Lagos State officials are trying to re-write the rules of political communication. They believe in rolling out policies before citizens’ engagement just as they do not think any form of campaign is necessary before announcing landmark policies. I don’t think this is because of the officials’ sagacity, but most likely condescension as they are used to ramming down obnoxious policies down the throats of those of us who reside in Lagos. Otherwise, the various attempts at extinguishing the fire they kindled themselves via an obnoxious land use charge as seen in the numerous meetings with editors, business leaders and media appearances over the past weekend, were totally unnecessary.
One of the added benefits of living with an accountant spouse is free tutorials, sometimes unsolicited but nevertheless beneficial, on financial documents. Nearly a month ago, specifically on February 26, when Governor Akinwunmi Ambode signed the N1.046 trillion 2018 budget into law, my wife asked, “How will it be funded?” I did not pay particular attention to her innocuous question as we watched the show on television that night. In my mind, I was more interested in projects to be done in this year’s budget and which ones are listed in our area so as to make life easier for residents. Other more financially literate persons weighed in, especially on social media, asking the same question, “How will this budget be funded?”
We did not have to wait too long. The Land Use Charge law offers an answer to the question we’ve been asking. First, there are some issues to be cleared without even talking about the value of the charges slammed on Lagosians by our governor. Of course, the value is important too as it is extremely high even when they keep telling us that taxation is the only way out, but the inclusion of a company, AlphaBeta, a shadowy company – as described by some media organisations – as sole collector of the new charges in the bill assented to by Mr. Ambode is a big dent on whatever noble intentions our state government might have for the new law. It is incredulous and incongruous with transparency and openness, two things the Lagos State government does not seem to be in love with in her operations though, that a company could be written into a law for a state.
The rather funny and ridiculous defence put up by the government that it was the fault of the Lagos State House of Assembly, which in turn claimed that it was an “oversight” on their part. So, neither the 40 members of the assembly nor their numerous staff and aides who include lawyers spotted the error until eagle-eyed citizens did. To rub salt into the wound, the assembly through its spokesperson, admitted that the insertion was done in error. It offered a rather lame excuse that the process of the new legislation “is not complete until the state government properly gazettes it,” said Tunde Buraimoh, the house committee chair on information. Meanwhile, the governor had already assented to the bill, which makes one to wonder the duties of the attorney general and other lawyers working in the governor’s office or the state’s ministry of justice. The law states: “Alpha Beta or any other designated person(s) or corporate body, which has the responsibility of monitoring the revenues of the state through the collecting banks shall provide a report to the Accountant-General of the state.”
This confirms what some of us have always suspected: Lagos is for sale. But it is not for the highest bidder as there is not even a level playing field for prospective bidders. We should also not forget that that the previous government of Babatunde Fashola refused a Freedom of Information request in 2012 claiming that FOI does not apply to Lagos State even after the Lagos State High Court ruled that citizens have a right to access public information. Till date, the state does not publish full details of its budget like other states in the country even with the Lagos State Public Procurement Agency Law which mandates the state “to publish details of major contracts in the state procurement journals and publish both paper and electronic edition of the state Procurement Journal and Procurement Manual while maintaining an archival system for the state procurement journal.” A state government that does not obey its own law will definitely not obey other laws.
Good enough that residents and the Organised Private Sector comprising Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, Nigeria Employers Consultative Association, National Association of Small and Medium Scale Enterprises and Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry have already condemned the charges warning of the dire consequences if the charges were allowed. Beyond the incestuous relationship between the executive and legislative arms, this newspaper in a story showed that the rates have been reviewed in 2003, 2008 and 2012 contrary to what the governor told us that there has been no review since 2001. It is up to all Lagosians to stand up and reject this law.
Meanwhile, Lagos State officials should read up on Tammany Hall, the Democratic party machine that dominated New York city politics from 1854 till 1934 before it ran itself aground. They will do well to share their findings with the governor and his godfather.