Rt. Hon. Dr. Ikechukwu Ezeugwu is the leader of Enugu State House of Assembly who introduced the Enugu state 2021 Gubernatorial Pensions Amendment Bill that caused a recent stir in the Assembly. He will on Thursday commemorate the 10th anniversary of Ikechukwu Ezeugwu Foundation and inauguration of the foundation’s head office building in Enugu state which has so far given scholarship to over 43 university graduates and undergraduates. Ezeugwu speaks on his 11 years experience in state legislation, the gubernatorial pension bill, mentorship and the foundation.
By Dennis Agbo
What is your experience on the allegation that in Nigeria, the State Houses of Assembly are annex of the Government houses?
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 the internment of the constitution 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.
Why has it been difficult for state Houses of Assembly to achieve legislative independence, particularly the 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 leaves for ever. We are talking about building the 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 the House 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 Ikechukwu Ezeugwu foundation all about?
The fact remains that prior to my coming into partisan politics, with all due humility I can tell you that I have always intervened in peoples’ lives, either in education or business ventures, but upon getting into the political limelight, I realized that the problem was even more than I knew it and what propelled me to start the scholarship foundation was the social contract I had with my people during my primary election in 2011. Then, those that contest with me were doing certain things I didn’t want to do and I called the party officials then at Udenu and told them that I came into the system to raise the bar and that I wouldn’t want to do what others were doing, that they should vote for me believing that I will not forget that they voted for me and that if I should settle them monetarily I won’t owe them any obligation when they call me because I would have settled them and coming from the business world I would multiply whatever money I gave them by five, I recoup it before I think about helping anybody. I asked them to vote for me so that when I get into the office, even if I want to derail, I would remember that these guys voted for me believing that I won’t forget them. As God will have it, they voted for me and I won that primary election. That was why in 2013 I started the scholarship programme with Prof Malachy Okwueze who was then the Deputy Vice Chancellor of UNN and Rev Fr. Ushi, who was in charge of Obollo Denary, the two I called to design a template, shared the forms everywhere, in the market places, churches, and communities to select for me two intelligent but economically disadvantaged undergraduates. Two per ward and my constituency, Udenu, has 10 wards, meaning 20 undergraduates. The forms were returned to them and they did the selection.
I wasn’t interested in who emerged, but I told them not to select anybody that is relegated to me in my ward. That’s how they did it and since then, if for instance in ward ‘A’ somebody graduates I will still go and pick another person from the same ward so that at every point in time, I have two persons per ward. So as at December last year, the foundation had produced 21 graduates, our first medical Doctor graduated in March 2021 and presently I still have 23 undergraduates and when I had a meeting with the National Association of Nigeria Students in South East, they gave me award of Honour and I told that it’s my intention to extend it by picking one person per state, starting from November 2022.
What is the present state of the gubernatorial pension bill in the House of Assembly that made you a spotlight in the recent past?
I can’t forget March 12 2021and that gubernatorial pension bill will be my 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, for instance, three security men or four, depending on the environment where such a person leaves. 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 said we made provisions for wives of the former governors and the deputy governors and it was laughable because I said 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 into 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.
Looking about in the nine years of the foundation, what lessons, motivations, experience have you had from it?
My life remains that so long as I am doing the right thing, if you are booing me I’m not bordered, if you decide to clap for me, I won’t be excited, I am focused on doing good even if human being don’t appreciate it because from my life experience and from where I am today God rewards me in so many ways I cannot even count and it makes me feel good each time I help people. The low part is, probably because one is in politics, some people even think that it’s a right, some people even think it’s their money and that’s why I’ll always tell them that in or out of politics I’ll keep doing it so long as God keep providing and I am optimistic that God will keep providing. The high point is that when you see that young girl or that young boy that wouldn’t have ordinarily gone to the university and the person graduates, becomes a Medical Doctor, a Geologist, an Engineer and the person gets his residency in USA and another is about getting his scholarship in Oxford University, when you seat back, the joy is inestimable and no amount of money can make me to be as happy as when I seat back and ask, how did I do it? Once in a while I call them for mentorship and to know how they are doing and this particular medical Doctor involved in a Medical outreach, he said that what gives him joy is that when he is treating the elderly persons they will be praying for him and he will tell them don’t thank me, thank Hon. Ikechukwu Ezeugwu, but I told him no, they should be thanking God because I’m only a pencil in the hands of God. So when you think about the trickle down effect, the joy that radiates, because some of these elderly persons prefer that young doctors go into their villages to treat them to touch them and they are healed fifty percent, so I tell them Ikechukwu Ezeugwu foundation is not in the habit of giving scholarships, we are in the business of producing medical doctors, engineers, administrators, teachers, etc. The difference between a medical doctor and an engineer is the tuition fee that the other person who is equally intelligent couldn’t pay.
