Prominent human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, has pointed out that every state in Nigeria has benefited from restructuring through the legal challenge mounted against illegal deductions from the federation account by the federal government. While delivering a public lecture at Ado Ekiti State entitled “Restructuring By Litigation” held by the Young Lawyers League to mark the 60th birthday of Mr. Obafemi Adewale, Mr. Falana revealed that a majority of the states in the country would have collapsed if the courts had not restrained the federal government from seizing local government funds and from funding special projects of the federal government from the federation account. He congratulated Mr. Adewale who in his capacity as Ekiti state attorney-general from 1999-2002 contributed to the restructuring of the country through litigation.
Mr. Falana, SAN, singled out Lagos state for commendation in consistently fighting for political and economic restructuring through the law courts. According to the civil rights lawyer, “In addition to litigation the Lagos state government has dared the federal government by enacting laws in areas not covered in the exclusive legislative list in the Constitution. Even though the federal government fought back through legislative and political measures it has failed to stop state and local governments from restoring limited federalism in Nigeria. As a result of the success recorded by state governments in the law courts the internally generated revenue of every state government has increased rather phenomenally. For instance, through aggressive tax drive, issuance of certificates of occupancy on all landed properties, control of inland waterways, collection of levies from hotels, vehicle licenses, approval of building plans etc the IGR of Lagos state which was N600 million per month in 1999 has increased to N23 billion in 2017. Regardless of political differences, every state government has had to understudy the revenue generation initiative of Lagos state.”
While insisting that complete restructuring of the country transcends the legal arena the human rights lawyer urged other state governments to follow the example of Lagos state which has successfully challenged and defeated the federal government in the courts in cases on inland waterways, physical planning, ratification of federal government landed properties located in Lagos state, seizure of local government funds, control and management of hotels. Apart from going to court the Lagos state house of assembly has enacted laws for the operation of lottery, pools betting and gaming machines.
On vehicle registration Mr. Falana said that the exclusive control of vehicle registration and plate number production by the Federal Road Safety Corps Commission has been challenged by Lagos state which has established the Lagos State Motor Vehicle Administration Agency (MVAA) with responsibility of developing a sustainable policy on motor vehicle documentation and other related matters. While commending the courageous initiative of Lagos state to other states in the country Mr. Falana disclosed that the Lagos State government through MVAA started the issuance and registration of Number Plates in 2007 and that “as of today, aside the federal government as represented by the FRSC, Lagos is the only state that produces number plates in the country. The Lagos state generates substantial revenue from the issuance and registration of number Plates. It now issues averagely 20,000 number plates monthly, and controls more than 60% of the number plates issued in the country.”
With respect to the controversial London/Paris Club loan refund being paid to state governments Mr. Falana stated that it is not a bailout or manna from the federal government but a legitimate refund arising from over-deductions from the statutory allocations of state governments by the federal government to service external debt before the so called debt relief for which Nigeria paid $12.4 billion to the external creditors from the federation account. He said that the Buhari administration decided to settle the long standing dispute to avoid needless litigation since the federal high court had already ordered the federal government to pay $3.2 billion to the 774 local governments on account of similar illegal deductions. Mr. Falana however condemned the alleged criminal diversion of part of the refund by some state governors.
In conclusion Mr. Falana said that “in as much as state governments have won cases to ensure the legal autonomy of elected local councils they have continued to appoint caretaker committees or sole administrators to man them. Although the federal government has been restrained from seizing the monthly statutory allocations accruing to local government councils, some state governors are alleged to have turned round to corner the funds”. He also said that “In spite of the fact that the victory recorded in the aforementioned cases has led to increased revenue for state governments it has not translated to improvement in the quality of the life of an average citizen in the country. Such lack of accountability has confirmed my position that power devolution without democratization will concentrate powers in the hands of regional overlords to the detriment of the people.”