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
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.