Gbajabiamila and the G-wagon saga By Carl Umegboro


Nigeria’s landscape recently chronicled yet another episode involving a member of the House of Representatives from All Progressives Congress (APC) representing Surulere-1 Federal Constituency in Lagos, Femi Gbajabiamila.
The society was consequently charged with diverse interpretations, commendations, and condemnations. The crux was a purchase of a brand new Mercedes Benz G-Wagon for his wife as a 50th birthday gift which was adduced to long-time savings on account of supports, encouragements, and love he has enjoyed from his spouse.
To a number of people, the lawmaker splendidly deserved commendations for openly expressing love to his helpmeet of nearly three decades putting into consideration how numerous marriages are winding up every now and then. Provincially, Gbajabiamila deserved encomium if he had become functions officio vis-à-vis his elective position as a legislator or remained a legal practitioner. However, a holistic evaluation of the gesture will likely frown at him especially for the open show as a public officeholder. The foremost reason is that a public officeholder must be moderate, sensitive and prudent at least while in office rather than getting involved in ostentatious displays. Had Gbajabiamila quietly bought the glitzy Mercedes Benz brand without the public show, certainly, the public would have allowed it to go as one of the excesses they get from those elected in governments. The public would have also taken it amongst the myriad of betrayals they get from public officeholders especially at the National Assembly.
The blow only jogged the memory on the recently exposed unaccountable monthly running cost of N13.5million and the annual allocation of N200million for constituency projects the lawmakers hostilely allocated to themselves merely for siphoning public funds since 1999 while their respective constituencies remained in miserable conditions with nothing on the ground. These are indeed the height of economic sabotage. The bitter truth is that no Nigerian lawmaker at the moment needs any long-time savings to buy a G-wagon as the system unconsciously, porously favoured them at the detriment of the masses.
Though the lawmaker committed no crimes by the action, however, it is ethically wide of the mark for a public servant in a nation that succeeded through President Muhammadu Buhari’s prudent policies to exit economic recession to embark on such frivolity particularly while in office. Aside from it alongside the jumbo allowances, nothing is too prized for a supportive spouse.
Recently, a private businessman and renowned philanthropist, Alhaji Aliko Dangote remarkably, generously lined up a total of 150 new brand salon cars with built-in security gadgets as the contribution to the Nigerian Police Force to aid operations over the prevalent security challenges. Such patriotic gestures to the government and the society at large deserved accolades. Dangote’s action epitomized sensitivity, leadership, and selflessness. Unfortunately, materialism has become a common lifestyle amongst government officials especially senators and their counterparts in the lower chamber.
It, therefore, calls for sober reflections. Had the lawmaker invested the purported ‘saved money’ in reality or even silently added the car to his fleet, nobody would notice let alone complain. Thus, the matter goes beyond G-wagon but ensuring that public funds are allocated and spent judiciously and accordingly. The dirge would rather sensibly concentrate on the jumbo allowances the lawmakers allocated to themselves which have continued to drain the economy.
For example, the National Assembly’s 2018 budget was recent, craftily jerked up to N139.5 billion from N125 billion it was in 2017 under the cloak of ‘added constituency projects’ despite public outcries to slash allocations of the legislative arm, above all, when no such constituency projects had existed anywhere in reality. Overall, the appropriation bill was increased from N8.6trillion presented by President Buhari to N9.12trillion by the lawmakers. By the way, why did the lawmakers get the powers to be awarding and executing capital projects under Nigerian laws, particularly without bidding rather than legislative duties and oversight functions which do not in any way go beyond supervisory roles on executive’s activities? Aptly, lawmakers could endorse a project in their respective constituencies to the executive and also supervise when awarded but to execute; an aberration.
Thus, the financial rascality goes beyond party affiliation and may never cease except more stringent mechanisms are put in place. How do we justify a judge of the High court earning almost peanuts despite the onerous tasks the profession entails? A critical evaluation of volume of cases filed to the courts on daily basis for the judges to meticulously read and adjudicate will inevitably draw great sympathy over their plights. Meanwhile, those in the legislative arm with no clearly defined qualifications or tasks liberally earn as monthly allowances what some judges do not earn per annum. Hence, the rumble or grumble over the G-wagon is misplaced but ensuring that public funds are judiciously allocated.
By and large, the anti-graft battle may have to be deepened, and toughened as the increment in the budget on constituency projects must be substantiated this time dspite the howling. The agency, possibly may have to adopt ‘operation-show-your-constituency-projects’ as it owes the populace a duty to trace where the constituency projects are sited or positioned alongside substantiating the monthly running costs as accountability characterizes and accompanies all public funds.
Umegboro is a public affairs analyst and an associate of The Chartered Institute of Arbitrators of the United Kingdom.