How would you react to the allegation that about N78.3 million was spent for website upgrade by the immediate past regime in Lagos State?
When the news broke that he (Fashola) spent about $400, 000 to upgrade his website, we initially thought he brought out the money from his private account, but when we now checked on the website of the Lagos State Public Procurement Commission, we discovered that N78. 3 million of public fund was spent. Then we cross-checked on word press and our findings revealed that the most expensive website in the world today is around N600, 000. We then queried the firm that handled the upgrade and that was when they came out with the revelation that they only collected N10 million. Actually they wanted N12 million, but N10 million was paid. So, the question that arose is where is N68.3 million that is the difference between N10 million paid for the job and N78.3 million that was approved to which the Lagos State official website claimed was paid for the service? So, it is not so much about insisting that somebody has stolen the money; we are just saying that the chief accounting officer of that regime should give us explanation on where the N68.3 million is. He should tell us what they did with the money whether it was returned to the coffers of the state government and why should it be that the governor would spend so much money to finance his own personal website? It is immaterial that the website was meant to showcase the achievement of the gentleman, but the state as an institution has its own website and the question is why would that not be enough? Why couldn’t they have created a section of the state website to showcase these achievements? Afterall everything that the state website contains must be the achievements of the regime in power during that period. So, why should they create another website for the governor in his own personal name because the website was not created as governor of Lagos state but in the name of Babatunde Raji Fashola? That is why we are worried that that could have been appropriated for personal aggrandizement.
You were one of the major voices that questioned the integrity of Governor Fashola while in office. Why did you walked along that line when it seemed unpopular to do so?
If you remember in 2009 and early 2010, there was this publication by the True Face of Lagos questioning the contracts that were awarded and some that were re-awarded. The group had alleged that the contracts were massively inflated and when we saw it, we were alarmed. Then, the state government’s response was not satisfying to the extent that they said the True Face of Lagos was a faceless group and the rest of them. We now said it does not matter who pushed such allegation to the public and that the most important thing was for the government to state whether the allegations were true or not. If they were not true, state your position about it. We then wrote the state government and they failed to respond. When we waited for so long and there was no response, we then wrote the Lagos State House of Assembly asking that they should probe themselves because they were also indicted in the same publication and probe the executive. When the House of Assembly picked up the issue and set up a committee to probe the allegations, Richard Akinola went to court using the late Bamidele Aturu to challenge that and they got an injunction stopping the House from going ahead with the proceeding in the probe of the allegations. But we were not satisfied by that because if the regime, as headed by Tunde Raji Fashola had nothing to hide, it was not the court that they ought to have headed for; they ought to have opted for explanation. But when that explanation was not forthcoming and the House had been stopped from proceeding, we now wrote another petition that was sent to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC). We adopted the one for the EFCC after we were invited. Now, by the end of February of 2010 when we did not get any serious response, we gathered our information and put it as an advertorial in a newspaper and still no response came from government because we said if they had anything to defend in the allegation, they should respond. And when they failed to respond for so long, we took it as a notorious fact and that was why we also went back to EFCC to say look these people have not defended anything; why have you decided not to prosecute them? They told us that they had started inviting principal officers of the regime and that they have started questioning them. That we did for so long and when we did not get any usable answer, we went to town and invited five people from each of the then twenty Local Governments to the Institute of Medical Research in Yaba in what we called Lagos Open Parliament and there we raised the question that each representative should tell us their impression of government’s performance in their Local Governments and there were tale of woes and our reaction was that this was a governor that was being carried as being performing. Remember, that was about the time he had just done something in Oshodi and we knew that what he did in Oshodi was not a state government’s job because it was about re-arranging the motor parks, markets and the road there is of the Federal Government. The only thing you can say belong to the state is may be the flyover. We were of the opinion that this was a local government function that had been usurped by the state government with the view to get popular support. So, at the Lagos parliament, we administered questionnaires on the people and the response was in the negative. We were