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Nigerian MPs Face Backlash, Lawsuit Over Luxury Car Budget

FILE - A photo shows part of the parliament house in Abuja, Nigeria, July 19, 2017.
FILE - A photo shows part of the parliament house in Abuja, Nigeria, July 19, 2017.

It’s unprecedented.

Thousands of Nigerians have joined a lawsuit seeking to block members of the Senate from using public money to buy luxury cars. The suit was initiated by rights groups that became tired of government corruption.

More than 6,700 Nigerians have joined suit that aims to prevent parliament from releasing 5.5 billion naira -- equal to about $15 million -- that would enable leaders of the Senate to purchase luxury vehicles.

Three domestic rights groups originated the suit, which was filed with the Nigerian Federal High Court.

One of the NGOs leading the lawsuit is civic organization BudgIT. It tracks government spending in an effort to fight corruption. Shakir Akorede, the group’s communications associate, spoke on the class action suit.

"This is living the luxury life by the so-called representatives of the people. How in any way does this plan show the seriousness, the commitment on the part of the government to solve our socioeconomic crisis?" Akorede asked.

The activists are calling the luxury car allocation unjust, unfair and unconstitutional, a waste of taxpayers’ money. News of the allocation spread across social media, creating widespread anger.

The Nigerian Senate’s spokesman, Dayo Adeyeye, told local media that the news is a rumor and that he hadn’t heard about the allocation. He added, however, that government officials are entitled to purchase cars and that he cannot imagine himself in a car used by a former senator.

Senators have become accustomed to purchasing new cars with every new term. But political scientist Auwul Musa says this wouldn’t happen if former senators did what they were supposed to do and return the cars they purchased while in office.

"They’re supposed to return it. They claim that they bought these cars for them to facilitate and ease their work so after you’re done with your office, you’re supposed to return and retire these vehicles and other facilities including laptops, printers," Musa said.

Musa, who is the director the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Center (CISLAC), headquartered in Abuja, said he does not think the lawsuit will effect any change and that Nigerian lawmakers have long abused public money.

CISLAC reported that the current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has done little to curb government excesses, although Buhari campaigned on the pledge to do something about it.

Some analysts say the government should allocate such money to the police. The undermanned and underfunded police force is tasked with tackling the rise in armed banditry and kidnapping along roadways around the country.

Another factor behind the public outcry is rising poverty.

Data show the majority of Nigeria’s population lives on less than $2.00 a day.

Meanwhile, Nigerian lawmakers are among the highest paid in the world. Last year, a Nigerian senator revealed that the legislators receive a monthly package of 14.25 million naira. That’s more than $40,000 a month.