Why the fuss over financial autonomy to state legislatures, judiciary?

SAMSON BENJAMIN, in this report, examines the mix reactions trailing the Executive Order 10, signed by President Muhammadu Buhari which grants financial autonomy to state legislatures and the judiciary amidst moves by governors to seek judicial interpretations.

President Muhammadu Buhari recently signed Executive Order 10, granting financial autonomy to the legislatures and judiciary across the 36 states of the federation. This would be the tenth executive order he signed since he came into office in 2015.

With this development, the legislature and judiciary at the state level are expected to be financially independent of the executive arm of government. In other words, judges, lawmakers in the states would run their own finances without the dictates of the governors.

The Order

The Order mandates the accountant-general of the federation to deduct from source amounts due to state legislatures and judiciaries from the monthly allocations to each state for states that refuse to grant such autonomy.

The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, said these in a statement by his special assistant on media and public relations, Umar Gwandu.

 Malami said the order made it mandatory for all states of the federation to include the allocations of both the legislature and the judiciary in the first-line charge of their budgets.

 According to him, “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.

State assemblies’ nod

In supporting the Order, speakers of Houses of Assembly hailed President Buhari, saying the Order would boost legislative performance and service delivery by state legislatures.

The chairman, Conference of Speakers of State Legislatures in Nigeria, Mudashiru Obasa, said the body was excited over the president’s order, adding that it was a Sallah gift to the legislators.

Obasa, who is also the speaker of Lagos state House of Assembly, told THISDAY that, “No doubt, this order will further make state legislatures independent of the executive arm of their various governments. It would also boost healthy competitions among state legislatures in pursuit of advancements and developments.

 “This is the best gift the president, His Excellency, Muhammadu Buhari, has given the legislative arm of state governments at this Sallah. And coming at the end of the Ramadan, it means God truly answered the prayers of the members of state legislatures through the president.”

Also, the majority leader of the Kano state House of Assembly, Kabiru Dashi, said the Order was long overdue.

“I can assure you that this financial autonomy will make us more independent and accountable in line with the tenets of democracy as enshrined in the Nigerian constitution. Financial autonomy will help us to continue representing our people effectively. This is a victory to all the legislators across the country,” he said.

On his part, the chairman of the Plateau state House of Assembly Committee on Information, Peter Dasun, also described it as “a welcome development.”

“Indeed that’s what we have been clamouring for. I consider it a victory for democracy because we would have a clear-cut autonomy and authority to decide on what to do with our resources within our arm of government and we would have a wider and better opportunity to deliver the needed dividend of democracy to our people.”

 Govs kick

However, governors have rejected the Order. They said the president was misguided into signing the executive order. They also took their case against the order to President Buhari and Malami.

Blueprint had reported that the chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), Dr. Kayode Fayemi, met separately with the president and the minister to press home the objection of the governors to the order.

To the governors, the Order is not only unnecessary; it is also an over-kill of Section 121(3) of the 1999 Constitution. They, during a virtual meeting earlier, mandated Fayemi to pass their views on the Order to the “appropriate quarters.”

The Nation newspaper reported that a North-central governor, who spoke in confidence, said, “We mandated the NGF chairman, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, to have audience with the President and Malami to avoid a recourse to legal tussle on the interpretation of Section 121 (3) of the 1999 Constitution.

“We prefer dialogue to confrontation because we consider Executive Order 19 as unnecessary and an over-kill of the existing constitutional provision. You can see that in the last few days, AGF Malami has been trying to justify EO 10.

“And the NGF chairman on Thursday had closed door sessions with the President, where all the defects in EO 10 were spelt out. In another meeting with Malami on Thursday, the two parties agreed that some of the autonomy modalities were constitutionally flawed. The session reviewed the reservations of the governors.

“There will be a follow up with the AGF and Minister of Justice by the NGF Legal Committee comprising the governors of Sokoto, Plateau and Ondo states.”

 Another governor said, “For a federating nation, there are so many extraneous clauses in EO 10 which are in conflict with the 1999 Constitution. For instance, Section 7 7(a) of the order made provision for a Presidential Implementation Committee to ensure compliance.

“For instance, in some states, there is already Appropriation Law for the State Legislature and the Judiciary. Of what use is this E0 10 then? In most states, we have a Joint Account Allocation Committee. Are we saying that EO 10 is superior to a state’s law enacted by the House of Assembly?

“Instead of rushing to issue EO 10, the appropriate thing for the federal government is to sit down with the governors and agree on autonomy modalities in line with Section 121(3) of the Constitution.”

