Legal experts have expressed divergent views over a new law signed by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State which mandates agencies like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), and other anti-graft agencies to hand over corruption cases to the state government.
According to the legislation titled ‘Lagos State Public Complaints and Anti-Corruption Commission Law’ signed by Sanwo-Olu last week, a new anti-corruption agency will have the exclusive rights to investigate financial crimes and corruption cases involving the finances of the Lagos State Government.
Section 13(3) of the law reads, “The commission shall upon the commencement of this law take over the investigation of all anti-corruption and financial crime cases involving the finances and assets of Lagos State Government being investigated by any other agency.”
Section 13(5) also states, “The Commission shall have the power to the exclusion of any other agency or body to investigate and coordinate the investigation of corruption and financial crimes cases involving the finances and assets of the state government.”
Three former Lagos governors, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Babatunde Fashola and Akinwunmi Ambode, are said to be currently under investigation by the EFCC.
Speaking with DAILY INDEPENDENT, Professor Itse Sagay SAN, legal icon and Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) said:
“Legally, it is possible for the EFCC to hand over corruption cases it is investigating to states, provided there is an agreement between the parties. Under the EFCC Act, the states are allowed to do that. Even private prosecutors can be hired and the state prosecutors can also be involved in state courts.”
When asked if the incumbent governor can prosecute his predecessors, Sagay said: “Any former governor has no immunity, so it is possible for them to be prosecuted.
On his part, Monday Ubani, a former Second Vice- President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) said the anti-graft agencies should not hand over the cases to Lagos as that will mark the end of the investigation.
The former chairman, Ikeja branch of NBA said there is no way Governor Sanwo-Olu can prosecute Tinubu who placed a key role in the position he occupies as Lagos governor.
“I am worried about the EFCC handing over the cases to Lagos State Government. Do they have the powers to prosecute? Can Lagos State Government prosecute Asiwaju Bola Tinubu? We all know that Tinubu is Lagos and Lagos is Tinubu. Is it Sanwo-Olu that will prosecute Tinubu?
“Can Lagos State prosecute Babatunde Fashola? Obviously, if the EFCC should hand over the cases to the Lagos state government, that will be the end of those cases. Let them not just do what will put them in bad light.”
Also speaking, Senator Oserheimen Osunbor, a professor of Law and former Edo state governor said any law passed by the state House of Assembly on corruption or economic crimes is inferior to Acts of the National Assembly which sets up both the EFCC and ICPC.
He said: “To respond to your question I will refer you to the “doctrine of covering the field”. This means that where the Constitution or an Act of the National Assembly has provided for a particular matter and has, so to speak, covered the field, it will be pointless for a House of Assembly of a State to legislate on the same matter.
“That will be duplicity, a surplusage and unconstitutional. Furthermore, Section 4 of the Constitution provides expressly that any law passed by the House of Assembly of a State that is in conflict with an Act of the National Assembly shall be void to the extent of its inconsistency.
“In the same vein, it has long been settled by the Supreme Court in the case of Attorney General of Ondo State v. Attorney General of the Federation some twenty years ago, that the ICPC Act (and presumably the EFCC Act) which seeks to curb corruption is within the legislative competence of the National Assembly.
“In summary therefore, it is beyond any argument that any law passed by the House of Assembly of a State on corruption and economic crimes is inferior to Acts of the National Assembly on the same matter and is void to the extent of its inconsistency”.
Speaking on the new law, Dennis Alamu-George, Executive Secretary of Rescue Nigerian Economy Project, a civil society organisation said Governor Sanwo-Olu is only acting the script of Tinubu to put an end to his prosecution.
He said: “This new law is simply a case of Tinubu and his acolytes creating their own special anti-graft law different from the one that you and I are subject to. It is his own way of pulling the rug off the feet of the APC cabal which wants to use his corruption cases to deflate his presidential campaign.
“This is impunity, lawlessness, traits of dictatorship and demagoguery at play. If a man could do this because he controls only one State and he goes ahead to create a law aimed at exempting him from trial, if he becomes the President, he will create laws to suit himself or punish his opponents. This is a dangerous signal.
“This Lagos law will asphyxiate the EFCC and ICPC. It will narrow their scope of operations because other states will emulate Lagos and create similar laws. All out-going Governors will find the laws very attractive and as a protective shield and the law will only intensify the desperation of outgoing governors to put their lackeys in office by all means as successors”.