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Coalition Mounts Protest and Legal Battle Against N57 Billion SUV Purchase for Lawmakers

October 23, 2023
  • SERAP Urges Tinubu to Halt Delivery Pending Court Decision
  • HURIWA Deems Procurement Highly Provocative Amidst Widespread Hunger
  • Senate Evades Questions, While Reps Acknowledge Purchase and Offer Clarifications

Despite heightened criticisms against purchase of 2023 model of Toyota Land Cruiser and Prado Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) for the use of 469 members of the 10th National Assembly, leaderships of the Senate and House of Representatives, in collaboration with the management of the National Assembly, have already given out separate contracts for the vehicles.

The Senate will in the next few days take delivery of 107 Toyota Prado (2023 model) at the contract price of about N160 million for each senator in addition to the bullet proof vehicles being purchased for the President of the Senate, Godswill Akpabio, and his deputy, Barau Jibrin, at the cost of N320 million each.

The House of Representatives is also on the verge of distributing a total of 358 units of the 2023 model of Toyota Land Cruiser in addition to two bullet proof vehicles for the Speaker and his deputy. The market price of a 2023 model of Toyota Land Cruiser is between N135 million and N145 million.

Yesterday, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) added its voice to the development that has attracted an outpouring of condemnation of what critics called “arrogant display of insensitivity to people’s feelings in times of biting and harsh economic situation.”

Also, a coalition of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) is gearing up to embark on mass protest against the move by the National Assembly, The Guardian was informed.

SERAP announced yesterday that it has filed an application for interim and interlocutory injunction at the Federal High Court, Lagos, asking the court to stop the House of Representatives from procuring and taking delivery of N57.6 billion worth of 360 SUVs for its members.

In the application filed last week, SERAP is seeking an order of interim injunction restraining the National Assembly from procuring, taking delivery, and distributing the SUVs to their members, pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice for an order of interlocutory injunction filed simultaneously in this suit.

The organisation is also seeking such further order(s) that the court may deem fit to make in the circumstance of this suit.

Recall that SERAP in August filed the suit number FHC/L/CS/1606/2023 before the Federal High Court challenging the legality of the spending of billions of naira by the National Assembly to purchase exotic and bulletproof cars for members and principal officials.

SERAP has also sent an open letter to President Bola Tinubu urging him to mount pressure on the leadership of the House of Representatives to stop members from taking delivery of 360 SUVs, pending the hearing and determination of the application for interim injunction.

In the letter dated October 21, 2023, and signed by SERAP deputy director, Kolawole Oluwadare, the organisation also urged the President to put pressure on the leadership of the Senate and stop members from taking delivery of the planned procurement of bulletproof SUVs.

According to the body, allowing the National Assembly to go ahead, purchase and take delivery of the SUVs would prejudice the outcome of the suit pending in court and make a mockery of the rule of law.

“Unless you exercise your executive powers and discharge your constitutional oath of office act as recommended, the lawmakers would go ahead to procure and take delivery of the N57.6 billion vehicles, and thereby present the court with a fait accompli. It would invariably hamstring the ability of the court to do justice in the pending suit and applications for injunction,” SERAP said.

While the House of Representatives has since admitted that it had placed orders for the vehicles for the official use of its members, the Senate has continued to keep mum even when information is rife that contractors handling the procurement are demanding upward review of the contract sums of the vehicles because of the serious devaluation suffered by the naira after the contract.

Spokesman of the Senate, Yemi Adaramodu, who was reached on phone via calls and WhatsApp messages, only promised to call back, but he never did.

President of the Senate, Akpabio, who was also reached on phone through his special adviser on media affairs, Eseme Eyiboh, ignored our correspondent’s calls and messages.

However, House of Representatives’ spokesman, Akin Rotimi, who tried to provide clarification on the matter, said: “The vehicles to be allocated are utility operational vehicles tied to their oversight functions in the discharge of their duties in the standing committees. They are not personal vehicles gifted to members.”

According to him, “for the duration of the 10th Assembly (2023 to 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 de-boarding policy of government still be in place, 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.”

A source of concern to those opposed to the purchase of the vehicles is the sharp difference in the amount spent to provide the vehicles in 2019 and the current price.

In 2019, the Senate spent N50 million on each vehicle, which is a far cry to the over N160 million being spent now on each lawmaker.

Findings on the specific make of the vehicles revealed that each has a four-wheel drive mechanism, central locking system, terrain camera view, and many other off-road features like Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, 10-speaker audio system, 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, 8-way power-adjustable passenger seat, heated and ventilated front seats, quad-zone climate control, wireless charging and head-up display.

The huge figures involved in the procurement as well as the seeming secrecy of the process has attracted condemnation from members of the public. Former Minister of Education, Oby Ezekwesili, was among dozens of critics who decried the purchase of the vehicles.

She expressed shock that no lawmaker spoke against the procurement, which she said was done at a time the harsh economy was taking its toll on Nigerians.

“You all had the audacity to spend scarce public resources on luxury cars at a time majority of your citizens cannot feed, transport themselves, pay school fees and hospital bills due to cost of living crisis?,” she wrote via her Twitter page.

Also, the Human Rights Writers Association (HURIWA) called on Nigerians to stage peaceful protest against the National Assembly for demonstrating high level of insensitivity, adding that it is very unreasonable to spend the country’s hard-earned resources on luxury of lawmakers.

“It is provocative that at a time that most families can barely feed their members three square meals per day, and hospitals and roads are collapsing rapidly all across the country, that the members of the National Assembly in Abuja are busy sharing multimillion dollars’ worth exotic cars,” it stated.

President of the association, Emmanuel Onwubiko, lamented that “the country generates billions of dollars from export of crude oil, from tariffs and other customs taxation; from the billion of Naira made locally from internally generated sources including that of immigration and federal inland Revenue services; then to notice that the National Assembly which is an arm of government is gifting the over 469 members special utility vehicles each worth over N160 million in this austerity period, is indeed a sad development.”

He further noted that “this ostentatious lifestyle of the members of the National Assembly will heighten insecurity, increase sophisticated crimes of kidnappings, armed robberies and targeted assassination because there are over 50 million unemployed youngsters who are out of school without any hope of finding anything productive to do.”

 

Credit: The Guardian

 

 

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