Nigeria is a federation with shared powers between the centre and the federating units. There are three arms and three tiers of government. The three arms of government consist of the executive, legislature and the judiciary while the three tiers of government are the federal, state and local government. Constitutionally speaking, there is one Federal Government with the seat of power at Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, under the leadership of the President. There are 36 state governments under the leadership of the governors and thirdly, there are 774 Local Government Areas under the leadership of chairmen. We have a bicameral legislature at the centre consisting of the Senate and House of Representatives; at the state level, there is a unicameral legislature called state Houses of Assembly. At the Local Government Level, there is a legislative assembly made up of councillors.
Ironically, while the Federal Government has over the years allowed for financial autonomy and administrative independence of many of the democratic institutions under it such as the National Assembly, the federal judiciary and the Independent National Electoral Commission, to mention a few, the reverse is the case with the state government. State governors, rather than adapt the good practices from the Federal Government and empowering the state institutions under them, they rather prefer to have a stranglehold on them. Governors have consistently kicked against local government autonomy and had also made State Independent Electoral Commissions, judiciary and Houses of Assembly to be perpetually dependent on them. Where then lie true federalism and democracy when it is only one arm out of three that enjoys autonomy at the state level?
Any wonder the quality of elections organised and conducted by SIECs is deemed to lack credibility. At every election, the ruling party at the state wins all contested positions at the local government level. Today, governance at local government level has practically collapsed due to the overbearing attitude of Nigerian governors. Similarly, despite a fierce and tortuous journey to getting the constitution altered to allow for financial autonomy for state Houses of Assembly and judiciary, the governors have continually blocked the implementation of this constitutionally guaranteed financial independence.
Workers in the various state Houses of Assembly under the auspices of the Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria recently gave a 21-day ultimatum to the Federal Government effective from January 27, 2021 for a full implementation of financial autonomy for the legislature or face a total shutdown. According to a strike notice addressed to President Muhammadu Buhari dated January 27, 2021, the group said its members have been patient for two years without implementation. PASAN also expressed dismay over the action of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum aimed at frustrating the implementation of financial autonomy for the state Houses of Assembly. The notice, which was jointly signed by its president, Muhammad Usman and general secretary, D. D Suleiman, warned that if the demands were not met on or before the expiration of the ultimatum, the association would be left with no option than pull her members out of duties.
I have previously weighed in on this issue on May 27, 2020 on this column. Recall that on May 22, 2020, the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), had signed Executive Order 10 granting financial autonomy to the 36 state Houses of Assembly and the judiciary. According to the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, the Executive Order No. 10 of 2020, makes it mandatory that all states of the federation should include the allocations of both the legislature and the judiciary in the first-line charge of their budgets.
According to the AGF, “A Presidential Implementation Committee was constituted to fashion out strategies and modalities for the implementation of financial autonomy for the state legislature and state judiciary in compliance with Section 121(3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as Amended).” He said consideration was given to all other applicable laws, instruments, conventions and regulations that provided for financial autonomy at the states.
Malami added that, “The President signed the Executive Order number 10 into law based on the power vested in him as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria under Section 5 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), which extends to the execution and maintenance of the constitution, laws made by the National Assembly (including but not limited to Section 121(3) of the 1999 Constitution (as Amended), which guarantee financial autonomy of the state legislature and state judiciary.”
A part of the Executive Order states that: “The Accountant-General of the Federation shall by this Order and such any other Orders, Regulations or Guidelines as may be issued by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, authorise the deduction from source in the course of Federation Accounts Allocation from the money allocated to any State of the Federation that fails to release allocation meant for the state legislature and state judiciary in line with the financial autonomy guaranteed by Section 121(3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as Amended).”
Article 6 (1) provides that: “Notwithstanding the provisions of this Executive Order, in the first three years of its implementation, there shall be special extraordinary capital allocations for the Judiciary to undertake capital development of state Judiciary complexes, High Court complexes, Sharia Court of Appeal, Customary Court of Appeal and Court complexes of other courts befitting the status of a court”
How did we arrive at having an Executive Order to enforce this constitutionally backed provision? The battle for financial autonomy of state Houses of Assembly dates back to the beginning of this Fourth Republic in 1999. State governors were believed to have mounted pressures on their state Assemblies to reject financial autonomy each time such an attempt was made by the National Assembly. In the lead-up to the 2010 constitution amendment, while the National Assembly passed the amendment to grant financial autonomy for the state Houses of Assembly, when the bill was referred to the SHA for concurrence, only 23 of the 36 assemblies passed the bill when a minimum of 24 states is needed to make the mandatory two-thirds required to make the alterations successful. It was quite retrogressive!
Recall that the attempt to amend the constitution ahead of 2015 was not successful due to about 12 grey areas in the procedures and contents of the amendment which made President Goodluck Jonathan to withhold assent. Luck however shined on the state Houses of Assembly when the eighth National Assembly made a fresh attempt in 2016. On June 8, 2018, the President assented to the constitution’s Fourth Alteration Bill, which grants financial autonomy to the state Houses of Assembly and the state judiciary, nationwide. The thought then was that state assemblies and judiciary would start to enjoy their hard-earned autonomy. However, that was not to be as the President on Friday, March 22, 2019 inaugurated the Presidential Implementation Committee on Autonomy of the State Legislature and State Judiciary. The committee was meant to sit for three months but obviously took its time as it was over one year since it was inaugurated before the Executive Order 10 was published on Friday, May 22, 2020.
It is quite sad that the Nigerian governors have consistently disallowed the implementation of the financial autonomy for the state legislatures. Three budget cycles have passed, that of 2019, 2020 and 2021, yet the state Houses of Assembly have yet to have their hard earned financial autonomy. I am aware of several fruitless meetings that have been held between the NGF and Conference of Nigerian Speakers. What really is the issue and why are the governors against this financial independence?
Financial autonomy to the state houses of assembly and judiciary will guarantee better separation of powers and checks and balances among the three arms of government at the state levels so that they can jointly team up to provide transparent and accountable governance leading to improved dividends of democracy. Unfortunately, these aspirations have remained a mirage due to the recalcitrant and intransigent opposition of the Nigerian governors to this well-thought-out constitutional alteration. I am of the considered view that it is high time the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, approached the Supreme Court for an Order of Mandamus compelling the state governors to allow for the implementation of this all-important Executive Order backed by constitutional provision. Secondly, the state Houses of Assembly too can jointly agree not to pass the budget of the executive unless and until their right to financial autonomy is enjoyed. The overbearing attitude of Nigerian governors is one key reasons people are afraid of devolution of more power to the states.