Introduction
Provisions of new law

Potential motivations
Comment


Introduction

In April 2021 the Lagos State House of Assembly passed the Public Complaints and Anti-corruption Bill. The first indication that most people in the state had that such legislation was in the works was when the media reported that the governor of the state had already signed the bill. According to the state government, the law's objective is to deepen the culture of accountability and transparency in the expenditure of appropriated public funds generated in Lagos.

The law establishes a new agency, the Lagos State Public Complaints and Anti­-corruption Commission. Its members are to be appointed by the governor and it is empowered to:

  • investigate Lagos government departments, agencies and local governments;
  • investigate corporations established or owned by the state government and persons employed by such bodies; and
  • prosecute acts of corruption, financial crimes and offences relating to the administration of justice within the state as revealed by such investigations.

Provisions of new law

One provision of the new legislation that has attracted negative commentary is that which permits this newly created commission to take over the "investigation of all Anti-Corruption and Financial Crimes cases involving the finances and assets of Lagos State Government being investigated by any other Agency".

The clear implication of this provision is that investigations being conducted by other law enforcement agencies (all of which are federal agencies) may be mandatorily taken over by the new agency. In media statements that accompanied the revelation of this new law, the Lagos government stated its belief that the law, and the body established to enforce its provisions, will assist in the effort to entrench accountability in governance and check malfeasance among officers entrusted with public resources.

The law is the first of its kind to be enacted by a state in Nigeria. As indicated above, hitherto only federal legislation has established any specific legal framework for the prosecution of acts of corruption and economic and financial offences. The agencies viewed as being primarily concerned with the investigation and prosecution of acts of corruption and financial crimes (ie, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission) were both created by federal legislation.

Divergent views have arisen within the legal community and more widely as to whether:

  • states in Nigeria are competent to make laws on a subject in respect of which federal laws already exist; and
  • such laws enacted by state legislatures, which are inconsistent with existing federal laws, would be void.

The law appears to have anticipated this as it prefaces many of the provisions that confer specific powers on the commission and that create specific offences with the words "[s]ubject to the provisions of the Constitution". It can be argued that the state governments may legislate upon financial crimes and corruption matters as these subjects are not contained in either the exclusive or concurrent legislative lists in the Constitution and are, therefore, residual matters within the legislative competence of state legislatures. Further, the law is specific in providing only for the investigation and prosecution of crimes relating to Lagos state funds and assets.

Potential motivations

Other commentary that followed the announcement of the new law suggested that its real intention is to protect high-profile individuals presently being prosecuted or investigated by federal agencies in relation to alleged offences concerning Lagos state assets. Ever since Nigeria's return to civilian governance in 1999, Lagos has essentially been governed by the same political party. That party continues to be led by the first governor elected under the 1999 Constitution. Numerous allegations that he has engaged in acts of corruption and other criminal conduct relating to his time in office and subsequently have been circulating since before his time in office ended in 2007. None of the allegations have been substantiated but they continue to be circulated. No charges are currently pending against him and the existence of investigations by any federal agency has not been confirmed.

Comment

The fact that the state government has yet to announce the members of the newly created commission and that the commission has not started functioning seem to suggest that such commentary lacks any concrete foundation. The bill may have been motivated by the ongoing dispute between federal and state governments over the extent of their jurisdictions and the jostling for positions in advance of elections scheduled for 2023, rather than by any actual intention on the part of the state government to protect people.

For further information on this topic please contact Babajide Oladipo Ogundipe or Olamide Aleshinloye at Sofunde Osakwe Ogundipe & Belgore by telephone (+234 1 462 2502) or email ([email protected] or [email protected]). The Sofunde Osakwe Ogundipe & Belgore website can be accessed at www.sooblaw.com.