Chief Yomi Alliyu, SAN, in this conversation with DAPO FALADE, declares that President Muhammadu Buhari did not err by signing an Executive Order which granted financial autonomy to the state judiciary and the Houses of Assembly.
PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari, last week, signed the Executive Order 10 granting financial autonomy to the judiciary and the legislature at the state level. What do you think are the implications of what he did?
I think what President Buhari did was to give teeth to the provisions of the Nigerian Constitution. People are just criticising him and his action without looking at the law. Since 2017, the constitution has been altered to the extent that the Consolidated Fund would be paid directly to the affected arms of government. We have changed the constitution to the effect that the judiciary at the state level would be paid directly from the Consolidated Fund by the Federal Government. So also are the judiciary and the state Houses of Assembly. But the governors were being adamant and they were acting in breach of that constitutional provision. In any case, this ought to have been an impeachable offence, if we have an independent legislature. The judiciary cannot do anything on its own but the legislature, being deprived of what rightly belongs to it, could make it an impeachable offence because the action of the governors constituted gross misconduct.
After the alteration to the constitution, the governors were not acting in line with the constitutional provision. The president was left with no other alternative than to sign the Executive Order and the Executive Order that he signed, I think, it does not have anything to do directly with the governors, as some people wrongly believed. He is the payer; he is the person who will pay the governors. So, if the person now pays the Consolidated Fund to the governors, instead of the affected arms of government, that person is misappropriating the fund and he could found liable of a serious breach of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. In essence, what the president did was in order.
But the eighth National Assembly passed a Bill granting financial autonomy to the judiciary and the legislature at the state level and which was submitted to the president for his accent…
That is what I am saying; the Nigerian Constitution was altered in 2017 to the effect that the judiciary and the state Houses of Assembly should be paid directly from the Consolidated Fund by the Federal Government…
But some people are asking if the president is setting aside the bill passed by the eighth National Assembly in order to give the Executive Order. In other words, the question being asked is that, why can’t he just give accent to the bill passed by the national legislative body, instead of given an Executive Order?
What I am saying is that there is a constitutional provision in 2017 altering the constitution to the effect that the Consolidate Fund would be paid directly to the affected arms of government namely, the state judiciary and the state Houses of Assembly. The president just gave an Executive Order to that effect. There is no aberration in what the president did. The question you should have asked is, would federalism have allowed that kind of action from the president or the centre to be controlling the other tier of government? I would have answered you directly.
Okay, don’t you think it is a negation of the spirit of federalism for the president, who heads the centre, to have dabbled into the affairs of the state?
Let me explain it this way: From the time of the late Head of State, General Aguiyi Ironsi, immediately he came to power, he negated the founding terms of government in all the constitutional conferences to which we had in the federation then. He introduced a unitary system. So, we are just practising federalism in theory; we all know that what we have is not federalism. It is not federalism in the sense that everybody, every state now go cap-in-hand to Abuja everyday to collect money. This was never the contemplation of the founders of this country called Nigeria.
In those days, even the South-West in the old Western Region was richer than the central government. And that is why you will see the first of everything in our historical national development located and situated in the south-western part of the country. The first set of skyscrapers was in the South-West; the first television station, before Canada, Austria and Germany, was here in Nigeria; and the first international stadium in Africa was here in Western Nigeria, among several others. This was because these people were directly controlling their resources.
Beyond the explanation and, in any case, if it were to even be a true federalism that we are practising, President Buhari has not and did not breach any law granting financial autonomy to the affected arms of government. The Executive Order, like I said earlier, is directed at the man who is in charge of allocation at the Federal Minister of Finance. So, the Minister of Finance will appropriate the money directly to the concerned other arms of government, that is, the judiciary and the legislature. In doing this, there is no problem. But any state or conglomeration of states that are not happy with the arrangement can file an action at the Supreme Court to set aside the Executive Order.
But are you ruling out the fear being expressed that the occupant of the Office of the President, not necessarily President Muhammadu Buhari, is arrogating too much power to himself?
I don’t see what the president did in giving this particular Executive Order in that light. We are the people that made that centre too powerful, as it is. It is not obtainable in federal arrangements elsewhere. The Office of the President and even the president here in Nigeria is too powerful. He has too much of control over all the major resources, even the money to contest elections. And that is why they are killing themselves. They made the centre so powerful; it controls the security agencies carrying arms, the Army, the Police and others; the centre controls all the resources, including our only economic mainstay; in fact, Buhari is the Minister of Petroleum. The derivative areas can only have 30 per cent; then who keeps the balance of 70 per cent? The centre is too powerful; the Office of the President is too powerful but the president is not arrogating anything to himself. It is one thing for any president to have power, but he may not know how to use that power. Yes, President Buhari has the power and he is using the power the way he should use the power in accordance with the provisions of the Nigerian Constitution.
We cannot say the alteration done to the constitution in 2017 is by decree; I will tell you that the alterations one, two, three and four were done by the people of Nigeria in consonance with the prayers of their elected representatives. What do I mean by this? The alteration to the constitution was passed by the National Assembly and unanimously accented to by two-thirds of all the states of Nigeria. So, President Buhari is not arrogating any power to himself. Rather, he is exercising the power he ought to exercise. That is the view of the law.
But how do you see the action of the president in exercising his power vis-à-vis promoting good governance across board in the country?
You know, if you have been in government or if you have visited any of the Governor’s Offices in the past, or any of the Governor’s Houses in the past, you will cry for the other two arms of government. I went to see a particular governor and I met the Chief Judge of the state; I was sitting with him at the lobby. The head of the judiciary of that state wanted to see the governor; I also wanted to see him. The head of another arm of government was sitting down. I called the governor and told him that the Chief Judge of his state was waiting to see him. He said he should wait; ‘he needs money.’ So, you can see some of these heads of the judiciary going cap-in-hand to see their respective state governors. Some of them were even summoned to the Governor’s House in the middle of the night, at about 2am. Some of them are errand boys to governors and which should not be.
In essence, for me, the Executive Order will promote good governance. The judiciary will be respected and, now, the legislature will be able to effectively do their work, checks and balances, to be able to curtail the excesses of the governors because they owe him no more any obligations and the governors too will know this because he who pays the piper will dictate the tune. Now, we are going to have very independent state Houses of Assembly and judiciary.
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