Welcome, NASAL – The Nation

•Now that state legislators have resolved to fight for financial autonomy, we say hurray!

It appears legislators in the state houses of assembly have finally come to terms with the fact that they need financial autonomy. The lawmakers have therefore formed an association known as National Association of State Assembly Legislators (NASAL), to pursue that objective. It is envisaged that the body would also assist in their bid to check growing executive recklessness. The association, which comprises present and past members of the houses of assembly, has Dr Valentine Ayika as its interim national president.

It is interesting that the state legislators are now struggling to have something which they need to function effectively but which they carelessly threw away during a 2009/2010 constitutional amendment that would have settled the matter once and for all. Well, since it is better late than never, the fact that the legislators have recovered from their stupor is still welcome. As Dr Ayika noted, “Our salaries are paid by the executive and he who pays the piper, dictates the tune. What we are seeking is financial autonomy. You cannot be independent if you are not financially autonomous’.

We can only hope, however, that the state legislators’ quest for financial autonomy is propelled by genuine need to make them more effective rather than for personal aggrandisement like the National Assembly members.

We agree with Dr Ayika that the Doctrine of Separation of Powers must be respected, especially in a democratic setting, and that legislators at the state level have suffered undue harassment and intimidation from many governors. Indeed, democracy would amount to nothing in a situation where one arm of the tripod – Executive, Legislature and Judiciary – can lord it over another. As the saying goes, ‘“power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. It is in the bid to prevent the latter scenario that checks and balances are ingrained in the democratic process.

Unfortunately, the Legislature, across board, has become more of an extension of the Executive, ever ready to toe the latter’s line after being induced with money or other freebies, after which the legislators can then be made to do anything, from the ignoble to the ridiculous. Perhaps the latest in the abuse that the Legislature could be co-opted to by the Executive was the impeachment of the deputy governor of Enugu State, Sunday Onyebuchi, for running commercial poultry at his official residence, and disobedience to the governor, his principal. Not only have the state legislators been used against others, they had often been used against themselves through frequent changes of their leadership, often at the behest of the governors.

We welcome NASAL and wish it success. However, we hasten to add that the state legislators should not pin all their hope on NASAL, good as the dream is. It is one thing to dream and another to actualise it. The impression is being erroneously created that the first attempt at getting autonomy for the state assemblies failed because, as Dr Ayika noted, “part of the problem we have is individually, the state assembly can be dealt with, but with an organisation such as this, we can also surmount some of the executive recklessness and harassment on the state assemblies”.

Inasmuch as we agree that much more progress can be made in togetherness, the main problem with the state legislators is attitudinal – greed. If this does not change, the governors would continue to have the legislators in their pockets.

So, beyond the formation of an association to pursue their collective interest, the state legislators must resolve to be independent indeed and assert that independence. The people are better off when the assemblies are liberated from strong personalities; we must, instead, build strong institutions. If the state lawmakers pursue their case at the National Assembly with this resolve, they will be able to get their financial independence and other things will be added unto them.

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