The Demon of Car Acquisition As Nigeria’s Achilles Heel

March 21, 2017by Tope Fasua0

One day I posted on my Facebook wall a commitment that we had in the budding political party that I lead, that if we are elected into central government in Nigeria, we shall not be buying any new car in the first two years at least. A number of people agreed and hailed the initiative, but some also came and pooh-poohed the idea. It was their reasons that were funny;

Ayodele – Hissed. Said the party will not win even local government elections;
Oluwaseun – Said I should not promise what we won’t fulfill;
Temitope – Said government business is dependent on car purchases in more ways than meets the eye. A very knowledgeable person, he explained how there is a four years span for armoured cars, and why they must be replaced afterwards;
Sunny – Wrote, “Na so Baba talk about presidential jet”;
Tuke – Wrote, “when you get there the music will change”;
Ayotunde – Said there was no functional pubic transport system and so the idea cannot work;
Nurudeen – wrote that it sounds familiar.

Yearly Budget for Luxury Cars

In the year 2017 Federal budget, there is a provision of N20 billion for new cars, apart from what will be used to service new and old ones. In every state, that is always a major cost item. In June 2016, Kogi State Government, despite owing salaries, committed a princely sum of $12 million towards the purchase of 109 official cars for its newly minted executives. Among the cars were 55 Toyota Prado SUVs, 14 Toyota Landcruiser SUVs and 16 Toyota Camry sedan cars. Naturally, the resources of the state headed out of the country, since no one manufactures Toyota here.

But Kogi is not alone. Other states hush up their own purchases where they can. As my friend stated above, cars are the currencies for political offices. Maybe that means that people ask for what cars they will be given before accepting political appointments. Or the executives dangle these cars in front of them to make them accept these positions. What many of my friends meant was that if we actually get into government we will not be able to resist the push of our members who will want those cars. For some of us, thankfully, we are not driven by cars. Cars will only be a major factor for those who lack class and have never been in, or owned good cars before. That is why in our party, we emphasised from Day One, that we encourage our people to have a day job, to have other careers that are verifiable. We insist that we are not a party of greed and ostentation, but one of service and sacrifice; a party where the best global practices in good governance will be brought to bear and take root in Nigeria, where excellence in governance will be the watchword. We are running a political party that understands the value of resources and will not go to town wasting Nigeria’s hard-won commonwealth, as it has been the case.

Nigerians and Stockholm Syndrome

It’s a bit hard for me to understand the mindset of Nigerians, in that as bad as things are, instead of protesting for there to be drastic changes, they are willing to accept more of the nonsense. Nigerians seem to be saying ‘you may not pay us our salaries, but you are big men and deserve your luxury cars!’ That means that the psyches of our people have been damaged beyond repair; Stockholm Syndrome at its worst. Yet we must make a change. For this car purchase thing is about to kill this country.

If the Federal Government is spending N20 billion on new cars, each state will spend an average of N5 billion on a yearly basis. With 37 states, that is N185 billion. Most of the money heads out of the country immediately for reasons stated above. That is about N205 billion, or more than $550 million, heading to Japan, Germany, USA, UK and the rest. What do we get from those countries as aid? What, if anything, do we sell to them for a profit and how much are we making? Now, this is a yearly affair. Meaning that since the return of civilian government, we could have spent anything between $10 billion to $20 billion buying luxury cars from abroad. Our car companies – even if all they do is assemble – lay comatose in the meantime. How much is our foreign reserves? Are we insane?

A report done by Mallam Adamu Fika in 2013 stated that 35 percent of Nigeria’s Federal Budget is spent on 18,000 big men and women, with a large chunk going on fat allowances and conveniences like cars. Maybe there is nothing wrong in buying cars, but in a place like India, they ensure that their own local cars are what their public service procures. Are we normal at all?

What are the options open to our party in order to fulfill this promise. That’s right, you guess right:

  1. Retrieve cars used by predecessors and ‘manage’ them;
    2. Buy cars locally from companies like PAN and Innoson, and ‘manage’ them. Then encourage new local companies to spring up with government being number one customer.

