Lawmakers started taking delivery of Peugeot 508 saloon cars —priced at N10 million each— about two weeks ago, eliciting a huge backlash from Nigerians who said the National Assembly has become a congregation of insensitive politicians.
All the 360 members of the House are expected to benefit from the welfare package at an estimated cost of N3.6 billion to taxpayers.
Nigerians were particularly infuriated about the latest spending spree by lawmakers because it came barely weeks after the country’s economy nosedived into recession.
The distribution, which the House said was needed for legislative functions, is on top of the humongous salaries, allowances and other welfare packages which everyday Nigerians had long groaned was amongst the highest in the world.
Writing from his self-imposed exile in London, Mr. Jibrin said the vehicle purchase binge marked the latest manifestation of the sharp practices that have become synonymous with the parliament under Yakubu Dogara’s leadership.
The Kano lawmaker, who was suspended on September 28 for highlighting possible budget fraud in the House, said Mr. Dogara approved the purchase as a quid pro quo for guaranteed loyalty from members.
“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,” Mr. Jibrin said.
He said lawmakers hardly take a long ride on oversight functions, making the purchase of 360 new vehicles insensitive, reckless and unnecessary.
Mr. Jibrin said administrators of ministries, departments and agencies which lawmakers usually supervise for wrongdoings are usually responsible for logistics of all lawmakers.
“It is an outright lie that the cars are needed for oversight as over 80 per cent of oversight activities of the House of Representatives are carried out in Abuja,” Mr. Jibrin said. “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.”
In the case of “areas that are far away from Abuja, members always use flights to the nearest location while the MDAs arrange vehicles and other logistics to complete the visit.
“In almost all instances the MDA’s provide accommodation and pay for the tickets and other logistics,” Mr. Jibrin said.
Mr. Dogara’s media aide, Turaki Hassan, did not respond to newsmen's request for comment Monday night.
But Abdulrazak Namdas, the spokesman for the House, confirmed Monday night that 28 lawmakers have so far benefitted from the scheme —with additional 22 more to collect before the end of the year.
“The vehicles are being distributed in batches of 50 vehicles per delivery,” Mr. Namdas said. “I can confirm that 28 lawmakers have collected and we plan to give additional 22 members from the first 50 vehicles that arrived.”
Mr. Namdas, who spoke with newsmen from a gathering of West African parliamentarians in Ghana, said the lawmakers did, in fact, put Nigerians into consideration while deliberating on the purchase.
“Please, let Nigerians understand that these vehicles will not be paid for at once,” Mr. Namdas said. “We will pay on instalments from now until the end of this Assembly in 2019.”
“Also, note that we bought the vehicles from Peugeot Automobile Nigeria, this is because we understand the need to boost local production and keep people in their jobs at the company.
“We did all that because we knew Nigerians were going through a hard time as a result of the economic downturn,” Mr. Namdas said.
The lawmaker also suggested that the cost per unit of the vehicles may be seen as an uptick as a result of the lingering foreign exchange crisis.
“You know the dollar has gone up now and we’re already hearing that there may be a review of the prices that were quoted when we initially negotiated the deal,” Mr. Namdas said.
But he said the controversy over the purchase was only the latest misplaced outrage from the public.
“There shouldn’t be any controversy over this matter because we’ve been on it for over a year,” Mr. Namdas said.
The reps controversy came seven months after their counterparts in the Senate took delivery of exotic SUVs, which civic groups decried as “ungodly” and “criminal.”