BY Ray Morphy
A new law passed and signed in Lagos by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State which seeks to oust agencies like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), and other anti-graft agencies from corruption cases in Lagos State, is raising legal and moral questions. It also calls to question the future of the war against corruption which was one of reasons Nigerians turned out in their numbers to elect General Muhammadu Buhari as president in 2015. His reelection in2019 was also premised in large part on the then belief that the All Progressives Congress (APC), would fight corruption better than the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
According to reports, the new legislation titled “Lagos State – Hide quoted text – Public Complaints and Anti-Corruption Commission Law” signed by Sanwo-Olu last week, will create a new anti-corruption agency that would have the exclusive rights to investigate financial crimes and corruption cases involving the finances of the Lagos State Government.
According to the report, 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, which will ensure the creation of a Lagos State anti-corruption agency, 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.
Sanwo-Olu, has reportedly described the new anti-graft law, as a testimony to the state government’s effort towards entrenching accountability in governance and checking malfeasance among officers entrusted with public resources.
On the issue of legality, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), said “the Lagos State law is valid,” adding that the constitution gives states the right to make such laws. The senior advocate said corruption and crime are not on the exclusive legislative list and as such, the Lagos House of Assembly has more powers to create such law for the benefit of the state than the National Assembly, which created the EFCC and the ICPC.
Ozekhome argued that since the House of Assembly was in charge of making laws regarding taxation, charges and finances of Lagos State, the Assembly also has superior powers regarding diversion of such funds.
He said if the EFCC wants to enforce its Act, it should go to other states except Lagos because Lagos now has its own law, adding that it is the same way the Federal High Court has rules guiding it.
The implication of states making their own anti-corruption laws without interference by federal anti-corruption agencies like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Offences Commission (ICPC) should not be lost to discernable Nigerians.
Throughout our history, Lagos has always been the pacesetter for good or for ill. It was the first to create its own local governments outside of those recognized by the 1999 constitution which brought it at loggerheads with the federal government under President Olusegun Obasanjo, for which Obasanjo seized the local government allocations for Lagos State till he left office in 2007.
Lagos calls the new local governments it created development areas and was copied by other states that want to spread development at local level through the creation of more local governments even if they are not recognized by the 1999 constitution as amended. Recall that the Hotel Licensing Law and the 2010 amendment established the Lagos State Hotel Licensing Authority (“LSHLA”) and made other provisions for the licensing of hotels. Itn further empowered Lagos State to make laws to regulate, standardise and grade tourism operations which was previously the exclusive preserve of a federal government agency, the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (“NTDC”). Today NTDC has lost its potency and visibility thanks to Lagos State.
We should pause and ask what would become of the EFCC and ICPC if all the states in the country by law claim exclusive right to handle all corruption cases that happened within their jurisdiction.
Corruption would be given wings. Even with EFCC and ICPC that are federal agencies, most Nigerians are not satisfied with the level of prosecution and conviction of corrupt politicians and bureaucrats in government and in previous governments. It should be expected that corruption would get worse, just the same way that states conduct of local government elections have become a charade and a national embarrassment to true democrats.
Can the federal government stop other states from emulating Lagos State? It obviously lacks such powers, but EFCC may refuse to hand over cases that it is handling that involved persons that have served Lagos State, and insist on going ahead with its own investigation and possible trial of the alleged offenders. In such a scenario, the onus would be on the courts to determine whom between the federal and state governments have the last say on investigation and trial of corrupt Nigerians.
Needless to say that if states could keep away EFCC and ICPC from their domain, corruption will run riot in the country. This should concern every well meaning Nigerian and friends of Nigeria who are opposed to the high level of corruption in governance and business in Africa’s biggest democracy. On the pro side, by this law, Lagos is leading legally the decentralization of corruption prosecution in line with the powers conferred on a state by the system of federalism which we practice.
Some people hold the view that the federal anti-corruption agencies have enough job prosecuting only federal corruption. After all, quote a huge chunk of the corruption in this country happens at the federal level and not in the states.