Governors should do what is right by granting the legislature and judiciary financial autonomy guaranteed by law

The Executive Order 10 recently signed by President Muhammadu Buhari which grants financial autonomy to the legislature and judiciary in all the 36 states has continued to generate controversy. The order seeks the implementation of the provision of section 121(3) of the 1999 Constitution as altered in 2018. In the event of failure of any state government to release the allocations due the state’s legislature or judiciary, the executive order empowers the Accountant General of the Federation to deduct the allocation from source and pay it to the legislature and the judiciary in defaulting states.

In a country where the rule of law is supreme, there would have been no need for any executive order to compel governors to comply with a constitution they all swore to uphold. But the houses of assembly in many of the states are mere rubber stamp legislature whose members cannot hold the governors to account. It is the same with the judiciary in these states where Chief judges often have to go begging for funds from the governors to run an independent arm. These anomalies and many more do not allow our democracy to flourish. The import of Executive Order 10 is therefore to ensure that governors allow the houses of assembly and judiciary in their states operate independently as provided by the 1999 Constitution.

We agree with the principle behind the executive order signed by the president. Nigerians are good at blaming the federal government for everything that is not going well with the country. Yet, as has been shown during the current lockdown and restrictions of movement to contain the spread of COVID-19, governors indeed wield a lot of powers. But many of them tend to believe these powers come without accountability. And with that, both the judiciary and legislature have been rendered prostrate in majority of the 36 states. Lack of financial autonomy by these two arms of government accounts for this state of affairs. That is what Executive Order 10 seeks to resolve.

But there are also contending issues. The provision which empowers the Accountant General of the Federation to “authorise the deduction from 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 (as Amended)” is contentious.

Notwithstanding Section 5 of the constitution which confers on the president powers to uphold and defend the constitution, the right of states to their own shares of the funds in the federation account by virtue of section 162 cannot be hindered by an executive order. Besides, while the president is duty bound to ensure compliance with the constitution, he does not have the power to issue any order that is either in conflict with, or seeks to expand, the express provisions of the constitution. The question is, what happens if the governors refuse to comply with the judgment? This is not farfetched. It is their refusal to abide by the provisions of the constitution they swore to uphold that has, in the first place, brought about this controversy. Yet, except those in authority imbibe the culture of rule of law, no amount of alterations to the constitution will guarantee the survival of our democracy.

While the governors have decided to dialogue with the Attorney General and Justice Minister on the issue, we implore them not to see this as another issue with which to flex muscles with the federal government. They should just do the needful by granting the legislature and judiciary in their states the financial autonomy that is already guaranteed by law.