I ask the question, can a state governor grant autonomy to the state legislature ? Is financial autonomy different from the autonomy of the legislature, either at the state, or the federal levels ? What of the autonomy of the Local government legislatures?
It is necessary to answer these questions correctly, because it seems both the Federal , state and local governments have become monsters on certain constitutional issues, where they do not have competence.
Nigeria is guided by its grund- num which is the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Here, areas of competence have been assigned, to the three tiers of government. The three tiers of government are supposed to be independent of each other and are supposed to offer checks, counter checks, and balances, on each other, as provided for, by the constitution.
It would seem that, apart from the checks counter- checks, and balances, no branch of government is supposed to be subordinate to the other. At best, they cooperate with each other, in the discharge of their functions.
Therefore,it is wrong of the executive arm at any level, to claim that it is granting autonomy, in whatever form, when the constitution of Nigeria, has not conferred on it, such powers. But I am not surprised, if Executives claim powers, which have not been conferred on them, by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, (1999), as amended.
State governments seem to be making claims because of the way the constitution has been operated, since 1999, and the docility of the operators, in testing the true intendment of the constitution.
Since 1999, Nigeria emerged from a long period of military rule. At independence, Nigeria adopted federalism as a system of government. Under this system , it recognized the center and the federating units. During the first Republic, the system operated well. However, the military struck by 1966. When they did so, they recognized the diversity in Nigeria and therefore, continued to maintain the federal structure. However, the country was ruled in a more unitary manner than in a federal manner. By this, they departed from the operation of the federation, as was practiced during the first Republic.
But this departure is not surprising at all. The military culture influenced their perspective of how politics should be. They were not used to the conflicts and concensus which politics would normally throw up. They wanted unity which did not recognize diversity. The military was hierarchically organized, with line of command, from top to the bottom. They brought this into the management of the country. The center therefore, appropriated more powers and functions to itself and left very little to the federating units . The center became the center of attraction and everything revolved round it.
This practice was a hang-over which the military bequeathed, when they relinquished power to civil democracies which started in 1999.
The 1999 constitution appropriated most powers and functions to the federal government and from there to the states. The local governments do not even operate as a third tier of government, but as an adjunct of the state government.
To make matters worse, those who operated the constitution in 1999, had military backgrounds and so, brought parts of the military tradition into governance ,in supposedly democratic dispensation.
Therefore, we found ourselves operating like a unitary state in an otherwise federal, civilian, democratic dispensation.
This is how we found ourselves where we are. But funny enough, the constitution says we are federal, but by the distribution of powers and functions, it made the center very powerful. Next in line are the states, who operate as adjuncts of the federal center.
But the constitution eloquently talks about separation of powers, checks and counter-checks, and balances. But as it is with human nature, “who ever pays the Piper, dictates the tune”. Because the executive arm tends to control the resources of state, it has made the other two arms subservient to it, depending on it, for its “generosity”, to release finance, inspite of a pseudo- provision, to the other two arms of government, in the federal and state budgets. They still depended on the release of the finances to them .
Under that situation, the good intendment of the constitution, by instituting checks and counter checks and balances, remain on paper alone, and can not be achieved, in actual operation.
Would one say, then, that because of the above, both the federal and the state governments, have the power to grant any arm of government autonomy ? They do not have. They have just been exploiting the faulty operation of the constitution, and unfortunately, no arm of government has tested this imaginary power in a court of law.
Therefore, the talk by Governor El-Rufai of sending any bill at all, on autonomy, is just bragardocio, as he does not have such constitutional powers to do so. That this has been the practice even before he became governor does not make the practice right.
Joshua Ephraim writes from Abuja