The Senate President, Bukola Saraki, has taken delivery of new exotic cars purchased by the National Assembly management for his official use, brushing aside widespread criticisms against such lavish spending at a time of national economic crisis.
PREMIUM TIMES had exclusively reported that the Nigerian legislative body proposed to splash about N4.7 billion on at least 400 vehicles for leaders and members of the Senate and House of Representatives. Among the proposed vehicles were 10 top-of-the-range cars for Mr. Saraki and his official convoy. Our market survey showed the vehicles cost N329, 515,625 – more than the budgetary allocations for many government schools. The report triggered a firestorm of reaction from Nigerians, including President Muhammadu Buhari and former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who urged the National Assembly to shelve the plan. Mr. Buhari said he had rejected a proposal for new vehicles to be purchased for him as part of 2016 budget expenditure. “I turned down a N400 million bill for cars for the presidency, because the vehicles I am using are good enough for the next 10 years,” the president said during his first media chat. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo also wrote members of the National Assembly asking them to jettison the plan to buy official vehicles. “Whatever name it is disguised as, it is unnecessary and insensitive,” Mr. Obasanjo said. “A pool of a few cars for each Chamber will suffice for any Committee Chairman or members for any specific duty. The waste that has gone into cars, furniture, housing renovation in the past was mind-boggling and these were veritable sources of waste and corruption. That was why they were abolished. Bringing them back is inimical to the interest of Nigeria and Nigerians.” But PREMIUM TIMES can report today that the National Assembly management ignored such concerns and, finalised procurement processes for the vehicles, and indeed took delivery of them for Mr. Saraki. At least four of the 10 vehicles meant for Mr. Saraki have already been delivered by Lanre Shittu motors and the lawmaker has since put them to use. Officials briefed about the matter told this newspaper that procurement process for the purchase of vehicles for the senate president was concluded since December. However, like Mr. Saraki, the tenders board agreed the purchases be made in batches due to paucity of funds, our sources said. Stressing what the Senate spokesperson, Aliyu Sabi, had earlier said, the source said procuring new vehicles for Mr. Saraki became a “matter of priority” because “the current cars are old and already developing faults”. PREMIUM TIMES obtained tender documents for the 10 cars Mr. Saraki requested. In the document, the National Assembly sought to purchase a 2016 model Mercedes Benz S550, four 2016 Toyota Prado jeeps, four 2016 Toyota Hilux SS (Auto) as well as a 2016 model Toyota Hiace Bus. PREMIUM TIMES’ independent market evaluation showed the cars cost as follows: 1Nos.Mercedes Benz S550 (N49, 020,625); 4nos. Toyota Prado (N149, 650,000); 4nos Toyota Hilux SS (N102, 407,500) and 1Nos. Toyota Hiace Bus (N28, 437,500). At N250 to the dollar, PREMIUM TIMES estimated the total cost of the purchase at N329, 515,625. The four cars delivered yet, and confirmed by this paper, are three Toyota Prado SUVs and one Mercedes Benz S500. PREMIUM TIMES also confirmed that the procurement processes for the purchase of 120 Toyota Land Cruisers for the remaining 119 Senators were also concluded last December. The tenders board also agreed to shelve the plan temporarily due to “paucity of funds.” A source said senators however continued to pressure the Committee on Senate Services, which in turn put pressure on the National Assembly management to immediately conclude the procurement. An estimated N4.7billion would have been spent by the time the acquisition of cars for Mr. Saraki and his 108 colleagues are completed. A cocktail of illegalities As we reported in an earlier story, the acquisition of cars for senators is a violation of the monetisation policy of the federal government. Under the policy, no new vehicles should be purchased by any agency of government for use by officials. Rather, public officers and political office holders are to receive 250 per cent of their annual basic salary as motor vehicle loan, which translates to N5.07 million for each senator. Our sources at the National Assembly said the Senators got these loans before also proceeding to acquire these new Toyota Land Cruisers. Also, the President of the Senate is said to have inherited the vehicles used by his predecessor, and Senate insiders say “he really does not need new cars as the one he uses are in top condition”. But even if he needs new cars, the number being acquired for him is in excess of what the law provides. According to the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission, the Senate President is entitled to a maximum of six vehicles, and not 10 as being bought for him. He is entitled to two official cars, one pilot car, one protocol/press car, one ambulance and one security car. Members of the two chambers of the national assembly are renown for their taste for exotic vehicles even after receiving monetary pay in lieu of official vehicles based on the provisions of the law. The Senate had in the last legislative session bought Toyota Prado Jeeps for each Senator at the cost of over N1.3 billion, coming after both chambers had also bought Toyota Camry, for Senators and Peugeot vehicles for members of the House of Representatives. The allegedly shady deal involved in the purchase of the Peugeot vehicles formed part of the charges against then Speaker Dimeji Bankole when he was taken to court after completing his term. What N4.7billion can do If deployed towards enhancing healthcare delivery, N4.7 billion can be used in building 235 primary health care centres across Nigeria (enough for at least 6 health care centres in each state) at the cost of N20 million each. The money, N4.7 billion, can also provide over 470,000 children with insecticide-treated mosquito nets at N10,000 each, saving them from the scourge of malaria which today kills more than 300,000 Nigerian children under the age of five annually and responsible for 11 per cent of maternal mortality cases yearly, according to experts at the Malaria Action Programme for States (MAPS). Still on healthcare, over 10 million Nigerian kids could get complete malaria treatment dosage, at N460 if the N4.7 billion was directed to this life-saving purpose. If that money is spent on boosting yield of farm produce, the amount can cover the cost of procurement of about 626,667 bags of fertilizers for Nigerian farmers at N7,500 each. The money –N4.7 billion – can also offset a six-month wage bill of 40,000 minimum wage workers presently owed salary payment by some state governments seeking bailout from the federal government. In order to provide conducive learning environment in schools, 470,000 sets of school furniture, comprising table and chair at N10,000 each, can be procured at the cost of N4.7 billion. Yet kids sit on bare floors to study in many schools across the country while the parliamentarians gets N4.7 billion to buy cars. In the housing sector, at N7million per piece, the country can provide 671 additional cheap housing for citizens; and provide 51 thousand households with potable water at N92,000 per household connection.