Anti-corruption group, Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA Resource Centre) has called on the Lagos State House of Assembly to immediately review and amend the ‘Lagos State Public Complaints and Anti-Corruption Commission Law 2021’.
A statement by HEDA’s Chairman, Olanrewaju Suraju, said the law which was recently signed by Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, looks like a progress in the fight against corruption but is actually an attempt to cripple the anti-corruption campaign.
The law establishes a new anti-corruption agency in Lagos, namely, Lagos State Public Complaints and Anti-Corruption Commission, which will have the exclusive rights to investigate financial crimes and corruption cases involving the finances of the Lagos State Government.
According to HEDA, the motive behind a State Anti-Corruption Agency is commendable but the group stated that it is rather upsetting to realise the bill, passed without a public hearing by the State Assembly, was eventually signed into law.
The statement read, “The law in Section 13(3) provides that: 'The commission shall upon the commencement of this law take over the investigation of all anti-corruption and financial crime cases involving the finances and assets of Lagos State Government being investigated by any other agency'.
“Suraju criticised this section saying, it is an unscrupulous attempt by the ruling elite of Lagos State to cover up serious cases of corruption in Lagos, especially considering that three former governors, as well as other top politicians in Lagos, are undergoing various investigations or cases of corruption with the federal anti-corruption agencies, particularly the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
“He queried how the new Lagos Commission will be able to prosecute some of the politicians when those politicians are suspected to be richer than the state and play critical roles in the electoral successes of the state governor and members of the House of Assembly who will appoint the Commission’s Chairman and other board members.
“He added that it is even unconstitutional by virtue of Section 4(5) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (As Amended) for Lagos State to enact such a law to empower a Commission to take over cases from the federal anti-corruption agencies when the agencies are established by an Act of the National Assembly for a purpose which ordinarily 'covers the field'. Such taking over can only be valid based on mutual consent between the agencies in accordance with the provision of the Act establishing the Federal Agency, not in accordance with the State law, he said.
“Section 13(5) of the Lagos law states that: 'The commission shall have the power to the exclusion of any other agency or body to investigate and coordinate the investigation of corruption and financial crimes cases involving the finances and assets of the state government'.
“Arrogating such exclusive power to its own agency is a blunt expression of lack of shame, dignity and integrity by the Lagos State Government and the Lagos House of Assembly."
“This means that while Lagos is dependent on federal allocation, it wants to be independent of a federal investigation, what a fallacy! Whereas the Lagos government which wants to be independent of the federal government has crippled and pocketed its own local government and usurped operations of the Councils," it added.
HEDA queried whether the Lagos State Government will be willing to extend the same logic to local governments and allow the local councils to establish their own anti-corruption agencies to the exclusion of the state government.
"The organisation expressed worry that the Lagos State political class might have just found a way to frustrate the fight against corruption as the Lagos politicians involved in high profile corruption cases may now have to go to court to stop the EFCC and other agencies from investigating them since the new Lagos Commission would likely have been 'investigating' them also.
“Rather than focusing on the substantive corruption cases, EFCC and other anti-graft agencies may now have to deal with resolving the legal battle of jurisdiction over the cases. This will frustrate the fight against corruption as many of the politicians will spend years enjoying and laundering proceeds of corruption, thereby making illegal wealth difficult to trace and perpetrators difficult to prosecute,” HEDA said.
HEDA further observed that such effrontery by the Lagos State Government, if left unchallenged, will embolden other states to make such an unconstitutional move.
The organisation, therefore, called on the Lagos State House of Assembly to immediately review and amend the law.
It also asked the state lawmakers to get the inputs of citizens and civil society if it indeed intends to enact a law in the interest of the people.