Ikechukwu Ezeugwu is the member representing Udenu Constituency and the Leader of the Enugu State House of Assembly. He is the sponsor of the controversial Ex-Governors, Deputies Pension Bill. He tells Punch’s Raphael Ede that the lack of trust between the government and the people is responsible for the public outcry against the bill.
Can you tell us more about the controversial life pension bill for ex-governors and their deputies which has generated uproar in the state?
The law in question is not the creation of the 7th Assembly of the Enugu State House of Assembly. The Enugu State Gubernatorial Pensions Law 2007’ partly states that ‘a law to provide for the grant of pension to the governor and deputy governor on leaving office and other matters connected therewith, enacted by Enugu State House of Assembly, this day 2nd of August 2007.’ Owing to the fact that the law is dynamic, it was amended in 2017.
Since I became the leader, I have sponsored all executive bills and if one is brought now for me to sponsor tomorrow, I will do it. I interface between the executive and the legislature. I am carrying out my functions, and again, the House of Assembly has its role to play as Section 124(5) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) gives power to the state Houses of Assembly to make provisions for a law for grant of pensions and gratuities to former governors and former deputy governors. We are not acting outside the constitution. The framers of the constitution knew why they put it in the constitution. It isn’t our creation, and the bill in question was just mentioned on Thursday, March 11, 2021, which was the first reading. The person representing you in your state House Assembly can present a bill on your behalf.
We have three stages before a bill becomes a law – the first stage is the first reading, which is the presentation which we just did. After the first reading, a date will be selected for the second reading and during the second reading, the sponsor of the bill will be talking about the advantages of the bill. He will canvass his reasons for bringing the bill and urge his colleagues to support it. It is during the second reading that members will have an opportunity to speak, having been given copies of the bill on the day of the first reading. If at the end of the day the majority says that they are not in support of the bill, it will not move further. If the majority says they are in support, the bill will move to the next stage. The next stage is with the presiding officer. The Speaker will now refer the bill to the relevant committee he deems fit to organise a public hearing to seek public participation and expert opinions.
Do you think the controversial bill proposing life pensions for ex-governors and their deputies is necessary considering the high rate of unemployment and poverty in the land?
Well, I wonder if this is the first time you are hearing about pension bill for ex-governors and their deputies. If it is not the first time, then as a journalist this question would have come up in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2017 when it was amended. All we are doing is that a bill has been brought for us to amend an existing law; going back to why the framers did so is just like asking me about the constitution when I wasn’t a member of the constitution drafting committee. When you get to a stage, you take it from where you met it and move it from there. If people had called for this repeal earlier, it would have been a different ball game completely. Talking about security vote, it is not in my place to start talking about how the security vote is spent. How would you feel if a governor leaves office and you see him or her along the street on top of ‘keke’ (tricycle)? Is that how it should be? What is bad in providing a fallback thing for somebody in office so that he can be encouraged to serve diligently, knowing that when he leaves office, he won’t be abandoned.
Enugu State has not paid retired primary school teachers and local government workers’ gratuities and pensions since 2005, while those of civil servants also have not been paid since 2009. Shouldn’t this bother the House more than the ex-governors pension bill?
The issue of pensions and gratuities didn’t start today. I am not speaking for the executive but as a leader of the House who knows what is happening within the system. The present government earmarked a minimum of N100m every month for this purpose, meaning that depending on the receipt of Internally Generated Revenue or federal allocation, it could be higher. Then a system brought to bear for fairness is FIFO – First In, First Out. So, the government is not insensitive. Are the former governors not our people, just like the pensioners and our constituents? Do we have to ostracise them for having served? This is why a lot of people who are in business wouldn’t even want to leave their comfort zone to come into government. The earlier we start encouraging such people to come, the better for everybody because nobody gives what he or she doesn’t have.
At the last plenary, you moved that the bill be stepped down and it was stepped down following the outcry. Are you going to reintroduce it or commence repealing the existing law following public outcry?
I don’t know what will be the outcome during the second reading and this is the beauty of democracy. I am baffled that people are even drawing conclusions as though we have passed this bill into a law. The beauty of democracy is what we are doing now, and that is how we enrich our democracy. So there is no cause for alarm; we are sent by the people. We are not insensitive because if we were, we would have gone ahead with what we proposed; we would have gone ahead with the second reading. But we decided to look at it critically again due to the outcry it generated. The worrisome thing is that people haven’t even seen the details of the bill, for example, the people that came on peaceful demonstration at the House of Assembly. Their leader said he didn’t know the details of the bill. Can you imagine you do not know the details of the bill and you are already carrying placards? If you don’t have the relevant information, you will end up with a wrong conclusion.
Would the House consider that after leaving office, some of these former governors and deputy governors go to the Senate, while some get appointments as ministers and ambassadors. Would the state still be paying them these humongous pensions while receiving salaries from other government agencies?
I am not the House of Assembly; when we get to the bridge, we will cross it. I cannot say what the House is going to do or not do. The fact remains that there is a superior law with regards to that. I am also aware that people are saying that there is a court judgement on that. So the superior law will always prevail. If it is illegal, of course, it will not be done. It is as simple as that.