Why should this be a problem? What usually happens is that those in government in Nigeria go on a looting binge once a tenure is over. People simply sit on government property. Some send such property to their village where no one can access them. Should we not be more judicious in the use of these resources? Should we watch while people steal the country blind? Can’t we go after our asset wherever they may be?

And waste is Nigeria’s second name. It is not as if we don’t have money. A recent motion in the House of Representatives, as moved by Honourable Jimi Benson, seeks to find out what has been happening to seized asset in Nigeria; especially asset seized by agencies like the EFCC. Look, we value nothing in this country. It is beyond insanity. Hear the HoR:

“Several of these assets have been there for several years while some are already at various stages of decay, and convinced of the need to avoid this needless waste of recovered properties which would otherwise have yielded some much needed revenues to the national treasury… This issue is not about the EFCC alone. They can claim to have destroyed seized assets just to cover up other things. Like the Nigerian Customs Service seizing bags of rice and destroying them. Why are they destroying the rice when we have internally displaced persons in camps all over the place?,”

The House of Reps also noted in that debate, that most, if not all, government agencies in Nigeria have no asset register. Therefore nobody knows where anything is. It’s a free for all.

All across Nigeria are thousands of cars, many of them luxury brands, seized from criminals or from violators by agencies like the EFCC, ICPC, FRSC, Police, Customs, which are wasting away and rotting out. Even seized food is not put to proper use in a country where the majority go to bed hungry. It is the same thinking that informed Senator Ben Bruce’s recent call that in a recession, Nigeria should not be budgeting for new glistening government buildings, since the nation has recovered hundreds, perhaps thousands, of buildings from the criminals who stole our money. Many estates exist in Abuja that agencies like EFCC can convert to good use if they must expand, instead of budgeting N6 billion to build a new edifice. The subject of resource allocation and optimisation, valie-for-money and sustainability is a major discussion we must have in this country while we still have a country. Time is running out. No one runs a country the way we do this one. I can say without equivocation that Nigeria is the most mismanaged country in the world, with the volume of waste we are sitting on, which if properly deployed would have changed the lives of most Nigerians.

Recently, it came out in the news that 47 cars were recovered from Dr Boladei Igali, former ‘Perm Sec’ of the Power ministry, and 17 cars seized from Alhaji Dikko, former Customs Comptroller General, while 45 exotic cars were recovered from Gabriel Suswam, former governor of run-down Benue State. Is anyone keeping tabs? Why will government budget for new cars? I guess we can see clearly how those fortunate to manage this country’s resources have made the country unfortunate? What judgment should be meted to them?

A further cursory research on the internet yielded the following events, since Buhari government came on the saddle:

  • July 1, 2015 – 64 cars recovered from Governor Yuguda of Bauchi State;
    • February 15, 2016 – Nigerian Senate justifies N4.7 billion cars bought for its members;
    • July 9, 2016 – Ebonyi State governor purchases N1.27b SUVs for lawmakers. He cannot pay salaries. One Assembly member, a lady, advertised that she needed to sell hers;
    • July 18, 2016 – Former Inspector General of Police, Solomon Arase accused of making away with 24 cars. His Deputies were accused of taking between eight and nine cars each;
    • November 17, 2016 – 95 cars recovered by ICPC from ex-officials of government;
    • February 1, 2017 – Bayelsa State purchases luxury cars worth N3 billion for lawmakers cars. They owe salaries;
    • February 1 2017 – ICPC 40 cars recovered from Water Resources staff. Consists of 14 Toyota Prados, 14 Toyota Hilux vans, eight Toyota Camry salon cars and 4 other salon cars;
    • March 2, 2017 – NDDC accused by Presidential Panel on corruption of buying 18 super luxury cars for N1.27 billion from the allocation for provision of water, health and education for the traumatised people of Niger Delta;
    • March 18, 2017 – It was revealed by Sahara Reporters that the real grouse which the Senate President has with the Comptroller General of Customs is that his latest Range Rover car worth N298 million was seized by the recalcitrant customs chief for failing to pay the normal import duty of N74 million. That is one single car. But it must be bulletproof.

