By Lukman Olabiyi
All over the world, the word corruption means different things to different people. But the summary of it borders on bribery, smuggling, fraud, illegal payments, money laundering, drug trafficking, favoritism, falsification of documents and records, window dressing, false declaration, evasion, under-payment, deceit, forgery, concealment, aiding and abetting of any kind to the detriment of another person, community, society or nation.
To change the narrative in Lagos State, on April 19, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu signed a bill to establish the Public Complaints and Anti-corruption Commission (PCACC).
In the governor’s view, establishing the commission was not to compete with similar organisations that were in existence and established by the Federal Government, but to deepen the culture of accountability and transparency in the expenditure of appropriated public funds, to check abuse of public office for personal advantage, to solve social problem which makes a substantial number of people to be displeased as well as threaten the peace of the society, to investigate and prosecute officials of the state government and registered contractors indicted for economic crimes and financial misappropriation, among others.
Lagos State House of Assembly had passed the bill for the state’s PCACC in December 2020.
The anti-corruption law empowered the state government to establish PCACC to ensure accountability from public officials entrusted with public funds; to investigate any official accused of misappropriating public funds, freeze accounts, and search any property suspected to be used for such purposes (subject to court order), among others.
After the signing of the bill into law, 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.
Sanwo-Olu also pledged that 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.
However, the development has been trailed by mixed reactions from lawyers, rights activists and citizens. While some welcomed the development, commended Governor Sanwo-Olu and also expressed optimism, others viewed it as a political gimmick and effort to shield political actors in the state from being prosecuted or investigated.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and rights activist, Mr. Kunle Adegoke said it was a good development which every other state should key into. But he gave a stern warning to Governor Sanwo-Olu not to misuse the agency for political interest.
“Sometimes in 2014, I recommended it as the quantum of corrupt practices in state affairs is too much that many civil servants are nothing but evil servants. They have corrupted every aspect of governance and succeeded in retarding public progress. That is not to say that there are no honest and conscientious civil servants and public officers. There are. They may only be fewer than the corrupt elements.
“In that regard, Lagos State Government, or any state government working on curbing corruption must guarantee independence for the agency. It must not be job for the boys or a facade to deceive the public or witch-hunt the opposition. It must not be populated with police officers like the EFCC is, otherwise, it will be another cesspool of corruption. It must be adequately funded and must be staffed and presided over by men of integrity and strict discipline. It must be fully empowered to carry out forensic investigations and prosecute with the finest of skills and training. The Lagos anti-corruption agency may, however, be stillborn in view of the following: the amount of corruption inherited by the current government; the reports of sleaze by current officers of state, from the legislature to the executive, and its own deficiency in terms of independence from external control. Let us wait and see anyway,” Adegoke said.
In his own view, Okechukwu Nwanguma, Executive Director, Rule of Law and Accountability Centre (RULAAC), welcomed the development and commended Governor Sanwo-Olu for the initiative.
He said: “I think it’s a welcome development that the Lagos State Government decided to set up an anti-corruption agency. The existing anti corruption agencies are federal and not within the control of the state governments. The states need to have their own agencies to deal with state specific issues. This is also in line with the federal system we claim to operate. The states, which are the federating units, need to have their own independent institutions and agencies – law enforcement, judiciary, legislature, among others to deal with state issues. Lagos State Anti-Corruption Agency should fight corruption within the state, focusing on all public, corporate and private institutions and individuals resident or conducting business within the state.”
Kabir Akingbolu, rights activist and legal practitioner, in his own analysis, said with time, the real intention of the state government would be known with its action and inaction on the establishment of the agency.
“It is a good law to start with,” he noted. “However, if viewed from another angle, one may be compelled to question the propriety of an anti-corruption law for the state when we have the laws establishing the EFCC and ICPC which are federal agencies of government but of general application. They filed so many cases at the state High Courts and prosecute same there. So to that extent, one may say that the establishment of a state anti corruption law or agency is supernumerary. But having come to be, one would expect it to be an effective body that fights corruption from all fronts and not the one that will be selective. The governor should start by appointing an upright person with proven integrity to be the chairman of the agency. That is the first incontestable step to making it effective. The chairman must have no party affiliations. But like every other state agencies or establishment, can the state allow such body to function without undue interference? That is left for the future to prove. But on the whole, the body must not be used as a political machinery to witch-hunt political opponents, critics or enemies.”
Dave Ajetomobi, former Chairman, Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Ikeja Branch, expressed worry on the independence of the agency.
“Ordinarily, it is a good development. Everyone should be concerned about the level of corruption in the country. However, I will adopt a siddon look approach. It is believed in some quarters that the law is intended to keep the EFCC away from the Lagos swamp of corruption so it can amicably resolved as a family affair. I am unable write of the contention from those doubting Thomases. Lagos is a big commercial centre, hence corruption looms large both in the private and public sectors. For example, I doubt if the people that petitioned against Ikuforiji or Obasa will be comfortable with a Lagos State owned anti-corruption body. I feel also that such a body may be used to settle political scores with uncooperative or former party members. The main concern remains the issue of independence of the body.
Bayo Akinlade, the convener of Fight Against Corruption in the Judiciary (FIACIJ) and former Chairman of NBA Ikorodu Branch, commended Governor Sanwo-Olu for the bold step taken against corruption.
However, Akinlade expressed reservation on whether the commission would bring forth the desire expectation of the people.
He said failure or success of the commission will depend on its composition, people who are going to be appointed to manage its affairs, and its independence to operate without bias or favour.