In clear disregard of constitutional provisions, at least 31 governors are yet to concede financial autonomy to the legislative arm of government in their states.
Findings show that Houses of Assembly in only five states – Lagos, Delta, Plateau, Oyo, and Nasarawa – currently enjoy a semblance of full financial independence, reports The Guardian.
Twelve others have partial autonomy. They are: Adamawa, Akwa Ibom, Benue, Borno, Cross River, Enugu, Kogi, Kwara, Bauchi, Ogun, Osun, and Rivers.
However, those without any shade of financial autonomy are: Ondo, Katsina, Gombe, Taraba, Yobe, Ekiti, Abia, and Imo. Others are Bayelsa, Anambra, Ebonyi, Niger, Bauchi, Kebbi, Sokoto, Zamfara, Kano, Jigawa and Kaduna states.
Recall that last week, members of the Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria (PASAN) in about 20 states nationwide began a nationwide industrial action following the expiration of the ultimatum for the implementation of financial autonomy by state Assemblies in the country.
Ekiti State PASAN Chairman, Gbenga Oluwajuyigbe, noted that financial autonomy is for both the National and the State Assemblies. While the National Assembly has been enjoying full autonomy, because their funds are put in the first line charge in the past 10 years, the story is different in the legislative arm of government in states.
He explained that compliance with autonomy could be divided into three levels – partial implementation, full implementation, and non-compliance.
There is full financial autonomy when the spirit and letter of Section 121 is implemented and allocations of the legislature are placed in the first line charge. And it is a partial implementation when salaries of the legislature are still being paid by the executive.
Oluwajuyigbe said: “There is a provision in the 1999 Constitution as amended in Section 121, which grants financial independence to the legislature. All we are clamouring for is that the government should implement this provision of the constitution.
“When you say non-implementation of the autonomy clause, it means they have not commenced any form of implementation of Section 121. In this case, the State Assembly still goes to the governor to apply for money for virtually everything.
“We can say that Ekiti is under partial implementation because salaries are not being paid at the state assembly, but still being controlled by the Accountant General. Until they have their own pay point like we have at the National Assembly, it remains a partial implementation.”
National President of PASAN, Usman Mohammed, confirmed that Lagos and Plateau are autonomous already, adding that Jigawa is onboarding gradually.
“The Constitution didn’t say you should do it partially, it has granted autonomy to the state legislature under Section 121. It says the entire fund meant for the state legislature and the Judiciary should be transferred to their accounts. It didn’t say you transfer only the overhead or personnel costs or the capital, it says all the funds,” Mohammed said.
It will be recalled that the struggle for financial autonomy for State Houses of Assembly, which began in 2010, has been facing several challenges because of many roadblocks erected by the governors of the 36 states of the federation to prevent it from happening.
In the beginning, the state legislatures, which were then under the firm grip of the governors of the state, could not champion financial autonomy with zeal and vigour, which was why they lost it in the first amendment exercise in 2010 at the National Assembly.
Sources told this paper that the goal of making the second arm of government financially independent began when former President Muhammadu Buhari signed Executive Order No. 10 of 2020 to give teeth to the alteration to the Constitution, 4th Alteration Act, of 2017.
A source said: “In 2017, the Eighth National Assembly had passed alterations of the constitution giving financial autonomy to State Houses of Assembly and State Judiciary. Under the alteration, the amounts standing to the credit of State Houses of Assembly and the Judiciary in the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the State shall be paid directly to the said bodies, respectively.”
In March 2019, the President set up a Presidential Implementation Committee on State Legislature and Judiciary to ensure that funds appropriated to these arms of government are directly paid to them.
To overcome implementation challenges posed by the governors, President Buhari intervened by issuing Executive Order 10 to ensure compliance with the Constitutional provisions.
However, implementation of the financial autonomy as granted by the Constitution became an issue as the state governors through their umbrella body the “Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF), said they were not able to implement it due to what they termed “lack of modality for implementation.”
Dissatisfied with Buhari’s Executive 10 Order, NGF approached the Supreme Court to challenge the validity and got judgment in their favour.
A source told our correspondent that “to resolve the crisis, stakeholders such as NGF, Office of the Chief of Staff to the President, Presidential Committee on the Implementation of Financial Autonomy, Office of the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Office of the Minister of Labour and Productivity and others got together to chat the way forward.
“For the first time, there was a semblance of consensus on the modality for implementation and this led to an amendment (the 5th Alteration to the Constitution).
“President Buhari on March 16, 2023, gave presidential assent to the consequential amendment (modality for implementation) on the Financial Autonomy for the State Houses of Assembly, which finally granted the state assemblies the much-needed financial independence.
“However, eight months after the unambiguous provisions in the 1999 Constitution (as Amended), as well as the modality for implementation clearly spelt out, only five states out of 36 have so far granted full autonomy to their Houses of Assembly.”
Reacting to the development, a lawmaker who did not want his name mentioned for fear of victimisation, disclosed that some state assemblies still depend on their governors to fuel generators that they use during plenary sessions.
He said: “How can you have quality legislation when we are being treated like a department of government institutions? There is no gainsaying that he who pays the piper dictates the tunes. Whatever the governor wants is what is done. We need to be autonomous like the National Assembly.”
In the aftermath of recent industrial action, the Abia State governor, Dr Alex Otti, has pleaded with the striking parliamentary workers that the state would soon begin implementation of financial autonomy law and urged them to end the strike.
