A public forum held in Abuja recently provided another opportunity for the financial autonomy of the legislature at state levels to be put on the front burner of national discourse. Financial autonomy enables the state assemblies the freedom to access their budgetary allocations directly without the current trend of depending on the good graces of the Executive Branch (the Governors).
The Deputy President of the Senate and Chairman of the Senate Committee on Constitutional Reform, Ike Ekweremadu (who is also a constitutional lawyer), said at the event that financial autonomy “is the most important constitutional empowerment required by the state Houses of Assembly for effective leadership for the interest of democracy and development”.
It is an observable fact that the National Assembly (Senate and House of Representatives) has struggled and achieved a high level of self-reliance which enables it to perform its constitutional role of checks and balances in our presidential democracy. That is why, over the years and across regimes, the two chambers of the National Assembly have firmly established their capacity to choose and maintain their leadership (instead of being at the mercy of the President which was the case at the outset of our renascent democracy).
With this strong sense of autonomy, the National Assembly is also able to perform its oversight functions and assert its right to control the finances of the Federation as constitutionally required. The only area where the Federal Legislative arm has not tested its constitutional powers effectively is the area of impeachment of the President or Vice President.
The same cannot be said of the Legislature at the state levels. They are still firmly tied to the apron strings of state governors. The Governors still move about in much the same fashion as military governors or administrators during our military past. This is largely possible because of the reluctance of the Governors to allow the legislature and judiciary direct and automatic access to their budgetary allocations.
Another factor militating against the independence of State Assemblies generally is the fact that many of their members often are hand-picked lackeys of the incumbent governor. From their alpha positions, the governors deprive the legislatures their capacity to control the purse, carry out effective oversight or generally hold the governor to account. It is the main reason state Houses of Assemblies are mere rubber stamps of state governors, which does not augur well for our democracy.
We encourage Senator Ekweremadu and his committee to do all possible to secure full autonomy for the state Houses of Assembly to enable them to effectively play their roles in checking and balancing the excesses of governance.
Seventeen years into our renascent democracy, we can no longer afford lame-duck state legislatures.