Much Ado about Cars

Someone once said that leadership involves leaders making sacrifices for the greater good of the organization, just as many parents deny themselves of certain rights and privileges in order to make a better life for their families. That someone obviously had no inkling of Nigerian leadership. In Nigeria, sacrifices are the exclusive preserve of the followers.

During President Buhari’s maiden Presidential Media Chat in the twilight of 2015, he made a statement that rocked the already turbulent waters of the Nigerian political sphere. He said the National Assembly intended to buy cars worth a total of 47 billion naira for the 469 federal legislators. He, as the president, had declined new cars for himself worth about 400 million naira, and wondered why the members of the second arm of government felt the need to spend such a huge sum on cars. Hence, he pledged to do whatever he could to ensure that the National Assembly changes its mind.

Immediately, Twitter-sphere, Blogosphere, Roadside-sphere, Bar-sphere, and every other sphere burst into heated discussions. Attack ramps and defence barricades sprang up everywhere. Whereas one legislator was quoted to have said that there is nothing wrong with spending less than 1% of the national budget on cars for an ENTIRE arm of the federal government, the Senate President released a statement denouncing the quoted sum. Some spokespersons claimed the actual sum (for the Senate) is about ₦4.7 billion.

For me, I am indifferent about the intended sum. Whether it is 5 million, 5 billion, 50 billion, or 5 trillion, the amount, no matter how bewildering, is not the problem. The problem, as I see it, is the culture that has permitted a clear form of corruption to fester in full public glare.

The members of the National Assembly each get a car loan to buy “personal cars” to use as legislators. This car loan ignores the fact that there is no legislator without a personal car prior to his/her election. Let’s ignore their old personal cars, some of which may have been appropriated during earlier roles in the government. If they already have a loan-funded car, why do they need another car?

The argument put forward is that they need cars to carry out their “legislative oversight functions”. One legislator vehemently argued that could not be expected to rely on the agencies they oversee to provide their transportation for them. This, I presume, is because their personal cars cannot ride on the roads leading to such agencies. Hence, they need special “oversight cars”.

Fine! There’s no problem with their demand for special cars. We, the people, can easily see reasons with them. After all, we are all Nigerians. Even though we know that at the end of their tenure, the cars will follow them out of the National Assembly complex. However, the problem is the kind of cars they want. I never knew that 2016 model V8 engine-powered SUVs and other luxury cars are the only approved automobiles for legislative oversight functions. Someone must have forgotten to put that information in the federal gazette to cure our ignorance. To the best of my fledgling knowledge, trucks (read: Hilux) are very popular for site visits. Could someone please ask our legislators to consider using trucks? They are rugged, durable, and effective in different terrains—just like SUVs. Their only drawback is their preference for performance instead of aesthetics. If the lawmakers want to perform in their site visits, trucks will make sense.

Conversely, I realize that they need the cars for “oversight functions”, not “site visits”. Hence, Hiluxes won’t make the cut for them. A name then comes to mind—Innoson Motors. Those guys are producing made-in-Nigeria (assembled-in-Nigeria) cars. In the spirit of patriotism, our lawmakers should buy from “our people”. The government says Nigerians should patronize Nigerian brands. Who is more Nigerian than those who sit in the independent national capital and make laws for Nigerians? It will even save some of our scarce foreign exchange.

In the midst of Nigeria’s economic mess, we need out leaders to do a little sacrificing. If we, as the followers, are sacrificing our domiciliary accounts and foreign transactions, our leaders should please join us to let go of some luxuries. By sacrificing, we don’t mean spilling more Nigerian blood in egoistical contests for power. We mean declining certain benefits even if some earlier skewed rule says it is their right. Maybe, when leaders join followers to feel the economic pinch, all will work together, conscientiously to make Nigeria great again.

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