Nigerian state governors have pledged to implement financial autonomy for state legislature and judiciary to ensure transparency and openness in governance.
They made the pledge through the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) at the opening session of a two-day conference on the implementation of the initiative held on Thursday at Transcorp Hotel, Abuja.
President Muhammadu Buhari last year assented to the constitutional amendments granting autonomy to the two arms of government at the sub-national levels.
The Chairman of the NGF, Abdulaziz Yari, who is the governor of Zamfara, said the governors will work with the federal government to implement the law.
Mr Yari was represented at the event by Bauchi State Governor, Mohammed Abubakar. He said the autonomy of the legislature and the judiciary is critical to sustainable development.
"I totally aligned with the motion that the legislature and judiciary autonomy is a necessary precondition for an enduring democracy. This enhances efficiency, transparency and accountability in government.
"May I also assure you that the state governors are collectively committed to the enthronement of a strong and virile democracy in Nigeria and would work with the federal government to achieve the National implementation strategy and ultimately ensure full autonomy of the legislature and judiciary at sub-national levels."
The governor said the NGF fully supports President Muhammadu Buhari's reform agenda and shares his passion for transparency and zero tolerance for corruption.
Speaking at the event, the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, said local governments need to be strengthened and urged state assemblies to act fast.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Ita Enang said the report and recommendations of the retreat will be submitted to the president.
He said the states will immediately begin to implement the resolutions of the retreat.
"We are impressed by the attendance. Out of 36 states, 34 of the chief judges of the federation are here, and 31 speakers are also here in person while the rest of them are presented at this conference." Speaking on what the implementation portends for governance at the state level, Mr Enang said the judiciary will be able to deliver justice without fear or favour.
Mr Enang, who is also the secretary of the panel, said the legislature will be able to legislate without fear of the government withholding their allocation.
"Money due to the judiciary will go to the account of the judiciary directly and money due to the legislature will go to the account of the legislature directly.
"Finally, it is intended to ensure that money for the judiciary is not spent on the judiciary or on the judiciary but it is spent by the judiciary for the judiciary and on the judiciary and the same goes for the legislature," he said.
State governors speak
Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom, said the autonomy of the legislature and judiciary will strengthen democracy.
He said Nigerians must learn to respect their constitution.
"Once laws are in place, we have no choice but to comply because that is the only thing that will lead us to a greater height. If we refuse to obey our laws, then we are calling for chaos and anarchy and when anarchy comes nobody will be safe. So I welcome this retreat because at the end of the day, all of us will take something home."
Bauchi State Governor, Mr Abubakar, described the amendment of the constitution to confer autonomy on the states legislature and the judiciary as a milestone.
He said the state judiciary had good experience under his administration "because I happen to come from the same constituency.".
"Growing up in the service of Bauchi State, I was at one-time legal draftsman of the Bauchi State House of Assembly during the Second Republic. So, I have had experience in all the three arms of government," he said.
In his remarks, the executive director, Policy and Legal Advocacy Center (PLAC), Clement Nwankwo, said it is 'dangerous a situation' to cripple the legislature and make it unable to function.
"A situation where the legislature, which actually makes the distinction between democracy and dictatorship, is crippled and made unable to function worsens the reality that democracy represents.
"Unfortunately only a few clauses of what the National Assembly passed were assented to by Mr President, but this is very critical in terms of strengthening our democracy, that our legislature is able to function as an independent arm of government, able to moderate the excesses of the executive, particularly at the state level where the development and the transparency of government are very limited."
He said Nigerians had been worried about the effectiveness of the judiciary and its ability to be independent.
"A democracy without an independent judiciary that is able to obliterate the conflict in government and the injustices that people suffer is a danger and a lot of concern for those of us working in the human rights sphere,"he said.
He urged governors "to work with this committee to ensure that fruits and benefits of these amendments by the National Assembly come to happen."
Premium Times had reported how President Buhari signed a bill which allows state judiciary to directly access funds to their credit, and no longer through the state governors last year.
Mr Buhari also constituted the Presidential Implementation Committee on Autonomy of State Legislature and State Judiciary in accordance with the 4th Alteration to the 1999 Constitution on December 9, 2018.
Three months after, Mr Buhari on March 22 inaugurated a presidential implementation committee.
The 16-member panel is chaired by the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, while the presidential adviser on National Assembly (Senate), Mr Enang, is the secretary.
Mr Buhari gave the panel three months to complete the assignment.