For whatever his critics may think of him, President Muhammadu Buhari last week took a positive step towards addressing the excesses of Nigeria’s governors.
His assent of the Executive Order 10 of 2020 is undoubtedly one of the most poignant steps taken by the administration in its two terms.
Executive Order 10 gives the framework for the implementation of the autonomy of the judicial and legislative branches of government at the state level. Ordinarily, Buhari’s order should have been unnecessary.
That is because President Buhari with his assent sometime in 2018, brought the Fourth Constitution Alteration Act into life which expressly provided for the autonomy of the judicial and legislative branches of government at the state level.
However, the autonomy has until now been observed more in the breach.
When sometime in 2018 the political songster, Senator Dino Melaye fell into the trap of Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State there were insinuations that the governor wanted him remanded in prison custody after the police bundled him from Abuja to Lokoja.
Senator Melaye had in some of his singing acts rendered some special songs to the effect that Bello would go to jail once out of power.
So once Melaye entered his trap, it was alleged that the governor directed the chief judge to send the senator to jail as a fitting retribution for the senator’s supposed foolery.
However, the Chief Judge of the state reportedly differed that the offence did not demand prison remand.
Not long after, the governor then against the principle of separation of powers took it upon himself to audit the personnel of the Kogi Judiciary.
That was despite the protests that the governor did not have the right to do so. So for almost one year while the audit proceeded the judiciary was denied of its allocation as the audit went on.
For whatever anyone would say, the audit was seen by several as a punishment on the Chief Judge for his audacity to challenge the authority of the governor.
Other governors may have been more tactful. Once he came to power in Imo State last January, Governor Hope Uzodinma was quick to declare his intention to “increase” the welfare of the judiciary.
True to his word, on May 14 in a clear demonstration of his intention, the governor gifted 20 brand new SUVs to judges in the state towards enhancing their welfare. The act of the governor was loudly seen as expressive of his intention for all three arms of government to work together!
Amazingly, the acting chief judge of the state was quick to thank the governor for his love for the judiciary as demonstrated through the gifts.
The use of the stick by Governor Bello in Kogi and of carrot by Governor Uzodinma irretrievably demonstrate the failure to implement the Constitution Alteration Act that granted full autonomy to the judicial and legislative branches of government.
Executive Order 10 now empowers the Accountant General of the Federation to deduct the funds for the judicial or legislative branches of government from the allocation of any state that fails to give it to that arm of government.
The proposal has been largely welcomed across political lines as a needed rebuff to the lawlessness that is manifested by Nigeria’s larger than life governors.
The order gives a respite to the legislative and judicial branches of government for whose sake the National Assembly repeatedly fought for to have their freedom.
Remarkably, during the life of the Sixth Assembly, the same autonomy for states was passed by the National Assembly but more than 12 state legislative houses resolved to reject the autonomy. By that, the constitutional requirement for two-thirds of the state legislatures to effect the constitutional alteration was defeated.
That was one of the most remarkable footnotes of that era; to wit, that one was asked to take his freedom, but for fear of the governors they refused to take the leeway.
It speaks well of the persistence of Senator Ike Ekweremadu who led the drive that the autonomy resurfaced in the Seventh and the Eight Assemblies before Buhari gave assent to it in 2018.
That should have meant the Eldorado that was needed to bolster the nation’s democracy. However, in most of the states, the letter and spirit of the Constitution Alteration were of no consequence. Hence state legislators till today continued to act as pawns of the governors.
That fact was again played out in Imo after Uzodinma emerged as governor in January. The majority of the PDP lawmakers acting as men without backbone easily defected to the party of the new governor!
By President Buhari’s Executive Order, democracy should ordinarily be strengthened. But there is also the reasonable fear of the misuse of this leverage by a president at the federal level.
Even more, constitutional experts question the capacity of a president in a federation to dictate to the state or superintend over the affairs of a state.
That question is, however, addressed by Section 5 of the Constitution which some lawyers argue gives the president the duty of executing the laws made by the National Assembly. It is an argument that looks interesting given that the constitution alteration is the duty of the national and state assemblies.
But whatever, Nigeria waits for the response from the governors this week had a secret virtual meeting on how they will respond!