According to The Punch, there have been indications that the National Assembly and the President, Pres. Muhammadu Buhari are not on the same terms over the 469 cars which the federal lawmakers plan to buy.
Members of both chambers of the National Assembly, who spoke to our correspondents on Thursday, faulted Buhari’s opposition to the plan of the legislature to purchase cars for 109 senators and 360 members of the House of Representatives.
The National Assembly members had, in August, collected between N7m and N8m as car loans.
But the lawmakers said the 469 cars that they planned to buy would be used for oversight functions by members of the National Assembly.
The President had, in his maiden Presidential Media Chat on Wednesday, expressed reservation over the N47.5bn reportedly proposed for National Assembly members’ cars.
He had said he would hold a closed-door meeting with the National Assembly members because of the plan.
Urging Nigerians to take the issue to court, Buhari said if he could reject N400m bill for his personal cars as a President, the lawmakers should do the same thing.
He had said, “N47.5bn for vehicles for the National Assembly members? I think I will explore the possibility of that power. If I can turn down N400m for vehicles in the Presidency, I think we don’t need new cars; we can manage the old ones because of the economy.”
He noted that the lawmakers had collected N100bn as allowances for the purchase of cars.
It was not clear whether the President meant N4.7bn when he made reference to N47bn on Wednesday night.
But some senators, who spoke with one of our correspondents on condition of anonymity in Abuja on Thursday, faulted Buhari’s argument and defended the plan to purchase cars for National Assembly members.
They said the loans they collected were already being deducted from their monthly salaries.
Senate President Bukola Saraki, on his own, denied that the senators had planned to buy cars in the region quoted by the President.
Saraki said he would not allow the upper legislative chamber spend N4.7bn, N47bn or N50bn on official cars under his leadership.
He added that all the details of the 2016 budget would be made available for public debate and scrutiny.
The Senate President stated this via a tweet on his Twitter handle @bukolasaraki on Thursday.
He tweeted, “Not in my time will @NGRSenate spend N50bn or N47bn or N4.7bn on cars for Senators. Not in my time will Senate spend N47bn on cars. (The) details of (the) #2016Budget will be made available and open for public debate and scrutiny.’’
A principal officer in the Senate and member of the ruling All Progressives Congress, who spoke with one of our correspondents, wondered why Buhari would think that spending one per cent of the nation’s N4tn recurrent expenditure to buy utility vehicles for a whole arm of government was too much.
The ranking Senator said, “I am sure the President is not expecting that we will use our personal vehicles, bought with loans, to carry out oversight functions within and outside Abuja or does he want us to rely on ministries, departments and agencies, under our supervision, to provide logistics whenever we want to carry out our official duties?
“It is a normal practice that members of the National Assembly go away with their official vehicles after four years, having paid the current value to government coffers. So where are we going to get our own official vehicles?
“We are looking forward to the meeting proposed by Mr. President and we will let him realise the need for us to have the project vehicles if we are really expected to carry out necessary oversight functions in line with the anti-corruption crusade of the current administration.”
An opposition Peoples Democratic Party senator from the South–East insisted that the project vehicles were legitimate rights of members of the National Assembly.
He argued that if ministers, permanent secretaries, directors and heads of Federal Government’s agencies were allocated official vehicles for project inspection, there was nothing wrong for the senators and Reps to have their own project vehicles.
The Senator vowed that members of the National Assembly would resist any attempt by the executive arm of government to deny them an opportunity to make use of official vehicles for their committee activities.
Also, the House of Representatives on Thursday expressed disbelief over the President’s comment to the effect that the National Assembly proposed to buy cars worth N47bn or “almost N50bn” this year.
It said it appeared that Buhari was “misinformed” about the car issue as N47bn or any figure in that region was about 40 per cent of the total annual budget of the entire National Assembly and its bureaucracy.
The National Assembly has a budget proposal of N115bn in 2016, down from N120bn in 2015 and N150bn from 2010 to 2014.
Investigations by The PUNCH showed that it was the Senate that had finalised its plans to buy cars worth about N4.7bn, while the House put its own on hold till after the passage of the 2016 budget.
Reacting on behalf of the House on Thursday, House Minority Leader, Mr. Leo Ogor, stated that the National Assembly did not contemplate buying cars with over 40 per cent of its annual budget.
He claimed that whatever cars that would be bought were for committee oversight duties and not as personal cars of the lawmakers.
However, Ogor said it was possible that it was the President who was planning to buy cars worth N47bn for the legislators.
He added, “Even if there is any proposal to buy cars for committees’ oversight functions, it cannot be more than N4bn.
“If you say we are buying vehicles of over N40bn, that is about 40 per cent of our annual budget, which you know cannot be so. I think that was wrong.
“Except if the proposal is coming from the executive; we are not aware of any such amount to purchase vehicles.”
Investigations by The PUNCH on Thursday indicated that while the Senate had already decided on Toyota Land Cruisers for its 109 members and might spend about N4.7bn on the vehicles, members of the House have yet to decide on the choice of luxury cars to buy.
It was learnt that there was a division among the 360 lawmakers on whether to buy Peugeot 508 salon cars or the 2015 model of Toyota Camry.
However, findings revealed that depending on the choice of the legislators, the House might spend between N3.4bn and N4.2bn on cars this year.
A National Assembly source said, “There is no dispute about the fact that new cars will be bought for the oversight duties of committees.
“But, there is no agreement as yet on the brand to buy. That has not been decided. So, the projection is that the vehicles will be bought in 2016.”
The Leader of the House and member of the ruling APC, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, confirmed that he was aware that “utility vehicles” would be bought for committee duties.
“I am not aware of cars for members, but I am aware of utility cars for the committees,” he stated.
It was learnt that the 360 units of new cars were aside the additional units to be procured for the services of the Speaker, Mr. Yakubu Dogara; the Deputy Speaker, Mr. Yusuf Lasun; Gbajabiamila, Ogor and other principal officers of the House.
The Presidency, however, said Buhari would not stop the National Assembly from buying committee cars.
In an interview with one of our correspondents on Thursday, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, said what Buhari said was that he would invite the leaders of the National Assembly to a closed-door session on the matter.
He added, “The President did not out rightly say he will stop this expenditure.
“What he said was that he would call them (National Assembly leaders) to a closed-door meeting; meaning he is interested in persuading them to drop it instead of confrontation.
“When a panellist asked him if there was more he would do in case that failed, he jokingly replied that ‘we will report them to you,’ meaning the public opinion as represented by the media.”
Controversy has surrounded the purchase of committee cars by successive sets of legislators in the National Assembly in spite of the Federal Government’s monetisation policy.
The committee or utility cars are usually taken possession of by members besides the fact that each of them is entitled to a car loan.
However, while the car loans are repaid through deductions from the pay package of the lawmakers, the controversial committee cars are held by them for four years on the assumption that they would be handed over to the next set of legislators.
Investigations showed that over the years, the practice had been for departing lawmakers to hold on to the cars, while the management of the National Assembly evaluated the vehicles and deducted an agreed amount from their severance package.
The 6th House (2007-2011) under the leadership of Speaker Dimeji Bankole, bought Peugeot 407 for members as committee cars. All the cars were taken away by the departing legislators.
During the 7th House (2011-June, 2015) when Mr. Aminu Tambuwal was the Speaker, the choice car was Toyota Camry.
At the close of the tenure on June 5, 2015, all the cars were taken away after the bureaucracy of the National Assembly valued them and asked the outgoing members to part with a fraction of the original value of the vehicles from their severance package.