Civic groups, 6,721 Nigerians sue Senate over plan to spend N5.5bn on cars

Nigerian senate chambers where senators attend plenary
Nigerian senate chambers

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), BudgIT, Enough is Enough (EiE) and 6,721 concerned Nigerians have filed a lawsuit asking the Federal High Court to “restrain, prevent and stop the National Assembly Service Commission from paying or releasing the sum of N5.550 billion budgeted for purchase of luxury cars for principal members of the ninth Senate, and to restrain and stop the Senate from collecting the money until the downward review of the amount proposed by the Senate.”

In suit number FHC/L/CS/1511/2019 filed last Friday at the Federal High Court, Ikoyi Lagos, the plaintiffs argued: “Spending a huge sum of N5.550 billion to buy luxury cars for principal members of the ninth Senate is unjust and unfair. It negates the constitutional oath of office made by members to perform their functions in the interest of the well-being and prosperity of Nigeria and its citizens, as contained in the Seventh Schedule of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended).”

The plaintiffs also argued: “The proposed spending by the ninth Senate raises pertinent questions: What is the economic value and contribution of the vehicles sought to be purchased to the grand scheme of Nigeria’s economy? What are the parameters used to arrive at cost efficiency and value for money in the decision to purchase the vehicles? Where are the vehicles purchased by the eighth Senate?”

The 6,721 concerned Nigerians who joined the suit as co-plaintiffs with SERAP, BudgIT and EiE include: Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) co-conveners, Oby Ezekwesili and Aisha Yesufu; Jibrin Ibrahim; Edetaen Ojo; Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, and Deji Adeyanju.

The plaintiffs argued: “The failure or refusal by the Senate to comply with legal and constitutional provisions is nothing but an act of arbitrariness. The money could be better allocated to more important sectors of the National Assembly expenditure – like constituency projects and National Assembly-endowed educational scholarships.”

The suit, filed by Kolawole Oluwadare and supported by an affidavit of urgency, read in part: “A public officer shall not put himself in a position where his personal interest conflicts with his official duties. But the plan to spend N5.550 billion to buy vehicles for principal members of the Senate is a textbook case of a conflict of their personal interests with national interest of fiscal efficiency – a conflict eventually resolved in favour of personal and self-interest.”

“Members of the National Assembly as public officials form a very tiny percentage of about 200 million Nigerians. It is public knowledge and judicially noticed that members of the Senate are still eligible to collect huge sums of money as monthly allowances and severance pay on conclusion of their respective terms at the National Assembly.”

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“It is thus rational that this matter is presently generating a lot of public concern and many Nigerians are now calling for a review of the sum proposed and budgeted for vehicles for members. In the face of glaring facts about Nigeria’s dire economic position vis-a-vis the scant allocations to critical sectors of the nation, we can only pray the Court to do substantive justice by granting our reliefs sought.”

“There is real urgent need to assign, hear and determine this matter expeditiously. The well-being and prosperity of Nigeria requires commitment and sacrifice by all and sundry. However, the plan to spend N5.550 Billion [amounting to 6.4% of Nasarawa State budget] is anything but a commitment to pursue the interest, well-being and prosperity of Nigeria and its citizens.”

“We urge the court to grant the plaintiffs’ reliefs by stopping the spending of N5.550 billion on luxury cars by the Senate and compelling the Senate to undertake a downward review of the sum proposed and budgeted, consistent with the provisions of section 57[4] of the Public Procurement Act 2007. Unless the reliefs sought are granted, the Senate will continue to benefit from the breach of the law, and at the expense of millions of Nigerians living in poverty.”

The plaintiffs want the court to determine: “Whether the plan to spend N5.550 billion to buy vehicles for principal members of the ninth Senate is not in breach of Section 57[4] of the Public Procurement Act 2007, Paragraph 1 of Code of Conduct for Public Officers [Fifth Schedule Part 1] of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 [as amended] and Oath of office [Seventh Schedule] of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999”

The plaintiffs, therefore, are seeking the following reliefs from the court:

1. A DECLARATION that the sum of N5.550 billion proposed and budgeted for purchase of vehicles for principal members of Senate [National Assembly] is in breach of Section 57[4] of the Public Procurement Act 2007, Paragraph 1, Code of Conduct for Public Officers [Fifth Schedule Part 1] of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 and Oath of Office [Seventh Schedule] of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999

2. AN ORDER compelling the ninth Senate to undertake a downward review of the amount proposed and budgeted for purchase of vehicles for principal members of the 1st Defendant in compliance with Section 57[4] of the Public Procurement Act 2007

3. AN ORDER restraining, preventing and stopping the National Assembly Service Commission from paying out or releasing the sum of N5.550 billion proposed, earmarked and budgeted for purchase of vehicles for principal members of Senate [National Assembly] until the downward review of the amount proposed by the ninth Senate

4. AN ORDER restraining, preventing and stopping all members of the Senate from collecting or demanding the sum of N5.550 billion proposed and budgeted for purchase of vehicles for principal members of Senate until the downward review of the amount proposed for purchase of the vehicles

5. ANY ORDER(S) that the Honourable Court may deem fit to make in the circumstance of this suit.

No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.

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