Imo, the seventh most indebted state in the country in 2019, acquired a N187million worth ‘toy’ for gubernatorial use. It is the type used by international celebrities including Beyonce and Will Smith, It cost the state N187million, writes ROBERT EGBE
WHAT does hip hop royalty Beyonce and Jay-Z have in common with the Imo State government?
In 2012 when the couple gave birth to its first child Blue Ivy, it gave her the ultimate in luxury treatment.
Baby Blue Ivy’s first ride from the hospital was in a spacious custom luxury Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van.
Other global celebrities who also use similar vehicles include Will Smith, Dr. Dre and Vin Diesel.
California-based Becker Automotive Design, which builds a custom-made version of the Sprinter van, describes the vehicle as “more like the cabin of a private jet.”
The company is right.
‘Epitome of luxury’
From the outside, the van looks like a relatively normal Mercedes Sprinter, with additional aerials. But, according to the firm’s website, the van is the “epitome of luxury.”
Each vehicle is fitted with fresh air ventilation systems, sound-deadening materials and upgraded suspension to provide a better ride. The sliding doors are electrically powered.
Aside basic features such as reclining temperature controlled seats, a minibar, a giant LED TV, a 10-inch LED screen attached to each of the six seats, and a full-fledged multimedia centre, electric blinds for when you want to have a little privacy, this Sprinter also boasts of other top-notch facilities.
They include advanced military-grade communications system to provide broadband and allow several simultaneous connections to the internet and an air filter that can withstand biological attacks.
Of course, the vehicle is often armoured, has a powerful V8 engine, run-flat tires, and a redesigned suspension that allow the van “to take its passengers anywhere in comfort and style.”
For those seeking to nap while being driven around, the airline-style seats can fully recline while providing a massage
Even the driver can have the option of a Burlwood steering wheel, GPS navigation and hands-free cell phone kit. The vehicle can be fitted with handgun or assault rifle protection.
Probably the most valuable of all the van’s features is an “executive bathroom”, which can be fitted in the rear of the van.
The custom-built wonder-on-wheels goes for a price tag often reaching over $400,000 (about N155million) each.
Depending on the specifications, some cost even more, like the one the Imo State government took delivery of in February. It was said to have been bought for N187million.
Commissioner for Information and Strategy Declan Emelumba alleged that the latest addition to the state’s car pool was the ‘parting gift’ of sorts for Emeka Ihedioha, who was removed from office on January 14 by the Supreme Court after less than a year as governor.
The Apex Court declared that the All Progressive Congress (APC) candidate Hope Uzodinma was the authentic winner of the March 11 poll and he was sworn in as Imo State Governor.
Ihedioha has denied the allegation. In a statement on his behalf by Imo PDP Secretary Nze Ray Emeana, he described the allegation as “a mere distraction from the obvious failure within the 100 days of the administration of Senator Hope Uzodinma”.
“The government of Emeka Ihedioha did everything for the benefit of the masses. We have checked the records and discovered that there is nothing like that. They can’t impugn on the integrity of Hon. Ihedioha. Nigerians know him as a man of impeccable character so let them saddle themselves with digging for issues to nail Ihedioha. They will never curry the legitimacy they are desperately seeking. This is a mere ploy to not pay workers’ salaries since February,” he said.
National culture of luxury cars buying
Elected officials are often accused of wasteful spending on luxury cars. The Eighth Senate which ended last year, allegedly spent not less than N4 billion to purchase Sports Utility Vehicles at a cost of N36 million each.
About N1.3 billion was expended on procuring vehicles for senators in 2012, a development that attracted severe public criticism. At the time, 109 cars were bought for the lawmakers, each costing N11. 07 million.
On March 27, the House of Representatives took delivery of the Toyota Camry 2020 model cars acquired for members as official cars, otherwise called utility vehicles.
The legislators had at an executive (closed-door) session on February 5, 2020, resolved to purchase 400 units of the exotic car.
The House did not disclose the cost of each unit of the vehicle, but the 2019 model is about N26.75m and N35.75m (for V6 engine).
It did, however, state that it had not yet distributed the vehicles to the members.
Imo is 7th most indebted state
According to Emelumba, Ihedioha ordered for the car “for his personal use” during his ten-month stint in the saddle between March 2019 and January 2020, but that the plan was aborted.
Last June, Imo joined the list of the top 10 states with the biggest borrowing in six months (January – June 2019).
According to data released by the Debt Management Office (DMO) last September, Imo, under Ihedioha, became the 7th most indebted state in the country.
The oil-rich state borrowed N52.6 billion between January and June 2019, pushing it into the league of the top ten states with the biggest overall debt stock across all states.
How the van was imported, impounded
According to Emelumba, the vehicle was shipped into the country a month after Ihedioha’s sack and Uzodinma got wind of the cargo through his “information network”. The vehicle was promptly impounded.
The commissioner made the claim last Thursday during a radio programme in Owerri, the state capital.
Ihedioha’s Supreme Court ouster, he added, was God’s way of saving the state from an “imperial appetite”.
Emeluba was reacting to a suggestion by Ihedioha’s Chief Press Secretary, Chibuike Onyeukwu, that Uzodinma should take tutorials on good governance from Ihedioha.
Onyekwu’s comments during a phone-in programme with Emeluba on an FM station last Thursday was echoed at another phone-in programme with IBC Orient FM Owerri the next day, also with the commissioner.
Responding, Emeluba said it was Ihedioha that needed good governance tutorials from Uzodinma because, according to him, the governor was “more honest and transparent in governance than Ihedioha and also better equipped in every sense to governor Imo State.”
He said God saved Imo people by delaying the van’s arrival until one month after Ihedioha’s sack.
He reasoned that no governor would ride a N187m vehicle while his people had yet to meet the basic needs of food and shelter.
“The car is equipped like Air Force One of the United States. It has a master bedroom, conference room, bar and other facilities. It is the type of car that only a monarch, an emperor or one with an imperial appetite will want to use.
“In the case of the sacked governor, how can one explain that someone who claimed to have been elected to rule an impoverished people will have the heart to be riding in a N187m car when the poor masses are battling with basic needs of food and shelter?” Emeluba said.
He claimed that but for God’s intervention which restored Uzodinma’s mandate, Ihedioha would have proceeded to become “an imperial lord and oppressor of the people.”
The commissioner also alleged that Ihedioha acquired almost 1000 plots of land from two communities in Ngor Okpala under false pretences while in office.