Last year’s amendment to the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, known as the Fourth Alteration, granted the long-awaited autonomy to state legislature and judiciary. President Muhammadu Buhari signed the bill into law in June 2018.
The amendment has formally allowed financial autonomy and independence to Houses of Assembly and the judiciary in the states. Before now, funds allocated to both arms of government from the Federation Account were channelled through the state governments most of which never got to them.
With the new law, all monies meant for State Assembly and the judiciary will be transmitted directly to them in their respective states. No more through the governors. The amendment reads thus: “And the funds standing in the credit of the Houses of Assembly in the states are now to be paid directly to the Houses of Assembly of the states for the benefit of the legislators and the management of the Houses of Assembly.”
However, it is sad that since the bill was assented to, the law has not been allowed to operate in line with its spirit and wordings because governors have decided to frustrate it since it will not serve their political interests. If such moves are allowed to stand, it will prove counter-productive.
It was not by accident that the founding fathers of democracy created the executive, legislative and the judicial arms of government with well-defined responsibilities, and each acting as a check on the other. This pristine arrangement is fundamental in a democracy. Where the legislature’s autonomy is eroded or lacking, what exists is anything but democracy.
I believe the constitutional amendment enabling full autonomy to the two arms of government in reference would not have been possible without the consent of governors expressed through their State Assembly which they control as tools. If the chief executives granted the self-determination, why are they working against it through the back door?
Regrettably, since 1999, most governors have subjugated their state assemblies or, worse still, the assemblies have become pliable in their hands, thereby betraying the trust of the people they purport to represent. As a result, many governors behave like emperors, embezzle and misappropriate public funds and defy all measures to make them accountable.
It is essential for our governors to understand that freedom for the legislature and the judiciary is essential to the strengthening of both arms which in turn will enhance the value of democracy in such states. Needless to say that it will promote accountability and transparency in governance.
In a democracy, the Assembly exists to make laws for good governance. Their major work, however, lies in oversight in the ministries, departments and agencies to ensure that value for money in public expenditure is religiously observed. But this has not been so. As evidence shows, they are mere rubber stamps of the executive.
So, state governors involved in stifling this law and working hard to put it in abeyance should bury their heads in shame. Their act is ignominious and deplorable. The truth is this legislation has come to stay. Their ploy to render the law unworkable will end up in futility.
What is expected of the state chief executives is cooperation and support for the new law to function. Autonomy usually comes with heavy responsibility. Prudence and accountability are expedient for the judiciary and Assembly to effectively manage funds that will accrue to them. But without a sense of maturity, it will be hard to exhibit such managerial skill.
Nothing short of this will be justified in the eye of the Nigerian who has in the last several decades craved for the independence of the Judiciary and State Houses of Assembly for optimal performance.
It is important to warn against an unjustifiable allocation of bogus salaries and allowances in the mold of the national lawmakers whose action has drawn the ire of distressed Nigerians. Such practice at the state level will be an unwelcome development.
This autonomy is indeed an opportunity for state Chief Justices to allay the fears of governors that even without a string of financial control over them attached, they can deliver justice without fear or favour, let or hindrance.
Financial autonomy to the judiciary of the state should, therefore, not be harmed by reckless spending and fraudulent financial malpractices by court officials. Attempt to engage in such reckless spending would further put the judiciary or the Assembly into public disrepute and loss of confidence.
Power, as John Acton, the University of Cambridge historian, famously stated, “tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” These immortal words should guide each state assembly and judiciary in stemming the incongruity of a governor acting like a bull in a China shop. Governors should be compelled to be transparent and accountable to the people. A state legislature that is delinquent in forcing this through has definitely lost its legitimacy.