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State independence

Published by The Nation on Tue, 26 Mar 2019


Despite the bumps, Nigerias democracy appears to be maturing. As the supplementary elections in five states have shown, the political elites who were bickering and manipulating the ordering of elections were wasting precious legislative time. The belief across the board that any political party that wins the presidency will sweep the state elections is perhaps erroneous. That fear explains the tug-of-war between the federal and state officials about which election comes first.In 2015, the federal legislators forced a three-legged elections on the country with all the debilitating effect on socio-economic activities in the country. The economic and social losses from staggered elections is made worse each time INEC fumbles as happened in 2015 and now 2019. In the current dispensation, after INEC released the guideline for the just concluded elections, putting the presidential and National Assembly elections first, the opposition parties were so afraid of the bandwagon effect that it clamoured for another amendment to the Electoral Act, to strip INEC of the power to order elections.But with the opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) winning in Sokoto, Benue and potentially in Bauchi states, despite the triumph of the All Progressive Congress (APC) in the presidency, the perception of federal power as a cyclone at elections will begin to wane. Despite this gain, the obtrusive powers of the federal government in our unbalanced federation still leaves the states dependent on the whims and caprices of the federal government. This imbalance, especially in economic and coercive powers of a modern state are made worse by the excessive concentration of power of the state in hand of the state executive at the detriment of state legislature and judiciary.The result has been the making of governors as state autocrats. With the resources of state substantially in his control, the governor has overbearing influence on the other arms of government in the state. That explains why aspirants to the federal legislature are mortally afraid of the influence of the governor even as they would do all in their power to ensure the presidential elections dont checkmate their ambition. So to strengthen our democracy, there is the urgent need to free the states from the vice-grip of governors.The fear of governors in the state has been so ingrained that a previous constitutional amendment to grant the state legislators autonomy were rebuffed by the legislators. The state legislators were too afraid to contemplate their freedom such that the amendment was defeated by the state legislators. But the result has been the gross inefficiency that many state governments represent. While the judiciary is relatively insulated from the malicious abuse of power by state executives, most of the state legislatures are mere rubber stamp. With the legislature the engine room of presidential system of government stripped of its powers and influence in the states, what we have is a caricature of democracy at the state level.Thankfully President Muhammadu Buhari has set up a committee to implement the autonomy of state judiciary and legislature. As a guide to the committee, the words of Earl Warren CJ of the U.S. Supreme Court in USA v Brown is important. He said: the separation of powers under the American constitution was obviously not instituted with the idea that it would promote government efficiency. It was on the contrary, looked at as a bulwark against tyranny. Without doubt many of the states in the federation operate under the tyrannical manipulation of state governors. Because of their misguided influence, the state budgets for instance, become a huge joke instead of a serious matter of statecraft.So we need to practice the separation of powers as enunciated by the founding fathers of the presidential system of government. Again in the words of Justice Louis Dembitz Brandeis of the U.S. Supreme Court in Myers v USA: The doctrine of separation of powers was adopted by the Convention of 1787 not to promote efficiency but to preclude the exercise of arbitrary powers. The purpose was not to avoid friction, but, by means of the inevitable friction incident to the distribution of the governmental powers among three departments, to save the people from autocracy.Without checks and balance, we had a governor dedicating state resources to moulding meaningless statutes. Without checks and balance another state executive drove a bulldozer to pull down the house of his opponents. Because of the absence of checks and balance, a governor built a poultry without chicks, while another prefer to build flyover in unlived part of the state while ignoring the more essential needs of the state like salaries. Because of the absence of checks and balance, a governor went to upturn files and desks in the high court without consequences.Indeed, because of the absence of checks and balance, many government houses in the states have become mere cash centres for sharing of monthly allocations, instead of nerve centre for policies and programmes to free citizens from poverty and ignorance. We need to make changes at the state level, if we hope to make progress as a nation-state. That is why I commend the committee raised by President Buhari to take the assignment as an important national assignment. We need to free the states from the vice-grip of governors. That dream will be impossible if the judiciary and the legislature in the state are not granted their financial autonomy.The importance of the autonomy of the legislature cannot be overemphasised. Theirs is to lay down the rules of engagement, and without independence in this onerous assignment, governance will become autocratic. In Yakus v USA, the Supreme Court of United States describe legislative powers thus: The essentials of the legislative function are the determination of the legislative policy and its formulation and promulgation as a defined and binding rule of conduct. Without independence in making the rule of conduct, what we will have is chaos.Also important is the work of the judiciary as the organ imbued with power to interpret the rules made by the legislature. Considering its powers as arbiter between citizens and states, the need for its independence cannot be over emphasised. Section 6(6)(b) of the 1999 constitution as amended captures it. It provides: The judicial powers vested in accordance with the foregoing provisions of this sectionshall extend to all matters between persons, or between government or authority and to any person in Nigeria, and to all actions and proceedings relating thereto, for the determination of any question as to the civil rights and obligation of that person.In granting the state judiciary and legislature autonomy, the federal government must also consider giving the states greater economic power by amending the exclusive legislative list. To even successfully implement the new minimum wage, there is the urgent need to amend the revenue sharing formula.
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