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Executive Order 10: Why are governors jittery?

…It is violation of Nigeria’s constitution – Executive director, CODER …It’s a good step forward to promote separation of powers - Onovo … Buhari should go beyond just signing the order – Balarabe Musa

When on May 20, 2020 President Muhammadu Buhari signed the Executive Order 10, giving financial autonomy to the legislature and judiciary at the state level, it was clear to all close watchers of Nigeria’s fledgling democracy that the President innocently crossed the state governors’ red-line.

By reason of the Presidential system of government that Nigeria runs, there should be three arms of government- Executive, Judiciary and Legislature- with clear separation of powers at the federal, state and local government levels. But what the country has always had is a travesty of democracy with a dominant executive that has very powerful and over-bearing influence on the other two.

The Order, which political pundits say is normal and constitutional in democratic norms, has empowered the accountant-general of the federation to deduct funds for the state legislature and the judiciary from the federal allocations to the states and give same directly to them.

Executive Order, they say, is not new in world democracy and, according to Abubakar Malami, Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), it is often exercised by leaders in developed nations to promote legislature, judiciary autonomy and deepen democracy.

“The President has executive powers in Section 5 to implement and execute Section 121 of the constitution; it is the responsibility of the President. The constitution guarantees the autonomy of the state legislature and judiciary and it is the responsibility of the President to make sure this is recognised,” the AGF explained.

He noted that “the powers to execute the constitution are with the President; perhaps, it calls for collaboration. It is the responsibility of both to see the enforcement of the constitution and not to mortgage or undermine it. So, the governors do not have the powers to undermine but to collaborate with the President to enforce that section of the constitution rather than oppose him.”

Oserheimen Osunbor, former governor of Edo State and a Professor of Law, agrees, stressing that the Executive Order is constitutional and would help in deepening the nation’s democracy. He wonders why the governors are opposed to the Executive Order when some of them are signing it into law in their respective states.

But the state governors do not like the development and are not ready to listen to any of these explanations. They are jittery over this development. Analysts say their worry is quite understandable because, according to them, the Order has laid the governors bare with scanty apparels round their loins. “It is, indeed, a sobering moment for them,” the analysts explain.

Some of the governors have fiercely criticised and opposed the order. The Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF), recently, asked President Buhari to allow its members work out their own modalities on financial autonomy for the judiciary and legislature at the state level.

“It is not difficult to read the minds of these governors. For too long they have carried on as if they were emperors in their respective states, wielding enormous powers, appropriating everything to themselves and giving handouts to the other arms of government, that is, judiciary and legislature,” Donatus Mama, a public affairs analyst, noted in a telephone chat with BDSUNDAY.

Though some analysts argue that President Buhari lacks moral high ground to come up with an executive order for the state governors, himself being guilty of what he is preaching, Mama insists that the new Order is good for deepening democracy, adding that it is something that is useful that should come to stay because some governors have not allowed the legislature and judiciary autonomy to work.

State governors in Nigeria are more or less tin-gods who, with their political and economic powers, decide everything that happens in the state. They are jittery now because they feel that the new order will not only reduce their economic powers but also weaken their political base and influence.

Mama reasons that with the new order, the governors now know that the end is in sight for rubber-stamp legislature and subservient judiciary. “With their money in their hands, both the legislature and the judiciary can now stand up against the executive and look at the governors eyeball to eyeball.

“What we have seen all these years are a legislature and judiciary that are cowed by an over-bearing executive that dictates to them as if they were subsidiaries of a conglomerate that controls the operations of the subsidiaries from the headquarters, in this case, the government house,” he noted.

Elsewhere, democracy is defined and practised as government of the people by the people and for the people. In Nigeria, the story is different and it is worse at the state level where governors define democracy and governance to suit their whims and caprices and also to massage their over-bloated ego.

From their imperial dispositions, the governors decide who become speakers of the Houses of Assembly. These speakers must dance to their tune or be shown the inglorious exit door that ushered them into the ‘hallowed’ chambers. It is the same governors that select other functionaries in the house so that, at will, they can be used to deal with whoever should be dealt with including their deputies and even influential, stubborn or un-cooperating speakers.

Apart from controlling their finances too, governors decide who become states Attorneys-General and judges of the state high court so that whoever dares them (the governors) is quickly charged to court and given a summary judgment. On the flipside, any charge brought against the governors or their governments, no matter how justiceable, never gets justice.

At the local government level, the governors are the general officers commanding (GOCs) and the chairmen are mere foot soldiers. The state-local government joint account is a fraud—a conduit pipe through which money flows from federal allocation into the state coffers and then distributed piecemeal to the local governments just to enable them to settle their wage bill and run the governments.

