By Emmanuel Aziken
The global coronavirus pandemic has seemingly struck the chord of charity among Nigeria’s ruling class.
The members of the House of Representatives said this week that they would donate two months’ salary to the COVID-19 relief efforts.
As with everything money concerning the National Assembly, the donation is dogged in secrecy and questions.
Is it the basic salary of N165,434.40 as prescribed by the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission, RMAFC? Or is it the gross salary of N794,068.83 per month? Or is the controversial constituency package estimated at N12 million per month?
Remarkably, the handsome donation of the legislators has found no traction with the larger society, including your correspondent.
Instead of applause, the legislators have been faced with opprobrium. Indeed, some Nigerians created a hashtag ‘Toyota Camry 2020’ on twitter to chide the federal legislators.
The repudiation followed news reports that just as Nigerians were lamenting the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, that the members of the House of Representatives were quietly collecting brand new 2020 Toyota Camry Cars as utility vehicles at the expense of the public.
The Toyota Camry Cars with ‘full options’ as is normally desired by the legislators, according to a newspaper report, could cost as much as $35,000. That is about N13.5 million.
The legislators went ahead with the purchase of the cars despite the avalanche of protests, including a lawsuit by SERAP, the activist group.
The purchase of the cars was despite their collection of a handsome car loan from the Federal Government as prescribed in the monetization policy of the Federal Government. Under the monetization policy of the Federal Government, the legislators are not supposed to have official vehicles.
However, our legislators, over time, have purchased the vehicles in the name of committee vehicles, which they at the end of the term sell to themselves at ridiculous amounts.
While breaking the law, the lawmakers added insult to injury by ordering a foreign brand despite the growing campaign by many Nigerians to patronize the local vehicle companies.
By failing to patronize the local car-making companies, they have not only failed to show example, but they have also helped to wreck the Nigerian economy by not providing support for local industries.
The twitter hashtag ‘Toyota Camry 2020’ that emerged on Thursday was also fueled by the revelation that the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Finance and a senior presidential aide openly begged the South African born and the United States-based billionaire, Elon Musk for ventilators on twitter.
Nigerians were aghast that the government could descend so low.
Twitter commentators were peeved that the ventilators were quoted as costing about N10 million each, less than the provision for the cars.
Several of the twitter users were quick to chide the legislators for overlooking the need for ventilators and prioritizing their welfare and cars above all our needs.
They could afford to do that because in the pre-coronavirus era, once any one of them felt sick, they immediately bought a ticket and travelled abroad for treatment.
But in the coronavirus era with the legislators and indeed everyone of us denied access to board the next available plane, it is no surprise that the legislators are now in a panic.
The dangerous lack of functional health utilities that many ordinary Nigerians face on account of our government’s lack of diligence is now facing everyone high and low.
It is worthy of note that because of the importance of ventilators in the treatment of COVID-19, that President Donald Trump relying on the War Powers Act, WPA signed an order for General Motors Corporation to produce the machines.
President Trump could do that because General Motors had developed capacity through domestic patronage, especially from the United States Government.
Had the Nigerian government invested the same amount of patronage on the local car industry, it could as well have turned towards our motor manufacturers to do the same at a time like this.
Of course, the hypocrisy is not limited to the legislative branch of government. The executive branch is also involved given the pronouncement that the ministers were donating half of their salaries, and the president and the vice-president were also giving substantial chunks of their wages.
These donations mean nothing to the common man given that a multiple of whatever they donate is spent on them through opaque freebies.
Indeed, anyone donating half of his salary at this time must have made a substantial amount of money in some previous business.
But as we know, the main business of many of our leaders is politics as the gross majority of them have no alternative business address.
The legislators, as the keepers of the purse, have a key role in developing our economy.
If they had given an example, they could as well have compelled the executive branch to follow suit by inserting clauses in the budget to compel the executive to only purchase locally made vehicles.
It is on this premise that your correspondent joins the majority of Nigerians to ask the members of the House of Representatives to keep their salaries. It means nothing. They can do better by returning those cars or selling them off and giving the money to the COVID-19 effort!