Three years ago, the United Nations assessed the continuing 80-90% school failure rates in Nigeria’s 36 states as meaning that Nigeria is the 9th most illiterate country in the world. A later World Bank Survey of 2011 declared Lagos state as worse and degraded than in the 1970s.
Over against these facts, Raji Fasjola and Bola Tinubu’s joint government declares Lagos state the praline place of excellence, and their Action Congress (AC), a progressive political party.
But the duo’s dissent bears no dis-proving facts of Lagos’ dolorous narrative.
As it is, Lagos’ medium term future is in doubt, not least because its future taxes cannot be raised from the millions of illiterate and un-skilled youths who will rather likely press violently for free social services to further tie up the State’s finances already hobbled by over $500 million debts.
Overlaying all of this is Bola Tinubu’s absolute personal control of Lagos state government.
For never in history has any Parliament adjourned its official proceedings and marched to the private residence of a politician not holding public office to pledge the Parliament’s un-conditional allegiance to that politician. But that’s exactly what happened in June 2007 – immediately after the Lagos State Assembly was inaugurated by the new Governor; Raji Fashola – when 99% of the State Parliamentarians rushed to Bola Tinubu’s private residence to pledge the Lagos’ Parliament’s allegiance to Bola Tinubu in his then private capacity, with the incumbent Governor Raji Fashola merely looking on, having been pawned to remain in hock.
Till now, Bola Tinubu’s private ownership of Lagos State government continues without as much as a whimper by any wing of Nigeria’s Civil Rights Movements. “Civil Rights Groups in Nigeria have no intellectual direction”, said Global Witness; a highly respected anti-fraud organisation based in America.
In truth, not all Lagosians have been sitting on their hands. One candidate at the 2011 Governorship elections; Mr. J.K Randle; an experienced accountant, had groaned on national teevee during a debate with Bola Tinubu’s hand-picked successor – Raji Fashola – that he (Randle) has never been able to make sense of Lagos State finances and he’s been asking for the account details but was continuously denied it.
Step back and spare a thought for Mr. Randle who was by then at the end of his tethers.
Beginning 1999, Lagos State government has yearly announced and published its budget at much fanfared events, but a budget is a mere proposal – not an accounting statement, and so, Mr. Randle’s jeremiad is right that there’s no publicly known account of Lagos State – for as long as Lagos State refuses to publish its post-budget expenditure and income.
To close that gaping hole for continuing financial fraud in Lagos, a group known as Citizens Assistance Centre sued on October 25, 2011 for an order of mandamus – in terms asking the Ikeja High Court to compel that Lagos State Assembly discloses the State’s post-budget expenditure.
But the High Court Judge assigned the case ( Yetunde Idowu) struck it out on 14th March, 2012, on a tenuous ground that the case should have been filed within thirty days from “when the Lagos Assembly ignored the group’s letter dated July 14, 2011, asking for details of accounts”. Whereas, Judge Yetunde Idowu herself made no finding of the exact date that the ignoring of the petition dated 14th March ceased or stopped – being a continuing fact – to enable her court feasibly apply the short statute of limitation to reckon the thirty (30) days required to bring a lawsuit.
Nigerian court judgments, of course, typically follow this pattern of begging the question.
Regardless of that squelching court order, Lagos state finances continue to nag curious Lagos residents, especially after a federal Senate investigation in 2011 returned a verdict of Lagos’ indebtedness of $460 million – equivalent to half as much again of the state’s yearly financial revenue, excluding other gross liabilities on the back of the over-expansion of the size of Lagos government with huge future consequences on the state’s pension bills.
Taking a cue, and sensing a cover-up, a Lagos resident (Dr. Ademola Dominic) petitioned the Lagos State government directly on the 24th of October 2012, asking for a disclosure of public accounts as pertain the tax consultancy fee the Lagos State government pays out monthly to a private company named Alpha Beta Consulting Limited.
Dr. Dominic, as Petitor, invoked the Freedom of Information Act and demanded 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”.
According to Dr. Dominic’s 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 is consider unfavorable and outrageous to me as a taxpayer and Citizen of Lagos State”.
In public eyes, the offending company – Alpha Beta (Consulting) Limited – is putatively owned by Alhaji Bola Tinubu – the past Lagos Governor – who’d handpicked Raji Fashola in 2007 as the Action Congress governorship candidate in Lagos by riding roughshod over the party’s constitution’s requirement for a sensible primary election.
In his proxy reply to Dr. Dominic, dated November 5th, 2012, Raji Fashola treated Dr. Dominic’s petition as the occasion to return the personal compliments for his sly preferment by Bola Tinubu.
Here is how. In a reply cutting close to the bone, the Lagos State government tersely told Dr. Dominic that his petition for accounts would not be answered and no Alpha Beta Limited invoices or payment vouchers will be disclosed. It was so dismissively written by the Lagos State Ministry of Justice and signed by Olanrewaju Akinsola – a Special Senior Assistant on Justice Sector Reforms in the Office of the Attorney-General.
In terms, that November 5th reply letter conveyed Lagos State’s stance to treat Lagos finances as personal funds rather than as usufructuary asset that it is.
To back its refusal, Raji Fashola’s government declared in its reply letter to Dr. Dominic’s petition that Nigeria’s Freedom of Information Act does not apply to Raji Fashola’s government in Lagos because the right to public information is a law made by the National Assembly in Abuja, 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 Raji Fashola queerly but defensively invoked, the long and the short of it is that Lagos State residents are pointed told they have no right to know the revenue and expenditure accounts of their government under Raji Fashola’s government.
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.
Now, however it is cut or diced, the gauntlet of true federalism Raji Fashola thereby 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 a 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 subsequently render accounts to the people levied or taxed.
With or without any law, the 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 all civilized human relations.
Raji Fashola does not need any law to do the needful by routinely issuing public records of Lagos state revenue and expenditure without waiting to be asked. For that is the heart of the social contract between the government and the governed. To now require to be forced to do this ordinary duty, sounding in ethics, reflects badly on Raji Fashola’s governing reputation by figuring it out as lacking an abiding sense of responsibility.
For if Raji Fashola were otherwise not in hock; or un-prepossessed without skeletons to hide, he would grasp the fact at once that the Speaker of the Lagos Assembly, Adeyemi Ikuforiji, had early on tested this same “true federalism theory” – which is now badly twisted to leach it of its originally good meaning by the current Action Congress (ACN) party apparatchiks to trench close to meaning non-accountability.
When the Lagos Speaker, Adeyemi Ikuforiji raised his own true federalism theory as a preliminary objection in the High court; in questioning the jurisdiction of a federal court over his self-declared official capacity act of (alleged) money-laundering of ₦530 million at state level, the Federal High Court promptly dismissed the true federalism theory as nonsense, mirroring the scuppering fate awaiting Raji Fashola’s resurrected version of this same bogus defense.
……………..Seyi Olu Awofeso is a Legal Practitioner
Date Original Posted: February 3, 2013