EMMANUEL UCHENNA UGWU
Nigeria is a car caste country. The car denominates people’s station in life. A beaten ‘tokunbo’ car says you are poor; a new ‘tear rubber’ car says you are rich!
Senate President Bukola Saraki showed his species last week. He differentiated himself from ordinary Nigerians who face the threat of starvation as Nigeria’s economic crisis escalates: He took delivery of exotic cars worth 300 million naira!
Those who read poverty of empathy into that renewal of his caravan took umbrage. But they would have preserved their outrage if they had been availed his life history. Bukola has always loved to live, move, and have his being inside the carapace of a car.
Before he was inaugurated governor of Kwara State, he claimed in the assets declaration form he filed with the Code of Conduct Bureau, a document whose inherent contradictions form the basis of his present trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, to own a collection of 15: a Ferrari, 10 Mercedes Benzes, and four bulletproof cars.
In the last days of his final term as governor of Kwara State in 2011, Saraki got his surrogates in the state House of Assembly to ‘’pad’’ a modest 2003 pension law that stipulated former governors and deputy governors must subsist on life pension only. By way of a rubberstamped review, he made approve that, in addition to ‘’a well-furnished 5-bedroom duplex’’ and sundry outrageous perks, Kwata would provide him three cars, replaceable every three years…plus 30 percent of the governor’s annual salary for car maintenance.
Moshood Mustapha, his ‘Special Adviser on Special Duties’, chimed in to correct the focus of Nigerians blindsided by the tiny matter of his principal’s cars. We shouldn’t be discussing the propriety of this particular purchase ‘’when we have serious national issues like the security challenges, youths’ unemployment, dwindling opportunities for economic growth, abject poverty in the land and collapse of national values’’?
Why we should latch on to the issue of vehicles ‘’to bring down a man of that caliber down, without looking at his pedigree?’’ Saraki has a silver spoon birth: ‘’as a student, the Senate President drove the best cars, in Nigeria, in the United Kingdom or any in part of the world.’’
To capsulize the message: Don’t reproach Saraki for maintaining the habit of riding the best cars in Nigeria. Don’t ask him to downgrade because of national famine. He wasn’t raised to use cars that are less than ‘’ the best’’!
Nigerian politicians are sold to car fetishism. Saraki’s father, Olusola, a medical doctor who pivoted to a career in political godfatherism, had obviously spoiled Bukola, the boy that would follow his father’s path from medicine to politics, with cars.
Even Bukola’s new car arrival was preceded by his hibernation in another car.
When he feared that the security agencies would arrest him and exclude him from participating in the inauguration of the eighth senate and the election of the Senate President, he set forth at the first cock crow, smuggled himself through the gates of the National Assembly, and hid himself in an abandoned car …for four hours!
He sneaked out from that safe refuge to become Senate President.
Saraki and his fellow senators propose to buy 120 Toyota Land Cruisers 2016 model for themselves.
President Muhammadu Buhari expressed his reservations about the planned purchase. He said it would be immoral for the senators to gift themselves free cars in this season of austerity. He mentioned that he was quick to turn down a recent request to buy new cars worth 400 million because the ones in his convoy could serve for one more decade.
President Olusegun Obasanjo addressed a letter of rebuke to the Senate and House of Representatives, chiding them for their poverty of empathy. The senators ignored the validity of the message and attacked the mouthpiece.
Dino Melaye, the senator from Kogi West, an overnight car collector whose gross legitimate earnings can hardly account for the holding of his garage, lambasted Obasanjo for suggesting prudence to the members of the Red Chamber. He said Obasanjo’s record of corruption disqualified the former president from commenting on the budgeting of the National Assembly.
Dino loves his number plates customized. He has them branded DINO 1, DINO 2…to the nth! He would not let a 79 year old killjoy argue that he has more need for contentment than an extra car!
Senate Leader Ali Ndume came on Channels TV breakfast show on Friday morning to assert that it was below the dignity of a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to board a bus for an oversight trip. Senators cannot be ‘’packed in a bus.’’ A bus is tantamount to an abuse. Only shiny cars befit senatorial status.
Ndume theorizes that a senator is as good as the car he rides. Sports Utility Vehicles make effectual senators. Buses make incompetent senators!
We, the outsiders, may never come around to great grasping the indispensability of the cars to parliamentary business. The cars should be as important as opinion boxes. Those pieces of wood Saraki scattered around the National Assembly to serve as receptacles of vox pop –in this age of email boxes!
Generally, Nigerian politicians prioritize cars –in season and out of season.
When the federal government released bailout funds to states so they could pay civil servants,Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi creamed off 552 million naira of Enugu’s share and splurged it on 48 SUVs. The most urgent business was to give his politician friends new cars. Cars first, other things second!
The state chapter of the Nigerian Labor Congress protested, citing the cases of pensioners that have not been paid for ten to twenty years. Ugwuanyi muted answer was that the politicians ought to take precedence. The politicians matter more than pensioners. The politicians hold the key to Enugu’s problems so they must be pampered –first!
There is a pattern to the politicians’ madness: It is when common sense dictates that a car purchase would be the most foolish course of action to take that they see an opportune time to buy ‘official cars.’ The urge to go prodigal drives them most when the circumstances require them to practice frugality!
Everybody knows that it takes a little mishap for the most sophisticated car to be crushed beyond repair. It takes the passage of a few months for a new model to relegate the predecessor to the junkyard. But the continue their inordinate wastage on cars.
They sometimes initiate gratuitous car procurement to create opportunity for rip-off. Stella Oduah’s inflation of the price of two BMW bulletproof cars comes to mind. The case is still in court. But the rich irony is that she is now a ‘senator’, one of those who would gain one more car from this year’s budget!
This car thing is an addiction. An addiction unlike the servile habituation of use that brings the short-lived reward of sensation of corporeal pleasure. Their car addiction is the kind that obligates them to compete in a perpetual, interminable race to update –to be the first to buy the latest, trendiest models out of Japan and Germany!
The prefer big cars, cars that emits the aura of fortune; cars from which they emerge as awesome masquerades.
Big cars separate them from commoners. They are more equal than those who are liable to be transfixed by the spectacle of their four-wheel ride!
It would be hard to calculate the amount of taxpayer money that lavished on unnecessary car purchase every year. The total of the budgetary provisions for cars across the tiers of government plus the stealthy private procurements the politicians and their civil servant accomplices undertake with proceeds of corruption would represent an infinite wastage on perishable, mobile metal huts!
If the politicians pause to ponder, they would realize that their expensive cars are sooner undone by bad roads. Bad roads they won’t fix. Bad roads they think is easier to navigate with wonder cars.
Enlightened self interest should lead them to build roads so their cars and ours can last. But they watch the roads deteriorate to death traps. They want a sound excuse to input new set of cars in the next budget. The Senate President’s car broke down somewhere, sometime. He NEEDS new cars!
Nigerian politicians are wont to parrot the cliché ‘we must move the nation forward’. But their singular how-to idea of effecting national progress is… acquiring fast, expensive and exotic cars, disposing them in the quickest possible time, and amassing newer, more expensive replacements –all on the taxpayer’s dime!
They are possessed of the notion that the task of advancing this rooted, immobile country, a nation represented by a mountainous ‘Aso Rock’, is contingent on the ease of their own private automobile movement. Nigeria lurches ahead at the speed of their cars. As their cars go, so goes Nigeria.
But their cars are mostly a menace. They blast your eardrums with their sirens. They violate traffic rules and speed limits. They knock other road users out of the road.
They want to be remembered for one thing when they are gone: The number of cars they collected!
Emmanuel Uchenna Ugwu
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