Mixed reactions have trailed a new law signed by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State which mandates agencies like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), as well as other anti-graft agencies to hand over corruption cases to the state government.
Going by the legislation titled “Lagos State Public Complaints and Anti-Corruption Commission Law” which was signed by Sanwo Olu on 19 April 2021, the new anti-corruption agency will have the exclusive rights to investigate financial crimes and corruption cases involving the finances of the Lagos State Government.
The Governor assented to the Public Complaints and Anti-Corruption Commission Bill of 2021 at a brief ceremony held in Alausa.
According to the Lagos State official website, the move was emboldened by the necessity to deepen the culture of accountability and transparency in the expenditure of appropriated public funds. Sanwo-Olu said the action was a testimony to the State Government’s effort towards entrenching accountability in governance and checking malfeasance among officers entrusted with public resources:
“The bill establishing Public Complaints and Anti-Corruption Commission is an important legislation critical to the delivery of quality services to the citizens.
“When we came in, we had said we would be accountable and responsible in the appropriation of the State’s resources. We want to stand in front of the citizens to give account on how public funds are being spent.
“We believe that this law would not only ensure accountability of public funds, responsibility of public office, but also promote dialogue among public officers to keep the trust of the people in the discharge of their duties in line with transparency. The anti-corruption commission will ensure that all approved activities are implemented in accordance with budgetary allocation.”
Sanwo-Olu said the anti-corruption commission would be independent in its operations and functions, pointing out that the agency would complement efforts of similar agencies in the police and federal establishment.
It is noteworthy that the legislation was sponsored by the executive arm of the government, and was signed into law just few days after it was passed by the House of Assembly. If there is something also fishy about this new legislation, asides the fact that three former Lagos State governors, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Babatunde Fashola and Akinwunmi Ambode, are currently under investigation by the EFCC, is the nature of the bill. For instance, 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 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.”
By implication, the government can ask the EFCC and ICPC to hand over all previous cases of corruption to the new Commission, as long as Lagos State finances are involved. While this new legislation is valid to the extent that the states and Federal Government can make laws on corruption, the entire move raises eyebrows.
Part of the concerns includes the possibility of complacency if all other anti-graft agencies hand over their cases to the Lagos State. It might mark the end of the investigations. This is particularly significant because this development is coming on the heels of the reality that top political actors from the state are currently under investigation. Even so, some have berated the new law as a calculated move to extricate some particular actors.
The main dilemma with the Lagos law is that it conflicts with the functions and intent of the country’s anti-graft agencies and the law defining their institution.The provisions of the law cannot coexist with the EFCC and ICPC Acts.
According to legal experts, any law passed by the state House of Assembly on corruption or economic crimes should be inferior to Acts of the National Assembly which sets up both the EFCC and ICPC. That is, where the Constitution or an Act of the National Assembly has provided for a particular matter and has, covered the field, it will be pointless for the House of Assembly of any State to legislate on the same matter, which tantamount to duplicity, and is clearly unconstitutional.
Already, Section 4 of the Constitution provides expressly that any law passed by the House of Assembly of a State that is in conflict with an Act of the National Assembly remains null and void, to the extent of its inconsistency.
As stakeholders and well-meaning citizens have cited, this Lagos law will asphyxiate the EFCC and ICPC. It will narrow their scope of operations because other states will emulate Lagos and create similar laws. All out-going governors will find the laws very attractive, as a protective shield against future investigations. The law will also intensify the desperation of outgoing governors to put their lackeys in office as successors.
Another question in the minds of most analysts is, can the state anti-graft agencies be really independent? For instance, in December 2009, a Federal High Court in Asaba, Delta State discharged and acquitted James Onanefe Ibori of all 170 charges of corruption brought by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Two years later, the same Ibori pleaded guilty in a Southwark Crown Court to 10 (ten) counts of fraud, money laundering and corruption. While this may not apply directly to the main discourse, it mirrors how the chances of corrupt individuals getting prosecuted can be forestalled if carried out by “internal and friendly” institutions. One cannot understate the fact that this new law is a subterfuge and should never be allowed to hold sway under any democratic mileu.