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Beyond Financial Autonomy For State Assemblies, Judiciaries



President Muhammadu Buhari recently signed the Constitution 4th Alteration Bill into law. With this new law, all funds due to state assemblies and judiciaries will now be remitted directly to them and no longer through the governors. By implication, state assemblies and judiciaries would now operate financially like the National Assembly and the federal judiciary that do not rely on the president or the executive for funding.
What this means is that this law has finally handed the long-desired financial autonomy and independence to state assemblies and judiciaries. Sadly, state governments have continued to subject their legislatures to their whims. They achieve this by controlling the flow of funds accruable to them. The control of the legislature and the judiciary by the executive at the state level has made mincemeat of the principle of checks and balances, which is sacred in the presidential system and participatory democracy. The executive in the state uses finance as a buffer against the latitude of the other arms of government.

Because the state governors control the finances of both the legislature and judiciary in their states, they put both arms on leash and dictate all they do and say. The executive control the legislative and judicial arms of governments at the state level by deciding who becomes the presiding officers of the state assemblies and judiciaries. Most state high courts make no pretenses as to where their allegiance lie in litigations involving the executive.
With the Constitution 4th Alteration Act, the time has finally come for state assemblies and judiciaries to reclaim their independence. The powers to impeach and to override executive veto are constitutional measures of checks and balances that are exclusive to the legislature. They both bring home the full expression of separation of powers in a democracy. Unfortunately, no state assembly is at liberty to tread any of these paths unless there is an extraneous back up. State chief executives understand the strength of the special powers of the legislature and relentlessly emasculate it with a grip on its finances.

While there is little doubt that this law may completely be effective in the states, it is expected that it would go a long way in minimising undue influence on the legislature and the judiciary at that level. It is also expected that the financial autonomy will invigorate the two arms of government and discourage subservience to the executive arm.
We applaud the president for assenting to the law and all it represents. Yet, it would be interesting to watch how the state assemblies and judiciaries will embrace the new challenge of taking charge of their own funds. To make the situation less treacherous, they should fashion out ways of properly equipping themselves to handle the new channel of funding. In this regard, they may need to build a financial management capacity.

The state assemblies and judiciaries may also find the blueprint of their national counterparts handy or work out agreeable ways of managing their finances. This is compelling so as not to create new avenues for corruption, thereby amounting to solving one problem and creating another. It is also expedient at this point to remind the National Assembly and the executive of the need to ensure that the autonomy wind blows down to the third tier of government. Looking at what obtains in local government administration in the country, it is grossly inappropriate to even describe the local councils as tier of government. They are deprived of their monthly allocation from the federation account, through a disingenuous state and local government joint account operated by the governors.

State governors justify this by contending that the state governments pay the salary of primary school teachers on behalf of the local government authorities that have the statutory power to shoulder the responsibility. Due to their persistent cries over empty treasury, it is difficult to hold local government authorities accountable to the people for anything, giving some of the rogue council chairmen all the opportunities they need to do as they wish with their internally generated revenues.
More disturbing is the fact that the local governments are mostly run by caretaker chairmen solely appointed by governors. Even when a local government chairman is elected, his stay in office depends on what the governor feels or thinks about him. Although there had been few incidences of impeachments of elected local government chairmen by councillors, but what has largely consumed their seats are quit orders from governors who replace them with their appointees.