Governors across the 36 states of the federation appear to be in panic mode, following moves by the Federal Government to enforce the provisions of Section 121 (3) of the 1999 Constitution which guarantees autonomy for the legislature and judiciary at the state level. President Muhammadu Buhari, had a few days ago, expressed determination to ensure that the autonomy of the legislature and judiciary was respected by the executive arm of government in the various states, in order to deepen democracy and entrench good governance at the sub-national level.
The report came on the heels of the directive of the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) to states to also respect the autonomy of local government councils. The directive places limits on the states with regards to their overwhelming control on the State/Local Government Joint Account.
Like the NFIU, the just submitted report would, if enforced, put the legislature and judiciary on the first line charge. Over the years, governors have ruled their states like emperors, thereby holding the legislature and judiciary hostage so that they were unable to play their roles of checks and balances.
Sunday Telegraph scooped that many governors are uncomfortable with these moves by the Federal Government as granting financial autonomy to the judiciary and legislature would whittle down their own influence over them. Political pundits have postulated that the move will effectively clip the wings of the governors as they would be unable to do a lot of things that they hitherto did with impunity.
For instance, the governors, analysts say, will be unable to control the state Houses of Assembly as the funding of the state legislature will now be on first line charge. As a corollary, the leadership of the state Houses of Assembly would be in a better position to carry out their oversight responsibilities and checkmate the excesses of these governors.
If the Executive Order comes into force, a governor would find it difficult to wield the usual undue influence over who is elected Speaker of the state Assembly.
In addition, a governor would be unable to breath down the neck of the Judiciary and not influence court decisions as the judges would no longer go cap in hand to seek for funding from the executive. Similarly, if the NFIU directive comes into force, governors will no longer be able to starve the local council of funds, appoint and sack council executives at will or run the LGAs by proxy as it is currently done in many states.
It could be recalled that the autonomy of the legislature and judiciary came to the fore when the Presidential Implementation Committee on Autonomy of the State Legislature and State Judiciary submitted its report and recommended to President Muhammadu Buhari for the signing of an Executive Order that will bring into effect full autonomy for these arms of government across the 36 states of the federation. Former Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, who chaired the body, had led members of the committee to submit an interim report to the President.
According to Malami, the Executive Order is part of the recommendations by the committee designed to give effect to the implementation of section 121 which constitutionally establishes the independence of the two arms of government. He said that the committee was mandated to package and make recommendations as it relates to the application, operations and observance of section 121 of the Constitution which establishes the autonomy of the states’ legislature and judiciary.
“So, the intention of the committee is to see what can be done with effect to the Constitutional order with respect to the autonomy of the states’ legislature and judiciary in the context of the provisions of the Constitution.
“The committee has concluded its assignment substantially by way of making available to the President, an interim report indicating the modalities this should follow with due observance of the provisions of the section 121 and due observance of the sustenance of the independence of the states’ legislature and judiciary. “So, it is about the Constitutional order, it is about the sustenance of the requirements of the Constitution as it relates to the independence of the legislature and the judiciary and the committee has presented its report to Mr. President,” he said.
On how soon the implementation will commence, the former AGF said: “Well, the independence has already been established by the Constitution so, it is now about the implementation of the modalities and amongst the recommendations made to Mr. President is an Executive Order by the President designed to give effect to the implementation of section 121 which Constitutionally establishes the independence of the two arms of government.
“So, it is about the application, operation and enforcement of the provisions of the Constitution and with the signing of the Executive Order, I believe the necessary formalities of the whole hearted implementation of this provisions will come into effect.”
We approached a number of legal practitioners to comment on the implication of the looming Executive Order, but they declined to offer their opinions. They said it was premature to comment on a document that was yet to be released by the government.