Despite owing retired civil servants pensions and gratuities for several years, the Osun State Government has bought new Toyota Camry XLE 2019 cars for the 26 members of the state House of Assembly.
The expenditure is at least N266 million, going by the unit price of $29,175 for each in the U.S.
Considering the cost of importation, the expected profit by the supplier, and inflated prices associated with government expenditure in Nigeria, the state government is expected to have paid much more for the cars.
A spokesperson to the Osun State governor refused to disclose the exact amount paid for the vehicles and the company that supplied them.
Critics described the government’s action as a “misplacement of priority” for a state said to be cash strapped, but Governor Gboyega Oyetola has justified the expenditure.
PREMIUM TIMES in January reported the complaint of neglect by retirees in the state who are being owed their entitlements.
Some have died, some said they had been ejected from rented houses while others said they had withdrawn their children from schools.
After serving two terms of eight years, Rauf Aregbesola bowed out as Osun governor in 2018 and handed over to Mr Oyetola of the same All Progressives Congress (APC).
Many civil servants who retired between 2015 and 2018 under the Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS) told PREMIUM TIMES in January that they were neither receiving monthly pension nor the lump sum due them as bond.
Checks by PREMIUM TIMES revealed that the state under Mr Aregbesola gots several bailout funds from the federal government but still defaulted in payment of salaries and pensions.
To assist them in payment of salaries and owed arrears, President Muhammadu Buhari disbursed N338 billion to states in 2015. Osun State got N34.9 billion.
Also, in November 2016, the Osun government received N11.74 billion as refunds from the Paris Club.
Again, Mr Buhari approved the release of more funds from the London-Paris Club refund to state governors across the country in 2017 out of which Osun State received N6.3 billion as the second tranche of Paris Club refund in July.
The president had advised the state governments to give priority to offsetting salary arrears as well as pension and gratuity liabilities in spending the bailouts.
In 2016, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) said the Aregbesola administration disbursed only N16.3 billion out of the N34.9 billion bailout released in 2015.
The report added that the commission was investigating allegations that the state had not paid salaries since July 2015. Mr Aregbesola countered the allegations of diversion but did not dispute that only N16.3 billion was disbursed.
The Senate in December 2016 promised to investigate the allegations but nothing was heard of the probe.
Governor justifies purchase
In his first term, Mr Aregbesola also bought official cars for the state lawmakers.
However, many of the current lawmakers were not in the assembly then.
Justifying his action for the purchase of Toyota Camry XLE 2019 for the current lawmakers, Governor Oyetola through his spokesperson, Ismail Omipidan, said the government was controlling its expenditures.
“The state is not rich but we have a governor who is creative financially in ensuring that governance did not stop. It is even by a miracle that we are paying salaries. Mr Governor has control over his expenditures. He is also making personal sacrifices to make sure that workers’ welfare is being taken care of.
“Just two days ago, we presented the bond of N1.2 billion to retirees under the contributory pension scheme. We appreciate the fact that we have a backlog but the fact that we are paying shows that the government is committed to the welfare of the workers and the retirees. If we are not paying anything at all, then critics can make criticism.”
Mr Omipidan said: “it would be unthinkable to say lawmakers got cars eight years ago and they should continue to use the same thing. Don’t forget that it is not the same set of people in the house eight years ago that are there now. Even for the ones re-elected, there’s always a budget and emoluments of office which must be provided. It is a three-arm government and everybody must be taken care of.”
He refused to disclose the exact amount the state paid for the vehicles
but assured that the expenditure on cars would not affect the running of government and payment of workers and pensioners.
A source at the government house, however, told PREMIUM TIMES that the state government had not fully paid for the vehicles.
“There is what we call leasing… The govt leased the money they used to get the vehicles for the lawmakers. It is not that they got the money in cash.
“There is an agreement that is signed and it will be deducted from the account of the government on monthly or yearly basis. It is a loan,” the source said asking not to be named.
Recklessness – Critics
Critics and public affairs analysts said the action of the government although not new in Nigeria is “recklessness that has becomes the norm.”
“It is quite unfortunate that we have a weird system of government in Nigeria and unless the people demand what is actually theirs,” a social commentator, Jide Ojo, said.
“Beyond the fact that it is a waste of money, none of those lawmakers are poor. But when you see members of the executive cabinets riding big cars, it is expected that the lawmakers get same.
“My father retired from Osun service in 1995 and died three years after. He never collected pension and gratuity. The sad thing is that the situation still remains the same today. If those that have retired are finding their pay difficult, what message are we passing to those in service?”
A rights lawyer, Tope Akinyode, in his reaction said: “the reckless act of government in Nigeria continues to contribute to poverty.”
He said many state governors give their lawmakers such expensive gifts at the expense of citizens.