The absence of financial independence for the judiciary and legislature has often led to the manipulation of these two vital arms of government at federal and state levels. It is reportedly worse at state level. This is why the Executive Order No.10 (EO 10) 2020, recently signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari for the implementation of the financial autonomy for state legislature and judiciary should be commended. Therefore, the attendant opposition to the EO 10 by the state governors is hardly surprising. For years, the governors have treated the legislature and judiciary as an extension of the executive arm of government.
They have also taken undue advantage of their not having financial autonomy to achieve some sinister objectives. With the financial autonomy in place, such malfeasance can no longer take place.
According to the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, the decision of the President to sign the Executive Order No.10 was based on the power vested in him as the President of the country under Section 5 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). The section extends to the Executive and maintenance of the Constitution, laws made by the National Assembly, including but not limited to Section 121(3) of the Constitution which guarantees financial autonomy of the State legislature and State Judiciary. Section 77(a) of the Executive Order makes provision for a Presidential Implementation Committee to ensure compliance.
Also, the EO 10 provides that “the Accountant-General of the Federation shall by the Order and such any Orders, Regulations as may be issued by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, authorise the deduction from source in the course of the Federation Accounts Allocation from the money allocated to any state of the federation that fails to release allocation meant for the state legislation and Judiciary in line with the financial autonomy guaranteed by Section 121(3) of the Constitution. In addition, the Order states that at the commencement of the implementation of the financial autonomy so approved, all states of the Federation shall include the allocations of the two arms of government (Judiciary and legislature) in their Appropriation Laws.
Therefore, the Executive Order 10 makes it compulsory for the 36 states to include the allocations of the legislature and judiciary in the first-line charge of their budgets. Besides, Article 6(1) of the Order provides that “notwithstanding the provisions of the Order, in the three years of its implementation, there shall be special capital allocations for the Judiciary to undertake capital development of the State Judiciary Complex, High Court of Appeal and other Court complexes befitting the status of a Court. No doubt, the Executive Order No.10 is long overdue. Section 121(3) of the Constitution clearly provides for the autonomy of the State Legislature and State Judiciary. The problem has been that the State governors have vehemently disregarded this provision.
In their latest move to stop the implementation of the Executive Order 10, state governors, under the aegis of the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF), had petitioned President Buhari and the Attorney General of the Federation and the Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami. In the petition, which was conveyed by the Chairman of NGF, and Governor of Ekiti State, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, the governors reportedly complained that the EO10 was unnecessary, and an “overkill” of Section 121(3) of the 1999 Constitution. We urge the President to stoutly reject this move by the governors to overturn the implementation of the Order. This is one rare opportunity in our democracy to free the state Legislature and Judiciary from the stranglehold of the Executive Arm of government. The Federal Government should not allow this chance to slip away. Financial autonomy for state judiciary and legislature will enhance the efficiency of legislative business and strengthen the nation’s democracy. However, there is need to put measures in place to check the abuse of the new law.
This is the time to strengthen the independence of the state judiciary and legislature. Financial autonomy should be extended to the Judiciary at the federal level alsi. We recall that last year, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Tanko Muhammad, made case for financial independence for the judiciary. Other Nigerians, including lawyers have equally made the same appeal. For democracy to thrive, the three arms of government should be truly independent.
Sections 84(1-4) and 121(3) of the 1999 Constitution provide that the salaries, emoluments and other financial requirements of the judiciary, shall be in the first-line charge of the Consolidated Revenue Fund. But these provisions have not been observed, especially by the state governors. Where the independence and financial autonomy of the legislature and the judiciary are not guaranteed, anarchy may set in and the people denied of democracy dividends. At 21 years of democracy, our judiciary and legislature deserve financial autonomy to function effectively.