President Muhammadu Buhari might be heading for a head-on collision with the National Assembly, if he does anything to interfere with the plans by the legislative arm of government to purchase exotic cars for its members. The Senate is in the process of awarding contracts for the purchase of various brands of exotic vehicles for use by its 109 members.
The vehicles, which would cost an estimated N4.7 billion, is expected to be distributed among the 109 Senators as utility vehicles to enhance their oversight operations.
Buhari had, during his maiden media chat on Wednesday, kicked against the arrangement by the National Assembly to purchase the assorted cars for its members. The president argued that earlier in the life of his administration, he had cause to turn down a N400 million car purchase proposal for the Presidency and expected the legislators to do likewise.
“…I think I have to hold a closed-door meeting with the National Assembly regarding the cars they are trying to buy. I hope they haven’t bought them yet. They can’t buy cars for themselves and also take money in car loans. “I can’t see the National Assembly paying N4.7 billion to buy cars after collecting transport allowance. I will revisit that story. We have to live within our means,” he said.
But some federal legislators have described the president’s opposition to the car purchase and plan to halt it as an unwarranted interference in the affairs of the parliament. Deputy Senate Minority Whip, (PDP, Ekiti), Senator Biodun Olujimi, posited that the constitution provided for separation of powers, which obviously removed the power from the president to control the affairs of the parliament. In her response to a text message, she simply stated, “he does not have the powers. There is separation of powers”.
Also reacting, Senator Sonni Ogbuoji, representing Ebonyi South on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), also echoed the position of Olujimi. He said: “Affairs of parliament are determined by them, so says the constitution of the Federal Re-public of Nigeria. We will buy vehicles if our budget accommodates their procurement.”
However, efforts to get the official position of the Senate on the matter proved abortive as the spokesman of the Chamber, Senator Aliyu Sabi (APC), neither picked his calls nor responded to a text message by our correspondent.
Many other senators also refused to respond to the inquest into their views on the issue of vehicle purchase, as they did not reply to the sms sent to their mobile phones just as they did not pick calls put across to them. In the House of Representatives, lawmakers equally did not take the matter lying low.
They said that President Buhari may not have been properly briefed about the issue of purchase of vehicles by the parliament. The lawmakers declared that going by the provisions of the 1999 Constitution, the president had no powers to stop lawmakers from buying vehicles.
The House also said it has autonomy to spend money within the confines of the constitution without recourse to the president. In an interview with New Telegraph yesterday, Chairman of the House Committee on Legislative Budget, Hon. Timothy Golu, said the president had no powers to stop members from buying vehicles should they decide to do so.
“The president was not properly briefed by his handlers on the issue of cars. In the first place, the legislature is an independent arm of government, but most importantly, there is no way we can spend as much as N4.5 billion to buy vehicles.
The Senate can decide on what it wants to do and the House also has the right to decide on what it intends to do. “This is democracy and the president cannot decide for the House. We have the right to spend money within the confines of the law. So, the president can’t stop the House from buying utility cars.
The loans he is talking about are repayable. But just like the president and ministers have utility cars, lawmakers also need utility cars for the legislative functions,” Golu told New Telegraph. Similarly, Minority Leader of the House, Hon. Leo Ogor, said that someone must have misled the president into believing that there was a plan to purchase vehicles worth that amount. According to him, although vehicles are usually bought for committees’ oversight, there was nothing like car loan, but that what they collect is car allowance, which is paid over the period of four years. Ogor said even the president is entitled to such allowance.
He said: “Even if there is any proposal to buy cars for committees’ oversight functions, it cannot be more than N4 billion.” The Minority Leader said, “Except if the proposal is coming from the executive, we’re not aware of any such amount to purchase vehicles.” Attempts to get the spokesman of the House, Hon. Abdulrazaq Namdas, to react to the issue were futile as he neither answered calls made to his mobile phone nor replied text messages sent to the same device. New Telegraph learnt that the management of the National Assembly had already invited bids from contractors interested in supplying the vehicles.
The bureaucracy of the parliament had recently placed advertisements in selected newspapers soliciting bids from vendors willing to undertake the car purchase contract. Although the advertisements did not state specifically what brand of cars are to be bought, it was learnt that a total of 120 vehicles might be bought.
Some documents associated with the contract showed that the Senate would be requesting the vendors to supply 120 units of Toyota Land Cruiser, 2016 model. The vehicles would be “American Brand, V8, VXR, 5.7, Auto Engine with intelligence, integrated navigator cruise control, QI-Compatible wireless charging and Kinetic dynamic suspension system, as well as being “full option”.
Since 2007, the Senate and House have made it a policy to purchase vehicles for their members under the guise of purchasing these same vehicles for the committees of the parliament to enhance movement during oversight functions.
Meanwhile, the Senate has described as untrue the claim by President Buhari that it planned to purchase cars that would be worth N50 billion. In a statement issued yesterday by its spokesperson, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, the Senate said while it was contemplating purchasing cars, it did not intend to spend anything close to the various figures of N4.5 billion, N6 billion or N50 billion as being bandied around. 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. “…Once the debate on the 2016 budget begins, Nigerians will have the opportunity of knowing how much we voted for purchase of cars and how we intend spending the vote.”