The Speaker, Osun State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Adewale Egbedun, said the state governor, Ademola Adeleke, had received the request from the parliament to approve financial autonomy for the Assembly, assuring that the state would soon be among the league of States with legislative financial autonomy.
Bauchi State governor, Bala Mohammed on August 6, 2022, signed into law the bill to give the legislative and judiciary arms of government financial autonomy, but PASAN chairman in the state Mr IsiakaJibrin Gital, said the implementation of the law was still partial.
He disclosed that one of the factors that would ensure financial autonomy is functional ‘Assembly Service Commission Law 2004’ and ‘Fund Management Law’, which the state already has in place.
PASAN chairman in Cross River State, Florence Ebeku, said the state has not implemented the Executive Order 10 saying, “What we want from the government is that the State Legislature must be financially autonomous.”
Assistant Director of Publications, Benue State House of Assembly Bem Abunde told The Guardian that the governor has granted the Judicial autonomy and ignored the legislative arm, noting that “you cannot choose which part of the law to obey and which part not to obey.”
Speaking in the same vein, Majority Leader of the Benue State House of Assembly Saater Tiseer, told The Guardian that the state has not yet granted financial autonomy to the House of Assembly.
He disclosed that the current assembly met a pact already negotiated by the last (9th) Assembly, whereby instead of financial autonomy, the former governor, Samuel Ortom, made an upward review of the overhead accruable to the House.
Tiseer, however, intimated that the current governor, Fr Hyacinth Alia, has expressed willingness to comply and has already set up a committee headed by the state Commissioner of finance to work out the modalities.
In Kwara State, the House of Assembly is still enjoying partial financial autonomy. A lawmaker who pleaded for anonymity told The Guardian that, “the House merely enjoys autonomy in recurrent expenditure while it is handicapped in handling capital expenditure.”
He said even at that, it is still better than what obtains in some states where the Assembly must write financial proposals to the Accountant General and the Commissioners for Finance before they can buy stationeries.
PASAN chairman in Kano State Bashir Yahaya, regretted that the state Assembly is still dependent on the executive arm for both recurrent and capital expenditure.
PASAN chairman in Sokoto State Abubakar Yusuf disclosed that the state Assembly still relies on the governor for its finances and threatened that the ongoing strike would continue until full financial autonomy is granted to the second arm of government.
A member of Enugu State House of Assembly, representing Igboeze south constituency, Harrison Ogara, told The Guardian that,”As it is today, the situation has not changed. The constitutional provision is yet to be implemented in Enugu State and indeed most of other states in Nigeria. This is the reason why the PASAN went on strike nationwide.
Former Vice Chancellor of the Federal University Oye Ekiti, (FUOYE), Prof. Kayode Soremekun, and former Ekiti State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Owoseni Ajayi, have warned against emasculating the state legislature, which are considered as authentic voices of the people, saying that this could deal a mortal blow to the nation’s democracy.
The duo in a separate interview, urged the governors to have a rethink and do what is needful as provided for in the Nigerian Constitution, saying that the legislative arm is too critical to undermine.
Soremekun said, “The danger of lack of autonomy for the state Assembly is that it has the capacity to imperil this democracy. By the time you emasculate the seemingly authentic voices of the people, you are dealing a mortal blow to democracy. I think the governors should have a rethink and do what is needed as provided for in the Constitution.
“The arm of government we are talking about is very important for the survival of democracy. This arm of government is too critical and should not be emasculated in the interest of the people and the governors themselves. Parts of the problems are the way the lawmakers were elected, which was not without the input of the governors.
“They are all members of the same party and they were almost distinctively bowed to the wishes of the governors. However, the legislators should hold their own and realise their essence in democracy. The legislators should not be eternally grateful to the governors but to the people who elected them.
“What we need to do is to further educate the governors about the need to obey the spirit and letters of the constitution. It is in their own interest in the long run to allow the second arm of government to be truly independent, so that they can make good laws and do check and balance to the arbitrariness of the Executive arm. In the final analysis, if the Houses of Assembly are truly independent, our society will be better governed,” he said.
For Ajayi, a lawyer, both the state Assemblies and the Judiciary arm of government are suffering the same fate.
He said: “On the issue of their finances, they are fighting for what is already provided for in the 1999 Constitution as amended. Ordinarily, there should be no education about this. The Judicial arm of the government started its own last year for a couple of months. We could not go to court because of their workers’ strike. It was called up because of the intervention of senior citizens in the country, not because their demand for full autonomy was met. The judiciary and legislature are affected by the crisis. What was granted to them was deceit.
“There is a clear provision in our constitution and there is also a Supreme Court decision on the matter. It is the executive arm that is using its big hand to oppress and undermine the legislature and the judiciary. They were able to do this because they control the state resources and security apparatus of the power.
“I think this is sheer oppression of the two arms of government. What is happening is not good for democracy. It will interest you to know that President Muhammadu Buhari even signed Executive Order 10, but the governors frustrated it. There is nothing that has not been done to ensure that state Assemblies are truly independent.
“I am fully in support of the strike action. Why is the executive overpowering the legislature and judiciary? It is because in doing so, they can manipulate them. It will interest you that the Chief Judge and the Speaker normally go cap in hand like beggars to take pittance from the executive. They are by this oppression, unable to dispense justice according to law,” Ajayi said.