•Allowances of NASS members should be reviewed
Outgoing Leader of Enugu State House of Assembly, Ikechukwu Ezeugwu is a consummate politician and public interest legislator who has represented the people of Udenu State Constituency for about 12 years, now.
In this interview with MAGNUS EZE, he said that Nigeria would not make any tangible progress without a robust National Assembly that partners the executive. He added that the country cannot afford bicameral legislature at the moment because of its high cost; hence, his call for the scrapping of the senate. Ezeugwu also wants the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) to review the privileges of NASS members, among other issues.
What are your remarks after 12 years as a legislator?
It’s even surprising to me that it’s already 12 years and it’s more surprising that I found myself in politics, and I can tell you that it’s been a worthwhile experience. It has allowed me to know the workings of a government and human behaviours. No amount of going to the university would have taught me what I learnt in these past 12 years, and I must be grateful to my constituents, the good people of Udenu Local Government Area for giving me the opportunity. I am grateful to my party, the PDP (Peoples Democratic Party) for having made me the leader of Enugu State House of Assembly from 2015 to date.
What do you envisage with the composition of the incoming membership of the state assembly where the Labour Party has the majority of members-elect to the PDP?
I envisage a very robust legislative House, but suffice it to say that I also foresee that if not properly managed, it might be very unfriendly, highly unproductive to the people of Enugu State. Given the configuration of 14 members-elect for LP and 10 for PDP Honourable members, and given the background of the election and how the members-elect came to be, I can only advise that they should understand that elections and politics are over and the most important thing now is to work together for the benefit of Enugu people. In an atmosphere of quarrels and antagonism, it will be difficult for them to do the needful, to pass relevant bills for the system to move forward. There is no need saying we belong to LP or the PDP. At a certain time, yes, but when it comes to making the system work, they should put the people of the state first. That is the only way to go, because from experience, the moment there is a problem in the state House of Assembly, the whole state will be in trouble. The moment when the Executive brings an executive bill that will help move the state forward and people put spanners here and there, it will not even be to the interest of those who elected them, irrespective of the political party they belong to and this should be uppermost in their minds. If they fight themselves, the people who elected them whether in party A or party B will not even be happy with them.
How true is it that Governor Ugwuanyi is seeking a loan in the twilight of his administration?
It’s laughable. Most of these things people say are amusing because there is nothing like that. This governor is one who is so reluctant in taking loans and I give it to him that he has been able to manage our finances. He is so reluctant to take loans and so there is nothing like coming to take loan in the 11th hour.
Are you satisfied that cows are still grazed openly in Enugu State against the law the House of Assembly under your leadership enacted about one year ago?
You know that in a football field, every player has a wing. There are three arms of government as you know and we’ve done our bit as a legislature and the governor has done his own bit by assenting it into law. If the cattle are still roaming the streets, it’s possible that someone, somewhere, is not doing his or her work. We don’t implement the laws, ours is to make the laws, but I can tell you that it has been reduced to a large extent.
With the APC zoning the National Assembly leadership positions to individuals; what do you envisage when the federal legislature is inaugurated?
It was upon my joining politics that I understood that before a position is zoned to anywhere, it has been zoned to an individual. It’s a party thing but the good thing is that I saw on national television where some APC senators-elect went to the national secretariat of the Labour Party to seek the support of the party. They met with the National Chairman of the Labour Party. It shows how robust our politics and politicking have become. Come to think of it, a lot of senators-elect are freshers, so it’s not going to be easy for the country and the senate. It’s just because of the environment that we’re coming from and the perquisites of office that are so enticing, otherwise, lawmakers who are good should be encouraged to remain in office as long as their people want them. But what they take home; their entitlements make people say no, come back, let other people go, thereby making it a turn-by-turn affair. Because, even if you are a Professor of Law and you are taken to a legislative house, you won’t just fly immediately, you must understand the workings of the place. So, what I am saying in effect is that irrespective of party, they should understand that ranking has a major role to play in the leadership of the National Assembly because you can’t give what you don’t have. There is no pretence about that.
With your vast experience in the legislature at the state level, would you say that the 9th National Assembly met the expectations of Nigerians? And what’s your advice to the next Assembly?
