Death-proof Vehicles for Senators

A year or two ago, I would have sworn that such a thing would not happen in a Muhammadu Buhari presidency: unproductive legislators attacking the public treasury on all fronts and displaying their loot with impunity. My faith in Buhari’s anti-corruption credentials got reinforced during a media chat last December. The president promised to frustrate any attempt by senators to buy exotic cars even after each had received a lump sum as car allowance. Now, I don’t know what to say anymore. The senators have started taking delivery of their V8 Land Cruiser. I believe they bought the first 36 units to test the waters; 73 others are likely to follow soon, maybe after the uproar has died down.

All indicators point to the fact that the price of each of the vehicles was padded by at least 60 per cent. Ibrahim Gobir, chairman of the Senate Committee on Services, failed to convince even himself that he had succeeded in fooling Nigerians. He admitted that each car cost the taxpayer N36.5 million and challenged us to visit the Internet to confirm the actual price. “The showroom price is about N31 million minimum and then when you add 10 per cent tax it becomes 36.5 million. In fact you can go to the Internet and download it; it is very simple, we can give you the website, and you can see them.”

Perhaps Gobir scored F9 in O/L Mathematics; that’s why he didn’t know that 10 per cent of N31m is N3.1m and not N5.4m. He needn’t give anyone the website address of the company that sold them anyway. We know it’s a product of Toyota. And we’ve found that the actual price is less than $50, 000 or N10m. In the United Arab Emirates, the 2016 model costs less than 120, 000 Dirham ($40, 000). Even if there were additional costs – bullet-proof, security systems, insurance, transportation – the actual price of a unit wouldn’t exceed N17m. Checks at Elizade Motors reveal the same thing. So who is the thief that would gobble almost N20m from each Land Cruiser purchased for Nigerian senators?

The crime committed in the purchase of the cars is multi-pronged. At a time government is canvassing support for made-in-Nigeria goods, the senators chose to patronise Japan, disregarding Nigerian companies like Innoson, PAN, Anammco and VON. Then, there is the morality question: our senators are committing this robbery on the common purse at a time all Nigerians that depend on their legitimate incomes are struggling to eat once a day. The crime appears gargantuan when one considers that Nigerian senators are the highest-paid in the world, yet they are the most unproductive. Indeed, the Fourth Republic was designed to fail – it is little wonder that the economy has collapsed and criminals in the fuel business are calling the shots.

Before long, the House of Representatives may follow in the Senate’s footsteps. They may go for V6, and make it available to 360-something of them. That has been the trend since 1999. Outcries over furniture allowance, constituency projects, time-wasting quarrels, feeding the prostitution business and bribe-yielding oversight duties have not deterred the legislators one bit. Almost all lawmakers in 36 states and 774 local governments get brand-new cars supplied at inflated prices. After three or four years, each goes with their car and new cars are procured for another legislative session. Yet the cars do not invalidate “car allowances”! Indeed, there has been a competition among Nigeria’s officeholders over this banditry. This is how Senator Gobir justified the buying of the cars for his colleagues: “Come to think of it, there is no minister that hasn’t got about three, four cars – one Land Cruiser, maybe a back-up and two Hilux cars. There is no director in the civil service that hasn’t got a car. There is no permanent secretary that hasn’t got a Land Cruiser. In fact, every House of Assembly member has either a Prado or a Land Cruiser, and here is a senator you say he cannot have one Land Cruiser.’’
It’s not enough to buy bullet-proof SUVs for our distinguished senators. I would recommend death-proof ones instead. Certain pastors and imams could pray so that anyone in the car doesn’t die again. I recommend just N1m fee per vehicle. Who knows, former minister James Ocholi wouldn’t have died if his SUV had been made death-proof.

I suggest that the senators’ SUVs should be made death-proof because it’s not bullet alone that kills. Judging by the level of anger being expressed in the social media, I know there are Nigerians that could stop a senator on the road and burn him together with his SUV. Boko Haram is still around and could target senators in N36.5m SUVs. And exotic vehicles have not prevented kidnappers from having their way.

The buck stops at President Buhari’s table. He should not say that his hands are tied, for we know they are not. The Nigerian economy can no longer accommodate this number of money-guzzling lawmakers across the country. We will soon discover that there is no alternative to political reform – the type that could make allowance for a part-time unicameral legislature at the three tiers of government.



Tomato, Rice and Others

The most favourite dish of most Nigerians, I guess, is rice and stew prepared with tomato sauce. [I say “most Nigerians”, because I know that 80 per cent of children would vote for rice meal anytime.] The day you see a Nigerian avoiding rice and stew, know that something is after their life.

Now, the thing we fear most is materialising: famine. My family used to buy fresh tomatoes in large quantities. They are ground and then preserved in refrigerators. Last November, a basketful cost N1, 300; in January this year we parted with N1, 250. But when we went back on Thursday, do you know what a basketful was sold? N15, 000! That’s more than 1, 000 per cent increase within two months.

Also, the last bag of local rice we bought in December has just finished. Unable to find our choice, “Mama’s Pride”, we sought an alternative, only to learn that a 50kg bag has shot up to N15, 000 from N8, 500.

Surely, the suppliers of tomatoes and rice must have held a meeting. They know that both commodities go together and have decided to peg the prices of the different quantities at N15, 000 each.

But I have learned that all other foodstuffs have become equally expensive. This means the naira has been devalued already.  As prices of food items hit the roof, agric minister Audu Ogbeh is still talking about what they will do, not what they have done. The rainy season is here, but neither Ogbeh nor Heineken Lokpobiri has cleared even an inch of farmland. We’re still fighting the battle of the budget, five months into 2016.



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