Added to all these, it is the state governors who, in most cases, determine who become the chairmen of local government councils either through stage-managed elections or care-taker committees. They have express powers to remove those ‘elected’ or selected chairmen from office when they ‘misbehave’ or ‘disobey’ the GOCs.

These and more explain why the governors are not comfortable with President Buhari’s Order 10 which has whittled down their power and influence and also rendered them vulnerable to the unknown.

Tersoo Asongu, a Sociology lecturer with the University of Calabar, said: “Nigeria is practising the presidential system of democracy that gives autonomy or separation of powers between the three arms -executive, legislature and Judiciary. Governors are now afraid that if the judiciary and legislature are financially independent, they cannot control them to achieve their selfish interests and inordinate ambitions.”
According to the Buhari Support Organisation (BOS), South East Zone, the governors’ over-bearing influence and control of the judiciary and the legislature through their finances, is reason democracy is more or less in recession in Nigeria.

The group says the Executive Order is a constitutional issue, pointing out that the aim of the new order is for proper supervision to ensure its implementation by governors who had all this while failed to implement the provision of Section 121 (3) of the Constitution which they swore to uphold.

“Contrary to claims that the order infringes on true federalism, we believe that true federalism is better served and, indeed, actualised when you have independent legislature and judiciary at the state level,” Stanley Ohajuruka, the BOS chairman, noted.

Continuing, the chairman asked rhetorically: “Do you know why the governors are more preoccupied with political domination of their citizens with security votes than socio-economic development? Is there freedom at the state level? Is there any law which prohibits a state from generating electricity?”

BOS is of the view that there are many positives in the new order, explaining that apart from being a wake-up call for the governors to start thinking of how to improve their internally generated revenue, the order is also a patriotic move towards strengthening institutions at the state government level.

“It promotes Doctrine of Separation of Powers, thus making the different arms of government more independent and accountable in line with the best tradition of democracy as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution of  Nigeria (as amended),” Ohajuruka posited.

‘It is violation of Nigeria’s constitution’

Wunmi Bewaji, executive director of Coalition of Democrats for Electoral Reforms (CODER), said that the Executive Order on financial autonomy for the state legislature and judiciary was against the constitution of the country.

“Where can they point to a section of the constitution that allows the President to relate with the local government? The federation created in the constitution is between the federal and state; the local government is not a member of the federation; that is Section 2 of the constitution. Nigeria is a federal state. If governors are stealing local government money, let them go to court,” Bewaji said.

According to him, “If you go through the constitution, there are lots of sections for their independence. It is a violation of our federal constitution. The Federal Government and the state are equal partners in a federal state. What Buhari has done is a violation of the constitution of Nigeria. He is doing this, look at how the former CJN was removed; was it fair? What is he teaching the states about separation of powers?”

It’s a good step forward to promote separation of power – Onovo

Martin Onovo, an American-trained petroleum engineer and former presidential candidate the National Conscience Party (NCP), said: “It is a welcome idea; with what we have experienced in Nigeria, where the executive dominates the legislature; I think this is a good step forward to promote separation of power and independence of the legislature and the judiciary.”

According to Onovo, “It would help in deepening democracy; we don’t want a situation where the judiciary and the legislature cannot function because the executive is depriving them of their funds. So, it is important for our democracy and would help to foster checks and balances among the tiers of government.”

Buhari should go beyond just signing the order – Balarabe Musa

Speaking in tandem, Abdulkadir Balarabe Musa, a former governor of the old Kaduna State, said: “I support it but that is not all; as the President of the country, Buhari should make sure that the legislature and the judiciary do not steal the money given to them.”

“Fine, the Executive Order gives them autonomy but a mechanism to monitor how they use their resources must be put in place. For me, Buhari has those two responsibilities and he must make sure that is done,” he added.

Peter Ameh, a former Chairman Inter-party Advisory Committee IPAC, said: “The state Judiciary and the Legislature have been weakened by the governors. It has made the governors more powerful than any other organ created by the Constitution. They have become like emperors. That kind of autonomy will definitely panic them and they would do everything to stop it.”
According to Ameh, “There is pertinent question to answer; the Constitution was amended by the 8th Assembly and it was signed into law by the President, granting this autonomy to the Judiciary and State House of Assembly. So, is there need for the President to sign an Executive Order? Is there anywhere the executive order is superior to the Constitution? These are questions that are begging for answers.
“We support the President in his attempt. The governors will continue to make our people to suffer if we don’t remove them from the caprices and the overpowering ruins of the governors because they are the ones who have made Nigeria not to move forward. We are running a feeding bottle federalism where we come to FAC every month and collect money and the governors cannot be held accountable. They use that to control the Judiciary and the legislature. That is why you cannot see a governor who can be impeached, but a Speaker can be impeached in three days.”

 

CHUKA UROKO, INIOBONG IWOK (Lagos) and JAMES KWEN (Abuja)

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