Sources said there is anxiety among the governors that the federal government may withhold the allocations of states that do not implement autonomy for its legislature and judiciary.

A North-west governor said, “It is also wrong to ask the Accountant-General of the Federation in 7(b) of EO 10 to “take appropriate  steps  to ensure compliance with the provisions of this Order. This is like giving a sword to the Accountant-General of the Federation to kill. We may witness a repeat of the era of the administration of ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo when Lagos state’s statutory allocations were seized for no just cause.

“All the governors are not happy that the Minister of Justice and the Accountant-General of the Federation can determine the fate of a state based on EO 10.”

 Ekweremadu backs govs

Similarly, a former Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, faulted the Order, saying that while the intent might be good, the action was unnecessary and unconstitutional.

Ekweremadu said on a radio interview in Enugu, said, “We, the members of the 8th Assembly, passed the amendment to the Constitution to grant financial autonomy to the state judiciary and the Legislature. This is because we believed that for the sake of their independence, they should be on the First Line Charge of the states’ Consolidated Revenue Account.

“And when we passed them, the President dutifully signed them into law (over a year ago). That should have been the end of it because the amendments are self-executing. We expected that having done that, the states should go ahead to work out the modalities. But that didn’t happen.

 “So, the president now set up a Committee headed by the Attorney-General of the Federation to work out the modalities for implementation. I think it was at that point that they deemed it necessary to come up with an Executive Order to strengthen the implementation.

 “But regrettably, they have simply mutilated those provisions of the Constitution as amended.”

Continuing, he said, “Now, they are adding some aspects suggesting to the states how to manage their funds because part of that executive order is that in the next three years, the judiciary in the states should dedicate part of the monies coming to them to capital projects for the State Judiciary.

“It went ahead to suggest that if the governors fail to remit these monies to State Judiciary and State Legislature, then the President could direct that these monies be transferred straight from the Federation Account to the State Judiciary and Legislature.

 “This in itself was not part of what we amended in the Constitution and it is not part of the Constitution.”

NLC disagrees, backs FG

Meanwhile, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has disagreed with governors who are pushing to challenge the order.

The president of the NLC, Ayuba Wabba, in a statement asked the governors to back-track their step and accept the process in the interest of democracy and good governance.

He said, “In the interest of good governance, strengthening of the principle of separation of powers national stability, and overall development of Nigeria, we urge political leaders at every level to respect the wishes of the Nigerian people and allow the full exercise of financial autonomy for the judiciary and legislature in the states.

 “Strong legislative and judiciary institutions of government are pillars of democracy and good governance. A resilient judiciary and a conscientious legislature, the NLC argued, are sine qua non to the deepening of the democratic process, promotion of public accountability and ensuring popular participation.”

Wabba decried what he described as long “history of arm-twisting and abuse of the judiciary and legislative arms of government at the sub-national level in Nigeria,” which has gotten worse in recent years.

 He said until the Executive Order 10, there were little signs to show seriousness on the part of state governors to comply with the clear demands of Section 121 (3) of the 1999 Constitution, which is a direct violation of the oath sworn by the governors to uphold the Nigerian constitution at all times.

 He argued that if our political leaders were alive to the spirit of the constitution they swore to uphold, there would not have been any need for the Presidential Implementation Committee set up on March 22, 2019.

Way out

In a chat with Blueprint Weekend on the way out of the looming constitutional crisis between the federal and state government, Barrister Chinedu Ezeogu advised governors to seek judicial interpretation at the court of law.

 He said: “There are three possible ways to overturn an executive order (none of which is easy):  one option is that the President who issued the executive order can revoke, modify, or supersede it with another executive order.

“Another option is that the National Assembly can revoke, modify or supersede an executive order if the president was believed to have acted outside the law. A third option is that the courts can declare an executive order illegal or unconstitutional.”

 Another legal practitioner Dienma Tamuno advised the governors against going court, but to rather approach the president and point out those mistakes so that he could withdraw the executive order.

He said, “My feeling is that if the NGF challenges Buhari’s  Executive Order No. 10 in court, it will be a public relations disaster for the governors who are believed to hijack local government allocations and to turn both the legislature and the Judiciary in their states into rubber stamps through their power of the purse.

 “And, unfortunately, if they go to court, the implication is that the application of that amendment regarding financial independence of the state judiciary and state assembly will be put on hold because so long as they are in court, those provisions will not be implemented.

“So, it something the governors and the attorney-general and the president need to settle amicably.”

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