The plan to ensure financial autonomy for state legislatures and the judiciary by the present administration is encouraging. This came on the heels of the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) directive on financial autonomy to local governments. Although the Federal Government is studying the recommendations of the committee it set up on March 22, 2019, to come up with the modalities for the implementation of the financial autonomy for state legislatures and judiciary, it is a laudable initiative which should be supported by all the stakeholders, including the state governors.
We agree with President Muhammadu Buhari that efforts to ensure autonomy for state legislatures and judiciary would strengthen our democracy and deepen political inclusion. There is no doubt that the implementation of the recommendations of the committee will entrench constitutionalism, democratic principle and separation of powers.
Before now, most state governors had brazenly flouted constitutional provisions on financial autonomy for the legislature, judiciary and other agencies of government. We believe that if the financial autonomy to state legislatures and judiciary becomes operational, such aberrations will not recur.
For example, Sections 4, 5 and 6 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) enshrine the principle of the separation of powers amongst the three arms of government. Financial autonomy for state legislatures and judiciary is in tandem with provisions of the Nigerian Constitution.
For instance, Section 121 (3) of the Constitution states that “Any amount standing to the credit of the judiciary in the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the State shall be paid directly to the heads of the courts concerned.” Therefore, for the three arms of government to be truly independent of one another, reasonable control of their separate affairs must be guaranteed without one arm having to necessarily bow to the whims and caprices of another for matters as fundamental as funding. What is independence without financial autonomy after all?
Unfortunately, since the return to participatory democracy in 1999, the fundamental principle of separation of powers has mostly been observed in the breach. There have been relentless agitations to redress the anomaly in the polity to ensure that democracy is deployed to adequately serve all Nigerians. We believe that if financial autonomy is guaranteed to the state legislatures and judiciary, the two arms of government can function effectively. With financial autonomy for state legislature and judiciary, the state governors will no longer control them.
This is why we call on the present administration, even as it is taking the right steps to confer financial autonomy on the state legislatures and judiciary, to ensure that it leads by example. Such is good in a democracy. To ensure the success of the envisaged independence of the legislature and judiciary at the state level, the Federal Government must take a decision on the recommendations of the committee without any delay. It must do what is necessary within its powers to effect a seamless implementation of the good initiative.
We recall that the 8th National Assembly in 2018 passed the new amendments in the 1999 Constitution that granted financial autonomy to the legislature and the judiciary in the states in compliance with Section 121 (3) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). It was when President Buhari assented to the bill that he set up the committee tasked to come up with strategies to implement the financial autonomy granted to the state legislatures and the judiciary.
The Federal Government must ensure that this reform in the polity is carried through. It will be recalled that the governors had agreed to implement the full autonomy for the state legislatures and the judiciary in order to strengthen democracy in the states. Therefore, let the Federal government go ahead with the implementation of the committee’s recommendations.