By Simon Rogo
No Nigeria’s Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice has been as underrated, and even as maligned as Abubakar Malami.
Yet, slowly but steadily, he is turning out to be the most impactful chief law officer of the federation the country has ever had.
After coming out with the legal instrument of the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit ( NFIU) which issued guidelines to states in May 2019 on ensuring that funds allocated to local governments go directly into their bank accounts, Buhari has now signed Executive Order 10 granting financial autonomy to legislature and judiciary in all the 36 states.
Malami said the executive order provides that: “The Accountant-General of the Federation shall by this Order and such any other Orders, Regulations or Guidelines as may be issued by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, 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).”
The AGF has explained the import of the Order as being geared towards deepening democracy at the grassroots and ensuring effective implementation of the doctrine of separation of powers.
This is hardly disputable. Indeed the Order is simply an implementation of the provision of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended). Section 121(3) of the constitution says “any amount standing to the credit of the judiciary in the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the State shall be paid directly to the heads of the courts concerned.” This is exactly what the Order has reinforced.
And there is no doubt that democracy as a system of government cannot thrive where there is no separation of powers among the three major arms of the government- the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary. Indeed that is what separates democracy from the other forms of government.
The framers of our constitution ensured that the doctrine of separation of powers was captured in the constitution to prevent one arm of the government, especially the executive, from becoming too powerful. The system of separation of powers divides the tasks of the state into those three branches so that no one institution can become so powerful in a democracy as to destroy the system.
But our experience has shown that this doctrine has not been respected by the political elites who dominate the other arms of the government once they get executive powers.
In many of the 36 states, the judiciary and especially the legislature have been at the beck and call of the executive. Many former state governors have lamented the lack of independence of state legislatures and even judiciary, after they left office.
So the Order, if enforced, would surely facilitate good governance and more rapid development in states.
The legislature provides an essential contribution to the quality of a country’s overall governance by adding value to government policy, initiating people-centred policies independently of government, and enabling policy to be translated into social reality by means of the laws they make.
On the hand, an independent judiciary would promote the rule of law because it guarantees that judges would be free to decide honestly and impartially, in accordance with the law and evidence, without concern or fear of interference, control, or improper influence from the executive.
But what is even more important for now, which makes the Order relevant at this time, is the execution of Malami’s plan to transform the judiciary into a more efficient and technology-driven institution. Malami, in consultation with all relevant stakeholders, had worked out how to cover lost grounds and digitize judicial functions in view of the covid-19 pandemic.
The AGF has rolled out measures for the transformation of the judiciary to enable it respond adequately and effective to the new normal. While announcing the Order, Malami in the first three years of its implementation, “there shall be special extraordinary capital allocations for the Judiciary to undertake capital development of State Judiciary Complexes, High Court Complexes, Sharia Court of Appeal, Customary Court of Appeal and Court Complexes of other Courts befitting the status of Courts.”
Without an effective legal check on the executive, this proposed upgrade of judiciary infrastructure may never see the light. The Order has empowered the judiciary in the states for more efficient delivery of justice, and would hasten the execution of the envisaged turn-around for the justice system.
The AGF has taken the appropriate steps to ensure the Order takes firm roots. A Presidential Implementation Committee was constituted to fashion out strategies and modalities for the implementation of the Order in compliance with section 121(3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as Amended).
The committee has initiated meetings with the Nigerian Governors Forum to agree on how the proposed financial autonomy for state legislatures and judiciaries would be executed. The Order will not succeed without the buy-in of the governors. The governors can frustrate execution of the Order unless they are given incentives not to. It is these incentives that are likely to be discussed before the take-off of the Order.
There are indications that the governors, who initially rose against the Order, may have softened their stance. A press statement signed by Umar Jibrilu Gwandu, Special Assistant on Media and Public Relations in the office of the AGF on Tuesday said Malami was full of praise for the governors for the understanding they had shown with regard to the new Order.
The statement called for more inter-agency support for the Order which he said would accelerate the development of the country. He said an implementation Committee would work with the recommendations from the Governor’s Forum and other stakeholders to ensure the practicability of the order.
“In furtherance of the implementation of the Order, the Federal Government and Nigerian Governors’ Forum are jointly working on modalities for effective implementation of the order,” the statement read in part.
Malami may be an unassuming law officer, but the stride he’s making shows he’s been underrated. If he pulls this through too,the way he had done with others, there can be no doubt that he would have helped tremendously to establish a legacy for the Buhary Presidency.
Rogo writes from Kafanchan, Kaduna State