April 22, 2024

Senators, Reps, and the official car conundrum-(II)

Senators, Reps, and the official car conundrum-(II)

By Taiwo Adisa

The story of the National Assembly and the purchase of official cars is really in tandem with the Amukun eru e wo saying in Yoruba parlance. It only means that the load on the head of a cripple can never stand straight. And if you attempt to correct the imbalance, you will be directed to look below the knees.

What this is telling us is that we should look at the larger picture by taking closer looks at our budget and budgeting procedure. When I looked at some past budgets, I saw that one agency budgeted for 800 cars in one year and came back to budget for more in the next budget. If you ask questions, you will be told that wear and tear and road accidents have claimed the vehicles. In that same way, the nation’s over 541 agencies at the federal level budget billions for the purchase of cars annually. They equally budget (annually) for computers and accessories for officials, many of whom cannot type abc on the computer keyboard. So much for a permissive spirit for excessive waste in national life.

When the government of President Muhammadu Buhari came with its loudly spoken slogan, Change, I thought all such wastage would vanish from the record books.  But alas, as the size of the budget grew from N4.9 trillion under President Goodluck Jonathan to Buhari’s N8 trillion, N11 trillion, and eventually N20 trillion in 2023, the size of the waste was expanded.

Now that President Bola Tinubu is coming with a N26 trillion budget for 2024, one can conservatively say that between N5 to N7 trillion of that budget would go for the purchase of luxury cars. When you check how the 36 states and FCT Abuja are faring on this issue, that could land someone in a conflagration of waste if there is anything of such.

Ever wondered why our lawmakers are unfazed to put their hands in the til for such a purchase? It is because they have access to the books. They know what their brothers in other sectors are equally wasting.  But two wrongs they say do not make a right.

Senator Sunday Karimi made some excuses while defending the decision to buy the cars.  He talked about bad roads, the durability of the brand in question, and that other arms of government are doing the same. That is where the legislators miss the point and that perhaps remains why the people will always come hard on them.

The legislature occupies a pride of place in a democracy. It is in fact the First Estate of the realm. The constitution recognises the legislature as such. It is like water (river) that has no hands or legs but can pull down a skyscraper or even an Iroko tree.

But I am told that happens when the river knows its own worth. Does the legislature in Nigeria know its worth? If it knows its worth it will stand for itself and for the people. Does that happen? The Constitution of Nigeria 1999 (as amended ) practically gives the legislature the power of life and death. Its core assignment is to legislate “for the peace, order, and good governance of the federation.” Good governance is all-encompassing. It also has the power to expose corruption and probe all “probables.” The legislature makes laws, oversights the other arms of government, and represents the people. But the legislature often surrenders its inheritance to the executive, for a plate of pottage, just like the biblical Esau. So we shouldn’t be surprised when people apply the opposite of our law in dealing with them-you are guilty until proven innocent.

Why should the legislators complain that our roads are bad and that they have to spend big by buying luxury cars for that purpose? What is the job of its committee on Works, and road maintenance? Why should the lawmakers complain that other vehicle brands are not durable? What is the committee on Industries doing that it cannot fashion ways to revive Peugeot, Volkswagen, and other local car assembly plants?  And why can’t the legislature pass bills to compel every level of government to patronise locally assembled cars for official duties?

I once read a case study on how Honda entered American markets. It was said that the Japanese makers of Honda Motors had to sack several of the company’s management for failing to penetrate American markets. After several failed attempts, a management team came and promised to break the jinx. The MD simply went to America, hired four of the best automobile professors, and asked them to produce a Honda that would contain what Americans like in cars. The egg heads did just that and by the time the next Honda consignment entered the United States, the products were quickly lapped up, with fresh orders rolling in. Within a short time, the government of America noticed the trade imbalance tilting towards Japan, and a ban on Honda sales in America was put in place. After diplomatic talks, it was agreed that the ban would only be lifted if Honda agreed to open its factory in the US. That was done and the rift was settled. Other Japanese brands followed the same path and that is why we have the American version of Honda and other Japanese cars today. What Americans did was patriotism. And that is what is lacking in our system. The National Assembly should spearhead that as the representatives of the people.

In the wee days of President Jonathan’s government, it introduced a policy that sought to compel every car manufacturer who intends to circulate its product in Nigeria to establish assembly plants in the country. That policy has since been jettisoned. Even now, some companies have started producing in Nigeria, how is the government encouraging them? If our officials must continue to use official cars, let them buy those assembled in Nigeria. Even if the quality and luxury are not top-notch yet, in a short time, they will get there. A child learns to walk by falling and standing up.

By and large, the big question remains, can we have a national consensus on the perks of office of our political office holders? For instance, the National Assembly has been embroiled in this car purchase conundrum since 1999. The conversation does not need to drag this long.


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