As suggested by the title, this piece is a reflection on the scandals that blew open in the Imo State House of Assembly since this year regarding the genuineness of the Academic credentials of the members of the state legislature including the Speaker of the Imo State House of Assembly.
The reflection on the worrying situation in the Imo State House of Assembly has become imperative because all around the World, believers in Constitutional Democracy are conscious of the pivotal place of probity, integrity, credibility and dignity in the private and public life of public office holders.
Importantly, of the three arms of government namely the Parliament, the Executive and the judiciary, the institution that gets the highest degree of public scrutiny is the legislature because this is the segment of the constitutionally organised democratic system of administration that is closest to the citizens.
Originally, when the Greeks started the practice of democracy, it was basically a representative system of governance in the sense that all component part of the collective are represented in the Parliament so every constituent parts are involved in the law making process of the society. In Igboland before the coming of the Western powers, there used to be a quasi parliamentary system of decusion making whereby all the male members of the community assemble under the central field of such communities to take far reaching decisions on the wellbeing and welfare of the communities respectively.
It is in line with this universal mindset that the decision by the Nigerian President to sign the Executive Order which gives effect to the autonomy of the state legislature and the judiciary attracted considerable attention.
Although the issue of separation of powers are clearly provided for in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria of 1999 (as amended) in Sections 4, 5 and 6, it is trite that the policy initiative by President Muhammadu Buhari to sign the Executive Order regarding the financial and operational independence of the state legislature and the judiciary is being discussed from all sides of the divide.
It is even a pleasant surprise that this action has come from the President that has shown a clear lack of leadership in many areas of his primary assignment since he was elected in 2015 and again in 2019 in which case his then Chief of Staff the late Abba Kyari amassed so much political power and influence to such a level that President Muhammadu Buhari asked his ministers to seek permission from the then Chief of Staff before seeking any audience with him. Muhammadu Buhari abdicated his primary power and function of defence of the nation’s territorial integrity to the extent that a public spat blew open between his National Security Adviser (NSA) and the then Chief of Staff Abba Kyari who was accused by the NSA of cornering the powers only left for either the Commander-in-chief of the Armed forces or his military advisers.
The respected The Guardian newspaper in an editorial on the appointmemt of the new Chief of staff Professor Ibrahim Gambari Yesterday stated what millions of Nigerians were thinking about President Muhammadu Buhari when the newspaper described what it calls “the predilection of a seemingly tired president who may well be better known as a delegator or abdicator-in-chief. ”
The Guardian wrote further: “President Buhari has been criticised for being a paladin for abdication of his duties and surrogate administration. first coming as a military head of state, as a Perhaps, the policy somersaults from public servants working at cross- purposes, the disregard for institutions and the impunity associated with near-rudderless leadership owe their prevalence to this sustained abdication. An administration whirling in the most odious kind of lethargy, crass ineptitude and unacceptable negligence.”
Any wonder then that the signing of an Executive Order for the implementation of financial autonomy for the legislature and the judiciary at the state level has been eliciting pleasant surprise and criticisms.
The new order follows a Presidential Implementation Committee constituted to fashion out strategies and modalities for the implementation of financial autonomy for states’ Legislature and Judiciary in compliance with section 121(3) of the Constitution.
Section 121 (3) of the 1999 Constitution states: “Any amount standing to the credit of the judiciary in the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the State shall be paid directly to the heads of the courts concerned.”
The new order tagged Executive Order No. 10 of 2020 for the implementation of Financial Autonomy of State Legislature and State Judiciary Order, 2020 is aimed at strengthening the financial autonomy of the judiciary and legislature at the state level.
According to a statement issued by Mr. Umar Jibrilu Gwandu, Special Assistant on Media and Public Relations to the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, the new order will further make the two arms more independent and accountable in line with the tenets of democracy.
“The President signed the Executive Order number 10 based on the power vested in him as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria under Section 5 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as Amended), which extends to the execution and maintenance of the Constitution, laws made by the National Assembly (including but not limited to Section 121(3) of the 1999 Constitution (as Amended), which guarantee financial autonomy of the State Legislature and State Judiciary”, Gwandu said.
According to the statement, the Order provides that “The Accountant-General of the Federation shall by this Order and such any other Orders, Regulations or Guidelines as may be issued by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, authorise the deduction from source in the course of Federation Accounts Allocation from the money allocated to any State of the Federation that fails to release allocation meant for the State Legislature and State Judiciary in line with the financial autonomy guaranteed by Section 121(3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as Amended)”.
Although this fundamental initiative has come from a President that has become so absent-minded and has failed to show leadership for instance in the efforts to combat COVID-19, and un the defence of Nigerians from terrorists and armed bandits, however, the far reaching reforms embedded in the Executive order have wider implications regarding what quality of law making mechanisms are put in place in the 36 States of the Federation.
The larger issue for the good people of Imo State as well as all other states, is to ensure that those that they elect to make laws for them are people that possess those fundamental qualities of integrity, Credibility, honesty and must be persons that surrounds themselves with the mantle of transparency and accountability.
Coming specifically to Imo State, there is the renewed demand for those who are in the Imo State House of Assembly just like Ceaser’s wife to be above board since he who comes to equity must come with clean hands. Imo State people should therefore be worried that those who purport to make laws for them are persons who have allegations of certificate forgeries tied around their necks dangling like the sword of Damocles.
The other day, the Speaker of the Imo State House of Assembly, Mr. Chiji Collins, had reportedly indicted some lawmakers in the state, saying they are currently being investigated over the authenticity of their educational certificates.
Mr. Collins in the evaluation of some reporters has been on the spotlight recently as he has come under severe attacks from some quarters alleging that he has been parading fake certificates and should be persecuted.
The Guardian reports that consequently, the House had in November last year set up an ad-hoc committee headed by a former Majority Leader, Chigozie Nwaneri, to investigate the matter after a prominent journalist made the allegations.
Also, a former lawmaker in the state, Lawman Duruji, had recently accused the Speaker of prevailing on the ad-hoc committee to sweep the matter under the carpet, insisting that such attempt would not save him from being prosecuted.
He said, “Quote me, Chiji parades fake credentials, his PhD is fake and he also forged National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) exemption certificate. Why has he refused to publish his certificate for public scrutiny? No amount of delay tactics and intimidation can save him this time.”
But Collins, who insisted that his credentials were authentic and verifiable and that his position was not under any threat, stated that the Committee was not specifically set up to investigate only his certificates, but those of other members of the House.
He disclosed that NYSC has also cleared him on the allegations, and challenged his opponents to take him to court if they feel otherwise.
This writer is hereby calling on the Imo State House of Assembly to ask their Speaker to step aside until such a time that a transparent investigation is completed to determine his culpability and otherwise in the allegation of certificate forgery.
The Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences commission (ICPC) should step in and investigate all the members of the Imo State House of Assembly because as far as most decent people are concerned, that place(Imo state House of Assembly) is filthy and stinks of certificate falsification which is unhealthy for the smooth exercise of this financial and operational independence that the Constitution has guaranteed and which the recently signed Presidential order is set to validate.
The Judiciary in Imo state need not be carried away by the gifts of the N24 million SUVs from the office of the Imo State governor and then become subservient to the governor. The legislature and the judiciary at the State levels must respect themselves and be independent of their governors.
But first, he who must go to equity must have a clean hand.
The need for a thorough probe of the certificates paraded by the state legislators in Imo State has become compellingly imperative.