By Monima Daminabo
Not a few observers of the Nigerian political terrain will be shocked with the story that the Edo State House of Assembly actually voted for the denial of autonomy to state assemblies in the country, including itself.
According to media, members of the state legislature were reportedly in favour of the autonomy vote, but were pressured by the leadership of the ruling party in the state – All Progressives Congress (APC) to change their vote. Going by the report, the implicated leadership of the APC includes the Edo State Governor Godwin Obaseki, his Deputy and the State Chairman of the APC. The Speaker and his team reportedly met a brick wall in their meeting with the former and left to go and formalize the despicable rejection of autonomy for themselves and fellow state assemblies.
For anyone that is familiar with the Bible story of Esau and Jacob – sons of Isaac the patriarch of the Jews, the tale of Edo State House of Assembly must ring a bell. According to the Bible story, Esau, the elder brother come home in a state of famish and met his younger brother, Jacob, who had just cooked a tantalizing meal of pottage. Esau asked for part of the porridge and Jacob demanded for Esau’s birthright as the first son in exchange for the meal. Indiscrete as he would be, Esau conceded the birthright to Jacob, asking in the process of what benefit the birthright was when he was starving. Hence Esau sold out his eternal birthright to Jacob, his cunning younger brother for a most transient stuff as a pot of porridge. To Esau, the immediate relief from the steaming pot of porridge was more valuable than the more but seemingly intangible birthright.
The development in the Edo State house of Assembly qualifies to be seen from several angles as suits the preferences of the observer. However given the rave of public interest in the matter of autonomy for Nigeria’s state assemblies, especially in the context of such, as a key success factor for democratic governance in the country, the odiousness of the inexcusable misstep by the Edo assembly vote becomes pronounced. By the vote, they have sold out their right to freedom ostensibly due to their personal preferences for the crumbs from the Governor to the eternal benefits of the country’s democracy.
The Constitution provides for the independence and primacy of the legislature at all tiers of governance. However, courtesy of the twists in and peculiarities of the country’s political history, this first arm of government – especially at the state level, has been downgraded to a most demeaning status of an underdog to the executive. This denigration of the legislature is simply due to the latter’s statutory control of the very instruments of state power including security apparatus, law enforcement, and money. During the military era the legislature was largely suspended and in abeyance leaving the only operational arms of government as the executive being the military, and the judiciary. With the return of democracy and the legislature, its fiscal fortunes, unfortunately, were not restored under its control due to a constitutional lacuna its fiscal autonomy was not spelled out. Hence the need to amend the Constitution to provide for same in specific wording.
In a scenario of who pays the piper dictates the tune, the executive – as the present custodian of the legislature’s operational funds and other wherewithal, since the coming of the Fourth Republic in 1999, exercised its sway over the other arms of government comprising the legislature and the judiciary as they are compelled to kowtow to the demands of the former. This playout of omnipotence by the executive officials, in particular, the state governors is only because of their statutory control of the instruments of state power and authority, especially in a manner that is hardly backed by law. And it has remained a sore point throughout the life of the Fourth Republic, during which it has been most pronounced. The menace of governor’s impunity became so worrisome that the fear of them became the beginning of political wisdom for any political figure in the country from the President to even the ordinary party member.
Instances of governors dropping to the despicably absurd low in their bids to antagonize their real and or perceived opponents are legion. As for Governor’s hijacking, the political structures in their states to play god and dictate what happens in every aspect of the political life of their respective states is seen as routine.
In the context of the Constitutional provisions for managing the excesses of any elected public officers, especially state governors, only the state assemblies have the power to remove them. Meanwhile, such assemblies have been rendered toothless bulldogs through the manipulation of the purse by the same governors they are expected to check. Governors by this situation have become immovable and for most of them leviathan in mindset.
That is why the issue of autonomy for state assemblies enjoys the premium it does in the circle of Democrats with Nigeria’s interest at heart. Just as well, efforts at facilitating the grant of autonomy to state assemblies have been unrelenting with virtually every constitutional amendment exercise listing it as one of the clauses for consideration and endorsement by the various houses of assembly with successive exercise but the present one failing to do so.
This is also why the vote by the Edo State Assembly to reject autonomy for State Houses of Assembly is unfortunate for several reasons. Essentially it is a betrayal by the members of their constituents who voted them into office, as well as their colleagues in other state assemblies who have since endorsed the autonomy vote.
If the members of Edo State House of Assembly may wish to claim to be too weak to fight they must be thinking wrongly. Virtually all the state assemblies that voted for autonomy were also subjected to the same pressure from their governors and still went ahead to demonstrate political wisdom to vote rightly.
For their enterprise in betraying the country’s democracy the most honourable atonement for the members of Edo State House of Assembly is to resign enmasse unless they prefer to remain in the Hall of Shame they have chosen for themselves, courtesy of their vote.