From Magnus Eze, Enugu
The Enugu State House of Assembly recently ate the humble pie as the lawmakers were pushed by public outcry to expressly step down the controversial gubernatorial pensions (amendment) bill before the House.
Leader of the House, Ikechukwu Ezeugwu who sponsored the contentious executive bill speaks on the undercurrents, how the lawmakers received the backlash and their next line of action.
There was public outcry against the governors’ pensions’ bill you recently sponsored in the House. What actually happened?
In the first place, there is a kind of misinformation out there, those peddling it, nobody knows why. The fact remains that this is an executive bill and I am the leader of Enugu State House of Assembly and so it is my duty to sponsor all the executive bills that come to the House. Secondly, this is a bill seeking to amend an existing law that was enacted in 2007, before any of us in the seventh Assembly came to the House. Going forward, there are three stages and processes before a bill becomes a law. The first stage is the first reading which we did on March 11. We follow the processes because we have rules of engagement, we have standing rules of the house and it states that a bill must pass through those stages before it becomes a law. On the day of the first reading, the sponsor of the bill will make copies available to the Honourable members to go home and study it and you know it’s not in all plenary that all members would be present. On that first day of the reading of the bill, the speaker travelled to Abuja and before the Speaker could come back to pick his own copy to read, there was hullabaloo everywhere.
Did you and your colleagues not envisage that the bill will generate such wide interest?
I am not a prophet and I am not Nostradamus so I don’t know why it generated that type of interest but along the line, I will let you know that there are some hands behind what is happening. Some people are doing it to misinform the public and make Enugu not to be peaceful and then put the State House of Assembly in bad light. But going forward, if at the end of second reading and majority of the members say that they don’t want the bill, the bill will be stepped down and it would die a natural death throughout our tenure. Assuming it scales through second reading, it would be referred to a committee that will call for public hearing which if it scales through, the bill will be passed into law. Let me make it clear that the State House of Assembly has the constitutional right to do what they are doing as enshrined in section 124, subsection 5 of the 1999 constitution as amended. Some people are saying why is this thing being done but morality is different from legality.
What was your impression about the bill when you studied it for the first time?
Such bills are usually communicated through the Attorney General in a letter, it’s not for me to communicate back and say that this thing is wrong because you would mix the legislature with the executive arm and that is why there is separation of powers. We have to do our job as elected to do it. Mine is to present the bill as presented, but that doesn’t mean that I as Ikechukwu Ezeugwu, the member representing Udenu State Constituency do not have anything to say. My constituents could call me and say this bill has to go in a particular direction and I could have my personal opinion as well.
It seemed you were helpless in presenting the bill?
We have not passed this bill into law, we haven’t discussed it and I have not made my input as Ikechukwu Ezeugwu just like other Honourable members. If you give me a private member bill that concerns journalists and I am not a journalist, it is incumbent on me to present it and everybody will argue about it; again, the public hearing will still be called and that is why it is called democracy. Do we have to choose which bills we should present and which one we should not present, that would be an aberration.
Why didn’t you expunge the aspect of the Governor’s wife that has no constitutional role?
I am educating people and at the same time calling people to order for those who think they can foment trouble with false information. Since after that first sitting, news started flying about Governor’s wife, about figures but let me point something out to you, the section that pertains to the governor’s wife did not even say governor’s wife in the first place; that section states that a surviving spouse of a former governor or former deputy governor and the present deputy governor in Enugu State is a woman, so could we have created wife to the deputy governor that is a woman? That is to tell you the lies inherent because the purveyors are not even smart. What we said is that the surviving spouse of a former governor or deputy will be entitled to medical allowance not exceeding N12 million per annum. Mark the word, a surviving spouse and not when the former governor or former deputy governor is still alive and there is a proviso, provided that such a surviving spouse was married to the former governor or former deputy governor while still in office; and then people have been asking if it is constitutional and it makes me feel terrible the way people think. You are talking about issue of legality and morality. To make inference to the current wife of the Governor of Enugu State, Her Excellency Mrs. Monica Ugwuanyi, everybody in Enugu State knows that the woman has an NGO that moves from one LGA to another, ward to ward and is not being paid salaries. During the lockdown, she distributed palliatives to widows and motherless babies and a lot of orphanages with her own NGO. Is she being given money? I am the leader of the house and I know the collateral damage my wife is getting as the leader of the House and if people that are holding public offices do not rest well, they will not deliver on the job. Our wives are our domestic engine rooms yet they are not being paid and remember we are talking about just a mere proposal. So, what is wrong in providing for the medical upkeep of such a person? If it is passed as a law, we appropriate the funds of the state and you don’t do things because people are doing it.
People are saying the timing is bad, the economy is bad but let me tell you that Enugu State was the first state to start payment of N30, 000 Minimum Wage when times are hard. At the onset of COVID-19, some states that started even later than we did, reverted to N18, 000 Minimum Wage, yet Enugu State is still paying the N30, 000 when the times are hard. Enugu was the first state to pay doctors’ COVID-19 allowance; we started it even before the Federal Government, remember there is still hard times. I’ve been sponsoring a number of bills from the executive that have impacted positively on the masses such as the forest guard law, the Child Rights law, among others.
In plain terms, what did the House mean when it said it has stepped down the bill?
We are representing the people and remember that we are in government and we have security reports all over. I was told that people were already preparing for protest; making T-Shirts but all of a sudden, we stepped down the bill. The thing is, look at what happened during the EndSARS protests and take a look at the aftermath, the deaths. It’s only an irresponsible leader that will see danger coming and not avert it. If in the course of the protest somebody dies, it will be very bad. So we wanted to avert the crisis situation because false information had been fed so much to the public and our youths were about being used. At the plenary, I said that given the brouhaha that has arisen out of this, we are listening representatives, nobody will pretend that he hasn’t seen what has happened in the social space, 90 per cent of that, out of lack of information and I will always tell people that if you don’t have correct information, you will always end up with wrong conclusion. The information flying is false information from the imagination of those that conjured it and not from the Enugu State House of Assembly. I said we are stepping it down for the Honourable members to critically look at the bill, given what is happening because that is the beauty of democracy.
Were you aware that this same gubernatorial pension bill was thrown out by some states earlier than now?
I said that no two states are the same; no two marriages are the same. You don’t do things because others are doing and as we speak, you would have even given me a copy from such a state where it has been repealed. Even if they have done that, you don’t do something that somebody has done because you might not know the reason behind it. You would have also asked me why Enugu State did not revert to N18, 000 Minimum Wage because other states have done so.