Legislators exotic cars amidst cash crunch

It is no news that oftentimes activities in the House of Representatives, just like those in the Upper Chamber, present a theatre of the absurd. Once again, in another script from their usual theatrics, the so-called ‘honourables’ were alleged to have prepared to buy 360 exotic cars worth N6.1billion for their members, amidst alleged cash crunch in a biting economy. That they also play out this paradox with nonchalance is a demonstration of insensitivity, even as it speaks volume about their sense of duty, attitude to privileges as well as the quality of their moral character.

Reports making the round the other day disclosed that members of the House of Representatives had complained of unpaid salaries for the month of July as well as reduction of their monthly allowances. According to some reports, many legislators, in mixed feelings of disappointment and apprehension over this delay, had even shunned their constituencies, deciding to remain in Abuja until things normalised. But amidst this clamour, the law makers were also frantically awaiting the delivery of 360 exotic cars valued at N17 million each. Many had complained that they fuelled and used their vehicles at their expense.

Whilst the legislators may be deserving of empathy from Nigerians over this plight, their present condition is just a reflection of the general state of affairs in the country. If for nothing, this temporary upset should open their eyes to the pitiable conditions under which Nigerians have been living. They should be happy that they even have the means to transport themselves to work, and also have the resources to fuel their vehicles. It is also instructive that these complaints, hitherto typical of workers in ministries, departments and agencies of government, are coming from the nation’s legislators.

The question to ask at this juncture is: what happened to monetisation policy of 2003, signed by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, and which entitled legislators to monetise their fringe benefits? Isn’t the monetisation policy applicable to the cars about to be purchased? If that is the case, are the law makers not contravening the laws they themselves made, and by so doing stealing from the people?

Granted that these law makers are entitled to the largesse apportioned to them, it needs being asked whether, at this critical time of economic fortune, the purchase of a car worth N17 million as official vehicle per legislator makes any sense. How does it stand in the context of a spiraling downturn in the economy? Workers are being owed salaries, the investment environment is inclement, incentives for production are virtually absent, everywhere, pensioners are denied their entitlements, even as workers are embarking on strike actions in many sectors of the economy. Yet people who should speak empathy and understanding to the confused masses marooned in the economic periphery are the ones complaining about delay in their scandalous perquisites. The symbolism portrayed by this gesture is one of brutal insensitivity.

It is sad to note that with so much emphasis on acquisition of cars, payments of severance allowances, and the frenetic demand for immunity from criminal prosecution, the legislature seems to have become an assembly where matters of manifest selfishness often overshadow healthy discussion relevant to statecraft.

What is more is the fact that the legislature is a continuous circulation and inbreeding of mediocre politicians who have turned their elective positions into a fiefdom of sorts. Despite an array of experts at their service as aides, many, willfully or ignorantly, lack the requisite knowledge for governance; others are just bench-warmers with neither the comportment for public service nor the capacity for meaningful contribution at debate sessions.

All this, no doubt, reflects the character of the Nigerian legislator. In the one and half decades since this democratic dispensation, Nigeria’s legislators have not matured to the level of sagacity and finer ideals required of them. Not even the presence of some refined personalities in the hallowed chamber has been able to positively affect the legislators. The rabid craving for wealth and power of these public officers, their rapacious display of insensitivity, their relish for official rascality and impunity and their susceptibility to employing unconstitutional devices to their advantage, have portrayed the Nigerian legislator as a compulsive sinecurist and mere holder of state power.

This newspaper had admonished with so much emphasis that the good heads in the National Assembly should rise above the pestilential influence of the bad eggs, and impress their moral conviction and sense of responsibility on the Houses. In earlier editorials it had also informed readers that the complexities of this country are no more than those of the United States from where it borrowed its system of government. Yet, the United States Congress has about 22 committees compared to the glut in Nigeria, where the Senate has 58 committees and the House of Representatives has over 300! Besides, in countries far more economically buoyant than Nigeria, such as the United Kingdom, Germany, and even some African countries, the fleet of vehicles is organised into an official pool, so that no one claims ownership of a vehicle or uses it outside official duties.

This arrangement ensures accountability, transparency and proper management of state resources. With the indiscriminate proliferation of committees and vehicle entitlement, every legislator is either a chairman or deputy of a committee. Thus, the cost of managing the committees is obscenely high, and rebounds in a management cost that the country cannot afford.

It is for this reason that the occupational status of Nigeria’s legislators should be part-time. Had they considered that theirs is a part-time legislature, they would be less likely to depend on the state for their livelihood. They would also be less likely to over-rate their stature as human beings. Anyone who aspires to become a public servant should realise that service for the common good is not a business enterprise, but one of sacrifice. It is not a promotion to power, or a compensation for party loyalty. It is rather a burden of responsibility that requires clear thinking to see goals beyond self, and commitment to pursuing the realisation of the common good.

Certainly, it is assumed that legislators, by their aspirations, are persons with some level of intellectual excellence. Thus, even if there is no law against the scandalous expenditure and deployment of resources in their favour, it is only commonsensical that they exercise restraint in their spending. There is no better way of expressing solidarity with the hapless masses and displaying the spirit of service, other than this gesture of enlightened common sense.

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