Change and Inconvenient Truths

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Lekan Fatodu
The renewed conversation about car purchased by the National Assembly in this austere economy compelled me to go into the archive.

Below is an abridged version of an article first published on this page on January 8, 2016. I find it relevant to this discourse.

When during his maiden presidential media chat, President Muhammadu Buhari expressed his displeasure over a proposed budgetary spending on cars by the National Assembly, I knew that the entire fabric of change that ushered in the All Progressives Congress’ (APC) government headed by Buhari would be put to another round of interrogation.

Before now the quality of democracy that exists within the party has been questioned following intra-party scuffles for leadership positions amongst members of the same ruling APC at the resumption of the 8th National Assembly.

I also knew that, following some critical extracts from the media chat, the President himself, who is the presiding officer at the temple of change, would also be brought to question, not only from outsiders who are keeping a close watch on the activities of the new government, but also from the ranks of the devotees of the doctrine of change, particularly some of the politicians who have benefited from the change campaign, and are presently occupying various political offices in the country.

In what seems like an image-obliterating salvo to the National Assembly that is still struggling to burnish its public perception, President Buhari told Nigerians about his unchanging austere posture and offered an unambiguous homily to the legislative arm of government on the necessity to follow suit.

Apart from speaking on the perceived reluctance by the National Assembly to comply with the new Treasury Single Account (TSA) through which the federal payments can be transparently managed, the president took a strong position on the desire of the federal legislators to spend a part of the limited national resources on cars that will cost billions of naira.  “If I can turn down N400 million for the presidency that I do not need any new car because of the economy, I can’t see the National Assembly spending more than that N47 billion to buy cars, on top of transport allowance they collect.

“I have to revisit that story. The budget for their transport allowance comes up to a N100 billion. With the kind of money that goes into the National Assembly, we have to look at it conscientiously and see how we can live within our means,” he said.

With this, it was obvious that the Presidency has once again put itself against the legislature with whom it has continued to manage what has been seen as less than a rosy relationship; or better put a secretly frosty one.
Expectedly, the legislature has swiftly risen up to defend itself on the allegation cast by Mr. President.

In a statement by the spokesperson of the Senate, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, he said “Since the claim in an online medium that we are planning to purchase vehicles, we have not taken any further action on the issue. We are surprised that a proposed purchase became a subject of controversy and several figures that are far from our projections have been bandied around.

“This is a responsible and responsive National Assembly. We really need project for vehicles to facilitate our work. We will however follow due process when we choose to take decisions on the purchase,” he added.

Similarly, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Land Transport and the senator representing Lagos East senatorial district, Senator Gbenga Ashafa said the reported new vehicles are not personal vehicles to legislators, and maintained that they are meant for oversight functions.
Meanwhile his colleague from Osun State and the Senate Chief Whip, Senator Olusola Adeyeye has given a more direct and blunt response to the whole issue of budgetary allocations at a time when the nation is seeking to borrow to fund parts of its national budget.

Putting a challenge to both the presidency and the legislature, the academic-turned-politician said, “If I was president of Nigeria today, honestly to the extent possible I will end official cars for everybody – from President to the level 8 officer.
“We once had a republic where our Head of State rode a Peugeot 504 and gave us what he called ‘Operation Low Profile’. We must go back to that.

“A situation whereby we go through the streets of Abuja and everybody is riding SUVs, everybody is focusing on the senators because 109 of them are the ones who were elected. Ask yourself, ‘what type of cars are the ministers riding? What type of cars are the judges riding? What type of cars are the DGs of parastatals riding?’ Senator Adeyeye said.

It is common knowledge that most of the functionaries and occupiers of the offices stated by Adeyeye are supposed to be working directly from the template of change because of their appointments by the Presidency that is why these bitter truths are somewhat difficult to swallow. But it must be told regardless.

It should also be brought to Mr. President’s awareness that it is equally wasteful spending to allocate N326 million to Aso Rock Wildlife Conservation, as against the N24. 6 million budgeted last year while endangered animals in public animal parks are made into delicacies.

Similarly, N3.65 billion for the maintenance of the 10 aircraft in the Presidential fleet may be as frivolous as the billions the National Assembly is asking for to enable its roadwork.  I suppose Nigerians are delighted that these truths are coming out, and more excited that they are coming from within. Because for this change to really be impactful, it must come from within and it must be seen to be top-down, not otherwise.