A new law signed by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State mandates agencies like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (EFCC), and other anti-graft agencies to hand over corruption cases to the state government. The new law also created an anti-corruption agency for the state.
According to the legislation entitled “Lagos State Public Complaints and Anti-Corruption Commission Law” and signed by Sanwo-Olu recently, the new anti-corruption agency will have the exclusive right to investigate financial crimes and corruption cases involving the finances of the Lagos State government.
Section 13(3) of the law reads, “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.”
Section 13(5) also states, “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.”
The new law mandates all other agencies investigating the finances of the state to hand over the case to the state government.
According to the law, the commission shall have the power to investigate any person or administrative action taken by any ministry, department, agency or parastatal of the state government or any local government.
The new anti-graft agency shall investigate any offence under the criminal law of the state in relation to corruption and financial crimes, abuse of office, offences relating to administration of justice, obtaining by false pretences, cybercrime, fake news, interception of emails and fraudulent dealing with property debtors.
The law, which empowers the agency to investigate anyone who cannot explain his or her source of income, states that the anti-graft agency shall not be subjected to the direction and control of any authority.
The commission is, however, barred from investigating cases that are pending before the Lagos State House of Assembly, the Lagos State Executive Council or any court of law.
What the Lagos State did by enacting an anti-corruption law that stops EFCC and ICPC from investigating and prosecuting individuals or organisations in relation to the finances of the state is bound to have dire consequences on the war against corruption of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration going forward. One implication is that a state governor can pocket the state’s money and get away with it because it has a law that stops the EFCC and the ICPC from looking into the books of the state.
While Lagos and any other state for that matter has the right, in a federal system like we practise in Nigeria, to make laws that address its needs, it raises the issue of morality when laws are deliberately enacted to give the political elite the leeway to steal the state blind and avoid prosecution.
While we admit that the EFCC and ICPC as federal anti-corruption agencies have failed to meet the expectations of Nigerians in the war against corruption since their establishment by the former President Olusegun Obasanjo administration, no one can deny the fact that it has helped to reduce the looting of states’ resources by governors and federal government officials due to the fear of the EFCC and the ICPC.
However, when the EFCC, ICPC and other federal investigative agencies are barred from investigating the finances of the states, we would have lost all the gains we had made over the years to reduce corruption in the country.
Many have argued that there is more corruption in Abuja than in the states; therefore, EFCC and ICPC should concentrate on tackling corruption in federal establishments and leave the states to handle their own corruption cases, but this reasoning in not in line with our present reality where the state governors behave like emperors and have pocketed the state legislature and local government administration.
And now, they may have a law that protects them in and out of office from being prosecuted by the EFCC or ICPC.
We encourage the ICPC and the EFCC to challenge the right of state governments to take over cases that they had been prosecuting. We also expect the APC government that swept to power on the mantra of war against corruption to call states like Lagos and others planning to shield their finances from the scrutiny of the EFCC and the ICPC to order.
Already, according to the Transparency International (TI) Nigeria is ranked among the most corrupt countries in the world, and anything that should make the ranking worse than it is now must be resisted.