By Seyi Olu Awofeso
Never in history has any Parliament adjourned 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; as happened in June 2007 – after the Lagos State Assembly was inaugurated by the new Governor; Raji Fashola – when 99% of the State Parliamentarians thereafter rushed to Bola Tinubu’s private residence to pledge the Lagos’ Parliament’s allegiance to Bola Tinubu in his then private capacity.
Had this historical infamy occurred in Turkey, the Turkish Army would have constitutionally struck to terminate the private ownership of Lagos government. By its Constitution, Turkey sensibly grants its army the right to legally intervene and assure that no institution of state becomes anyone’s private property.
Riding the crest of the waves in Lagos – for so long as the Nigerian Army has no such express right – Bola Tinubu’s private ownership of Lagos State government continues without as much as legal challenge 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. “There is no government in Nigeria, or in any state of the Nigerian federation”, said Amnesty International, “rather, what’s been going on in Nigeria since 1999 is closer to criminality than governance.”
In truth, not all Lagosians have been sitting on their hands. For example, a candidate at the 2011 Governorship elections; Mr. Randle; who is 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 that he’s been asking for account details but was continuously denied by the Lagos State government.
Spare a thought now for Mr. Randle who was by then at the end of his tethers. Since 1999 Lagos State has yearly announced and published its budget at much fanfared events. But a budget is a mere proposal – not an accounting statement, and so, there’s truly no publicly known account of Lagos State, as long as Lagos State refuses to publish its actual post-budget expenditure and income.
To close that artifice for fraud, a group known as Citizens Assistance Centre sued Lagos State to court on October 25, 2011, for an order of mandamus – in effect; asking the Ikeja High Court to compel the Lagos State Assembly to disclose its actual post-budget recurrent expenditure.
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”.
But Judge Yetunde Idowu made no specific finding on the exact date the ignoring of the letter dated 14th March ceased or stopped, being a continuing fact – to thereafter enable her court properly apply the short statute of limitation to the thirty days required to bring a lawsuit.
Nigerian court judgments, of course, typically follow this same pattern of begging the question.
Whilst Judge Yetunde Idowu may just feel self-satisfied that she’s done the right thing, Lagosians will remain in the dark on how they are governed and at what costs – despite a substantively counterfeit Freedom of Information Act recently enacted by the federal parliament in Abuja as mere salve to those affronted by darkling governments in Nigeria.
Whereas, in proper democratic practise, whether or not there is a Freedom of Information Act, the peremptory norm, according to Justice Black of United States Supreme Court, is that “no aspect of a democratic government should be shrouded in secrecy.”
But as it stands today, Lagos State is perceived as having gone rogue in exception to that basic rule; even if its exceptionalism results this time from a point of law, as applied.
Majorly because its detailed expenditure accounts have not once before been revealed to the public since 1999, and partly because Funso Williams – the assassinated PDP leader in Lagos State – had shortly before his death published and exposed Lagos’ public works contracts as corruptly inflated – the Lagos State Action Congress finances risk facing closer scrutiny.
Moreso when last year’s Senate investigation into Lagos State financial solvency returned a verdict of high indebtedness of about $460 million – equivalent to its expected yearly financial allocation twice over.
It is though a tad exaggerative to raise alarm at this figure of $460 million unless there are no matching internal revenues as at now or extra income from oil subsidy removal revenues to finance it. Yet, what is not known may yet make what the Senate knows absolutely false, if the full expenditure accounts of Lagos State are not yet publicly known.
Accounts’ opacity notwithstanding, there’s at least anecdotal evidence of increased expenditure led by the growing of the size of government in Lagos State. For instance, the Lagos State Traffic Management Agency was created as agency – along with several others to dispose waste and assure city cleanliness, and such-like duties normally done by Ministries. The Lagos’ court system was also expanded and more Judges appointed on the payroll with assured pensions on retirement.
The net result of rapidly growing the size of government in Lagos has however proved more wasteful than sensible. “Lagos is now degraded from its far better status in the 1970s”, said a recent World Bank survey. That outside verdict has traction because the evidence of retrogression is more telling in human capital neglect by the Lagos State Action Congress.
Lagos’ regional neighbour – Oyo State – is now ranked third to the worst of the 36 States in Nigeria, according to educational failure rate, but that’s only a smidgen flattery for the less bad Lagos State government which records 75% failure rate in school certificate examinations annually since the turn of the century.
For sure, there’s as yet no known official plan or clue by Action Congress on how to reverse these depressing failure rates in Lagos State, despite that the Lagos government likes to pride itself as “the most enlightened and progressive state in Nigeria”. Whilst looking exactly like the rest of the 35 states in terms of non-accountability and governance results.
How therefore progressiveness and illiteracy can go together is the impossible mission of both Bola Tinubu and Raji Fashola – whose consecutive governments are producing illiterates like sausages in Lagos.
To divert attention from that gnawing state failure, Bola Tinubu offers the public a red-herring instead. “We must have a Sovereign National Conference!” he’d said at his February 15th religious investiture in Osun State, where he was turbaned a Defender of Muslim interests and styled the Agba-Akin Adinni of Ijeshaland.
But what Tinubu did not say then made what he said absolutely false. For he was pretentiously quiet on the suspected massive thefts of Lagos State funds exemplified by the arrest and EFCC arraignment of his acolyte, the Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly – Bola kuforiji – who was charged for criminal diversion of ₦510million from the State Treasury.
Bola Kuforiji continues to preside over the Lagos State House of Assembly till today, despite his arraignment for stealing.
In that context, It’s utter hypocrisy to overlook suspected official thefts in Lagos and talk instead of Sovereign National Conference, when no Conference is so urgent as to exonerate current official thefts, or, grant immunity to any and all past thefts in Lagos government.
By all means, let all Nigerians meet and confer, if they choose, but never overlook the eye-watering thefts that will create more severe problems for Nigeria once the conference ends, and if the loot is un-recovered or negligently allowed to become laundered as family wealth to be later transmissible by Will or by trust to the children of official thieves.
Recovery of all loot must come first – and certainly before any Sovereign National Conference, because the people of Nigeria have the inalienable option to consensually dissolve their federation, if they choose to do so at any agreed conference, but they can’t exercise that option if the assets of the federation have been stolen and hidden in the private pockets of both present and past government officials.
Seyi Olu Awofeso is a Legal Practitioner in Nigeria