The moment that person pays that tuition fee; every other thing can always be worked out. Last year when I handed over the cheques, there was something one of them said in their appreciation that actually touched me. He said Daddy, you know they call me Daddy, he said that I don’t even understand what I was doing for them. He said that some of their colleagues instead of concentrating and reading, they will be thinking about how to pay their fees but for them, on going back they already have their school fees and in some schools you can’t take your exams until you pay your school fees and so that alone gives them 50 percent concentration.
What effect do you think mentorship plays in your guidance and other parts of endeavour?
There is this saying that a problem shared is half solved, there are people that mere advice, mere counseling will turn their lives around. There are people that will come and ask how did you start? how did you get to this level and I’ll always tell them. I was lucky when I was in secondary school; I had a very good principal, the late Raphael Achugbu, he comes to the Assembly ground and he will be giving us idioms, we used to call them parables. He will tell us that hasty climbers make sudden falls, he used to tell us that you cannot make omelet without breaking an egg; he will tell us, those in quarrel interpose often wipe a bloody nose; he would tell us father has, mother has, blessed is the child that has. If you expand these four idioms, you would have given a young man or a young girl a one year lesson. Some people say my father is a professor, my mother is a medical doctor and they will be so carried away and I will ask them, what will your children say you are? I tell them hasty climbers make sudden falls. Wealth doesn’t just happen, you can go and grab it today anyhow, tomorrow not only will it go, you might end up in prison and your integrity will be ruined. I usually tell them about engineering mathematics, while studying Accounting; I asked what engineering mathematics is doing in the accounting department because it was a compulsory course.
The question I used to ask myself was, will I graduate from this department? If I am to graduate I must pass this course and so if I must pass the course, why do I have to wait to retake it? So when you ask yourself such a question and you really want to graduate, you would have no choice but to read and understand that course. When I was in the university our HOD used to tell us that getting a job is one thing but keeping it is another, it was strange to me when students talked about sorting and I asked them what is sorting? and they laughed at me that it was to pay and pass your exams. I said it’s unfortunate. I told them that I got a job as an Accountant in a company, I went with the originals of my certificate but nobody looked at it. The day I resumed I was shown a big Accountant’s office; that time they were using ledgers, there were no computers and you will see heaps of books. So assuming I didn’t know what I was doing, would I have kept the job and I was the only accountant in the company, there was nobody to ask what to do. So when these children are not told all these, they wouldn’t realize what life actually is. I also told them that if you cannot manage N100, 000, you cannot manage one million naira. Again, if you are working in a company and you don’t take your work seriously, if you start your own company, that same attitude is what you will bring to bear in that company. What goes around comes around because even those that work for you will do the same thing you did in your own company. So the summary is that conscience is an open wound and only truth can heal it. So I always tell them to do the right thing whether they are being seen or are not being seen.
As an Accountant, what can you prescribe as the antidote to the level of corruption in Nigeria?
The word corruption may sound small but it’s as huge as an elephant. The fact remains that when the system is corrupt, everything inherent in it is corrupt. You know that in the ministries, for instance, you have internal auditors that could okay whatever that is going on and when the internal auditor okays it, an authorization is there. The external auditor will come there and what he will say is that the documents given to him represent the true view of the transactions. As it is said, when you fight corruption, corruption will fight back, it takes two to tango. If people are doing what they are supposed to do, this extent of corruption won’t be in place but a lot of people have fallen short of their expectation.
