Fiscal Autonomy: Showdown in Legislative Chambers

The Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria (PASAN) has kicked off an indefinite nationwide strike following the non-implementation of financial autonomy for state legislatures. In Oyo, the protesters barricaded all entrances to the State House of Assembly in tune with the directive of the national leadership of the association.

The situation was no different from Imo State as the marchers prevented the lawmakers from conducting legislative activities. Also in Lagos, Rivers, Osun and Bauchi states, the strike directive was religiously carried out.

According to chairman of the Lagos State House of Assembly chapter of the body, Taofiq Adele, he noted that the Executive Order issued by President Muhammadu Buhari in May 2020 was yet to be implemented in a good number of the 36 states of the federation. He noted that, “The strike followed alleged inability of governors to carrying out the order, 10 months after it was given.”

Taofiq Adele noted that “according to best practices, the parliaments should have equitable access to resources. As such, parliaments by constitutional arrangements, are supposed to have enough financial muscle to carry out their legislative mandates, including exercising power over budgets.”

It is on record that President Muhammadu Buhari had approved the financial independence of the legislature and judiciary from the executives in the state. He had signed the Executive Order on May 23, 2020 based on the power vested in him as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. This is under Section 5 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as Amended), which extends to the execution and maintenance of the Constitution, laws made by the National Assembly (including but not limited to Section 121(3) of the 1999 Constitution (as Amended), which guarantee financial autonomy of the state legislature and state judiciary.”

The essence of fiscal autonomy is evident in the concept of separation of powers. Asides the fact that it provides a vital system of checks and balances, the primary essence is that one arm of government should not be controlled or be dependent on any other. This is crucial for effective running of government.

Although there are clear separations of power among the three arms of government as in the case of Nigeria, such separation only exists on paper. In reality, we have a very powerful executive arm and a very weak judiciary and legislative arm. The executive arm in certain instances controls the judiciary and legislature in the areas of appointment and fiscal dependency.

State Governors for instance have been in control of the finances of the legislature and judiciary. Analysts fault this provision because it serves as a tool to control and forcefully coerce the two other arms of government. This is in view of the traditional proverb that says he who pays the piper dictates its tune.

Another pressing issue is the specious nature of the alteration. On the one hand, this looks like autonomy and a true encapsulation of democratic processes. As Oyo PASAN Chairman, Yemi Alade, puts it, “It is a provision of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Having observed that with the current emasculation of the legislative arm of government, there can be no true democracy.”

It is in fact best captured in the words of Taofiq Adele, Lagos State House of Assembly chapter of PASAN, who noted that “the bedrock of parliamentary autonomy hinges on financial independence. Autonomy in this context is simply defined as non-dependence and non-subordination of parliaments in relation to the executive. This non-dependence and non-subordination as stated above are in terms of unfettered control over financial and other related resources.”

On the other hand, it doesn’t really grant the legislature or judiciary autonomy. It is just a way of removing state executives as “middlemen” in a way that the power is now mainly at the center. Therefore, while this gives some form of autonomy to the state judiciary and legislature, it is equally giving more powers to the executive at the center. So where does autonomy stand?

Even so, it has nothing to do with the balance of powers between the executive at the federal and state level. Rather it is more of a horizontal balancing. Funding undoubtedly is crucial for the survival of any institution. The executive order is simply stipulating that these three arms should have direct access to funding at the federal and state level.

The main crux has always been how the state legislature and the judiciary can have access to funds without depending on the state governors. That is, providing administrative and financial independence across the tiers of government.

At the federal level, the National Assembly and the federal judiciary are already enjoying this financial independence. This is the more reason there is some level of checks and balances as the National Assembly can challenge the executive on points of law and governance. However, both the judiciary and legislature at the state level go to the executive cap in hand, impeding the full potentials of effective governance.

It is noteworthy that the executive order is not saying that money should be deducted expressly at source. It only says in the events that any state governor refuse to comply with the provisions of the constitution, power is given to the accountant-general of the Federation, “who shall by this order and any other such orders, regulations or guidelines, as may be issued by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, authorise the deduction from a source in the course 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 state judiciary in line with the financial autonomy guaranteed by Section 121(3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999.”

States that have started implementing the order include Kwara, Delta, Jigawa, Bayelsa, and Ebonyi State. Although the 36 state governors agreed on the fiscal autonomy of the legislature and judiciary, good numbers have however been unable to follow through. Some of the problems cited include how the implementation is going to be done? For instance, when there is no sufficient fund and the other arms of government insist on getting their money, what can be done in that situation?

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The way out especially as the Speaker of the House of Assembly, Femi Gbajabiamila agrees, is that once there is a revenue shortfall based on the tripartite consultation of the three arms of government, an agreement will be reached on a monthly basis based on a percentage which will cut across board. This will remove all sense of inadequacy. Hence, it is not enough for the governor to determine what to give to other arms of government based on that loophole.

What is expected upon the implementation by state governors is a vibrant legislature at the state level: an independent legislature that is able to provide oversight for the executive arm, and is also able to ask crucial questions on the generation and utilisation of public funds. This is coupled with checking the excesses of the executive.

Piercy Mabel