Gov. Babatunde Raji Fashola
By Chukwudi Nweje
When in 2009, various rights groups including the True Face of Lagos and Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL) raised some allegations of impropriety against the Lagos State Government and demanded an account of how the government spent the taxpayers’ money, their thinking was that if the government was elected by the people, it should also be answerable to them. But rather than provide answers to the questions raised by the group, the State Government dismissed them.
By late January 2010, with agitations growing stronger that the State Government respond to the allegations of corruption raised it by the various groups, the Lagos State House of Assembly decided to launch an investigation into some of the allegations. However, while the House inquest was ongoing the legislators were ordered to halt their investigation following a suit filed by another group questioning why the legislators were acting on the report of a faceless group.
Three years after the agitation for the State Government to give account to the people is getting louder. CACOL still insists that the State Government must answer to the people who elected it. It urges that the state government should explore the instrument of a State of the State Address to respond to the allegations leveled against it, insisting that the continued silence of the government “shows that our government cares less about what we the people think about how well or otherwise we are governed.”
CACOL has also faulted the court pronouncement barring the legislature from investigating the allegations of impropriety against the executive arm of government, describing the action as dubious. “Why must the state government obtain a judgment to stop the examination of its financial truncations by a statutory arm of the same government if it has nothing to hide? We also hear the civil servants and political appointees have been forced to take the oath of secrecy. What kind of democracy is that that abhors transparency and accountability if not corruption bearing one”, it says.
With the State still not responding, CACOL took the matter to what it calls “the People’s Court”. Relying on the widely published allegations of the True Face of Lagos and its own observations, it printed and distributed questioners to different interest groups in Lagos State to rate the activities of the State Government and how they have impacted on their lives. After collating and interpreting data from the returned questioners, CACOL published the book ‘Lagos Open Parliament: the True face of Lagos by Lagosians.’ The publication is a report of on the ground assessment of the state of budgetary implementation on infrastructural development in the state between May 2007 and May 2011.
Debo Adeniran, the executive chairman explained the process that led to publishing the book, which portrays an exact contrast of the pictures of Lagos as a city on the fast track to mordenity painted by the State Government. He argues that while the state government may have recorded some achievements, it has been exaggerating its achievements. “Our curiosity was triggered by the positions of Lagos watchers. While we see in the print media, the internet and other sources Lagos State Government being praised for super achievements, we moved around Lagos and discovered that there was just little to write home about in terms of provision of amenities. We tried to compare what we have on ground with the budget and what we discovered is that the snippets we get from the budget is different from what we have on ground. The projection the State Government made in its own publication, The Indicator also seems to be farfetched from the reality. We tried to reach some of the officials and they were unable to explain the disparity between what the state says and what we have on ground.”
According to him, even visits to some state ministries that are supposed to be executing some of the projects did not provide answers “because the officials cannot explain why the projects are badly done or not done at all our curiosity was therefore raised.”
Adeniran accused the Government of infringing on the functions of the local governments in order to get media attention. He sites the clearing of Oshodi that has often been cited as one of the achievements of the state government as an example. “The only function that could be ascribed as the function of the state government in Oshodi is the building of pedestrian bridges and sometimes, the local governments can even build pedestrian bridges. So why is the state government so interested in performing the functions of the local governments? Our curiosity was raised, we investigated and discovered it is because of the megalomaniac nature of the State government”, he says.
He also accused the state government of misplaced priorities in some of the projects it executed. “The state government claims the road in Oshodi on which they provided road dividers is a federal road. There are so many state roads around Oshodi which are at different levels of disrepair. If they wanted to decongest Oshodi, they could have constructed the inner roads around there. We concede that the State can help the local governments in executing some projects beyond their financial strength but constructing the Oshodi road when the inner roads have not been done is a misplaced priority.
“If you look at it clearing Oshodi was the only project that stood out in 2009 /2010. If it took the entire 2008 and 2009 budget to clear Oshodi we asked them what happens to the 2010 budget. They claimed they were executing other projects but our curiosity became more intense when we couldn’t find any. We knew that if they continue the way they have, they are not likely to execute any projects. By this time, the True Face of Lagos had come out with their report and we discovered that it tallies with ours. So we went to the government to ask questions and they said it was the publication of a faceless organisation that they were not going to respond to it. We told them if this position is not true, give us the true position, but they still refused to reply. We protested to the House of Assembly which set up a committee to look into the veracity of the observations of the True Face of Lagos and ours. But the State Government by proxy took the House of Assembly to court stopping the investigation. So we decided to go to the people. We set up the Lagos Open Parliament and invited two people from each of the then 20 local government areas to come and testify. We read out the allegations and gave out questioners to them to distribute in their areas,” Adeniran said. According to him, the findings show that while the government may have recorded some achievements, but has been exaggerating its achievements.
Other areas of Lagos State Government’s policy that CACOL has expressed reservation over is taxation where it insists that there are incidences of double taxation even as they insist that residents are not getting value for the services they paid for. Speaking on flooding in the State, Adeniran argued that the state government is to be blame because it has failed to put in place good drainage system.
“You collect taxes from people and then ask them to pay for refuse disposal and many other things. Theses are double taxation. Even when residents have paid LAWMA for refuse disposal, LAWMA may not come on time. It is not residents that dump refuse into the drainage system. It is the refuse that residents brought out which were not picked up by their own agency that end up in the drainage. No body would deliberately want to block the drainage. Even if there are some areas where people dump refuse in the drainage, it would be because LAWMA does not pick up refuse and they are now looking for a convenient place to dispose of their refuse. If government has been as effective as it should be no body would want to dump refuse in the drainage”.
The organisation accused the government of being the biggest violator of its environmental laws, stressing for example that by sand filling and reclaiming land, the state government is making the state prone to flood. “The government has been dumping sand in the pit because they want to reclaim land and as long as they continue to dump sand in the pit, water will continue to percolate into the hinterland and the absorbent capacity of the soil will be jeopardised and when that happens water that is supposed to sink into the underground water table will not have a place to sink because it has been soaked. Why does Lagos state government that keeps complaining that Lagos floods, that knows that Lagos is below sea level be fill the pit because of its land grabbing orientation.”
CACOL also accused the Government of human rights abuses insisting that it has been oppressing Lagosians with draconian laws and establishment of what they call kangaroo tribunals and courts.
“There are so many people rotting away at the Badagry Prison for very minor offences like street hawking. You know what they do to street hawkers; they put them in the Black Maria and leave them in the scorching sun that drenches them in their own sweet till late in the evening before driving them to Alausa without food or water. They have set up what they call mobile courts. The courts don’t sit until very late in the evening and evening when they grant you bail or give an option of fine, before you perfect it the day would have gone.
The next thing the registrar will tell you is that he has closed and they will transfer you to prison. They don’t even detain them at the detention centres around town; they prefer to take them far away where it will be difficult for even their own people to reach them.
“This kind of thing should not be happening in a civilised society. If you call Lagos the Centre of Excellence and excellence cannot be identified in the population then it is unfortunate”, he said