The first time Mrs. Maria Ude Nwachi appeared in the national press was when she received her official car as a member of the Ebonyi State House of Assembly. She celebrated the car. But she sold it on arrival.
Benjamin Nworie reported inThisday of July 24, 2016, that “in a rare, yet controversial, exhibition of selfless service to the community, the Minority Leader of Ebonyi House of Assembly, Hon. Maria Ude Nwachi, trades in her official SUV for badly needed amenities in her constituency.”
It was a gleaming, luxurious Toyota Prado. She was firm that “as yum-yum as the car looks, as baddest as the car looks, I will not drive it. The spoils of this car must be enjoyed by every living being and organism in Afikpo and even beyond. (She represents Afikpo North East) For Afikpo so love their daughter/mother, BCEL (sic) that they stood their ground, made national history by electing a political nobody like me, a person without a single political structure, no godfather, limited mula (sic) no nothing, via a party, PPA, that did not even have an office in Ebonyi State.”
“Unheard of! I remain the only elected member of PPA in the whole federation and the only member of a minority party in the entire Ebonyi State House of Assembly… This ride will be turned into liquids! The proceeds will be used toward massive empowerment, revolving loans and to aid those in need of small funds to start businesses or kick life into their businesses. A portion of it will go towards some of my on-going projects for the sweetest people of Afikpo. This ride is our official entitlement…” She would take only N200,000 from the proceeds for herself, she said.
Soon enough, the cacophony of critics drowned her voice and a hundred and one reasons were adduced why she was wrong. Indeed, Lagos lawyer, Mr. Fred Agbaje, actually called for her “arrest and prosecution.”
Now, it appears Mrs. Nwachi has got into hot water again going by last Friday’s Daily Sun report. This time, it’s over her hobby as a social media enthusiast. Her trouble began on January 23 when a motion was introduced by two of her colleagues, Mr. Joseph Nwobasi (Ezza North East) and Mrs. Franca Okpo (Abakaliki North) accusing her of gross misconduct for posing as a public photographer, which they considered degrading and unbecoming of a state legislator. Following the motion she was sent on a two-week suspension by the House which further proceeded to set up an ad hoc committee.
Mrs., Nwachi had travelled to the United States at the age of 19 in 1989 and had developed great expertise in the new media. Even in the US her skill in social media was acclaimed such that in 2002 she reportedly won a contract to join in the management of the social media for the then Governor of Florida, Mr. Jeb Bush. Back in Nigeria in 2000 she is credited with founding a social media group in 2012 and for managing “the media concern of some companies.”
The committee of five included Chike Ogiji as chairman, Frank Onwe, Valentine Okike, Onu Nwonye and Uche Blessing who acted as secretary. The committee completed its work by February 6, and on the adoption of its recommendations, she was handed a six month suspension. The committee’s report stated that when Mrs. Nwachi appeared before it, “she conducted herself with decorum and admitted to have displayed some ethical attitudes and conducts before the committee that is unbecoming for a civilized assembly.” This high falutin conclusion was not clearly explained.
“She also runs an image promotion with her Facebook account where she displays the excellent performance of our governor, Chief David Umahi.” Apparently that service could not earn her the committee’s leniency. “In two sittings of the House, Mrs. Nwachi admitted to be the one spotted in Imo State struggling to take photographs with other photographers thereby leaving her primary duty of representing her people. In the light of the foregoing, Mr. Speaker, the committee recommends as follows: that Mrs. Nwachi should desist from certain illegalities and unethical acts which are not suitable for a parliamentarian. Since the committee has not seen sufficient carriage and comportment on her side as legislator despite series of warnings, maximum period of six months suspension be given to her to assist her adopt an acceptable legislative conduct.”
Parliaments make their own rules and apply them as they see fit. Yet nothing can explain the unduly harsh punishment handed down by the House. Frank Onwe (Ohaukwu South) tried to sound as reasonable as can be, telling Mrs. Nwachi that “the House did not suspend you simply because you’re photographing. For us, we see it as a hobby that sometimes when you see people gather, you go there, snap some shots, but it becomes a problem when you go to a public place outside your state and in the process you’re either pushed down or shoved aside. Forget the fact that it is Maria there. For us, before them, there, it is a legislator and where is the legislator from? She is from Ebonyi State. It takes something away from the House here; … They would think that it is so bad in Ebonyi that honourable members now go out to look for money. That it our major concern.”
The House’s argument is elitist nonsense. The House erroneously regards photography as a menial job. Mrs. Nwachi was exposed to a culture where the dignity of labour is respected. Secondly, she also knows one or two things his colleagues do not know about photography. Was it for nothing that the paparazzi pursued the Princess of Wales till death, chartering planes, and doing high-speed chases?
Now, Mrs. Nwachi is the kind of representative most constituencies dream of and pray for but rarely get. She is daily striving to make a difference. Those little loans she distributed are daily changing lives and pulling people out of poverty. She is not afraid of hard work. She has the heart of gold. She is not embarrassed to compete for vantage points to take her pictures. She is the competitive type. She is ready to sacrifice her personal comfort to improve the lives of her constituents. The elitist pretensions of the House are the foundation of the corruption in our legislatures.
For her enterprise, attitude and disposition, Mrs. Nwachi deserves promotion not suspension. In a season Nigerians want to put more capable women into public office, she is a candidate that could create electoral tremors. In the United States, Emily’s List, seeing her potentials and motivations, would have drafted her, prepared and funded her to run for governor and win.
A Maria Nwachi in the governor’s mansion would be dynamite. She could transform the state in four years. Nigerian women should set up an organization similar to Emily’s List to draft strong, promising, female candidates to run for public office. They should also protect good-hearted, vulnerable officials like Mrs. Nwachi. The suspension, on its face, appears illegal for depriving the Afikpo North East constituency of its representation in the House.