The framers of our constitution understood what they meant by separation of power when they spelt out duties and responsibilities to the arms of government. So, the National Assembly should not just be an ‘O yes one; saying yes to whatever happens. Come to think of it, the government is exiting and someone is thinking of taking a loan at this time, and it appears the National Assembly is giving the nod with only a caveat that the loan should be spent by the next government. They are not in the Executive as to say when the money should be spent. Where has this kind of thing happened? It’s not the best arrangement, I must tell you. So, I expect the incoming National Assembly not to be antagonistic but they should do the right thing at all times because we elected them to protect our interest and even the interest of the Executive-this country belongs to all of us. It’s not everything that is brought to them that they should say yes; people are watching and it shouldn’t be so.
What do you think about the remunerations of legislators in Nigeria whether at the state or national level? And would you support a call for part time legislature?
It’s related to what I talked about the so enticing perquisites of office. The last time I travelled to Denver Colorado in the US, a House of Representatives member invited me for their inauguration. After the whole thing, he came to my hotel and took me to dinner. Do you know that this man was driving himself? Even the car he came with was the type we give to aides here as utility vehicle. That’s in America. We should try to make the legislative arm of government at the national level less attractive pecuniary wise, so that if you don’t have the zeal to serve the people, you won’t aspire to go there. Anybody whose intention is to go and amass wealth will just be discouraged. And this should be handled by the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission. The idea that somebody goes there for four years and is given a vehicle and a plot of land. Another four years, he’s again given a vehicle and another plot of land and in another four years, he’s again given a vehicle and another plot of land; that continues as long as the person returns to the National Assembly. I mean, it’s unthinkable. We must find a way and structure it that once you go once or twice, certain things would not be provided for you again; so that you take care of certain things by yourself as a ranking member. With this kind of arrangement, you will find out that only those who have the interest to serve the people at heart would be interested in going to the National Assembly even for many terms. So, I agree that the remuneration of the National Assembly members is big, but it’s not that attractive at the state level. But we need to do something, like making it part time. And above all; the best model as far as I am concerned is that we go back to the parliamentary system. And even if we’re not going back to the parliamentary system, do we need the Senate and House of Reps with all this cash crunch? If you ask me, I will say let’s just have a unicameral legislature and the House of Reps which involves more representatives should just be okay for us. There’s no need to duplicate their functions, and that’s what’s happening there. The Committees you have in the Senate are also there in the House of Representatives, and after they will merge their positions by way of concurrence. If it was in those days of oil boom, no qualms, but right now, we don’t have the resources to carry such burden of governance.
What advice do you have for the legislators-elect that are about to be inaugurated?
The fact is that having stayed in the House of Assembly for 12 years, I have come to realise and know that the State House of Assembly is not a place for people that are not intelligent. It doesn’t really have anything to do with education. Get me right, somebody might have a first school leaving certificate and be intelligent, another might have school certificate but is not intelligent. It’s a place where laws are made; it’s a place where laws are reviewed, it’s a place where people should be responsible to carry out oversight functions. It should be a model place for grooming politicians; it’s not a place for everybody. So, I will advise that going forward, people should look deep and get intelligent representatives. It doesn’t mean that intelligent people wouldn’t be loyal as it’s said in politics. We are better off with intelligent people in our legislative houses than having people who are just brought there for political settlements. It’s an undoing to the system.
Twelve years after, could you say you were able to achieve your dreams and aspirations?
Yea, when I look, I’ll say yes, I achieved a lot of things that brought me into public life. When I was consulting to go to the House of Assembly, most people I went to thought I wanted to go to the National Assembly. Some said the State Assembly was too small for me. but I can be a councillor, the most important thing is to contribute my own quota. Having come to the House of Assembly, I’ve been able to change the narratives in so many ways, especially from 2015 that I became the leader of the House. We were able to dispense with our responsibilities without undue delay. We’ve been able to maintain peaceful co-existence amongst ourselves, especially between the legislature and the executive. We’ve been able to break a jinx because this is the first time that the House of Assembly didn’t have any issue with the Executive arm of the government. I thank my colleagues and I thank God for making it possible.