The constitution and autonomy of states legislature

President Muhammadu Buhari stirred the hornet’s nest last week when he blamed the Nigerian constitution for the delay in granting full autonomy to states legislature. This, no doubt, raises the debate as to the propriety or otherwise of subjecting the states legislature to the inevitable control of governors by virtue of their lack of financial autonomy.

Receiving the Conference of Speakers at the Presidential Villa, Abuja last Thursday, President Buhari urged lawmakers in the country to always place the interest of the people first in all deliberations and negotiations. He pointed out that the autonomy of state legislatures has been constrained by the constitution.

President Buhari, in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, said the constitution upholds the standard for all public officers and institutional operations. He said it must be adhered to or altered to reflect some dynamics and realities of the country. “I try as much as I can to always be loyal and obedient to the constitution so long as it is humanly possible”.

The president said his administration will keep pursuing the prosperity of all Nigerians by creating more jobs for the people and plugging the weaknesses exploited by many to make quick money.

“The 8th National Assembly sometimes kept the budget for seven months. And I had to call the senate president and the speaker then. I told them by delaying passage of the budget, you are not hurting Buhari, but the people,” he added.

He said the delay persisted in spite of his efforts to seek more understanding.

President Buhari said he will ensure equity and fairness that put the ordinary Nigerians on top priority, assuring that he will continue to focus on health, education, infrastructure and improving lives through social intervention programmes.

 “We have, in the last four years, dedicated significant resources to key social services sectors, especially in health, education, as well as our massive social investment programmes. We have also started restoring our infrastructure to levels that this country expects.

“I also want to assure you that we remain committed to ensuring that equity and fairness prevail in governance. I will ensure that we consult your conference to further enhance the positive impact of our interventions across the country,” President Buhari said.

In his remarks, the Chairman of the Conference of Speakers, who is also the Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Mudashiru Obasa, commended the president for the fight against corruption and insurgency, and efforts to ensure financial autonomy for the legislature and judiciary.

Obasa said the legislatures would be further pleased if the president issues an Executive Order directing the Accountant General of the Federation to separate funds for the state legislature and judiciary at source.

It is instructive that President Buhari had in December last year constituted a Presidential Implementation Committee on Autonomy of State Legislature and State Judiciary in accordance with the 4th Alteration to the 1999 Constitution.

The committee was expected to drive the actualisation of the autonomy granted to the legislature and judiciary at the state level. The committee was also to assess and review the level of compliance by all the 36 states of the federation with Section 121(3) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

It was to monitor, ensure and cause the implementation of financial autonomy across the judiciary and legislature of the 36 states and to consult and relate with the appropriate federal and state ministries, departments and agencies (MDA.

It was also to ensure and where necessary enforce the implementation of the constitutional provision, and to come up with appropriate modality or model to be adopted by all the States of the Federation for implementation and/ or compliance with Section 121(3) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

The committee was to be chaired by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, with Ita Enang, the then Presidential Liaison Officer to the National Assembly, acting as Secretary. The committee had representatives of state judiciary, such as Justice N. Ajanah, the then Chief Judge of Kogi state and Justice K. Abiri, Chief Judge of Bayelsa state.

Other members were Abdullahi Maikano Usman, Grand Khadi, Gombe state Sharia Court of Appeal and Justice Abbazih Musa Sadeeq, then Acting President of the FCT Customary Court of Appeal.

State legislatures were to be represented by Mudashiru Obasa, Chairman, Conference of Speakers of State Legislatures of Nigeria and Speaker, Lagos State House of Assembly, as well as Abel Riah, Speaker, Taraba State House of Assembly. The Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria was to be represented by Marwan Mustapha Adamu while Bala Hadi will represent the Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria in the committee.

Flowing from the foregoing pragmatic steps taken by Mr President to ensure the autonomy of state legislatures, it is unfortunate and even embarrassing that the undesirable situation still subsists. We, therefore, urge President Buhari to take decisive action to stem the ugly scenario in the bud by assenting to an Executive Order granting financial autonomy to state legislatures.

 The fact needs to be reiterated that the legislative arm of government is the distinctive element between democracy and authoritarianism and must, therefore,  be allowed to function devoid of the intermeddling of the executive arm for democracy to flourish.

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