BY OUR EDITORS
For three weeks now, all the states Houses of Assembly, except Kaduna and Kwara, are under lock and key or, at the most, offering only skeletal services. This is not because the members are on recess as usual but because of an industrial dispute declared by the civil servants who ensure the effective and efficient running of the Assemblies.
The workers acting under the Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria (PASAN) are demanding for financial autonomy for the state Assemblies. The union had issued a seven-day ultimatum to the federal government to either implement the two-year-old Executive Order 10 or face a total shutdown of the legislative arm of government across all tiers of government.
The financial autonomy Bill for the state legislature and judiciary, which places state Assemblies and judiciary on the first line charge, was passed by the National Assembly and subsequently assented to by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2018.
Also the President had in 2020 also issued Executive Order 10 making it mandatory that all states of the federation should include the allocations of both the Legislature and the Judiciary in their Appropriation Laws.
The Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami had added that a presidential implementation committee was constituted to work out strategies and modalities for the implementation of financial autonomy for the state legislature and state judiciary in compliance with section 121(3) of the Constitution.
But the State governors, acting under the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF), had opposed the implementation of the Executive Order 10, citing constitutional reasons, a development that led to the suspension of the order by the president. Consequently, PASAN has been at the forefront of calling for the implementation of the state legislature autonomy law.
This newspaper observes that State Governors had consistently opposed the financial autonomy of the legislative and judicial arms of the government for reasons that are believed to be self-serving. Again, they have succeeded in blackmailing the President into developing a cold feet with regard to the implementation of an Order he had signed in good faith.
This, in our considered opinion, is a sad commentary on the principles of separation of powers as clearly enshrined in the constitution. The state governors perceive, wrongly, these arms of government as their lackeys whose members must remain at their beck and call. The interest in that warped line of thinking is essentially pecuniary. They want to continue to control the purse strings of these arms of government. That must be seen by all Nigerians as dictatorial, undemocratic and completely unacceptable.
Curiously, in our view, these same governors acting as despots in relation to the legislature and Judiciary in the states are vociferously demanding for resource control, devolution of powers and higher percentage in the sharing formula of the nation’s revenue.
However, while we blame the executive arm of government in the states for their high-handedness, we also have some unkind words for the legislators and the judiciary officers. Their plight, as painful and humiliating as it is, is self-inflicted. Who knows, they may be satisfied with the crumps from the masters’ table. Otherwise, why would they stand by and watch a bunch of politicians deprive them of their constitutionally guaranteed rights?
As a way out of this industrial dispute, we consider it immensely expedient that the federal government, in particular, the Presidency should go ahead, reactivate and implement Executive Order 10 to ensure financial autonomy for those arms of government in the states. This must be done without further delay in the interest of justice and equity. In our opinion, the state governors are beginning to over-estimate their constitutional powers to the point that they can now interfere with the functions of the President, to wit, the suspension of the implementation of Executive Order 10.
As we stated earlier, separation of powers is a cardinal principle in democratic practice. The principle, according to the founding fathers of that system of government intended it to be in its entirety which entails that every arm has the freedom to manage their own affairs, including financial issues within the limits approved by the constitution as well as have oversight functions on one another.
In our opinion, PASAN waited for too long in drawing the public’s attention to this infringement on their rights and privileges. We expect the lawmakers and the judiciary officers to weigh in on the demand of these workers who bear the brunt of the ongoing executive rascality. The spendthrift propensity of the governors is as a result of the fact that they have excess money in their pocket – Legislature’s budget, the Judiciary Budget and the Local Government allocation. It is time they are called to order. Implementation of Executive Order 10 is the beginning of the process.