Nigeria: Autonomy for State Legislature, Judiciary - Lawyers, CSOs Split Over Buhari's Executive Order

President Muhammadu Buhari (file photo).
25 May 2020

-Adeniran, Ozekhome laud Buhari; It's a non-issue, says Ahamba

-President's action a dangerous precedent, says CSOs; -Governors may head to court

-Governors may head to court

By Clifford Ndujihe, Dirisu Yakubu, Omeiza Ajayi & Gabriel Ewepu

Mixed views, yesterday, hallmarked President Muhammadu Buhari's Executive Order granting financial autonomy to the legislature and judiciary at the state level.

President Buhari signed the Executive Order into law on Friday.

As some lawyers and politicians hailed the move, others said the effort is too little to address the humongous challenges full restructuring of the country entails.

Indeed, as a big legal battle loomed, efforts meant to get the Nigerian Governors Forum to comment on the issue at press time did not yield fruits. However, sources said the governors might go to the Supreme Court to seek for intervention.

"The President signed the Executive Order number 10 into law based on the power vested in him as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria under Section 5 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), which extends to the executive and maintenance of the Constitution, laws made by the National Assembly (including but not limited to Section 121 (3) of the 1999 Constitution, which guarantee financial autonomy of the state legislature and state judiciary," a statement by the Attorney General of the Federation and Justice Minister, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, said.

The development, which means steady and regular incomes for the judiciary and legislature, mandates the Attorney-General of the Federation to authorise deduction from source from money allocated to states that fail to release allocations meant for the two arms of government.

Adeniran, Ozekhome laud Buhari

Speaking on the issue, former Minister of Education, Professor Tunde Adeniran, and constitutional lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, commended President Buhari on the move.

Adeniran said the development is part of the restructuring being clamoured for in the past few years.

The Professor of Political Science who doubles as factional national chairman of the Social Democratic Party, SDP, in a telephone conversation with Vanguard, said the executive order is in order.

"It is quite in order. It is one of the steps to bring sanity into governance and entrench the principle of separation of powers. It is a vital aspect of the vertical and horizontal restructuring of the country."

On his part, Ozekhome argued that the executive order would help checkmate excesses of some state governors who often deep their hands in the allocations of states' legislative and judicial arms.

"It is a good. The Executive Order is meant to bring stability and accountability in the system. It is quite good for the nation. It is the right way to go. Governors have literally been pilfering allocations belonging to states' legislatures and judiciaries through deductions at source. This renders states' legislatures and judiciaries servile and beggars to imperial state governors who use these two independent and coordinate arms of government to achieve their selfish interests thus defeating transparency, accountability and good governance."

It's a non-issue, says Ahamba

To Chief Mike Ahamba, SAN, who was Buhari's lawyer in 2003, the order is not new and has been taken care of by the constitution.

His words: "This is not an issue. The constitution provides for such autonomy. Those who are opposed to it are enemies of true federalism, separation of powers, and the independence of the judiciary. These people are individually and collectively the bane of Nigeria."

It's piece-meal restructuring - Ikokwu

On his part, Second Republic politician and lawyer, Chief Guy Ikokwu, concurred with Ahamba but added that the move will add little or nothing to efforts to get Nigeria on its feet.

"It did not start today. It has been on for a long time. The Executive Order is a small legislation that does not change much. If he (president) is dealing with constitutional issues, this is the time to summon a constitutional conference of genuine representatives of the people because the 1999 Constitution is dead. It is an anathema. You cannot have a unitary Federal Government. This can be done in three months and the decision of the conference will abrogate the 1999 Constitution and save the country. Otherwise the prevailing insecurity in the country will have dire consequences.

"There are a lot of incongruities in Nigeria. A nation of such glaring incongruities cannot survive."

Welcome development-- CISLAC

Executive Director, Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, CISLAC, Auwal Ibrahim Rafsanjani, said: "We welcome the development of allowing the states' legislature and judiciary to have autonomy because this is the only way to allow the three arms of government in our constitution-the executive, legislature and judiciary to function independently and transparently.

"This is the only way we can restore confidence in our democracy because going by the current practice that governors have actually pocked or manipulated and directed the function of the legislature and judiciary, it is not giving hope for people to really have confidence in democracy and democratic governance in Nigeria."

Executive Director, YIAGA AFRICA, Samson Itodo, described the President's Executive Order as a symbolic step in support of financial autonomy of state legislature and judiciary, but could be disobeyed by the governors as they have succeeded in doing.

"The President has accented to the Constitutional Amendment Bill as first alteration to grant financial autonomy to the legislature and as well as the judiciary. When the President assented to that legislation there were no constitutional amendments other actions to further operationalise that particular amendment.

The President cannot amend the constitution. The President issuing an executive order is maybe for a symbolic action to show that the President promotes autonomy of the legislature and judiciary. In actual fact, I think it is really unnecessary because the constitution was already amended.'

"The President's Executive Order is also a dangerous precedence because if it would take an executive order for governors to comply with the constitution, it is actually a threat to constitutional fidelity.

In another reaction, the Convener, Concerned Nigerians, CN, Deji Adeyanju, condemned the action and said the President was attempting to amend the constitution with the Executive Order.

"The President giving an Executive Order granting financial autonomy to state legislature and judiciary as noble and commendable as it is, is unconstitutional. It contravenes the provisions of the constitution," he said.

Convener, Coalition in Defence of Nigerian Democracy and Constitution, Ariyo-Dare Atoye, decried the action of the President, saying: "The decision of the President to use an Executive Order to appropriate what the constitution has already provided for is not only superfluous but also represents the display of a dangerous act that is capable of undermining the grand norm, and put democracy in jeopardy.

"As a matter of serious concern, the people should be weary and the National Assembly should thoroughly investigate this faux pas, as to whether it was done to deliberately override the constitution, or the Attorney General of the Federation (who advises the President on matters of law) has become grossly incompetent or legally impaired, and should because of this anomaly and many more in the past, tender his apology and resignation."

Vanguard

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