By Tony Edike
HON. ENEBE CLETUS ONYEKWELU began his career as a civil servant with the Enugu State Ministry of Education in the early 90s and later moved over to the Ministry of health where he retired after 15 years of service and went into the private sector.
Enebe thereafter joined Consolidated Breweries, Ijebu-Ode in Ogun State from where he delved into Management Consultancy in Lagos. He worked with Professional Edge Consultants from where he ventured into politics in 1999. He contested for the Awgu North State Constituency seat at the Enugu State House of Assembly on the platform of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP in 1999 and won.
His colleagues unanimously elected him pioneer Speaker of the House from May to December 1999. Enebe who had been chairman of various House committees including the Committee on Local Government, Inter-Parliamentary Relations and Enugu State Independent Electoral Commission, ENSIEC matters, is currently serving his third tenure in Enugu Legislative Assembly.
Having spent almost twelve years in the State legislature, Enebe now aspires to represent the Awgu/Aninri/Oji River Federal Constituency at the National Assembly on the platform of PDP in 2011. Excerpts:
You have been in the Enugu State House of Assembly since the past 12 years as the members representing Awgu North Constituency in the State Assembly. How has it been?
It has been a very challenging experience to be in the House in the sense that as a pioneer speaker of the House of Assembly for about six months, since then I have been a floor member of the House. Of course, you know that it is not easy to be on the floor after being the head.
I still coped. What I am trying to say is that, one interesting aspect of that period is that after my removal from office as speaker on framed up charges, the House had to reverse itself and exonerated me of all the charges for which I was erroneously removed.
As a member of the House since then, it has equally been challenging because of the expectations from the constituents and the society at large. As a legislator you are expected to balance your personal interest, the interest of your constituents and the government interest.
So, ones ability to manage these interests is what makes you a good or bad legislator. I can boldly say that I have been able to manage these diverse interests and that accounts for my grassroots acceptability and relevance in government throughout the period I have served. As you are aware, I am the longest serving state legislator in Nigeria today.
I am the only surviving pioneer speaker of 1999 that is still in the state assembly and having served three consecutive tenures I believe time has come for me to move ahead to the next level.
Can you recall your experience as the speaker of the House then?
Just as I said earlier, it was very challenging. I became speaker at a time when we just left military rule and most people still have military mentality in them.
As that time, the House (legislature) was poorly funded to the extent that the total overhead to run the entire House was N150,000 per month and as the Speaker I was earning a little about N20,000 per month while my colleagues were earning a little about N14,000 per month for most part of that tenure.
One of the major challenges we experienced was the mass sack of Civil Servants by the then administration of Chimaroke Nnamani, which created some problems between the government and the large society.
The House was in dilemma on how to handle the situation but we eventually summoned the then Secretary to the State Government, SSG, Onyemuche Nnamani to come explain to the House the rationale behind the mass sack. Of course the House was not comfortable with his explanation and that was the beginning of the problems that eventually led to my ouster as the speaker.
Are you saying that as speaker you had course to disagree with the executive on this matter and other issues during your tenure?
Of course as the speaker I had course to disagree with the executive on this matter because everywhere you go people were asking questions and expressing their discontent with the government’s decision. That informed the summon extended to the then SSG to inform the House why the executive took that decision.
It might interest you to note that the then SSG stood up for close to three and half hours taking questions from members. It is a speaker that has the interest of the people at heart that can go to that length of inviting the SSG against the will of the executive.
After hearing from him, the House unequivocally condemned the mass sack of workers because of its implications and the hardship that the affected workers and their families would pass through. Though the executive refused to recall the sacked workers as requested by the lawmakers, we were happy that we did what was expected of us.
There were other areas of disagreement which were not made public. It is not true that the speaker must always agree with whatever the executive does.
However, regular disagreements with the executive does not make one a good speaker considering the fact that both the executive and the legislature form part of the government and both arms have other ways of settling their disagreements internally outside the public domain.
It is only when the internal mechanism fails that it becomes a public issue.
From your experiences, why do you think some legislative Houses are always quarreling with the executive arm?
Such issues could be traced to the attitude of the executive, the leadership of the House in question, the attitude of the members (lawmakers) and societal pressure.
On the part of the executive, there is the tendency that some governors create a wide communication gap between them and the lawmakers whereby the issues affecting the state or some policies of the government are formulated without carrying the lawmakers along.
Again, poor funding of the House could create some face-off between the executive and the House because when the House is poorly funded, the lawmakers get frustrated and some dubious ones could capitalize on it to raise issues or as questions that could lead to a major quarrel between the two arms.
On the part of the House leadership, the way or manner of their emergence as well as the caliber and level of competence are major determinants. For example, if the leadership of the House emerges without the full support of the House membership, there must always be trouble between the lawmakers and the executive between the legislators will always believe that their leadership was foisted on them by the executive.