Solomon Arase’s case is particularly curious. I had read about the man and people said he was well-educated and stuff. I also knew one of the DIGs (Argungu), whom I could vouch for based on the integrity with which he is known among the rank and file, and in my interactions with him. But Arase spoilt it for me. In replying the new IG, Arase mentioned a certain Order 295 he signed, which precludes anyone from investigating any former IG! In other words, he sought to create for himself and his successors, a perpetual injunction like Peter Odili obtained from his wife. Worse, he said that the guys that left before him also stole cars, but that he rewarded one of them despite knowing this, by buying another bulletproof SUV for the man, with money he had to ‘source’. Arase at once revealed how far gone Nigeria was, and how hopeless our situation may already be. The man possesses two Masters degrees for crying out loud! We cannot say he is not enlightened. What does he need that many cars for? What is this business of bulletproof cars in this country? If Nigeria is not worth serving, fighting and dying for, why bother to be at the forefront? I know that times are crazy, but these same people made it so. We cannot keep living like we are Syria or Afghanistan. On what day will we live like normal people? Even Syria and co are not this crazy; not even in wartime.

After my Facebook post, a friend who works in one of the MDAs visited me and told of how they purchased about eight glistening Toyota Prados in his office last year at the cost of N25 million each but how there seems to be no plans on what to do with them as they lay fallow in their car park, covered by dust. He also told me of over 500 laptops which they also acquired last year with no plans. I recall another friend telling me of his shock when he joined one of Nigeria’s MDAs only to discover they had dozens of new cars which they had never used. When they tried to mobilise some of them, they discovered that the engine had gummed up and the cars were useless, except if millions could be spent to change their engines. All over Nigeria lie all these wastes. Asset are bought, seized or otherwise acquired and carelessly left in some dumpsite – according to the House of Reps – in a country that produces nothing. Sometimes one feels like asking God to consume the wasters of this country with a raging fire. Or should I not be angry?

How does one process the cars bought by Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), according to Professor Sagay; cars worth N78 million each for their executives, when they are supposed to be concerned with ending poverty and squalor in the Niger Delta? When the tenures of these directors are over they just walk away with the cars and acquire more in their next port of call. Who does that? In what country are resources cavalierly squandered like that? And on what basis are we complaining of poverty in the Niger Delta, or all over Nigeria, after allowing these plunderers to waste resources like that?

I couldn’t help weeping as I typed this article. Hot tears of pity and despair. Hear what Sagay said about the NDDC spending;

“This money was taken from funds for infrastructure, water, housing, hospitals, school, etc., without conscience; recklessly without a thought for the wretched people of the Niger Delta. These huge sums where plundered from their allocations, from the Federal Government. And yet, the Managing Director was ironically reported in the Nation newspaper of 6th February, 2017… that the NDDC lacks funds to execute projects and was in debt to the tune of 1.2 trillion naira. Hear this lament.”

The new MD of NDDC, Nsima Ekere, a Buhari appointee (meanwhile Victor Ndoma-Egba is the Chairman), has this to say about what he met on ground

“The Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Mr. Nsima Ekere, has lamented the N1.2 trillion debt burden facing the new management of the commission… To the MD, the over $40 billion received by the region in the past 10 years was frittered away…. He said the NDDC must now find a way around the huge debt owed by the past board while carrying out to free funds for urgent development projects and programmes.”

Those who ‘frittered’ away $40 billion are not ghosts, yet no one is in jail. No one is even being prosecuted from NDDC. And Ekere and the new crew can as well fritter theirs away. In spite of the huge debt, the best use they can put their funds to is to make themselves more comfortable. Nigeria is a fallen elephant. There is no need belabouring economic principles over Nigeria. We know what the problem is and we are determined not to solve them.

