THE N5.5 billion budget for the purchase of new cars for senators of the ninth assembly will get the Nigerian Police Force at least 36 Robinson R-44 Raven II helicopters, at $500,000 each, meaning that each state can get one. Even if Nigeria goes for the more expensive Bell 206 Jet Ranger at $900,000 each, it would still be able to get 20 helicopters with state of the art equipment to deploy for aerial surveillance and tackle some of intractable security problems.
But, in a country ravaged by insurgency, banditry, kidnapping and other forms of crimes, the lawmakers are more interested in buying luxury cars.
The ninth senate under the leadership of Senator Ahmed Lawan plans to spend N5.5 billion to purchase new Toyota Land Cruiser Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs) for committee chairmen, their deputies and other principal officers of the red chamber at the cost of N50 million each (this is inclusive of the returning members).
The Bukola Saraki-led eighth senate spent about N4.7 billion to purchase the same brand of vehicles at the cost of N36 million. About N1.3 billion was expended on procuring vehicles for senators in 2012. At the time, 109 cars were bought for the lawmakers, each costing N11.07 million.
In the past three senates, the upper chamber of the National Assembly has spent N11.5 billion on purchase of cars. Specifically, in 2011, the senate earmarked N1.2 billion, 2015; NN4.7 billion and now it has earmarked N5.5 billion.
There are senators who have repeatedly enjoyed this largesse. Example of such is the current Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, who was first elected a senator in 2007 under the sixth national assembly. Other senators who have enjoyed from this largesse include Senators Enyinnaya Abaribe, Ali Ndume, Ajayi Boroffice, Dino Melaye, Oluremi Tinubu just to mention few of the returned senators who have enjoyed from the ‘free gift’.
This recent development has attracted severe public criticism from the Nigerian public, including Civil Society Organisations, CSOs, who are asking for the justification for the purchase of new vehicles at a time when the nation’s economy is floundering.
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), BudgIT, Enough is Enough (EiE) and 6,721 concerned Nigerians have filed a lawsuit against the release of N5.550 billion for purchase of luxury cars for principal members of the ninth Senate.
SERAP and others, in the suit, are asking the Federal High Court to restrain and stop the National Assembly Service Commission from releasing the money until the downward review of the amount proposed by the senate.
Car luxury amidst high level of insecurity
Many commentators have spoken on the matter against the backdrop of the increasing wave of insecurity in the country which has overwhelmed apparently overwhelmed the security forces. According to Armed Conflict Location & Event Data (ACLED), an organisation that collects, disaggregate, and analyse data based on types of violence, its location, the actors involved and fatalities, the number of death arising from crisis-related matter between January and July 2019 stands at 3,950.
Recently, the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, ordered the deployment of Police aerial surveillance helicopters to major cities in the South-West and North-West of the country.
This he did in response to the murder in Taraba State of David Tanko, a Catholic priest, and the increasing incidence of kidnapping in many parts of the country.
How N5.5 billion can buy 20 police helicopters
The N5.5 billion that the senate plans to expend on cars can boost the police’s response capacity, particularly in combating the scourge of kidnapping, if the money is diverted to buying surveillance helicopters for the security forces, this website learnt.
Aircraft Compare, an e-commerce website that specialises in the sale of aircraft, including, airplanes and helicopters has a price of list of different aircraft.
If Nigeria is to go for the helicopter with the lowest price of Bell helicopters, a Bell 206 Jet Ranger will cost Nigeria about $900,000 (N274.5 million) at the official N305 to a $1.
At this cost, this would mean that the N5.5 billion luxury car budget of the Nigerian senate would get the Police Force 20 of these elite helicopters. This can be deployed across the states of the federation for richer surveillance as against the aerial surveillance of two regions the IGP ordered for.
If Nigeria is to get Bell 429, which is of the same quality with that of the Metropolitan Police, London and the New York Police Department (NYPD), USA, it will cost the country about $7.5 million to $8 million (N2.28 billion to N2.44 billion) to get one. At that cost, Nigeria will get two Bell 429 helicopters.
However, the spokesperson of the senate, Adedayo Adeyeye described the lawsuit by the civil society groups as an effort in futility on Channels Television
The senator said he was not aware of any plan to purchase vehicles for the lawmakers with such a huge amount.
He said, “It (planned legal battle) is an exercise in futility; a complete exercise in futility. Even I as a Senator have not heard anything about that.
“So why will people be relying on rumour and newspaper reports? I wouldn’t know and in any case, if the senate is going to spend that (amount); if it is budgeted for, then it means it is purely legal.”
The lawmaker noted that every new administration budgets for vehicles for public officeholders. Adeyeye also said it is a norm for the three tiers of government, while lamenting the public outcry against the senate.
“So why will the National Assembly be different? Why are they focusing on the National Assembly and not looking at the executive, judicial arms of government?
“All of these people are entitled to official cars and do use official cars. Directors of agencies, even minor officials in agencies use official cars. So why will the National Assembly be different?
“Why should it be a problem that the National Assembly is entitled to cars, to use official cars?”
He wondered why the purchase of cars for senators was viewed from a negative perspective, adding that he could not imagine himself in a vehicle used by a former member.
He said, “Some of the vehicles they bought four years ago were no longer serviceable while others have probably been sold to their users.
“The mischief makers should desist from attempting to destroy the National Assembly because doing so would amount to destroying the nation’s democratic process,” Adeyeye said.