 2016.
So when the issue of procurement of vehicles for members at about the total cost of N3.6 billion, Jbrin accused Dogara of using the cars as bribe for his colleagues, and not really of their necessity for oversight function. Members at the time were taking delivery of Peugeot 508 saloon cars, priced at N10 million each, leaving Nigerians as usual, infuriated, especially coming at a time when official statistics confirmed in just few weeks earlier that Nigeria’s economy had gone into recession.
According to Jibrin, “The hurried purchase of the cars is part of the carrot and stick approach deployed by Speaker Dogara to silent members and ensure that the allegations of massive budget fraud and corruption against him never sees the light of the day,” adding that hardly do lawmakers take any long ride on oversight functions, making the purchase of 360 new vehicles insensitive, reckless and unnecessary. “It is an outright lie that the cars are needed for oversight as over 80 percent of oversight activities of the House of Representatives are carried out in Abuja, and in almost all instances, it is the MDAs that arrange buses to convey members from the premises of the House to the respective MDAs”, he stated in one of his reactions to the development, when his suspension still lasted.
Gbajabiamila’s 9th House
In the 9th House under Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila, now Chief of Staff to President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, when the news was up for planned procurement of vehicles, protests against the move this time went beyond media analysis and related debates, to institution of a legal suit by a coalition Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and concerned Nigerians. The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, and 192 concerned Nigerians filed a lawsuit asking the Federal High Court in Abuja seeking to restrain and stop Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila and all members of the House from spending an estimated N5.04 billion to buy 400 exotic cars for the 10 principal officers of the House and other members.
They also sought an order of the court to “restrain and stop the National Assembly Service Commission from releasing any public funds to the House of Representatives to buy 400 Toyota Camry 2020 model cars estimated to cost $35,130 each until an impact assessment of the spending on access to public services and goods like education, security, health and clean water, is carried out”.
Reports had emanated that the House of Representatives during a closed door session on 5, February, 2020 allegedly passed a resolution that 400 Toyota Camry cars, 2020 model be purchased as official vehicles for 360 members and others, including some top management staff, Chief of Staff to the two presiding officers, as well as their special advisers and assistants in some cases, prompting the reaction through a law suit.
The said law suit never sail to its conclusion until the tenure of the 9th House of Representatives expired.
The 10th House of Representatives under Speaker Tajudeen Abass, also recently stirred the hornets, when on Sunday October 15, 2023, its spokesman, Hon. Akin Rotimi in a statement confirmed that there were plans for members of the House to take delivery of official vehicles, a move many Nigerians have condemned, coming at a time Nigerians are facing economic hardship.
The House however denied reports that each of the vehicles cost N200 million of tax payers money’ as the spokesman said the reports were “exaggerated”, but also did not give details of the cost at which each car was being procured, as he confirmed that the process was already on. “While many versions of this story carry varying exaggerations, we can confirm that the National Assembly bureaucracy is in the phased process of procuring and distributing operational vehicles to honourable members over the coming weeks and months,” he stated.
Rotimi said appointees of the executive and high-level civil servants also have their official vehicles, and so it was nothing out of place for lawmakers to have theirs. “This development is in accordance with extant procurement laws and has been the practice in previous assemblies. 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 office,” he said.