Let us take a brief look at the mess that is called year 2017 budget, through the eyes of Feyi Fawehinmi, in an article he titled, “When They Go Low, They Go High”:

“How about Toyota Hilux? Civil servants love this vehicle and seem to buy plenty of them every year. In this year’s budget, Hilux is mentioned 36 times. The Nigerian Police Academy in Wudil, Kano plans to buy 6 of them at a total cost of N36m. If you think this means a Toyota Hilux costs N6m each, then you’ll be surprised to find out that the Science and Development Institute in Enugu is going to buy 1 Hilux for N9m. Don’t be confused yet because the Federal Ministry of Works, Power and Housing is going to buy 20 Hilux vehicles at N12.5m each while the French Language Village in Badagry will buy the same Hilux for N9.9m. Vous me comprenez? Nevertheless, let us commend the good people of FGGC in Akure who will buy their own Hilux for N5.4m… The story is not different for Toyota Prados – the beloved vehicle of ‘Ogas’ in Nigeria when government is the one paying. The Federal Fire Service says it will buy one for N12.8m while the Nigerian Christian Pilgrim Commission will buy one Prado for its Executive Secretary at a cost of N20m only. The National Productivity Centre will also buy one Prado but for N25m. This is not a productive use of public money to say the least. To reduce (or increase) the confusion, the ministry of works will buy 10 Prado jeeps at N21m each while the National Institute of Sports will buy just one for N18m. If you think FGGC in Bida spending N11.3m on a 250Kva Mikano generator is strange, what will you say about the NYSC spending N69m on a 100Kva Mikano generator? Well, it’s ‘soundproof’.

Ojobo Atuluku of ActionAid wrote in PREMIUM TIMES on February 14, 2017, in an article titled “Need to Reform Our Budgeting System”, that:

“We are pained to observe, and we submit, that despite the efforts of organisations like ours over the past 10 or more years on budget advocacy in Nigeria, little seems to have changed in the manner in which budgets are proposed in Nigeria…. It seems that each year, the country is faced with the same narrative of frivolous, unclear and bloated proposals. We also believe that not much is being done on budget monitoring, ensuring the release of funds to back up budget proposals and the review of previous years’ performances before a new year’s budget is considered and passed…. It is worrisome that the cost for identical items and specifications change from agency to agency, thereby raising questions as to the fidelity of the budget figures. If proper costing and price intelligence are achieved, the Budget Office would have the responsibility of cleaning up and harmonising the figures from the budget estimates from the various MDAs when compiling the budget to be presented for consideration.”

Of course no one has paid these guys any mind.

Meanwhile in the UK, the country that colonised us and gave us all these apparatuses of governance, they took their last prime minister through the shredder for a single additional Jaguar car which they said cost taxpayers 200,000 Pounds. We go to that country regularly to treat our illnesses, to beg for loans and aids and what nots. We have written our own testimonial and it is bad.

Let’s take it a step further by considering another article in PREMIUM TIMES written by Rufus Kayode Oteniya, titled “UK’s Part-time Presidential Jet vs Nigeria ‘Airwaste’ Fleet”. Hear him:

“After convincing the Parliament that a presidential jet would save the government around £775,000 a year for at least the next 20 years in charter costs from commercial carriers, David Cameron, the immediate past prime minister (PM) was granted an approval to refit a RAF Voyager A330 air-to-air refuelling aircraft at a cost of about £10 million to serve as a ‘part-time’ presidential jet for only long-haul trips for the exclusive use of the PM, senior ministers and senior members of the Royal Family. The plane’s primary use would remain as an aerial tanker with the military for refuelling and carrying out RAF duties and it would only be used by the government when necessary and available.”