still not satisfied and we went to town to administer the questionnaires in all the local governments; we monitored the radio programmes; we monitored newspapers, internet and so on, and we got our responses. We went to town and we took photographs of the site we believed that things were not properly done. We prepared our findings into a manuscript and we even sent to the state government and also called a press conference. Still, there was no response and gradually we got our members together and compiled our findings into a book and we called it “Open Parliament 1,” the state of budgetary implementation in Lagos, 2009 to 2011 or thereabout. We sent copies to the state government and still, there was no response and then we were now wondering how a state government can be so snobbish. It was at that point that we declared protest without end and since then, it had been protest after protest in different formats. From what journalists published in the media, internet and so on, we compiled them into a book and termed it “Open Parliament 2.” We also sent it to the state government and there was no reaction. We even wrote under the Freedom of Information Act and the Ministry of Justice replied us that the FOI Act is not operative in Lagos, being a federal legislation. And the most annoying aspect was that Lagos was the centre of activities that led to the enactment of FOI Act. Fashola’s predecessor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu was part of the struggle for the emergence of FOI Act and it was worrisome that the same state under Fashola was now championing the sabotage of the FOI Act. So, the major reasons why we asked the presidency not to consider Fashola for appointment is because if a man that was that snobbish at the state level could be appointed into higher federal office, then it would not be too good. Fashola never believed in a law that sought to enhance transparency, openness, probity and participatory governance, and such a man does not deserve higher appointment.
How would you react to the allegation that you are being sponsored to rubbish Fashola at all cost?
Well, that is the normal thing you hear when things are like this. When people commit indefensible offences and you expose them, you are bound to hear something of such. Even if I’m being sponsored to raise critical questions that you have not been able to answer, why not? Infact, I will like to be sponsored to do what I love to do. The question is not about who is the messenger, the question is about the message. But I should tell you, nobody sponsored us. If we had gotten people to sponsor us, we would have done a better book; we would have had enough copies to circulate to everybody in Lagos; we would have been able to buy newspapers’ pages and advertise the book beyond what anybody can stop; we would have done so much more than what you are hearing. Because of paucity of resources, we compiled one book for almost three years. The second book we compiled it for more than two years. If we have sponsors, all of these things could be done within six months or less and we have done it in greater quantity. To directly answer your question, nobody sponsored us, but we would be glad if we have sponsors.
In the past few months, the EFCC has suddenly woken up to its responsibility. How do you see this?
That is the kind of reaction you get from the body language of the present regime. There is no agency that can be more effective than the regime that sets it up. That is why people say he who pays the piper dictate the tune. There is no agency that will not study the body language of the regime that puts it together before it acts and so it is because they saw the pedigree and antecedents of the president in power now that is simply making them to be alive to their duty. I believe that they are yet to be empowered the way they should because we at the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders have advocated that the anti-corruption agencies should be strengthened; they should be better funded; they should be better trained; they should be better equipped; they should be better protected because they are also exposed to so much danger while they carry out their assignments, but that has not been done. The body language of the present regime is to the effect that they are going to get enormous support from the regime if they do their work and that is why they are doing what they are doing and that is why we think what they are doing is good.
Talking about body language, so many people have criticized President Buhari and his vice, Prof Yemi Osinbajo for failing to declare their assets publicly. Is that not a direct departure from their anti-corruption posture?
Well, we are one of those critics. Our criticism of Buhari regime is that he entered a covenant with us that within the first hundred days, he would do it. Granted that the end of the first hundred days has not come, but we believe that he could have started on the right tooting by ensuring that the Assets Declaration Form which he filled got to the press even before it got to the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB). No law would have been violated by so doing. Now, if they don’t have anything to hide, they ought to have done it. If they now make it public there, the credibility that would have been achieved is no longer there because they have assumed power and they have assumed influence that could overwhelm even the CCB to play things down. If they had done it immediately they were sworn-in, it would have been more acceptable. But largely, the subsequent actions have been okay.
Source: Daily Independent.