Leader of Enugu State House of Assembly, Ikechukwu Mellitus Ezeugwu, who represents Udenu State Constituency is a third term legislator.
He speaks on the struggle for legislative independence in Nigeria, the roles of the legislator and other issues.
Which are your areas of legislative interest and where have you come out strongest?
There are three functions of a legislator; representation, lawmaking and carrying out oversight functions. To me, representation is the area I will say I have passion for and I love doing it because it touches the masses, those we are representing directly; but that does not mean that the other functions, lawmaking and oversight do not do the same thing, but for me in the order of ranking, representation is the topmost because you have to listen to the people you are representing, you have to be available to them to hear them out because they elected you believing that you will go to the legislature to represent them.
How true is the allegation that the State House of Assembly in Nigeria is an annex of the Government house?
I am glad you said Nigeria because the problem we have in this environment is that people always want to be seen as politically correct. To an extent, I agree with you because of the environment we find ourselves in, which is most unfortunate, because those that crafted the constitution were wise enough to bring into play separation of powers and that’s why we have the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary. So, in a situation whereby the legislature becomes ‘an extension of the executive,’ you find out that what the constitution intended has been derailed. There are some places, having discussed with my colleagues from certain states that they don’t go for oversight functions which is rather very unfortunate, but as the leader of Enugu State House of Assembly, I know that there is mutual respect, we carry out our duties as we ought to.
States in Nigeria are yet to achieve legislative independence; how does it relate to Enugu State House of Assembly?
Talking about legislative independence, you know that generally, the governors have not allowed it to be, but I will say that it’s unfortunate. Today, I am the leader of the House, a legislator, others are governors, we have a president but the good thing about life is that nothing lasts forever. People in positions of authority should know that they don’t remain there forever, even if they don’t have tenure limits, death will come when it will and nobody lives forever. We are talking about building institutions and it baffles me that some governors will sit on the autonomy of the legislature. It’s rather very unfortunate and such governors should know that it’s not fair and that they are not being fair to the system. It baffles me because I remember there was a onetime Speaker of House of Assembly who later became a governor and at the end of the day; the person made sure that he voted against the autonomy of the House. It’s only in Nigeria that such a thing happens, probably because we do not think about the past before we give public trust to such individuals but I am happy that today, we can Google what happened in the past and bring it up.
What is the present state of the Enugu State Gubernatorial Pension Bill in the House of Assembly that made you centre of focus recently?
I can’t forget March 12, 2021and that gubernatorial pension bill will be the most ‘memorable’ executive bill I’ve ever sponsored. It’s good it happened because it enlightened me more about the way some people reason. Know that there are stages before a bill becomes a law which are first, second and third readings. First reading is the introduction of the bill after which you share it with your colleagues and a date will be scheduled for the second reading. It’s during the second reading that people begin to hear about the details of the bill and there will be arguments for and against the bill, but in that instance, after the introduction of the bill, stories went haywire. People that didn’t even see a copy of the bill started saying all sorts of things, imputing monetary figures to provisions in the bill. For instance, we said a former governor or deputy governor will be entitled to, say, three security men or four, depending on the environment where such a person lives. Then people now went ahead and gave monetary value to the security men, how much they will be paid for the period and all such things. So, the hullabaloo about it was just in the imagination of those that brought it about. Such monetary value wasn’t there, and also, they said we made provisions for wives of the former governors and the deputy governors and it was laughable because if you go through the entire bill there is no place the ‘wife’ was mentioned. Today, the deputy governor of Enugu state is a woman, so, now will you say the wife of the deputy governor is a woman? What we said was the spouse of the governor or deputy governor. This will tell you in summary that those who were making noise and accused us of all sorts of things never saw the bill. Secondly, I tackled the social media bullying that came out of it. You know someone uploaded my picture and phone number and they were being shared to all Enugu State Associations all over the world. People called me from Europe, Asia, America, Africa, from everywhere. I didn’t sleep for three days and three nights. I made sure I picked all the calls and called back any call I couldn’t pick as a result of the traffic into my phone. I took time to listen to every caller and equally took time to explain to them that it’s my duty as the Leader of the House to present and lead debate of any Executive Bill. And that a bill has procedures before it becomes law and that the beauty of democracy is that you have to give everyone a chance to contribute in one level or the other before a bill becomes law. My happiness is that most of them apologized for bullying me and they became better informed. I took the guy who uploaded my phone number and picture on the internet to court and claimed one billion naira as damages. He later begged, made a newspaper apology to me and I withdrew the case from court.
The fight between the Legislature and the Executive at the beginning of this democratic dispensation in 1999 is fast disappearing, is it that the legislature decided to become subservient to the executive, or what is your experience?
I’m glad you said at the beginning of democracy, you know militarization doesn’t just affect only the military, so, coming from that background of military dictatorship, everything was ‘by force, by force’ but you find out that gradually, it started changing and gradually the calibre of people in the various State Houses of Assembly started being upgraded because nobody can give what he or she doesn’t have.