Democracy and the Autonomy Law – Thisday

The new amendment provides the legislature and judiciary in the states to be pretty effective

With President Muhammadu Buhari’s assent to the Fourth Alteration Bill to the 1999 Constitution which gave total financial autonomy to Houses of Assembly and the Judiciary in 36 states of the federation, these organs of government now have the platforms to perform optimally. Specifically, with this amendment, the state Houses of Assembly will no longer depend on the state governments for their financing as they can now draw their funds straight from the first line charge. This implies that like the National Assembly, the Federal Ministry of Finance will henceforth transfer their budgetary allocations to their independent accounts.

We welcome this development and hope that these two arms of government in the states will make the best use of the opportunity. Indeed, it is victory at last for the state legislature, an organ of government which has been oppressed and suppressed for several years by the executive. The operations of the Houses of Assembly in various states of the federation since 1999 are best exemplified in how not to be legislatures as theirs had been a sheer opposite of the application of the principle of separation of powers.

In Nigeria, the principle of separation of powers has to an extent been effective at the federal level as the National Assembly has in various circumstances, served as a check on the executive in accordance with its constitutional responsibilities. But the reverse has been the case in the states where the legislature has always pandered to the whims of the governor. That the State House of Assembly has been the puppet or stooge of the governor was clearly expressed in the rejection of the financial autonomy earlier offered them as contained in constitutional amendments carried out by the sixth National Assembly.

What that implied was that the state legislatures did not exist to serve the public interest in accordance with their constitutional responsibilities but rather to serve as an appendage of governors. Besides, with very little excuse and sometimes for pecuniary reasons, legislators have no qualms about impeaching their speakers. Yet behind most of the impeachments is the overbearing disposition of the executive in these states where the governors lord themselves over the legislative arm of government which they seek to emasculate. Thus, any speaker who tries to be inquisitive on the activities of the executive is quickly impeached under the supervision of the governor and replaced with a favourite one who will be ready to take orders.

It is therefore little wonder that it is never heard that a legislature has exposed corrupt acts by the executive in any state as provided in the constitution neither is it ever heard that a state budget has been subjected to any thorough scrutiny. Rather, executive bills and nominees in all the 36 states usually pass through the legislatures and returned as proposed. Various studies carried out by the National Institute for Legislative Studies (NILS) on the activities of the state legislatures recently showed that the lawmakers were mere rubber stamps of the governors.

To the extent that the legislature financial autonomy is meant to guarantee their freedom from the overbearing influence of governors, we welcome this cheery development. We hope the Houses of Assembly will summon courage to discharge their constitutional responsibilities in the interests of the people who elected them. It is also the same trend with the judicial arm of government in the states. State governments hardly lose any case they institute or that is instituted against them in the various high courts of their states and it is believed that a major cause of this is lack of financial autonomy.

However, with the assent to this bill, judges like legislators will henceforth have no reason to draw their funds from the state governments and hence, begin to uphold the dictates of their conscience by dispensing justice without fear or favour. If both the state legislatures and judiciary maximise the opportunities of this fresh amendment to live up to their constitutional responsibilities, it will be another progressive step for our democracy.

With the assent to this bill, judges like legislators will henceforth have no reason to draw their funds from the state governments and hence begin to uphold the dictates of their conscience by dispensing justice without fear or favour.

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