The Executive Order 10 signed by President Muhammadu Buhari has continued to generate rift between the Nigerian Governors’ Forum chaired by Ekiti State Governor Kayode Fayemi and Conference of 36 Speakers of Houses of Assembly, led by Lagos State House of Assembly Speaker Mudashiru Obasa.
It has also generated debates among other stakeholders. Some are taking sides with the governors. Others are throwing their weight behind the Houses of Assembly.
The current debate may have overtaken the controversy triggered by the presidential order granting autonomy to local councils, a move that has pitched the Houses of Assembly against operators at the council level.
Instructively, the Executive Order 10 is not the original guarantor of financial autonomy to the legislative and judicial arms. To the consternation of the governors, the Eighth National Assembly granted the Houses of Assembly quest for autonomy by legislating that their funds will come directly from the Consolidated Fund.
The crux of the matter is that if the Executive Order is not reversed, monies accruable to the Executive branch headed by governors and the Legislature headed by Speakers will come directly to them without any middleman from the Federation Account. The amount must be deducted from source from allocations to states and given to the legislature and the judiciary, based on the directive of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice to the Accountant-General of the Federation.
The Speakers have hailed the directive, saying that it would enhance the separation of powers and safeguard the independence of the arms at the state level.
Echoing them, the Minister of Special Duties and Intergovernmental Affairs, George Akume, a former governor of Benue State, said financial autonomy for the state legislature is desirable. “The concept of separation of powers, which advocates for the independence of the three arms of government will not serve any purpose, if the legislature and the judiciary will keep going, cap in hand, to the executive for handouts to run their affairs.
“This approach is responsible for the popular slogan referring to state legislatures as ‘rubber stamp’ and a case of ‘the pipe dictating the tune,” he added.
Akume said the era of inevitability of instability of leadership of state legislatures may be over, stressing that President Buhari has strengthened and consolidated the foundation of democracy at the second tier of government.
But, governors are kicking against the contentious order. In the past, governors were not keen about the implementation, despite the presidential assent to the bill. To them, the hand of the Federal Government will be heavy on the states through the strange mode of resource allocation.
Other critics of the order have pointed out that it is silent on safeguards to ensure that the funds channelled directly to the Houses of Assembly and courts are judiciously spent. To them, the main challenges are probity, transparency and accountability by the two benefitting arms of government at the state level.
The victory won by the Houses of Assembly did not come on a platter of gold. A bill was proposed in the Senate by the Conference of Speakers. Public hearings were conducted before the amendment to grant autonomy to the judiciary and legislature. The bill was sent to the 36 Houses of Assembly that adopted the amendment. The Presidential implementation Committee headed by the Federal Attorney-General Abubakar Malami (SAN) was set up. Other members are National Assembly Presidential Liaison Officer Senator Ita Enang, representatives of PASAN and the Governors’ Forum.
Also, the 36 speakers, who had formed a powerful lobby, visited the president. They also met with the Governors’ Forum.
As chairman of Conference of Speakers, Obasa played a critical role in the actualisation of the envisaged autonomy.
Ironically, in the course of the partial implementation of autonomy, the Lagos Speaker ran into turbulence. Obasa has always emphasised the need to train lawmakers for effective results and necessary exposure. In his view, this costs money. But, the measures could strengthen democratic institutions as the legislators would acquire more skills and experience through international conferences and trainings that IBA, IMF and UN organise yearly. The money spent, including air fares, hotels, feeding and conference fees, are part of the costs of sustaining democratic institutions, he said.
Lagos Assembly is made up of 40 members. Therefore, such trainings are very expensive. However, many critics also point out that, generally, presidential democracy is costly.
What is th way out of the conflict between governors and speakers over the novel Executive Order 10? The Governors’ Forum is still engaging the president. Sources said the governors may go to the court. There are fears that the implementation may continue to generate friction between governors and Speakers in their respective states. Many speakers go to the principal office through the backing of governors.
More worrisome is the duty allotted to the Federal Attorney-General and the Accountant-General of the Federation in the implementation. In a federation, there should be clear divisions of powers between the centre and the states. According to observers, the new order may further dwarf the states and reduce them to the status of federal appendages.
Lagos House of Assembly thinks otherwise, saying that the innovative law will aid democracy to grow.
The lawmakers applauded Speaker Obasa for his role. Deputy Majority Leader Noheem Adams said: “You have made history and your name is invoked in today’s democracy in all the States of the Federation for your laudable achievements and in the move towards the implementation of financial autonomy for the Legislature and the judiciary.
Lawmaker Tunde Braimoh said the financial autonomy would equipped the House with the wherewithal to achieve its oversight functions. His colleague, Victor Akande, acknowledged the effort of the Speaker and all others who stood their grounds to ensure that the financial autonomy came to limelight.
Rasheed Makinde emphasised that the autonomy showed democracy was coming of age. He said: “The fact that we have been given the autonomy does not mean we want to engage in power tussle with the Executive, but share financial independence in line with tenets of democracy.”
Rotimi Olowo noted that over the years, the public perception towards government has mostly encompassed the executive without giving cognisance to the judiciary and legislature, despite being the representatives of the people. However, the autonomy has put the other arms of government on the map.
He said: “Thank you Mr. Speaker for your doggedness and resolve at ensuring that this happens, we cannot do that without also thanking Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu for endorsing you. Asiwaju has spotted out someone who has the resolve to push matters and the Governors should not see this as a form of opposition or diminishing of power but a move to ensure that the three arms of government work together independently and interdependently without any sentiment or rancor.” He reiterated.
To Obasa, confrontation with governors by the lawmakers does not arise, adding that the order cannot whittle down their powers as Heads of Government. The House therefore, resolved to write commendation letters to President Buhari, the Senate, House of Representatives, Nigerian Governor’s Forum, Attorney General of the Federation, Senior Special Advisor to the President on Legislative Matters and the Conference.