Buying N6.1bn cars for reps in national interest – Reps Committee chair

The Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Abdulrazak Namdas, justifies the purchase of 50 Peugeot 508 cars (which cost N17m per vehicle) for lawmakers, in this interview with JOHN AMEH

The House of Representatives has ordered 360 units of Peugeot 508 cars. Why is that necessary?

People should get this thing right; the order for the cars was not recent. The issue of 360 cars has been there in the last nine months. We actually took delivery of 50 of the cars about nine months ago. The additional 200 cars that were supplied lately came in batches. It has been an ongoing process. The vehicles are meant for the utility services of members; for example, committee work. It is known everywhere that parliamentarians undertake what is called oversight functions. An oversight function requires moving from one place to another and, therefore, we need these utility vehicles. Members of the National Assembly and, in this case, the House of Representatives, belong to many committees. Their attention is needed once in a while to visit one project site or another. They cannot go on such a visit on foot. They will need to use vehicles. This practice is not exclusive to the National Assembly. Members of the state Houses of Assembly also embark on such visits and they also require utility vehicles.

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Do you think it is justifiable to spend N6.1bn on cars in an economy that is in a recession?

Yes. It is because the National Assembly is the only legislative institution in Nigeria that houses 360 members in one space and 109 senators in another. If you go to (each of) the state legislatures, the highest number of members you will see will be about 40 or slightly above that figure. And this has to be either in Lagos or Kano. But in the National Assembly, the number is quite high. That is why when you aggregate the cost, it looks higher. There are 774 local governments in the country. If you are to aggregate the number of vehicles the chairmen purchase, it will be twice the number at the National Assembly. But Nigerians hardly look at this issue that way. Their concern is always about the National Assembly, which is frequently in the limelight, closer to the elite and the seat of power. Buying utility cars is a practice all over the world and our own case could not have been done in bad faith.

But most of the members already have cars. Why must the lawmakers buy new ones?

There is the need for us to educate our people very well. Every House is different from the last one. That is why we have first, second, third, and now the eighth Assembly. The next House, the ninth House, will be an entirely new one. The National Assembly is dissolved every four years and re-inaugurated. So, you cannot say because somebody was here last year, he should not use another car. What is important is that every House is a new House and all the members have to use utility vehicles.

Why do you have to buy a Peugeot 508 car for N17m when there are cheaper vehicles?

You can go and make your findings. Peugeot is one of the cheapest cars we can get in Nigeria. Outside this country, you will realise that what we have paid here is cheaper. Besides, our real aim was to patronise a car made in Nigeria, so that it would have some impact on the economy. It means that the manufacturer will employ more workers and produce more cars. Concerning the economic recession that you talked about, it means that the money will circulate within the country.

Is this not a self-centred argument?

This is what I have been explaining; that we started processing (the purchase of) these cars many months ago. We entered into this agreement with the manufacturer since the inception of the Eighth House. In fact, it is because of the recession that we opted for Peugeot 508 cars, rather than going for Prado SUVs (sport utility vehicles) and other higher vehicles. Even state legislators have Prado SUVs as their utility vehicles. We, in the House of Representatives, chose Peugeot 508 cars because of national interest. It is very important to emphasise this point.

You said the cars are for committee duties but is it not true that members don’t use them for that purpose?

I want to let you know that members use the vehicles for official functions. Any information to the contrary is incorrect. However, we are human beings. If I go to Kano for an oversight function, and in the process I have to assist someone in need, what is wrong with that? The important question to ask is: ‘Did I conduct the oversight function, using the utility vehicle?’ Yes; and that is the most important issue. Again, don’t forget that in the past two years, members who have no (official) cars have been using their personal cars for oversight functions. I think we should also be commended for doing this.

There are lawmakers who keep these cars as their personal property and still rely on Ministries, Departments and Agencies to convey them to project sites. Is that right?

That is not true. How many MDAs have vehicles that will carry members of the National Assembly? How many vehicles do they have that are in good shape to the extent that they can convey us to project sites? To be fair to us, we are using our vehicles — and in some cases, National Assembly vehicles — to do our oversight functions. What is happening is a case of giving a dog a bad name and hanging him.

Where does the monetisation policy fit into this matter or has it been jettisoned by the National Assembly?

This is where the issue of education comes in again. These vehicles are not official vehicles. They are called utility vehicles. Under the monetisation policy, you are still allowed to use utility vehicles. In the ministries today, you still have utility vehicles. The utility vehicles are different from the official cars of the chief executives of those ministries or agencies. Utility vehicles are used to service activities or assignments that may arise, but they are not the property of the individuals. The cars are still the property of the National Assembly.

Why do lawmakers take away the vehicles at the end of their tenure, if they are the property of the National Assembly?

No. That is another wrong notion. At the end of every House, the vehicles are valued. This happens every four years. This is a standard practice everywhere in Nigeria: after the valuation, if you are interested (in keeping the vehicle), you are given the cost and you pay. They issue you a receipt and you take the vehicle. It is not free. If you don’t want the vehicle, you leave it for the National Assembly. Let me tell you that it is only in the National Assembly that vehicles are purchased every four years. In all other agencies of government, they buy vehicles every year. I think we should be commended.

Does that mean a lawmaker who has been in the National Assembly since 1999 will continue to get a new utility car?

Let me repeat, every House is independent of the previous House. If I am a member of the Eighth Assembly, I stand to participate in the activities of the Eighth House. This is not the Seventh Assembly. If I lose the election, will I come back in the ninth Assembly? If I win and I return, the ninth Assembly will be a new House, different from the current one. Does it mean that if a governor is serving two terms, he should not get any benefits for his second term because he already benefited in his first term?

But, is it fair that a N17m-car bought in 2017 will be valued in 2019 and sold to a member at N700,000?

I wouldn’t know what happened in the past. This valuation is usually done by the bureaucracy of the National Assembly. It is not the lawmaker that does it. You need experts to value these cars. Now, what they are looking at is not based on the number of years but the wear and tear that a car has suffered. Depending on what work a car is doing, it can experience wear and tear quickly in two years. Another car that is parked or not used frequently may take a longer time to experience such.

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