A paper presented by Hon. (Dr.)Timothy Ifedioranma member representing Njikoka 1 State Constituency, Anambra State House of Assembly. As Keynote Speaker at the Law Students’ Legislative Council, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University, Anambra state.
First and foremost, I sincerely express my gratitude for being given the privilege to discuss this topic with this noble association, it is indeed an honour to be with you today. Having said that I also humbly wish to stand on the already established protocol.
1.0 LEGISLATIVE AUTONOMY: MEANING, ESSENCE & COMPONENTS
Legislative autonomy could be defined as the ability of the legislature as an arm of Government to carry out its constitutional mandate without undue interference from the other arms of Government, especially the executive. “Undue interference” could exist in different forms for example -When the executive arm of government sees the legislature as a mere rubber stamp put there to ratify all its desires without scrutiny and proceeds to treat it as such, it is undue interference. When the Executive ignores or neglects to provide the legislature required information for its legislative or oversight functions, it is undue interference; when the executive uses state law enforcement agencies to harass and intimidate members of the legislature in order to influence how they perform their functions, it is undue interference; when the judiciary through frivolous injunctions or other legal technicalities to undermine the work of the legislature, it is undue interference.
1.1 THE ESSENCE OF LEGISLATIVE AUTONOMY.
The Legislature as we all know is a cardinal arm of government that is charged with the statutory role of making laws for the peace, order and good government of the Federation or the State that is the National Assembly and the State Houses of Assembly respectively as provided by Section 4 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria(as amended) Asides law making, another core Statutory function of the Legislature is the Power to embark on oversight functions on the other arms of Government especially the Executive as provided in Sections 88 & 89 of the 1999 Constitution as earlier mentioned with regards to the National Assembly. The essence of this oversight functions is to enable the Legislature to make laws with respect to any matter within its legislative competence and correct any defects in existing laws and also to expose corruption, inefficiency, waste in the execution or administration of laws within its legislative competence and in the disbursement or administration of funds appropriated by it.
Moving further, we will also discover that another statutory role played by the Legislature is the power to screen and confirm certain nominations made by the Executive that is The President for example ministerial nominations.
In the light of the above, we will discover that Law Making, Power to carry out oversight functions and power to screen and confirm executive nomination are the three core Statutory functions of the Legislature which could hardly be performed effectively in the absence of LEGISLATIVE AUTONOMY.
Over the years, we have witnessed the Legislature relying on the executive to carry out its functions especially as regards to financial dependence. This is in negation to the doctrine of separation of powers one of the important principles of true democracy that seeks to project independence amongst the three arms of Government. This singular act has made the Legislature mere work tools in the hands of the Executive.
As a result of this the Legislature both at the Federal and State Level have continued to clamour for Legislative Autonomy to enable them carry out their functions effectively.
1.2 COMPONENTS OF LEGISLATIVE AUTONOMY.
It is important to state that Legislative autonomy comprises of Administrative and financial autonomy
1.21 ADMINISTRATIVE AUTONOMY – This entails power to recruit, promote and discipline its staff.
FINANCIAL AUTONOMY — this entails power to receive its financial allocation and entitlement directly from the Federal Government.
2.0 ASSESSMENT OF LEGISLATIVE ADMINISTRATIVE AUTONOMY IN NIGERIA.
Already it is an observable fact that the National Assembly (Senate and House of Representatives) has struggled and achieved a high level of self-reliance which enables it to perform its constitutional role of checks and balances in our presidential democracy. That is why, over the years and across regimes, the two chambers of the National Assembly have firmly established their capacity to choose and maintain their leadership (instead of being at the mercy of the President which was the case at the outset of our renascent democracy). With this strong sense of autonomy, the National Assembly is also able to perform its oversight functions and assert its right to control the finances of the Federation as constitutionally required. The only area where the Federal Legislative arm has not tested its constitutional powers effectively is the area of impeachment of the President or Vice President.
The same cannot be said of the Legislature at the state levels. They are still firmly tied to the apron strings of state governors. The Governors still move about in much the same fashion as military governors or administrators during our military past. This is largely possible because of the reluctance of the Governors to allow the legislature and judiciary direct and automatic access to their budgetary allocations. Another factor militating against the independence of State Assemblies generally is the fact that many of their members often are hand-picked lackeys of the incumbent governor. From their alpha positions, the governors deprive the legislatures their capacity to control the purse, carry out effective oversight or generally hold the governor to account. It is the main reason state Houses of Assemblies are mere rubber stamps of state governors, which does not augur well for our democracy.
Before now Some State Houses of Assembly have been able to attain administrative autonomy through enacting laws for State House of Assembly Service Commission for example Lagos, Edo, Delta, Rivers, Imo, Ondo, Taraba, Ebonyi, Ekiti, Kastina, Kaduna, Bauchi, Gombe, Nasarrawa, Plateau States. The last time I Checked A bill to establish State House of Assembly Service Commission was still under way in Enugu. Same as it is in Anambra were the bill has just scaled through the first reading and presentation.
The objective of the State House of Assembly Commission is to ensure efficiency in the performance of its legislative, administrative and other relevant duties. In advanced democracies, the Legislative Service Commission is one of the legislative agencies serving as veritable sources of legal expertise, particularly, in career management and staffing. In Nigeria, being a developing democracy, the commission is, however, saddled with the responsibility of developing legislative practice and catering for the appointment, welfare and discipline of staff. In other words, the commission is to involve itself in the development and expansion of legislative activities and potentials of staff.
3.0 THE CURRENT POSITION OF LEGISLATIVE FINANCIAL AUTONOMY:
After several moves and agitations for financial autonomy, the first of which failed as a result of the inability of a total number of 24 State houses of Assembly to give its assent to State Legislative Autonomy,recently in a repeat exercise during the Fourth Alteration bill sent to the State Houses of Assembly, virtually all the states gave its assent and this culminated in the President Muhammadu Buhari’s assent to the Constitution Fourth Alteration Bill which grants financial autonomy and independence to the Houses of Assembly of the respective states.
As a result of which the amounts standing to the credit of the Houses of Assembly of the respective states are now to be paid directly to the Houses of Assembly of that state for the benefit of the legislators and the management of the States Houses of Assembly. Thereby granting full autonomy now to the Houses of Assembly at the state level.
4.0 OBSERVATION, SUGGESTIONS AND CONCLUSION.
With the new development, it has greatly witnessed that most states who do not have State Houses of Assembly Commission have immediately sponsored a bill to that effect with a view to receiving accelerated, speedy and express passage into law and constituting the Commission members immediately.
The emergence of financial autonomy for the State Legislature is indeed a welcome development and an upliftment of our democracy. State Legislatures are hereby urged to embrace this golden opportunity and optimize their performance.
About the Author
Hon. Ifedioramma Timothy is a Honourable member of the Anambra state House of Assembly Representing Njikoka 1 state Constituency, he is a seasoned scholar and legal practitioner with a special expertise in the development of Law making and generally, the legislative activities in Nigeria and beyond. He has many publications to his name and believes that with proper education, one is well equipped to face the challenges of existence whilst making meaningful contributions to soceital change.
For knowledge and Justice