The hallmark of democratic governance in the 21st is its gradual consolidation. This has been the challenge with Nigeria’s democratic governance since 1999. Before now, we have witnessed brazen abuse of power by seating presidents. The issues of autonomy for local governments, state legislature and judiciary were treated with levity, or better still, the twists and turns in the country’s political firmament point to the fact that they were playing politics with these governance issues at will.
Because of the weak commitment to democratic ideals, leaders watched as state chief executives treat state resources with reckless abandon. The state legislature and judiciary were too weak to perform their assigned roles effectively because in the end they had to return to the State governor cap in hand to beg for handout to run their respective arms of government.
However, with the ascension of President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015, against the saddening dooms day predictions of enemies of Nigeria, the country has continued to take giant leap in its march towards unadulterated democratic governance.
One of such steps is the lingering controversy surrounding the plight and status of local government. Worried by the consistent deplorable state and poor performance of local government councils, which are the closest to the people and meant to cater for residual development, President Buhari in June 2019 signed an executive order for financial autonomy to enhance the performance of this tier of government at the grassroots.
Not satisfied, President Buhari thought it wise to boost the independence of the legislature and judiciary in states by granting financial autonomy to them. The decision to sign into law Executive Order No. 10 of 2020, constitutional experts explain is in line with the power vested in the president under Section 5 of the 1999 Constitution (as Amended).
In signing the law, President Buhari pledged: “This administration will continue to do everything to strengthen the principles and practice of democracy and democratic governance in Nigeria.”
The executive order means that the legislative and judicial arms of government across the 36 states will no longer be tied to the apron strings of powerful governors, and will receive their financial allocations straight from the centre.
State judges may no longer be under duress to hand favourable rulings to sitting governors or their ministries on matters of state.
The move will also ensure separation of powers in most states and accord the other arms of government some measure of authority, respectability and independence.
Stakeholders have continued to applaud the signing of the executive order, describing it as laudable because it would entrench the principle of separation of powers and make all arms of government truly independent. Senior lawyers are not left out of the rain commendation for the new order.
President Buhari took a bold step. The executive order complies with the doctrine of separation of powers, which in the constitution makes the funding of the judiciary independent of the executive. I will personally give kudos to the president for signing the executive order. What Buhari has done is to implement the decision that judicial funding is independent of the executive.
But the governors are not taking the new development with levity as they have resolved to setup a committee to advise them. However, the reasonable thing the governors should do is to encourage the president to issue more executive orders to hasten the democratisation process.
Buhari did the right thing by signing the order; the recognition of the financial autonomy for the judiciary and the legislature at all levels of government is necessary for effective checks and balances. This law is the single most important step toward consolidating our democracy. The state governors exercise overbearing powers.
Most states practice the one-party system. Several governors operate like dictators. This does not augur well for democracy. The autonomy of state legislature and the judiciary should help to improve the performance of those two arms of government.
What needs to be done now is proper supervision of the autonomy, so it will go hand-in-hand with accountability, to minimize abuse. Civil society organisations must be up and doing at the state levels to draw attention to the excesses of the arms of government.
In this regard also, the media has an important role to play in reporting abuses of powers by the different arms of government. In short, we must all be vigilant to ensure that the grant of autonomy translates to good governance in the real sense of the word.
What President Buhari simply did with the Executive Order 10, 2020, is to give effect to the judgment of the Federal High Court delivered in 2013 in a suit filed by the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN), wherein the federal government and state governments were ordered to grant financial autonomy to the judiciary.
In all commonsense, it is a mockery for us to be practicing democracy, whose hallmark is separation of powers, and still have the heads of the judiciary in the states going ‘caps in hand’ to the governors who seem to enjoy keeping the judiciary perpetually under their executive powers to ‘beg’ for funds to run the affairs of that arm of government.
On the fear by some cynics as to what happens if the president withdraws, revokes, or suspends the order. It is unthinkable that a morally sound leader like President Buhari would contemplate such. Some have also argued that the case should be referred to court for adjudication. Again, of what benefit will it be to continue dragging issues of development? In constitutional matter, we can be in court for another five years, while issues of good governance suffer.Ibrahim is director of communication and strategic planning of the Presidential Support Committee (PSC).