Governor Raji Fashola authorised a rather quaint official letter, dated November 5 which speedily issued, with little or no discernible thought, from the Lagos State Ministry of Justice stating that the Freedom of Information Act – lawfully passed by the National Assembly – and, validly signed by President Jonathan into law in Nigeria, does not apply to his own administration in Lagos State.
This statement – authorized by Raji Fashola – is without a doubt the most irresponsible declaration by any elected Governor in Nigeria since October 1, 1960.
In that self-disgracing letter, Raji Fashola all but declared he will never render public accounts comprising Lagos revenue and expenditure to the governed – which information is obligatory as commonsense trusteeship duty of a responsible government.
By analogy, his audacious refusal to account is tantamount to Raji Fashola walking barefacedly into a public square at mid-day to orally declare himself and his State officials as suspected thieves. As such, he and they may now have to be treated as such by the now insulted public.
That is the long and the short of it.
Whereas, for certainty of purpose, and, for avoidance of doubt, both Sections 10 and 14 of the Freedom of Information Act expressly stipulate as follows: –
- 10 (1) Every government or public institution shall ensure that it keeps every information or record about the institution’s operations, personnel, activities and other relevant or related information or records.
- 10 (2) Every government or public institution shall ensure the proper organization and maintenance of all information or record in its custody, in a manner that facilitates public access to such information or record under this Bill.
- 14. Every government or public institution must ensure the provision of appropriate training for its officials on the public’s right to access to information or records held by government or public institutions, as provided for in this Bill and for the effective implementation of this Bill.
But first of all, the factual narrative of what has just happened in Lagos State.
On the 24th of October 2012, a Lagos resident (Dr. Ademola Dominic) petitioned Lagos State government under Raji Fashola to disclose public accounts as pertain the tax revenue consultancy fee the Lagos State government pays out monthly to a private company named Alpha Beta Consulting Limited.
Dr. Dominic rightly invoked the Freedom of Information Act as legal basis to have Raji Fashola disclose the requested public account, writing as Petitor, to specifically demand as follows:
- “I wish to know how the taxes, revenue, finances of the State accrue, are managed, and disbursed in Lagos State and do hereby apply, to you, by yourselves, agents, servants etc. to access and request to be made available to me by you, all information, CTC’s of Files, records, Contract Agreements/Documents, in respect of the said Contract/Agreement entered into between the Government of Lagos State and, the Company, Alpha Beta Consulting Limited, mandating the Company to assess and collect on behalf of the Government all Taxes and Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) due, payable and paid by the Government and its agencies and all the commissions due, payable and paid by the government to the Company and received by the Company since the announcement of the Contract/Agreement for my perusal and scrutiny pursuant to Section 2, 3(3)m, o, 5, 6, 7, 9, & 10 of the Provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2011 (F.O.I) as Replicated/Domesticated in Lagos State of Nigeria. My request is basically to let me know the monthly returns of the taxes and Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) generated, accrued, collected and paid to the Government and commissions received from Government or its agencies by the Company since inception of the contract”.
In public eyes, the offending company – Alpha Beta (Consulting) Limited – is putatively owned by Alhaji Bola Tinubu – the past Lagos Governor – who handpicked Raji Fashola in 2007 as the Action Congress governorship candidate in Lagos; by recklessly riding roughshod over the party constitution’s requirement for a sensible primary election.
And so, in his proxy reply to Dr. Dominic dated November 5th, 2012, Raji Fashola returned the compliments for his sly preferment by Bola Tinubu. Here is how. In a reply cutting close to the bone, the Lagos State government’s reply to Dr. Dominic was a dead-pan refusal to release any Alpha Beta Limited invoices or and payment vouchers. It was dismissively written as authorised, by the Lagos State Ministry of Justice and signed by Olanrewaju Akinsola (who is Special Senior Assistant on Justice Sector Reforms in the Office of the Attorney-General).
In terms, that November 5th reply letter – explicit in adamance – conveyed Lagos State’s determined rejection on the hilarious ground that Nigeria’s Freedom of Information Act does not apply to Raji Fashola’s government in Lagos State, because the right to public information is a law made by the National Assembly in Abuja, it argued, and as such, that law is without any effect in Lagos State since the Lagos House of Assembly did not enact it.
Shorn of all intellectual pretence to “true federalism” that the letter queerly but defensively invoked, it simply means that the residents of Lagos State have no right to know the revenue and expenditure accounts of their own government, as far as Raji Fashola sees.
In effect, and for the first time in Nigerian history, an elected government declares non-accountability as its governing principle by readying to brazen out the direr consequences.
Whereas, according to Dr. Dominic’s submitted petition for account, “the Government of Lagos State boasts of internally generated revenue of about N40 billion every month; translating into a commission of N6 Billion being paid to Alpha Beta Consulting Ltd, also every month, which sum i consider unfavourable and outrageous to me as a tax payer and Citizen of Lagos State”.
