By Bukar Bolori
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and 192 concerned Nigerians have filed a lawsuit asking the Federal High Court in Abuja to stop the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Femi Gbajabiamila, and all members of the House from spending an estimated N5.04 billion to buy 400 exotic Toyota Camry 2020 cars for principal officers and members.
SERAP is also seeking a court order to “restrain and stop the National Assembly Service Commission from releasing any public funds to the House of Representatives to buy the vehicles, estimated to cost $35,130 each, until an impact assessment of the spending on access to public services and goods like education, security, health and clean water, is carried out.”
In the suit filed on Friday, SERAP and the concerned Nigerians argued that: Nigerians have a right to honest and faithful performance by their public officials including lawmakers, as public officials owe a fiduciary duty to the general citizenry.
They also argued that: “It is illegal and unconstitutional for members of the House of Representatives to choose to buy expensive and exotic cars while encouraging Nigerians to tighten their belts and to patronize Nigerian brands”.
The plaintiffs further noted that it is illegal for House members to reject cheaper and equally reliable options, especially when many Nigerians still live in “chronic poverty” and “many state governments are unable to pay salaries of workers and pensions”.
“If the members of House of Representatives take their duties to the most vulnerable and disadvantaged among us seriously, including their duties to judiciously spend public funds, they would not have voted to spend over $35,000 per car, especially given the current economic and financial realities of Nigeria,” the statement added.
The plaintiffs are, therefore, asking the court to determine “Whether the proposed plan and resolution by the House of Representatives to buy 400 exotic cars for principal officers and members amounting to over five billion Naira in total, is not in breach of Section 57 of the Public Procurement Act 2007, the oath of office, and Paragraph 1 of Code of Conduct for Public Officers [Fifth Schedule Part 1] of the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 [as amended].”
The suit, filed on behalf of SERAP and the concerned Nigerians by their lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare and Opeyemi Owolabi, read in part: “Members of the House of Representatives are either unaware of the constitutional and statutory provisions on their fiduciary duties and judicious use of public funds or deliberately glossing over these provisions.”
“It is also apparent that, besides elevating their personal interests over and above the public interests, members of the House of Representatives have shown insensitivity to the plight of Nigerians, thereby violating section 14 (2)(b) of the Nigerian Constitution of 1999, to the effect that the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government and its institutions.”
“It is public knowledge that members of the House of Representatives receive huge sums of money as monthly allowances and severance pay on conclusion of their respective terms at the National Assembly. It is rational that many Nigerians are calling for a review downward of the sum proposed to buy cars for members.”
“There is no better time for any government/public institution to take issues of security and welfare/wellbeing of Nigerians seriously due to rampant kidnapping, banditry and terrorism in many parts of the country than now.
“This case raises issues of public interests, national interest, public concern, social justice, good governance, transparency and accountability.
“The House of Representatives during an executive session held on 5th February, 2020 reportedly passed a resolution that 400 Toyota Camry 2020 cars be purchased as official vehicles for 360 members and other persons, including top management staff, Chief of Staff to the two presiding officers, as well as some of their special advisers and assistants.
“About Three Billion was voted to buy cars for members of the House of Representatives in 2016. The sum of N128 billion was budgeted and allocated to the National Assembly in the approved 2019 national budget.”
The plaintiffs are seeking the following reliefs:
1. A declaration that the plan and resolution to buy 400 Toyota Camry 2020 cars for members of the House of Representatives at the estimated cost of $35,130:00 per car is in breach of Section 57 of the Public Procurement Act 2007, Paragraph 1, Code of Conduct for Public Officers [Fifth Schedule Part 1] of the Constitution of Nigeria 1999 and Oath of Office [Seventh Schedule] of the Constitution
2. A declaration that the sum of $35,130 per car proposed and voted to buy 400 Toyota Camry 2020 cars for members of the House of Representatives is a breach of the Defendants’ solemn constitutional obligations to know and follow constitutional oaths and other co