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Wake up, State Lawmakers!

The capture of the state legislatures by state governors has crippled the principle of separation of powers in the country’s democracy, bred authoritarian leadership at…

The capture of the state legislatures by state governors has crippled the principle of separation of powers in the country’s democracy, bred authoritarian leadership at the sub-national level, and obliterated accountability by the executive arm of government in our states. From being teleguided and held by the nose to impeach deputy governors, remove principal officers from among their ranks, and approve annual budgets without due diligence and scrutiny, it is very evident that the legislators in most of the 36 state Houses of Assembly are not just rubber-stamps but a big disappointment to the people who elected them to the lawmaking chambers across the country.

The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) does not envisage this kind of cold and subservient legislature in the states. Sections 120 to 128 of the Constitution stipulate the functions of a State House of Assembly, which include the powers to supervise other arms of government (executive and judicial) in order to curtail corruption and inefficiency in state administration and promote transparency and accountability.

The legislature has the power to remove a governor by passing a vote of no confidence or by rejecting a policy, budget, or law of the executive. The powers are very clear about the primacy of the House of Assembly in approving all public expenditures from consolidated revenues that accrue to the treasury of the state government. It follows, therefore, that no state government must spend funds unless the expenditure is approved by the legislature.

The powers of the House of Assembly are quite enormous, as it could summon anyone in Nigeria to appear before it to answer questions if it is carrying out an investigation into any form of wrongdoing. Section 129 states clearly that: “(1) For the purposes of any investigation under section 128 of this Constitution, and subject to the provisions thereof, a House of Assembly or a committee appointed in accordance with section 103 of this Constitution shall have power to …(c) summon any person in Nigeria to give evidence at any place or produce any document or other thing in his possession or under his control, and examine him as a witness and require him to produce any document or other thing in his possession or under his control, subject to all just exceptions; and (d) issue a warrant to compel the attendance of any person who, after having been summoned to attend, fails, refuses or neglects to do so and does not excuse such failure, refusal or neglect to the satisfaction of the House of Assembly…”

The state Houses of Assembly must wake up to their responsibilities in this dispensation of huge allocations to state governments by the Federation Account Allocation Committee (FAAC). With about one trillion Naira being shared among states in Abuja in the last four months, each state gets on average about N25 billion per month, more than five times the amount they received three years ago. In spite of this, the people at the sub-national level are not feeling the impact of the huge allocations in increased salaries and allowances to civil servants, payment of outstanding salaries, or even distribution of the palliatives provided by the federal government to cushion the effects of the increase in the pump prices of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS).

No state House of Assembly has raised this failure in their chambers as a matter of urgent attention for debate and for summoning state governors or even commissioners of finance to explain the insensitivity of government to the plight of the people.

Rather, the legislators become active when prompted by governors to impeach deputy governors or the principal officers of the Assemblies. At another level, the lawmakers are subservient to former governors and are willing to impeach sitting governors to please ex-governors, or even jump ship from one political party to another, as if they do not have a mind of their own.  In this way, they sell their independence for a pot of porridge, in order to be in the good books of state governors.

At this juncture in Nigeria’s democracy, the legislature at the state level must reclaim their independence to deal with corruption, waste, human rights abuses, and general maladministration in states and local governments. The first step in this direction is for the National Assembly to amend the constitution to guarantee financial autonomy to the Houses of Assembly in states. There will be no development in Nigeria as long as the Executive comprehensively captures the Legislature and the Judiciary.

At the moment, the judiciary has a measure of financial independence. The Legislature must fight for its freedom by coming together to ensure financial autonomy for them, which is factored into the 1999 Constitution. This will set them free from shackles fastened around their legs, hands, and necks by state governors.

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