He wrote on, in reference to Nigeria:

“In 2012, the Akwa Ibom State government led by Godswill Akpabio, who is now a serving senator bought a Gulfstream G450 Aircraft with a listed price of $37,691,800. And similarly, former Governor Danbaba Suntai of a poorer Taraba State bought a Bell 407 Helicopter in that year and would also in October of the same year crash in another aircraft that belonged to his state, a single-engined Cessna 208 Caravan. A year later in 2013, former governor of Rivers State, Rotimi Amaechi, now minister of Transport also bought one Bombardier Global Vision 5,000 with a listed price of $40 million and two Bell 412 Axis Helicopters, each of which costs around $6.7 million.”

As things stand, Nigeria is an orphan. Everybody could save it, but nobody will. People go into government to grab their own loot. When Buhari appointed his ministers, within two weeks they started complaining of not having houses to stay in. One of them complained that he was living in his own house. Is it my house he should have been living in? What is wrong in living in a house you built to your own taste. Anyway, they have since been settled – whether with cash or with new houses, and they whimper no more. Yet, it is this refusal of anybody to help Nigeria that is responsible for the growing level of nonchalance by the citizens. The poor are not only resisting any reform, they are actively ensuring that Nigeria remains in the dark ages through their deliberately unruly and even destructive conducts borne out of innate anger which they are unable to explain to themselves. The rich don’t also want to contribute a farthing, but they are only interested in milking the system some more. Residents of the beautiful Ewet Housing Estate in Uyo made this clear two weeks ago. The vehemence with which they resisted a motion for the payment of property taxes spoke for itself. With no elite consensus, and no administrative capability on the part of government, Nigeria is on its way to a sure death. Buhari was expected to be the saviour but two years of ineptitude has worsened the situation. Osinbajo proved a better leader but he has to wait for another day.

Meanwhile, we have told the world that we really don’t need this country. We don’t know what to do with ourselves in peace time. We have shown that we haven’t quite totally evolved into rational human beings, and as was said about some of our ancestors, we are still fascinated by shiny little things for which we are ready to sell our people down the river as slaves. We have failed to learn lessons from people like Nwafor Orizu, whose exotic American cars have decayed in his garage. We have forgotten that these things come and go. We don’t produce them, so we would never truly understand or appreciate them beyond showing off with them. We have shown that we are carried away by the things of the immediate. We have no sense of moderation, or deferred gratification.

To close I will call attention to two eminent gentlemen and their advices for countries like ours. Professor Paul Collier was recently in Nigeria for Pat Utomi’s symposium. His most remarkable advise, to me, was when he complained about the number of cars on Lagos streets. He tried to tell us about sustainability, but as a British, I know that what must have been coursing through his mind is the sheer mindlessness of our government, as exemplified in the choices they’ve made. He must have seen so many cars that he was sure were unnecessary waste of funds. Governor Ambode seemed to have been touched by this advice as he vowed to rid Lagos of Danfos. But one Nigerian stole Collier’s bag, laptop and international passport for his troubles. Then I recently listened to the president of the ‘infamous’ World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, in a video from an online course titled “Financing for Development” that I am undertaking under their auspices.

He advised as follows:

“We must make the best possible use of every dollar from every source.”

I say he is ‘infamous’ because we accuse them of giving us wrong advices. But the advice above may have been deliberately ignored by our leaders, who deliberately make the WORST possible use of every dollar the country gets.

May God help us… But maybe we should first try and help ourselves.

NB: In spite of these car acquisitions, most of Nigeria’s public sector institutions are non-functional. Most cannot boast of pipe borne water. Most are in perpetual darkness because this misplacement of priorities mean they are unable to pay their energy bills. Most owe contractors, up to their cleaners. Most are unable to afford diesel to power generating sets. It’s as bad as can be.

by Tope Fasua

Tope Kolade Fasua is a Nigerian ex-banker, entrepreneur, economist and writer with 28 years of work, business and policy analysis experience. He is the founder and CEO of Global Analytics Consulting Limited, an international consulting firm with its headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria, and footprints in the United Kingdom, USA and United Arab Emirates. Fasua has authored numerous columns on newspapers and six books. He currently keeps regular columns on policy analysis issues with Premium Times and Daily Trust newspapers.

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