Why is it that you have a PhD but you don’t emphasize it, are you a shy person?
No, I don’t need to emphasize it, the fact remains that growing up, and that is what I usually tell young brothers and sisters of today, what used to intoxicate me from primary school was dressing neatly and speaking very good English. You don’t find me lacking in that. Not dressing expensively but neatly. I don’t know if they still have morning assembly reading in primary school these days. I was also doing reading in primary school, while in secondary school, I was in the debating society, so it gives me that self confidence and that’s why I am equally interested in ensuring that people go to school because you can be a graduate and be a businessman. Going to school doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go and look for a white collar job but once you are educated, whatever you are into, you will do it better than one that is not educated. So I don’t need to emphasize it but probably there will be no gathering that I will shy to discuss even without prior knowledge and that is what you get when somebody is educated. It’s said that examples are better than precepts. You don’t have to be wearing a PhD like a scapula.
What is your way forward from 2023 as you round off your tenure in the House of Assembly?
The way forward is that I’ll be free (laughs). I didn’t pick any form, I didn’t want to re-contest for the House of Assembly nor seek for a higher office, I’m somebody that when I’ve done what I’m happy doing, I will go into another thing and with all due humility, I’ve enjoyed being a legislator and I’m still enjoying it till June 2023, after which I’ll say bye for now until further notice.
The fight that used to be between the legislature and the Executive at the beginning of democracy 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 caliber of people in the various state House of Assembly started being upgraded because nobody can give what he or she doesn’t have. In the present house of assembly now, you will find lawyers, about four of us have PhD and you don’t expect these people with such a level of education and exposure to do certain things. I think that the period is being put to rest and I think we should be improving on what we have. That is one major reason you no longer have altercations between the legislature and the executive.
But is it true that the Legislature has been pocketed by the Executive?
Oh well, I wouldn’t speak for the other states but I can speak for Enugu state where I am the leader of the House. As a matter of fact, we are not deterred from doing our constitutional duties at all! I don’t know if it’s the same experience in some other states, maybe, probably because our governor is a legislator.
Why do you emphasize education in your foundation other than skills acquisition or sharing of money, rice or tricycles, as others will do?
The fact remains education, education and education. I am where I’m today because I’m educated; it gives me a very serious edge, that’s why I’m the chairman South East legislative forum, that’s why I’m able to be working in synergy with my colleagues, the speaker of Ogun state House of assembly, we were able to form the Conference of State Legislators of Nigeria, a replica of National Council of State Legislators in America, because in America the 50 states, the senators and the House of Representative members have one association. The essence of the association is to have a platform whereby the legislature will have an engine room, if you have new legislators they take them into orientation, guide them to become good legislators. The problem we have in our society is mostly caused by those who are not well-informed and that’s why some don’t want others to be informed so that they can be used as tools. Once somebody is educated, there are certain things you cannot take away from him. The person will have self esteem, so the more educated people we have in the society, the better.
You really don’t behave like a politician, how did you get involved in politics?
Sometimes I wonder how I got involved, honestly speaking because I’m such a person that I just do my thing quietly and people say I am a very shy person. I’m not shy but that’s the way I like doing my things and I don’t pretend. The fact is that it’s accidental, just as you said dating back to 2008 when my friends were coming to see the then Governor Sullivan Chime and when they had concluded the arrangement, they called me to join them, after that they started calling us from Lagos to attend meetings. When people from my ward heard I was going for a meeting in Enugu without coming down they called me to go and declare at the local government. They asked me to go for local government chairmanship and I said no. In the process of attending the meeting I met my primary schoolmate who came and knelt down to ask me to contest for the House of Assembly. He said that I was helping people as a private person and that I will use the position to help more people. He said that if I fail to go and contest, I would be doing it out of selfishness, that it’s because I was comfortable and don’t want to help others. The guy was as though he was reading my mind because I didn’t want to lose my privacy. I was upset with the guy but as God will have it I ventured into and went I look back to do the cost analysis, I say to God be the glory.