Game of Thrones: State as­sem­blies score first point

By that mea­sure the state as­sem­blies have given democ­racy in Nigeria a shot in the arm, pur­suant to its sur­vival, and at a most crit­i­cal mo­ment in the life of the coun­try

Sunday Trust - - VIEWPOINT - With Mon­ima Dam­inabo email: monidams@ya­ 0805 9252424 (sms only)

In a devel­op­ment that should cheer the hearts of not a few democrats in Nigeria, the coun­try’s State Houses of Assem­bly have scored their first ever vic­tory in the game of thrones that is pol­i­tics in Nigeria, as they voted for fis­cal au­ton­omy (for them­selves) in the on­go­ing Con­sti­tu­tional Amend­ment ex­er­cise. This was per­haps one of the most sig­nif­i­cant high­lights in the re­port of their res­o­lu­tions, in re­spect of the Con­sti­tu­tional Amend­ment which was jointly re­ceived from Ab­dul­mu­muni Kamba - the Speaker of Kebbi State House of Assem­bly and leader of Nigeria’s State As­sem­blies Speak­ers Fo­rum by both the Pres­i­dent of the Se­nate Bukola Saraki and Speaker, House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, Yakubu Dog­ara last Thurs­day.

Fis­cal au­ton­omy for state as­sem­blies is one of the 33 amend­ment des­ig­nated clauses trans­mit­ted to them by the Na­tional Assem­bly in Novem­ber 2017 and which en­joyed ma­jor­ity vote among them. By that mea­sure the state as­sem­blies have given democ­racy in Nigeria a shot in the arm, pur­suant to its sur­vival, and at a most crit­i­cal mo­ment in the life of the coun­try.

In­ci­den­tally the re­port also con­tained some dis­ap­point­ing as­pects like the denial by the state as­sem­blies of au­ton­omy for lo­cal gov­ern­ments in the coun­try, even as they are gain­ing the same right granted all by the same con­sti­tu­tion. It is also in­ter­est­ing that the state as­sem­blies de­cried their denial of de­vo­lu­tion of pow­ers from the fed­eral to the states, even as they con­sid­ered the lo­cal gov­ern­ments un­wor­thy of sim­i­lar dis­pen­sa­tion. A case of dif­fer­ent strokes for dif­fer­ent folks, one would say.

In the present cir­cum­stance ku­dos must go to sev­eral ac­tors who in one di­rect man­ner or the other con­trib­uted to the ac­tu­al­iza­tion of this dis­pen­sa­tion which has re­mained the vul­ner­a­ble Achilles Heel of the coun­try’s democ­racy. For un­til now much of the leg­isla­tive en­ter­prise of these as­sem­blies was held largely in fur­ther­ance of the of­ten parochial agenda of the gov­er­nors of re­spec­tive states who con­verted the for­mer to more or less rub­ber stamp en­ti­ties. In that con­text some of the state as­sem­blies who voted against au­ton­omy for lo­cal gov­ern­ments were sim­ply obey­ing di­rect or­ders of their state gov­er­nors as was the case of Edo State where Gov­er­nor God­win Obaseki, along with the Deputy Gov­er­nor and Chair­man of the rul­ing All Pro­gres­sives Congress (APC) in the state point­edly de­manded that the Edo State House of Assem­bly voted as ‘di­rected’, by trad­ing off their lib­erty for crumbs (hand­outs from the Gov­er­nor’s) from the mas­ter’s ta­ble. It is all part of the game of thrones, Nige­rian style.

It should not be sur­pris­ing that many Nige­ri­ans may not eas­ily iden­tify with the full im­pli­ca­tions of the grant of fis­cal au­ton­omy to state as­sem­blies, es­pe­cially in the con­text of its prom­ise for the ex­pan­sion of the op­er­a­tional ter­rain of these re­gional leg­is­la­tures, given their con­sti­tu­tion­ally as­signed piv­otal role, with re­spect to fos­ter­ing the div­i­dends of democ­racy for Nige­ri­ans. This is just as even some mem­bers of the ben­e­fi­ciary state as­sem­blies may not im­me­di­ately grasp the wider thresh­old of re­spon­si­bil­ity and com­mit­ment which this new char­ter of lib­erty has im­posed on them.

