By Azu Ishiekwene
For all that is ripe and fit to pluck, our senators think the most concerning thing now is how to find themselves nice cars to ride. And they are not demanding just any car; they’re taking money to buy cars each of which costs 2,027 times the minimum wage.
When the story first broke, I thought they would deny it. Not that wasteful, extravagant lifestyle is new to them. Gorging themselves on bribes has never been a big deal. They used to hold ministers and heads of parastatals at gunpoint to pass a bill or oversee a ministry. Three years ago, a report by The Economist said the salary of the Nigerian legislator was 116 times the GDP per capita, the highest rate of disparity in the world.
Yet, I thought that at times like these when millions of Nigerians are hurting badly, fellow feeling, if not common sense, will prevail. I thought they would think about the workers in their constituencies across at least 24 states most of whom have gone without pay for upwards of four months. I thought they would spare a thought for millions of voters who stood in long lines in the sun just one year ago, to vote for a break from a rotten past.
Of course, lawmakers need tools and a minimum level of comfort to do their job. But with over 700,000 young people applying for 10,000 vacancies in the police, with an austerity that has left government scampering for means to finance the 2016 budget, do the lawmakers have to trade us in for their comfort?
And see how brazen they have been about it. In response to public outrage over the reported purchase of 108 cars at N36.5million each, the Senate committee chairman on services, Ibrahim Gobir, said on Tuesday that he thought it necessary to straighten the records.
Gobir said: “The car we bought is Land Cruiser VXR V8, not V6. The showroom price is about N31million minimum and then you add ten per cent tax and it becomes N36.5million. 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. I think what we have purchased the car for is very reasonable.”
Well, I checked the internet. But before I did that, it was obvious, even by taking Gobir on the face value of his math, that he is a shameless liar. If each SUV had a showroom price of N31 million, as he claimed, ten per cent tax on that would bring the unit price to N34.1million, and not N36.5 million. The difference of N2.4 million on each unit may not mean anything to Gobir and other shameless senators like him, but that will pay the monthly salary of at least 130 workers in their constituencies at the current minimum wage.
The scandal becomes even more annoying when you go to the internet where Gobir’s cheap lies are exposed for the world to see. On Toyota’s official website, a standard Land Cruiser V8 costs $83,825 (about N17 million). Even if you allow for cost of clearing and taxes, only a thief would pay more than N25million for a unit with full options. Yet on the website in Gobirland, the showroom price was N31million. What does that mean?
The fellow also wants us to believe that the Senate has purchased “only 36,” not 108 units. If we cannot trust him on the cost of the unit price of one car, how can we believe they have not bought enough to go round, including special ones for distinguished members like Dino Melaye, who may now have to expand his harem for this new bride?
If “only 36” SUVs were bought when there are 57 standing committees, how is that supposed to work? Elsewhere, the legislators would share vehicles, ride a bike, or use any convenient means of public transport. But here, their overpaid and underworked counterparts who earn N506,000 as wardrobe allowance would insist on a ship to visit Sokoto.
It’s quite interesting that Ben Murray-Bruce has maintained a loud silence on this affront. If Gobir and co cannot find their way to the Peugeot plant in Kaduna or Innoson in Nnewi, I would have thought that Murray-Bruce would lend them a hand and save the naira from this cruel onslaught. Or maybe the temptation to potentially add one more toy to his own collection was too hard to resist?
It’s easier to pass through the eye of a needle than to become a senator. That’s what I’m told. By some estimates, there’s not one single senator in Abuja today that did not spend at least N500 million to get there. So, once they get there, it becomes pure transaction. Get what you can as fast as you can, however you can. The process sucks, draining candidates of the heart and energy to serve.
But in the end, it’s a choice – one that can be used to improve and repair rather than perpetuate a broken system.
I agree completely with the Transition Monitoring Group that it is criminal for the senators to buy fancy cars for themselves at outrageous prices when the budget for the current financial year has been hung out to dry. And we’re accomplices to this criminality if we just shout and take a pass.
Why do you think the Senate relented on its disgraceful attempt to amend the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act? Whatever their pretensions to the contrary, they backed down when it became clear that they were toying with a rebellion.
The road to the change Nigerians voted for is a very, very long one. It should not come as a surprise that the politicians they voted to walk that road still prefer the old, crooked path. What is unacceptable is for citizens to let politicians think they can ride roughshod over us, doing as they please.
Call your senator today and guarantee him a miserable tenure if he insists on taking you for this obnoxious ride.
. Ishiekwene is the Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief of The Interview magazine and member of the Paris-based Global Editors Network.