For starters, the gauntlet of true federalism Raji Fashola threw down is pretensive nonsense, for the most part, and, in the specific context of Dr. Dominic’s civic request for accountability from an elected government; a no-brainer.
By commonsense alone, anyone who’s contributed financially as a member of any co-operative society or social club knows that the right to collect levies or taxes from the people carries with it the correlative duty to render accounts to the people levied or taxed.
Indeed, with or without any law , that duty to render account to a levied or taxed person exists in ethics as a compelling habit of honesty, and continues as a legitimate expectation in human relations.
To be sure, Raji Fashola does not need any law to do the needful by issuing public records of Lagos state revenue and expenditure; routinely, and without waiting to be asked. For that is the heart of the social contract between the government and the governed. To require to be forced by litigation to do this ordinary duty, sounding in ethics, reflects badly on Raji Fashola’s governing reputation by figuring it out as darkly lacking an abiding sense of responsibility.
Surely, no reasonable person in public office intentionally stokes revolutionary justice as the only force that could make him render public accounts. It is un-wise; it is dangerous, it is to be avoided.
Tellingly, the thin mask Raji Fashola wore for this naysaying audacity is too transparent to make its piercing effortless, because in federalist political thought, there is no federalism truer than honesty across the land, since honesty is the best policy.
Stealing in the name of a bogus notion of “true federalism” in Lagos or in any other state in Nigeria is financial treason.
At bottomline, for these mindless thefts across Yorubaland to stand without lasting consequence, the enlightened populace must accept it. And that’s the rub. They rather reject it. No argument can change their minds, not even the mangled notion of true federalism worn as fig-leaf for brazen thefts. In this clash of principles, it seems only revolutionary justice can assuage the enlightened populace, because stealing breaks the bonds between governments and the governed.
For more convincing reasons, no fanciful notion of federalism in anyone’s fertile imagination today, if it’s un-backed by a constituent assembly resolution, can override what the Supreme Court says is the operative federalism in Nigeria at a given point in time.
Therefore, once corruption-related laws were declared in the year 2004 as within the legislative remit of the National Assembly to enact over the 36 states, it is now idle talk to speculate on whether that is properly so or not. As such, Raji Fashola’s own chimeric speculation of “true federalism” in the opposite direction of the Supreme Court’s declaration is wrong-headed.
To recap the judicial story, the case before the Supreme Court in 2004 was whether or not the EFCC Act binds all the 36 states against stealing and corruption, despite being a federal law made by the National Assembly in Abuja.
The Supreme Court answered that question in the affirmative.
Furthermore, the Supreme Court declared the pestilence of “corruption” as so urgent a policy priority that its extirpation is a concurrent constitutional matter – thus enabling the National Assembly to thenceforth validly legislate on corruption for all states of the Nigerian federation without need for further legislative action by any of the 36 State Houses of Assembly, to avoid legislative preclusion or override by federal law.
This is the law of the land; regardless of anyone saying this or that.
At base, the Freedom of Information Act, is a corruption-related law enacted to empower the citizens of Nigeria un-cover information that may lead to the discovering of official malfeasance, stealing and corruption; inter alia. As a facilitative law therefore, the Freedom of Information Act has the same legal status and reach as the EFCC Act earlier approved in 2004 by the Supreme Court as binding on all 36 states.
Moreso, the Freedom of Information Act expressly reinforces the EFCC Act without exempting the officials of any state government in Nigeria because the intended legal beneficiaries of the Freedom of Information Act are the citizens of Nigeria, as a whole, in any and all the 36 states.
To exempt Lagos State from that legal duty to account to the people, as Raji Fashola un-lawyerly argues, is to deprive all citizens in Lagos state of a vested and accrued national benefit without due process of law.
Whereas, both in theory and practice, democracy forbids Raji Fashola’s self-exemption declaration. And that is why the current Speaker of the Lagos House of Assembly, Adeyemi Ikuforiji, is now standing criminal trial under the EFCC Act (2003) as amended and enacted by the same National Assembly.
If Raji Fashola were not in hock or un-prepossessed without skeletons to hide, he would grasp the fact at once that Adeyemi Ikuforiji early on tested this same “true federalism theory” as now badly twisted to leach it of its originally good meaning by Action Congress (ACN) party apparatchiks.
At the time, Adeyemi Ikuforiji raised his own true federalism theory as a preliminary objection in the High court whilst questioning the jurisdiction of a federal court over his self-declared official capacity act of (alleged) money-laundering, which true federalism theory the Federal High Court quickly dismissed as nonsense, in short shrift.
……………………………………..Seyi Olu Awofeso is a Legal Practitioner