The Lagos State House of Assembly said on Wednesday that the insertion of a private company as a consultant in the state’s proposed land use law was a mistake.
But critics have rejected this explanation as an afterthought.
Social media erupted on Wednesday morning after a screengrab emerged of the state’s proposed land use law showing that Alpha Beta was specifically mentioned as a possible consultant to be engaged in verification of land use payments to state government.
“Alpha Beta or any other designated person(s) or corporate body who has the responsibility of monitoring the incoming revenue of the state through the collecting banks, shall provide a report to the Accountant-General of the State,” according to a section of the proposed Lagos State Land Use Charge Act 2018 said.
The section elicited widespread criticism from social media users, with many calling on Lagosians to deliver to be wary of the All Progressives Congress’ leadership in the state.
“It was a very costly mistake that should not have happened,” Tunde Braimoh, a member of and spokesperson for the Lagos State House, told PREMIUM TIMES Wednesday afternoon. “It was erroneously put in the draft copy of the law and we’re already working to remove it completely.”
Mr. Braimoh said ‘Alpha Beta’ would be deleted from the law within three weeks before Governor Akinwunmi Ambode would have the permission to sign the final copy into law.
“We will remove it within the next three weeks and forward the clean bill to the governor for assent,” he said. “It is after then that the law will be gazetted and people can be able to cite it.”
The lawmaker said those responsible for the controversial insertion have apologised, but accepted responsibility for participating in pushing it forward.
“Although the bill is an executive bill, it is our job as lawmakers to vet it properly before passing it,” he said. “On this note, I accepted by own share of responsibility in the mistake.”
But Demola Olarewaju, an opposition politician and strategist for the Peoples Democratic Party, said the lawmakers are scrambling to save face after being caught trying to shortchange Lagosians again.
“How can the House of Assembly which has 40 members say a company was mistakenly inserted into a law and no one detected it?” Mr. Olarewaju told PREMIUM TIMES by telephone Wednesday afternoon. “They can say it was an error of judgement, but definitely not a mistake.”
“They didn’t expect that people would read the law and point out the duplicity in it,” he added.
He said it was not the first time that Lagos lawmakers would pass a law that specifically gives undue advantage to a private company.
“Visionscape was specifically mentioned in the new environmental law,” Mr. Olarewaju said. “Lagosians want to know the owners of Visionscape and Alpha Beta.”
PREMIUM TIMES findings, however, show that while Visionscape may have been in the initial draft of the law, it was not contained in the final approved law.
However, since the implementation of the environmental law, Visionscape has enjoyed some sort of monopoly in the management of waste disposal in the state. But a few months after it commenced operation, Visionscape found itself unable to handle waste management in the state of nearly 20 million people.
The company has also been locked in a fierce confrontation with existing waste management firms, a situation that had left residents grappling with a lack of proper waste management.
Critics said the latest law on land use charges was draconian because it was allegedly aimed at further squeezing the residents of their hard earned income.
“If you’re paying N1,000 now as your land use charge, you could be paying up to N10,000 by the time the law is finalised,” Mr. Olarewaju said.
He said the law contradicts the state’s tenement law that forbids landlords from substantially hiking rates against tenants.
“If you increase the land use charges substantially, then you should expect landlords to increase rent charges substantially,” he said.
Mr. Braimoh said the law favours home owners and elderly citizens, but admitted that those who use their properties for commercial purposes would be seriously hit.
“Land use charges would increase for buildings used for commercial purposes,” the lawmaker said. “But those who built and live in their own houses would pay little to nothing in land use charges.”
“We also have a special consideration for retired civil servants and all senior citizens above 80 years.”
Besides, Mr. Braimoh said, Mr. Ambode, who drafted the bill, had promised to listen to Lagosians who have complaints about the law.
“This law is subject for a review every five years,” he said. “But even now, the governor is saying that he’s willing to listen to residents who have complaints about specific sections of the law with the possibility of making changes.”
“Nothing is really cast in stone, we’re hear to make laws for the good of the people of the state,” the lawmaker added.
Alpha Beta Consulting is widely known amongst Lagosians as the state’s preeminent tax consulting firm,amidst speculations that it is being used as a conduit for siphoning state funds into private pockets.
Habib Haruna, a spokesperson for the governor, did not immediately respond to PREMIUM TIMES’ request seeking comments about how state officials inserted ‘Alpha Beta’ into a state law and the controversy surrounding the revelation.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been edited to reflect the fact that Visionscape was not mentioned in the final version of the Lagos environmental law.