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Will Houses of Assembly get financial autonomy?

News » Politics

27 June 2013


As the Senate resumes for plenary session one of the items on the agenda is the report of its committee on the review of the 1999 Constitution.

Expectedly, the recommendations of the Constitution Review Committee (CRC) have continued to attract mixed reactions.

Intense lobbying by interest groups, geo-political zones and political blocs is in top gear. While some stakeholders have given their nod to most of the recommendations, others have picked holes in some of the recommendations.

The recommendations covers the devolution of powers, creation of more states, recognition of the six geo-political zones in the constitution, constitutional role for traditional rulers, and local government.

The need to expung the Land Use Act, the National Youth Serve Corps Act, and the Public Complaints Commission Act from the Constitution, and the National Security Agencies Act, fiscal federalism, amendment of provisions relating to amendment of the Constitution and boundary adjustment are other areas the committee covered in its report.

The Immunity Clause, Nigerian Police, judicial reforms, rotation of executive offices, gender and special groups, mayoral status for the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) , residency and indigene provisions and autonomy for state assemblies also received the attention of the committee.

The opinions differ sharply on most of the recommendations of the committee. However, one recommendation which appears to have received maximum support is the proposal for financial autonomy to the State Houses of Assembly.

Section 121, which deals with creation of first line charge for certain bodies and offices at the state level said, states that: “To engender accountability and efficient service delivery, a provision is made for State Houses of Assembly, State Independent Electoral Commissions, Auditor-General of the State and the Attorney-General of a State to get their funding directly from the State Consolidated Revenue Fund.”

Instructively, the Constitution Review Committee decided to revisit the issue of financial autonomy to state assemblies, maybe to give the state assemblies a second chance to gain their independence.

During the last amendment of the Constitution, there was a proposal to ensure that the State Houses of Assembly get their funding directly through first line charge.

The two chambers of the National Assembly adopted the clause after due deliberation of the need to strengthen the workings of the state assemblies.

The aim was essentially to give the legislative arm in the states some level of financial independence and empower them to serve their people better.

The clause was applauded by most Nigerians who saw financial autonomy to state assemblies as a move to deepen the principle of separation of powers at the state level.

Rather than seize the opportunity with both hands, it was bungled by the same people the clause was designed to empower.

Some governors were said to have mobilised and recruited members of their state assemblies into willing tools to shoot down the clause.

The clause required the support of the two-third of the state assemblies to pass the law.

The implication is that 24 out of the 36 Houses of Assembly must support the clause to pass. Curiously, only 23 State Houses of Assembly supported it. It failed to the perpetual shame of those who opposed freedom. State Houses of Assemblies gained notoriety by this singular act of voting to remain in bondage.

As most issues in the country, the true story of state assemblies that voted to remain under the jackboot of their governors is not known.

The only thing known is that a certain State House of Assembly in the North West geo-political zone, which had already endorsed the clause, rushed to the National Assembly, a day before the consideration of returns from state assemblies, to withdraw its endorsement.

The governor of the particular state was said to have threatened to “deal” with the speaker of the House if he failed to withdraw the endorsement of the clause. It was laughable you may say.

But this is Nigeria , the wonder land, where the unthinkable and absurd happen; a place where a show of shame is glibly glossed over.

Observers have been asking what went wrong. Ever seen a slave granted unconditional freedom on a platter of gold, who rather than embrace his independence, prefers to be in chains. Another opportunity for the state assemblies to free themselves from the apron string of state governors has come calling.

The National Assembly has once again come to the rescue by unanimously proposing financial autonomy for state assemblies in the ongoing constitution amendment. Will the state assemblies take the opportunity? Will they choose to remain the official rubber stamp of the governors at the expense of the electorate? Will they through some bogus and spurious vote, elect to act ignominiously like they did during the previous constitution review exercise? These are the questions begging for answers? Only time will tell.

Already, the State Assemblies Speakers Forum has thrown its weight behind the clause.

The Forum stated its position at the Asaba retreat and during the zonal hearing on Constitution amendment. There are indications that the Forum has constituted a lobby group to prevail on the National Assembly to ensure that the clause sails through.

The Forum has assured Nigerians both at home and in the diaspora that it will no longer be business as usual. Opportunity, they say, comes but once. For the state assemblies, they have a second chance. Second chance to say, yes we concur to be free from being manipulated by governors.

If feelers from the Speaker, Abia State House of Assembly, Chief Ude Oko-Chukwu, are any thing to go by, the state assemblies may have woken from their deep slumber.

Oko-Chukwu was reported to have assured that the State House of Assembly would vote in favour of financial and political autonomy of state assemblies as proposed by the National Assembly.

He was also quoted to have said that Abia House of Assembly is favourably disposed to other areas of amendment such as granting first line charge to the state electoral commissions, auditor-general of the state and Attorney General of the state. Before now, these are no go areas for State Houses of Assemblies.

Oko-Chukwu was reported to have spoken when members of the State Accountability and Voice Initiative visited the House in Umuahia, the State capital.

He agreed that these were vital areas to the development and growth of democracy as such autonomy would strengthen democratic institutions.

The speaker gave insight into why the first attempt to grant financial autonomy to State Houses of Assembly failed.

For him, the first attempt failed because the state assemblies felt they were not properly carried along by the National Assembly in the exercise.

But he added that the House he presides over, voted for financial autonomy of state assemblies because they realised its importance and the need to vote in favour of the clause.

Will the recalcitrant state assemblies take a cue from Abia State House of Assembly and others like it?

While presenting the report of the committee, Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, said constitution review is a continuous process and has been on the front burner of national discourse since 1999.

“This has been so, especially after the last National Assembly successfully passed three sets of alterations to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.

“It is in this light that the Senate Committee on the review of the 1999 Constitution adopted an incremental approach to constitutional changes.

“Previous alterations have undoubtedly deepened our democratic ethos by confronting outstanding problems and addressing glaring omissions. At the same time those alterations have generated momentum for continuing review,” Ekweremadu said.

The purpose of the exercise, he said, is to remove contradictions and ambiguities, supply omissions, and make the Constitution more practical and relevant to the needs of Nigerians in the twenty-first century.

The members of the review committee, he added, were at all times motivated by what is best for Nigeria .

Article Credit: Thenationonlineng

Updated 6 Years ago

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Tags:     Houses     Assembly     Financial     Autonomy