The Con­sti­tu­tion for­mally lists the leg­is­la­ture as the first arm of gov­ern­ment, in line with time­honoured tenets of democ­racy in the civ­i­lized world, given the sim­ple fact it is the arm of gov­ern­ment that is de­signed to re­flect the var­i­ous shades of opin­ion of equally var­ied con­stituent seg­ments of the cit­i­zenry, on a con­stituency by con­stituency ba­sis. Its res­o­lu­tions are there­fore more broad based and re­flec­tive of the pe­cu­liar­i­ties of the var­i­ous seg­ments of the cit­i­zenry than the con­sid­er­a­tions by other arms of gov­ern­ment namely the ex­ec­u­tive and ju­di­ciary. In that con­text there­fore any form of den­i­gra­tion, marginal­iza­tion and or sup­pres­sion of the leg­is­la­ture at any level is not just an in­jury to the leg­is­la­tors on an in­di­vid­ual ba­sis, but an act of sab­o­tage on the col­lec­tive will of the peo­ple, and breach of the course of democ­racy and good gov­er­nance in the coun­try.

Yet the fore­go­ing state of de­nied free­dom and ar­rested devel­op­ment has been the lot of the leg­is­la­ture in the coun­try all these 18 years of the Fourth Repub­lic, at the be­hest of suc­ceed­ing pres­i­dents and state gov­er­nors whose only ba­sis for such out­rage re­mains their statu­tory role as the chan­nel of funds for the leg­is­la­ture. The grant of fis­cal au­ton­omy of­fers the prom­ise of lib­er­at­ing the leg­is­la­ture from this in­vid­i­ous grip of the ex­ec­u­tive on the leg­is­la­ture as the lat­ter can now re­ceive their op­er­a­tional sub­ven­tions di­rectly from the fed­er­a­tion ac­count with their Speak­ers as their de­facto heads. That is why the vote on au­ton­omy for the state as­sem­blies re­mains sig­nif­i­cant for free­ing up demo­cratic gov­er­nance it the states.

On the flip side of the coin is the new re­al­ity that there is no more hid­ing place for these state as­sem­blies who would be cit­ing state gov­er­nors as the in­cubus that de­nied them op­er­a­tional lee­way to per­form cred­itably as it is presently. They must now take what­ever blame that is at­ten­dant with the fail­ings of gov­er­nance, es­pe­cially with re­spect to pro­vid­ing checks and bal­ances to the el­e­ments in the ex­ec­u­tive of their re­spec­tive states.

It is eas­ily re­called that the Na­tional Assem­bly was with the state as­sem­blies in the same boat of fis­cal sub­servience to the ex­ec­u­tive arm and only gained its lib­erty when the Con­sti­tu­tion was amended ac­cord­ingly. Ever since the Na­tional Assem­bly has been able to as­sert it­self against the ex­cesses of the ex­ec­u­tive to a com­mend­able ex­tent, even as the days of to­tal free­dom for the in­sti­tu­tion are still some dis­tance away. The ex­pec­ta­tion since then has been that the state as­sem­blies would sooner than later earn the same lib­er­ties of fis­cal au­ton­omy along with the lo­cal gov­ern­ments thereby free­ing the en­tire leg­isla­tive es­tab­lish­ment for more peo­ple-cen­tered leg­is­la­ture driven gov­er­nance.

Mean­while, it will re­main an act of un­par­don­able dis­ser­vice not to men­tion the com­mend­able, be­hind the scene role of the clerks of the na­tional and state as­sem­blies, who through their re­cent con­fer­ence at the in­stance of the Clerk to the Na­tional Assem­bly - Mr Ataba Sani Omolori, ral­lied their var­i­ous cham­bers to con­clude this com­mend­able na­tional as­sign­ment. Re­stricted as they are to blow their trum­pets pub­licly by the stric­tures of the coun­try’s pub­lic ser­vice, they are not dis­posed to pub­licly claim vic­tory for this dis­pen­sa­tion. Yet this is one in­stance that de­serves the ac­knowl­edge­ment by Nige­ri­ans of pa­tri­otic, proac­tive pub­lic ser­vice by Sani-Omolori and his team.

Mean­while the onus now lies with the Na­tional Assem­bly to do the need­ful for the amend­ment to see the light of day, so that Nige­ri­ans will reap the div­i­dends of fis­cal au­ton­omy for state as­sem­blies.

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