Financial Autonomy for State Judiciary, Legislature: What Implications for the States?


In exercising his prerogative of presidential powers as codified in the Constitution(as amended) of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari has issued  an executive order granting financial autonomy to state legislature and judiciary across the thirty six states of the federation on May 22, 2020

According to the presidential communication proclaiming the order into existence, the order, tagged Executive Order 10, was a product of the Presidential Committee on the Implementation of Autonomy of State Legislature and Judiciary which submitted its report to President Buhari in 2019

The committee chaired by the Attorney General of the Federatio  and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami recommended the signing of Executive Order by the President for the immediate take-off of the implementation of the autonomy for state legislature and the judiciary.

For whatever reasons best known to the President and his handlers, he did not give the order a force of law by signing it  into existence in 2019. But, in a twist of events, a few months after receiving the report of the Malami Committee following his re-election in 2019 presidential election,  the President finally proclaimed the order on May 22. 

Announcing the proclamation of the order in a tweet on his verified  twitter account @Mbuhari, the President said : “Based on the power vested in me under Section 5 of the 1999 Constitution (as Amended), I, today, signed into law Executive Order No. 10 of 2020 for the implementation of Financial Autonomy of State Legislature and State Judiciary.

“This administration will continue to do everything to strengthen the principles and practice of democracy and democratic governance in Nigeria”.

By the new order, which is the 10th the President has issued since his administration began in 2015, state houses of assembly and state judicial arm of government can now be weaned off their  near permanent dependence on the executive arm of government for finance, a situation that has made state lawmakers and state judicial officers almost at the mercy of the Governor for years.

According to a proviso in the order, where a Governor defaults in releasing to the state assembly and judiciary their approved statutory allocations for whatever reasons, the concerned can write to the Accountant General of the Federation for a release of the funds directly to them without a recourse to the state governor 

One implication of the new order, if implemented, is that state lawmakers can now be more assertive in their legislative duties and oversight functions especially when it comes to serving as a check to the executive arm of the state government as they don’t have to practically beg the executive arm of government for funds again. This, undoubtedly, according to analysts, will help improve governance generally across board and also enhance democratic practice as observed in developed democracies. 

Also, the new found financial freedom will allow judicial officials  dispense judgment according to the spirits and letters of the Constitution in cases involving the executive organ of government without any fear of being intimidated by the state executive arm of as it often happens 

Giving the executive order a force of law is also to reinforce the fact that the  Principle of Separation of Powers should not be about theoretical delineation of the duties and responsibilities of the three organs of government alone,  they also have to be financially independent in order to effectively discharge their duties since it’s a given that he who pays the piper will surely dictate the tune. 

But there’s a challenge: will the order be followed to the letter by the Governors? If the governors fail to effect the order, will the state lawmakers, who are mostly in the same political party with the governor, have the courage to approach the AGF for a direct disbursement of their allocation? It’s almost the same thing for the judges whose appointment is subject to the whim and caprices of the executive arm. Questions and more questions to ponder on as Nigerians begin to count days for the execution of the order. 

Some Nigerians are of the opinion that the order won’t be effective just like the financial autonomy granted to the 774 local governemnt areas across the federation by President Buhari. A lot of the LGAs, in spite of the supposed financial autonomy, still remain mere appendages of the state governments, living on financial handouts from the governors. 

Much as the new executive order seems to be positively promising as it’s most likely to improve on the quality of governance by deepening the separation of powers at the state level and also enhance effective dispensation of justice, its coming into being now is raising some curiosity among public commentators as regard its necessity. 

It may be asked now why an executive order when there is an existing law granting financial autonomy to the state assembly and judiciary? The bill, termed Constitution Fourth Alteration Bill,  for this autonomy was signed into law on June 8, 2018 by  President Buhari. The bill was passed by the 8th National Assembly under the leadership of its then chairman,  Senator Bukola Saraki. 

Addressing State House Correspondents on the day the bill was signed into law by the President, his then Special Adviser on National Assembly Matters, Ita Enang, said the law was to give complete financial independence to State House of Assembly and the state judiciary. The Executive Order 10 of 2020 and the 2018 bill signed into law are not different in any shape and form.

 If a law fails to address a lacuna, how effective is an order to tackle it given the fact that an executive order, though legal, is not as strong as law which is a  creation of the national assembly? Explaining the latest development, an analyst, Comfort Otuene, said the new executive order was to prepare the ground for the implementation of the Constitution Fourth Alteration Bill which the President had assented to in 2018. 

Hailing the President on the new order, Abdullahi Haruna, a public affairs analyst, said Buhari was only fulfilling the restructuring agenda of the All Progressives Congress (APC) which the party promised Nigerians before its coming to power in 2015. 

Nigerians are on the look out for the implementation of the new order. It’s yet to be seen if any Governor, especially those in the opposition, will go to court either directly or by proxy to challenge the implementation of the law or even the executive order.