President Muhammadu Buhari signed an Executive Order 10 granting financial autonomy to state assemblies and judiciary on Friday May 22. The order followed from the report of a presidential committee set up to map out strategies for the implementation of financial autonomy for state legislatures and judiciaries in accordance with section 121(3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.
Christened Executive Order 10 because it is serially the tenth of such signed by President Buhari, the order is based on the power vested in him as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria under section 5 of the Constitution, which extends to the execution and maintenance of the Constitution and laws made by the National Assembly that guarantee financial autonomy of the State legislature and judiciary.
The Executive Order provides that “The Accountant-General of the Federation shall by this order and such any other orders, regulations or guidelines as may be issued by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, authorise the deduction from source of Federation Accounts Allocation from the money allocated to any state of the federation that fails to release allocation meant for the state legislature and judiciary in line with the financial autonomy guaranteed by section 121(3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999.”
By this Order and in consonance with the laws made by the National Assembly with regards to financial autonomy for state legislatures and judiciaries, all states are expected to include their legislatures and judiciaries in their appropriation laws.
As expected, the Executive Order has drawn mixed reactions. There are some who believe it is not necessary since the provision is enshrined in the Constitution and that the National Assembly had already made laws in that regard. Along similar line of argument, some also believe the order is an usurpation of the powers of both the National Assembly and the Judiciary in making and interpreting the laws respectively.
Yet there are others who believe the president’s action is in order and timely so considering the state assemblies and judiciaries have been emasculated financially by state governors despite the provisions of the Constitution and the laws enacted by the National Assembly.
While both strands of argument have their merits, we must however not lose sight of the existential issues at play in the subject matter. It is no gainsaying that state legislatures and judiciaries have been making a case about the financial strictures they have been subjected to by state governors.
This has to a large extent stymied their statutory functions and roles as important institutions of our democracy at the state level. As it is, the state governors have rendered state assemblies as mere rubber stamps subject to their whims and caprices. The situation is such that it is only at the federal tier of government that the doctrine of separation of powers as provided in the Constitution between the Legislature and Judiciary is scrupulously practised.
Despite the provision of the Constitution and the laws enacted by the National Assembly in this regard, state governors have not allowed their state legislatures and judiciaries the necessary financial autonomy to perform their functions as required under our democratic practice.
Against this background, President Buhari’s Executive Order on financial autonomy for state legislatures and judiciaries would not have been necessary if state governors had heeded the constitution and the National Assembly and done the needful.
President Buhari’s action should therefore be seen in the light of helping the cause of our democratic practice by helping to strengthen the constitutionally recognised institutions of democracy at the state level to perform their statutory roles. It is indeed a doctrine of necessity in the interest of our democracy.
While supporting the President in this move, we must caution that the state legislatures and judiciaries, now granted financial autonomy, should not seek to abuse it. They must see it as a challenge to help deliver the dividends of democracy to the people at that tier of government.
They must also not seek to use their power to be confrontational with state governors or engage in misapplication of the funds appropriated to them. Doing this would negate the reasons why the Executive Order granting them the powers was signed.