Financial Autonomy for the Judiciary and Legislature
Last month, President Muhammadu Buhari signed an Executive Order granting financial autonomy to state assemblies and judiciary.
The order followed a report of a presidential committee set up to map out strategies for the implementation of financial autonomy for state legislatures and judiciary in accordance with Section 121(3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The Executive Order provides that the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, authorise the deduction from source of Federation accounts allocation from the money allocated to any state of the Federation that fails to release allocation meant for the state legislature and judiciary in line with the financial autonomy guaranteed by Section 121(3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999.
According to the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, the Executive Order no. 10 of 2020, makes it mandatory that all states of the Federation should include the allocations of both the legislature and the judiciary in the first-line charge of their budgets.
As expected, the Executive Order has drawn mixed reactions. There are some who believe it is not necessary since the provision is enshrined in the Constitution and that the National Assembly had already made laws in that regard.
Some also believe the order is a usurpation of the powers of the National Assembly.
On its part, Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, said the autonomy of state judiciary and legislature is in the interest of good governance, strengthening of the principle of separation of powers, national stability and overall development of Nigeria.
Speaking through its national president, Ayuba Wabba, NLC urged political leaders at every level to respect the wishes of Nigerians and allow the full exercise of financial autonomy for the judiciary and legislatures in the states.
Mr. Wabba urged governors of the thirty six states of the Federation to retrace their steps and accept the process in the interest of democracy and good governance while stressing that strong legislative and judicial institutions are pillars of democracy and good governance.
In a related development, Chief Judge of Akwa Ibom, Justice Godwin Abraham noted that financial autonomy of the judiciary would enhance quick dispensation of justice in the country as well as engender far reaching consequences for the institution in terms of infrastructure development and capacity building.
Justice Abraham solicited the cooperation of stakeholders towards realizing the objective of the new financial regime.
Despite the provision of the Constitution and the laws enacted by the National Assembly in this regard, state governors have not allowed their state legislatures and judiciary the necessary financial autonomy to perform their functions as required under our democratic practice.
Against this background, President Buhari’s Executive Order on financial autonomy for state legislatures and judiciary would not have been necessary if state governors had adhered to the Constitution.
While supporting the president in this move, we must caution that the state legislatures and judiciary, now granted financial autonomy, should not seek to abuse it, but rather see it as a challenge to help deliver the dividends of democracy to the people at that tier of government.
Autonomy must go hand-in-hand with accountability. It is likely that autonomy will be abused. Civil society must be up and doing at the state level to draw attention to the excesses of the three arms of government.
Also, the media have an important role to play in reporting abuses of powers by the different arms of government.
Furthermore, as the president’s action has strengthened and consolidated the foundation of democracy at the state level, the input of executive order 10 is therefore to ensure that governors allow the houses of assembly and judiciary in their states operate independently as provided by the 1999 Constitution.