THE Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a lawsuit asking the Federal High Court, Abuja to “restrain and stop” Femi Gbajabiamila, Speaker of the House of Representatives and members of the House from spending over N5 billion to buy 400 exotic cars.
SERAP in a release on Sunday disclosed that the suit was filed alongside 192 concerned Nigerians as co-plantiffs.
“Reps shouldn’t be buying expensive cars while asking us to tighten our belts,”it said in the statement.
In suit number, FHC/ABJ/CS/205/2020 filed on Friday, SERAP asked that the court “restrain and stop the National Assembly Service Commission from releasing funds to the House members to buy 400 Toyota Camry 2020 model cars estimated to cost $35,130 per car.
SERAP and the concerned Nigerians argued that Nigerians have a right to honest and faithful performance by their public officials including lawmakers, even as they (public officials) owe a fiduciary duty to the general citizenry.
“All those who hold the strings of political power and power over spending of Nigeria’s commonwealth have a duty to answer for their conduct when call upon to do so by Nigerians,” the group said.
The House of Representatives on February 5, during an executive session, passed a resolution that 400 Toyota Camry 2020 cars should be purchased as official vehicles for 360 members.
Other beneficiaries of the proposed cars included top management staff, Chief of Staff to the two presiding officers, as well as some of their special advisers and assistants.
Reacting, SERAP said it was illegal and unconstitutional for members of the House, to choose to buy expensive and exotic cars, thus rejecting cheaper and “equally reliable options”, while they encourage Nigerians to tighten their belts and to patronize Nigerian brands.
It argued that if lawmakers put into considerations the state of the disadvantaged in the country and the need for judicious spending of public funds “they would not have voted to spend over $35,000 per car” given the current economic and financial realities of Nigeria.
Citing the “chronic” state of “poverty in Nigeria”, and the inability of government to pay salaries of workers and pensions, SERAP said such funds could only be released, pending an impact assessment of the spending on access to public services and goods like education, security, health and clean water was carried out.
In the lawsuits, SERAP asked that the court determines, whether the proposed plan by the House was not in breach of Section 57 of the Public Procurement Act 2007, the oath of office, and Paragraph 1 of Code of Conduct for Public Officers (Fifth Schedule Part 1) of the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 (as amended).
It also sought to determine if the House was “either unaware of the constitutional and statutory provisions on their fiduciary duties and judicious use of public funds or deliberately glossing over these provisions”.
The suit, however, stated that such proposal by the House does not only show the need to elevate their “personal interests over and above the public interests” but showed insensitivity to the plight of Nigerians thereby violating section 14 (2)(b) of the Nigerian Constitution of 1999.
The group noted that it was the right of Nigerians to demand a review downward of the said sum of money proposed to purchase cars having knowledge of huge monthly allowances and severance paid to them.
“There is no better time for any government/public institution to take issues of security and welfare/wellbeing of Nigerians seriously due to rampant kidnapping, banditry and terrorism in many parts of the country than now.
“This case raises issues of public interests, national interest, public concern, social justice, good governance, transparency and accountability,” SERAP said.