Civil society group activists and some lawyers have commended the Lagos State House of Assembly for passing a bill that they believe would help to foster transparency in government, going forward.
The House recently passed an executive bill titled: ‘Lagos State Public Complaints and Anti-Corruption Commission Law’, which has been assented to by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu.
Some of those who spoke about the bill, also commended Lagos state for being proactive, noting that positive steps so far taken by successive governments in the state have succeeded in putting it above other states in the federation.
They argued that the setting up of the anti-corruption law is not the exclusive preserve of the federal government since it is not an item on the exclusive or the concurrent lists in the 1999 constitution (as amended).
They also argued that since states have the powers to generate revenue and establish policies on taxation, they should also have the powers to regulate how the revenue generated are utilised for public good.
A Nigerian, Oyibo Sylvester, who made his comment on social media in reaction to the law, urged other states to emulate Lagos.
“Every state must have power to investigate financial fraud done by the present or past governments, because such money belong to the state. So, if the money in question is stolen from the state treasury, this agency have (sic) the power to investigate,” he said.
In his reaction, a human rights activist, Comrade Declan Ihekhaire, said the new law further puts Lagos state in an enviable position.
He noted that Lagos is not the only state that has passed the law as, according to him, Oyo and Kano states amongst others have long passed same law with less furore trailing their actions. According to him, “Why should people now think passing such a law in Lagos is something that should be blown out of proportion?”
He continued: “The centre of excellence that Lagos State is known for didn’t just come by mistake. It came as a result of the thinking rigour of people at the helms of its affair.
“So if as at today, they decide that there should be a law to protect people from being corrupt, it is a welcome one. This is a House that others historically copy from.”
He noted that the law sponsored by the executive must have passed through necessary legislative processes before it was forwarded to and assented by the governor.
A senior lawyer, who said he could not speak much on the law since he has not acquainted himself with its content, however, said the state should be commended for taking what he termed a bold step in ensuring transparency and accountability in the governance of Lagos.
“Politicians are seen as greedy and shady. So, if Lagos state decides to pass an anti-corruption law, then those who took part in the process should be commended.
“Moreover, the constitution does not bar states from fighting corruption. And if the clamour for true federalism is anything to go by, then laws like this must suffice,” he said.
Asked if it would not amount to duplicity since there are federal anti-corruption agencies, the lawyer, who would not want his name mentioned until he reads the new law, argued that the states make laws for the generation of revenues and as a result, they should be in the best positions to monitor how funds are utilised.
“There has been this argument among lawyers on the legality of federal anti-graft agencies probing corruption allegations in states which are supposed to independently generate and manage their resources. Note that states have had to wrestle the federal government to return monies recovered from corrupt people to them (the states). That shows that states have powers to recover stolen money,” he said.
While speaking earlier regarding the bill, Chief Mike Ozekhome, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), was quoted as saying the constitution gives states the right to make such laws.
“The Lagos State law is valid,” Ozekhome said arguing that since the House of Assembly makes laws concerning taxation and related issues, it also has powers to protect diversion of funds.
Ozekhome added: “It follows that anyone who commits a crime concerning such charges, fees or taxes is subject to the House of Assembly and that amounts to what is called an economic crime. It is therefore the House of Assembly that has the jurisdiction to deal with economic crime within its own jurisdiction, not the Federal Government through the National Assembly like a principal controlling its pupils.
“Therefore, the law made by the Lagos Assembly regarding financial crimes is a valid law in line with Section 4 of the constitution and the Second Schedule Part 1 and 2 of the exclusive and concurrent legislative list.
“If the EFCC wants to enforce its act, it should go to other states except Lagos because Lagos now has its own law. It is the same way the Federal High Court has rules guiding it.”
In a statement by the Director of the Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership, Debo Adeniran, commended the state government over the law.
He said from the governor’s position, “we could see how the anti-corruption Commission would be the ‘brainbox’ or engine room of the state government in the fight against corruption in the state, especially as they relate to government and public officials and CACOL, as an anti-corruption group with its component organisations, would solidly lend its unalloyed support in this patriotic duty, as the entire world focus on the nation to overcome the destructive ogre of corruption within the shortest time possible.”