Govs Give Conditions to Support Financial Autonomy for States’ Legislature

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•Presidential committee demands compliance with executive order

By Chuks Okocha

Governors of the 36 states of the federation have given conditions to support the Executive Order 10, signed by President Muhammadu Buhari to grant financial autonomy to states’ legislature and judiciary, THISDAY has learnt.

As part of efforts to make the state legislature and judiciary more independent, Buhari had recently signed the executive order that ensures finances of the two arms of government at the state level get directly to them.

The order was based on the recommendations of the presidential implementation committee constituted to fashion out strategies and modalities for the implementation of financial autonomy for states’ legislature and judiciary in compliance with section 121(3) of the 1999 Constitution.

Despite the constitutional provision, the governors have refused to put states’ legislature and judiciary on first line charge.

However, the Presidential Implementation Committee on Financial Autonomy for Judiciary and Legislature has urged the governors to comply with the Executive Order 10.

THISDAY gathered that in a move that suggested that the governors got the hint that the president would sign the order, the Deputy Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) and Governor of Sokoto State, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, who is also a lawyer with legislative experience, had met the Conference of Speakers on May 21, shortly before Buhari signed the order, to discuss issues bordering on financial autonomy for the legislature and the judiciary.

The meeting, it was learnt, was a virtual conference and the speakers were represented by six speakers from the six geopolitical zones, though others joined during the teleconference.

THISDAY gathered that at the meeting, the speakers pledged their loyalty to the governors, stating that they are not out to antagonise them and sought for help to make the legislature more effective.

It was learnt that about nine states, including Lagos, Delta and Bayelsa, have since commenced financial autonomy for the judiciary and legislature.

A source privy to the meeting told THISDAY that the governors gave their conditions to support the autonomy being canvassed by the state legislature.

The source stated that the governors told the speakers that legislative autonomy should not mean that they will form an alternative government or get involved in award of contracts for capital projects.

According to the source that observed the virtual conference, the speakers assured Tambuwal that they would not constitute opposition to the state governments.

The speakers also pledged not to be involved in capital projects and award of contracts that border on the duties of the state executive arm of government.

According to the source, “the virtual conference agreed that the state governors will ensure financial autonomy for the judiciary and legislature to the extent that the autonomy will be limited to the legislature handling only the salaries and training of the members of the state Houses of Assembly.

“It was agreed at the meeting that the Houses of Assembly will not engage in the award of contracts on any capital project within their respective states.

“For instance, the issue of the renovation of the National Assembly was brought up.

“It was made clear to the speakers that the renovation of the National Assembly is being facilitated by the Federal Capital Development Authority ( FCDA).

“The speakers were informed that it was the FCDA that built the National Assembly in the first place and the planned renovation is also being carried out by the same FCDA.”

The source said the issue of constituency projects came up during the virtual meeting and it was agreed that the model at the National Assembly should also be adopted at the state level.

Under the National Assembly model, constituency projects are always championed by the lawmakers at the National Assembly level, but the execution of the jobs is not done by the respective senators and members of the House of Representatives but by the executive.

“Senators and members of the House of Representatives compile the constituency projects and they are captured in the Appropriation Bill but the execution is usually done by the federal ministry or agency of government, where the projects belong,” the source added.

The source told THISDAY that it was because of the outcome of the virtual meeting with the speakers that the governors in the communiqué of their last meeting resolved to meet with the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister for Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN,) to discuss the implications of the Executive Order 10.

THISDAY gathered that even though the speakers had agreed to the terms of the governors, it was also necessary for the governors to reach final agreement with Malami to avoid potential conflicts that could arise as a result of party differences between a governor and his state legislature.

“Though the speakers pledged their loyalty to the state governors, there is the need to address the thin lines over the issue of award of contracts and execution of capital projects.

“This is necessary because there could be some differences due to party affiliation between some governors and members of the state legislature and therefore there is the need to spell out the lines of engagement on this issue of financial autonomy,” the source stated.

Presidential Committee Seeks Compliance with Executive Order

The Presidential Implementation Committee on Financial Autonomy for Judiciary and Legislature has urged governors to comply with the Executive Order 10.

The Secretary of the committee, Senator Ita Enang, told journalists in Abuja yesterday that the financial autonomy would facilitate development and promote financial accountability at the state level.

Enang, who is also the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Niger Delta Affairs, said the greatest challenge in Nigeria’s democracy was wastage at the state level, adding that the Executive Order 10 would guarantee financial transparency in states.

Enang noted that one important feature of the financial autonomy is that all three arms of government will prepare their budget together, adding that they will know what the state government has and what it does not have.

“In the budgeting process, they will know how much each of the arms of government will use in settling salaries and allowances of the legislators, paying their aides, legislative staff, and office maintenance, among others.

“The governors will no longer be responsible for their expenses; it will also make the House of Assembly responsive.

“So, what the president is doing is to ensure that each state House of Assembly is independent not to attack the governors but to check the executive and make government more responsible and responsive to the yearnings of the people and development will be faster.

“The governors will know that the judiciary is independent and same with the legislature. These arms of government need not get approval from the governors to execute their respective duties,” he added.

Enang said the provision stipulated that the governors upon receipt of money due to any arm of government in the consolidated revenue fund of the state from the Federation Account and internally generated revenue, should remit the same to the respective arms.

“But where any governor fails to remit the money due to the arms, the Accountant General of the Federation (AGF) will deduct that amount standing to the credit of that state in the Federation Account and remit directly to arms concerned.

“It is important to emphasise that this deduction is not the first line action, but it is only applicable when one arm of the government is oppressed.

“We are confident that none of the 36 states will in any manner deprive their state legislature or judiciary of the fund that is due to them.

“The implementation committee will be very conciliatory and respectful of the powers of each arm of government at the states level and the powers and privileges of the governors,” Enang said.