The Presidential Implementation Committee on Financial Autonomy for State Legislature and Judiciary, headed by former Attorney-General of the Federation [AGF] and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami, SAN recently submitted its report to President Muhammadu Buhari. The thrust of the report was that state governments had failed to comply with the presidential directive that they should grant financial autonomy to the other two arms of government – Legislature and Judiciary – at the state level.
The task of the committee was to monitor implementation of the amendment to Section 121 (3) of the 1999 Constitution. The 8th National Assembly had amended that section of the law in 2018 and granted financial autonomy to the judiciary and legislature. Buhari later signed the amendment into law. The amendment stated: “Section 121 of the Principal Act is altered by substituting for subsection (3) a new subsection (“3”) Any amount standing to the credit of the (a) House of Assembly of the State and (b) Judiciary in the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the State shall be paid directly to the said bodies respectively; in the case of judiciary, such amount shall be paid directly to the heads of the courts concerned.”
In its report, the presidential committee, according to Malami, observed that since the signing into law of the amendment, most states honoured the constitutional provision in the breach. This development weakens the practice of the democratic principle of separation of powers in states. Without financial autonomy, the Legislature and Judiciary would be at the beck and call of the Executive, especially if they have to go cap in hand to plead for the release of financial allocations to them. By implication, both of them would not be able to hold the Executive accountable for its activities.
For instance, Sections 120 to 129 highlight the Powers and Control over Public Funds vested in the state legislature. Part of the powers are: “Section 120 (3) No moneys shall be withdrawn from any public fund of the State, other than the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the State, unless the issue of those moneys has been authorised by a Law of the House of Assembly of the State. (4) No moneys shall be withdrawn from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the State or any other public fund of the State except in the manner prescribed by the House of Assembly.” In like manner, Section 129 gives the Legislature the constitutional power to investigate the Executive by looking into the activities of agencies of government through legislative oversight. The oversight is defined as “the review, monitoring and supervision of government and public agencies, including the implementation of policy and legislation.”
If these arms of government are not financially autonomous, they will not be able to perform these functions as stipulated in the constitution. The essence of separation of powers is to ensure that no arm of government has absolute powers to operate without control. Unfortunately, the reality of Nigeria’s democracy since 1999 is that many state Executive Branches have engaged in financial recklessness and corrupt practices, but the Houses of Assembly have helplessly been unable to bark, not to talk of biting. In most states the Legislature is no more than a mere rubber stamp on decisions taken by the Executive, whether or not they align with the aspirations of the people. This explains why many states are in chaos and have remained underdeveloped.
In the light of the foregoing, we support Federal Government’s intention to sign an Executive Order on the operation and enforcement of the provisions of the Constitution. The Order should harmonize the modules for implementation of financial autonomy for the state legislature and state judiciary, which will be applicable in all the 36 states of the Federation. State governments must operate in line with the provisions of the Constitution and not just throw away parts of it that are not convenient to the Chief Executives.
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