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House forcing autonomy on state legislatures again?
The primary responsibility of the House of Representatives and the National Assembly, by extension, is to make good laws for the country. In the same vein, the Houses of Assembly in the 36 states of the federation, among its functions, make laws for good governance in their respective states. However, at the federal level, the National Assembly enjoyed financial autonomy, making it to be independent in its own right and as such, ward off unnecessary influence from other arms of government.
The sixth National Assembly, during the constitution amendment exercise, opened windows of opportunity for the state Houses of Assembly to be financially independent through a bill which was sent to the 36 state Houses of Assembly for concurrence and on which only 23 states put their stamp thereby falling short of the constitutional requirement of 24 for such amendment. This development, however, left the state legislatures at the mercy of their respective governors.
Not satisfied with this ugly development, the House of Representatives has again begun moves to grant the state legislatures financial autonomy claiming that what obtained at the states negates the tenet and principles of democracy. Unanimously, the federal lawmakers passed for the second reading a bill for an Act to alter the provisions of the 1999 Constitution and for other related matters.
The Speaker, Honourable Aminu Tambuwal, who spoke before the bill scaled through the second reading, maintained that the bill was not targeted at any individual, but was part of attempts to deepen the nation’s democracy, stressing that the time had come to allow all arms of government to discharge their constitutional mandate without any infringement from anyone.
While referring the bill to the House Ad hoc Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution, the Speaker said: “I believe personally that this bill will deepen democracy. So, no individual should see it as being targeted at him, but it is rather aimed at ensuring that we practise real democracy rather than a semblance of democracy”.
The bill this time around, was sponsored by Deputy Minority Leader, Honourable Abdulrahman Kawu, who sought the leave of the House to further alter the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and give financial autonomy to state Houses of Assembly in the country.
Leading the debate, the lawmaker maintained that “for any democracy to operate successfully, the three arms of government which comprise the legislative, the executive and the judiciary must not only operate independently of one another, but must be seen to operate as such”. He added that if the state legislatures were given financial autonomy, it would allow them to discharge their constitutional mandate more effectively and efficiently.
Kawu further noted that the financial autonomy would place the funding of the legislative houses under the first line charge and excert the powers of the state lawmakers, during their oversight functions, on the executive arm, saying,”this will guarantee the independence of the state legislature in its truest sense”.
Contributing to the debate, the Deputy Majority Leader, Honourable Leo Ogor, urged state lawmakers to grab the opportunity of the proposed amendment to ensure their autonomy while the House Minority Leader, Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila said “we cannot have democracy at the national level and have autocracy at the state level.”
On his part, Honourable Andrew Uchendu, said: “We are blaming the state governors, but what have we done, too? We would not do better if we were in their shoes. We have financial autonomy here, but how have we carried on with our legislative oversight? It took protests from Nigerians before we could set up an ad hoc committee to ascertain the quantity of petrol we consume in this country and how much is paid as subsidy”.
However, Honourable Patrick Ikhariale, while lending his voice in support of the bill, warned that the governors must not be allowed to cage the state legislatures and consequently gag the people, maintaining that the fact that the bill was rejected at the state level was a clear indication of the autocratic nature of the state chief executives.
The lawmaker added that “no matter how many times we have to sink this down the throat of those state governors who have held the nation hostage, we shall do it. If a song is sweet to the ears, one is allowed to sing it many times”.
In his own submission, Minority Leader of the House, Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila, said although the state Houses of Assebly had some measure of administrative independence, such status was inchoate without financial independence, adding that opposition to the bill should be based on more salient points rather than the mere fact that the state legislatures once rejected it.
Honourable Ndidi Elumelu had, while opposing the bill, argued that the situation that made the state lawmakers to reject the bill had not changed and that they should be allowed to formally write the National Assembly whenever they were ready to assume their autonomy.
To this end, Elumelu said: “Let us not go round in circles. Even when we finish our work here and we refer it to them (states), they will still do what they did the last time. I beg Honourable Kawu to withdraw this bill so that we do not have to turn it down”.
With the bill scaling through second reading and referred to the House Ad hoc Committee on Constitution Review, headed by the Deputy Speaker, Honourable Emeka Ihedioha, the spokesman of the House, Honourable Zakari Mohammed, while justifying the action to push for the same bill again said: “We believe that the right thing must be done. The sixth National Assembly attempted it and nearly got it through, but lost it by a state. This time around, the decimal has changed; numbers have changed, but posterity will not forgive us if we see these things and fold our arms.
“I am sure if we are getting our funds from the Villa (the Presidency), we might not be able to do most of the things we are doing and we think what happens here should be transferred to the states believing it will reduce corruption. Unlike some governors running their states like personal estates, “We believe the state legislatures should be able to function.
This is another opportunity on their lap and they should utilise it and I believe this time around, we should be able to get it right”.
Though political pundits have argued that lack of financial autonomy for the state Houses of Assemby is turning majority of them to rubber stamps in the handS of their respective governors, the critical question begging for answer is whether the state lawmakers will, this time, support the bill or they will give the bill the same treatment they gave it when the sixth National Assembly availed them of the opportunity of financial independence?Share