After years of shooting themselves in the foot by rejecting financial autonomy for State Houses of Assembly, due to threats and pressures from State Governors, legislators at the State level say they are poised to support financial autonomy.
But political watchers and analysts wait and watch with keen interest to see how state lawmakers will garner the critical mass to push through their new resolve when the state chief executives raise the big stick to make the men and women, again, accede to forfeiting their financial autonomy as they did in the last constitutional amendment exercise.
Vice Chairman of the Conference of Speakers of State Legislatures of Nigeria and Speaker of the Enugu State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Uchenna Ubosi, said Tuesday that the Conference of Speakers had resolved to support the autonomy for Local Governments and State Assemblies.
He spoke as Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, assured that financial autonomy for the State Houses of Assembly and Local Governments was part of the key issues being considered in the ongoing Constitution amendment exercise.
He described financial autonomy as “the single most important constitutional empowerment required by State Houses of Assembly for effective leadership in the interest of democracy and development”.
Ekweremadu spoke at the consultative forum for building consensus among stakeholders on local government autonomy organised by the Partnership to Engage and Learn (PERL) in Abuja on Tuesday.
Speaking on the topic “Providing Effective Leadership for the State Houses of Assembly: Leveraging on the Ongoing Constitution Review Exercise”, Ekweremadu emphasised that the autonomy of the Local Governments was tied to the independence of the State Assemblies and understanding of the Governors.
He said: “Section 7 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) empowers the States, through their Houses of Assembly, to make laws establishing Local Government Councils, their structure, composition, finance, and functions. Therefore, the independence and efficiency of the leadership of State Assemblies are key to the just and efficient exercise of these functions”.
He, however, regretted that undue executive and political party interferences in some states bring debilitating influences to bear on the leadership recruitment process of the legislature.
“The issue of presiding officers must be settled by the parliamentarians themselves in accordance with Section 92 (1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), which provides that ‘There shall be a Speaker and a Deputy Speaker of a House of Assembly who shall be elected by members of the House from among themselves’”, Ekweremadu added.
He said imposition of leadership on any State Assembly would render it “ineffectual, pliable, and sometimes, a lame duck that is ever willing to do the master’s biddings”.
He cited the example of the 2010 constitution amendment exercise when the State Houses of Assembly “refused to approve financial autonomy for themselves even when they voted in support of financial independence for the National Assembly”.
Ekweremadu, who chairs the Senate Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution, said that “the result is that while the National Assembly is no longer at the mercy of the Executive arm for its funding, the State Assemblies could be easily arm-twisted by starving them of funds, if they refuse to do the biddings of the Executive”.
On Local Government autonomy, he stated: “We are currently making efforts in the ongoing Constitution review exercise to strengthen governance at the grassroots by amending Section 7 of the Constitution to properly situate the Local Governments as a third tier of the government of the Federation.
“We are working to make elaborate provisions for their funding, tenure, election, and to clearly delineate their powers and responsibilities. For instance, we seek to abolish the Joint State-Local Government Account in line with popular demand by Nigerians”.
“We will continue to engage the Governors on the need for local government reforms and empowering the State Assemblies. I also expect the civil society to engage the Governors in favour of the proposed amendments and reforms.
“We must at all time put the public interest above our temporary advantages and interests. We owe it to history to account for our deeds in our positions of authority”.
The Senator, therefore, called on the State Assemblies to stand with Nigerians in the effort to create viable and efficient Local Government systems in the country.
Responding, the Vice Chairman of the Conference of Speakers of State Legislatures of Nigeria, Rt. Hon Uchenna Ubosi, assured the National Assembly that the Conference had resolved to support the autonomy of Local Governments and financial independence of State Assemblies to make them more effective.