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That obscene car sharing by legislators

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If there ever was any doubt about the insensitivity of Nigeria’s legislators to the plight of the people they purport to represent, the obscene spectacle of members of the House of Representatives sharing new cars at a time citizens are agonising over the devastating coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic put paid to all expectations of a modicum of decency in them.

Indeed, they are selfish and insensitive to the plight of the people is now an understatement. For one, the cost of cars is obscene at over N5 billion. The delivery time is indecent and of course, the whole idea of purchasing cars for largely indolent public servants is not only unpatriotic, but it is also a complete negation of the essence of public service.

The COVID-19 pandemic has virtually crippled the Nigerian people and businesses. The global economy has been wrecked. The price of oil, Nigeria’s sole export commodity and the backbone of the economy have plummeted below $25 and the Federal Government is seeking to borrow billions of dollars to fund the budget to salvage the economy. 

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Yet, none of these grim situations bothered the lawmakers who went ahead to treat themselves sumptuously with tax-payers’ money and made a disgraceful show of sharing exotic cars just to burnish their ego amid a global pandemic that has locked millions at home without food. Nigerians are scandalised by this senseless act.

According to reports, the lawmakers started taking delivery of the Toyota Camry 2020 model cars acquired for members as official cars, otherwise called utility vehicles. The cars, which ordinarily belong to the National Assembly, are usually auctioned to the lawmakers after four years at give-away prices. This perfidy can only happen in Nigeria.

The legislators had at an executive (closed-door) session on February 5, 2020, resolved to purchase 400 units of the exotic cars. Indications are that the House procured the V6 Limited Edition variant of the car.

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Checks on the website of Toyota revealed that each of the vehicles – depending on the variant has a price tag of between US$25,000 and US$35,000, excluding the cost of shipping and customs duties, which is about 100 per cent of the actual cost of each unit.

For instance, those with higher specifications, which most often than not are the preferred choices of the lawmakers must have cost taxpayers more than a tidy sum. Vehicles in that range are: XLE at $29,455, XLE V6 at $34,580, XSE at $30,005 and XSE V6 at $35,130.

Accordingly, the 400 saloon cars would be allocated to each of the 360 members and some top management workers, Chiefs of Staff to the (two) presiding officers as well as some of their special advisers and assistants.

Furthermore, 14 Toyota Land Cruiser Prado sports utility vehicles reportedly have already been handed out to the presiding as well as other principal officers and chairmen of select House committees.  

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It is absolutely against the spirit of leadership for the lawmakers to occupy themselves with such mundane and insensitive issue as car sharing at a time the nation and indeed the entire world are facing a crisis of immense proportions. 

The lawmakers ought to have enough intelligence to show empathy to their electors, the people, who are suffering. This is a time to mobilise help for victims of COVID-19 and the suffering masses of Nigeria. 

There is no country anywhere in the world whose leaders, at this time, are occupied with anything besides how to contain the raging and deadly pandemic.

For one thing, the pandemic has taught humanity that all the material acquisition that people struggle or die for is vanity. Every material thing like exotic bulletproof cars, private jets, and five-star hotels can save nobody.

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What should have happened was to cancel the car purchase contract, assuming the contract had been awarded. Nigeria is targeting some N500 billion as an emergency fund to tackle the pandemic. But the nation’s lawmakers preferred to advertise themselves as plunderers and looters.

It needs to be pointed out that the legislators have done enough damage to their reputation through such disgraceful conduct. And this damage to their reputation with the car purchase is one too many.

While it is heart-warming that the same lawmakers have agreed to donate their two-month salary to combat the pandemic and the senators have also agreed to donate half of theirs, the fact that no one knows how much they really earn, especially in allowances, obviates any sense of satisfaction with their supposed sacrifice. 

Therefore, lawmakers should take the necessary steps to redeem their image. At best, the cars should be returned or sold and the money added to the funds being raised to combat the COVID-19 even in their states of origin. 

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There should be a sacrifice from all at this material time. This is time to test the quality of leadership in Nigeria and the understanding of it by all like the opportunity to serve. There would be no second chance for those who betray the public trust. This is a time for leaders to demonstrate that they know the full meaning of leadership.

By the way, it is pertinent to ask how the lawmakers are working at such a critical time of emergency. The presidency is somehow working. Doctors are working and putting their lives at risk. What are the legislators doing at home even if social distancing makes it impossible for them to convene? The coronavirus pandemic is not a trivial matter. The extent to which it affects any nation depends on how the leadership handles it.

So far, it is disappointing that Nigerian lawmakers allowed vanities like their official cars to occupy their minds at a time of national crisis. In these times, what the nation needs from them are redemptive words and actions that minister comfort and hope to the people.

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