From Obinna Odogwu, Abakaliki
Mrs. Maria Nwachi, member representing Afikpo North-East constituency in the Ebonyi State House of Assembly is once again in the eye of the storm. For the second time, she was suspended by her colleagues; this time, for alleged gross misconduct, posing as a public photographer, an action the lawmakers consider degrading and unbecoming of a state legislator.
The House, during plenary February 6, sent her on a six-month suspension. The suspension followed the adoption of the recommendations of the ad-hoc committee set up by the Speaker, Francis Nwifuru, during plenary to investigate her.
The members of the committee are: Chike Ogiji as chairman, Frank Onwe, Valentine Okike, Onu Nwonye and Uche Blessing as Secretary.
Nwachi was initially suspended for two weeks on January 23 this year following a motion moved by the Leader of the House, Joseph Nwobasi, representing Ezza North-East constituency and seconded by Franca Okpo representing Abakaliki North constituency.
The suspension, according to the lawmakers, was to enable the committee ascertain the veracity of the allegations and recommend appropriate punishment(s).
They said that the actions of their colleague have rubbished their reputation and “destroyed the public confidence in the parliament; thus, making the public to generally accuse the parliament of corruption, inefficiency and incompetence.”
Presenting the ad-hoc committee report, its chairman, Chike Ogiji, who represents Ikwo South constituency, held that the 5-man committee after careful deliberations recommended among others that Mrs. Nwachi should be suspended for six months.
This, according to them, was to enable her adopt “acceptable legislative conduct” having reportedly defied series of warnings from the House members.
Findings of the ad-hoc committee
According to Ogiji, “On the 23rd of January, 2018 this House during plenary suspended Mrs. Maria Nwachi based on the allegation that she turned herself into a public photographer and other misconducts that are capable of dragging the reputation and integrity of this honourable House in the mud.
“This suspension came up after several violations of legislative and ethical behaviours despite warnings, and possible corrections from this honourable House; thus an ad-hoc committee was set up to investigate her.
“Considering the importance of the assignment, we immediately swung into action to investigate and make further inquiries on the matter. In one of our sittings, Mrs. Nwachi was invited and she appeared before the committee.
“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.
“Nwachi as part of our observation seemed to regret her acts of misconduct and other unethical behaviours that degrade the reputation and integrity of this House.
“She also runs an image promotion with her Facebook account where she displays the excellent performance of our governor, Chief David Umahi.
“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” the committee submitted.
Her suspension, not witch-hunt
A member of the committee, Frank Onwe, representing Ohaukwu South constituency told their embattled colleague that her case was not a political witch-hunt.
“For the purposes of the public and record, people go out there to give misconception of what happened in the House. 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; that one of us is being pushed here and there simply because they wouldn’t understand that you’re just doing it for hobby purposes.
“They would think that it is so bad in Ebonyi that honourable members now go out to look for money? That is our major concern” he submitted.
Lawmaker, as a public photographer
Part of the reasons for the suspension of Mrs. Nwachi, according to the House was because she poses as a public photographer and struggles to take pictures with ‘ordinary photographers’ at public events in and outside the state.
According to them, they had on several occasions spotted their colleague on television struggling and competing with cameramen on the streets who engaged in photography business to earn a living.
Therefore, seeing one of the state’s lawmakers with this class of people doing what they considered a “menial job” under that circumstance appears to have deflated their ego and rubbished not only their image but that of the state.
The 5-man committee in one of their sittings monitored by Daily Sun, lamented that the public would by Nwachi’s act see the members of the state legislature as being “poor and hungry.”
The embattled lawmaker, investigation reveals, manages the social media image of her state governor, Chief David Umahi, and his Imo State counterpart, Owelle Rochas Okorocha.
Armed with her camera, she is often seen once in a while taking pictures of Governor Umahi’s projects in various parts of the state and subsequently uploads same to the social media such as Facebook.
According to the ad-hoc committee’s report, she has been spotted on the television on several occasions, while covering public functions in Imo State.
Although the lawmakers were not specific about whose events their embattled colleague covered in Imo State, sources told Daily Sun that she also manages some of the social media accounts of Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State.
These ventures, according to the House, have made their colleague to allegedly abandon her primary duty of lawmaking and representing her constituents.
Interestingly, the embattled lawmakers pleaded guilty on the above charge. Hear her: “Such behaviour, obviously, no matter what it is, under no circumstance can it be right or acceptable. I would even rather not be in the Assembly at all than justify such. I cannot justify it”, Nwachi said.
Responding to other allegations, Mrs. Nwachi admitted being the one spotted on the television in Imo State. She also admitted to managing the social media image of her state governor, Chief David Umahi.
“I actually do some promotions for my governor. I do promotions for him not image laundering. I have a lot of pool on Facebook and I know how to do those things, I figured my own governor. I should also do those things that I know how to do. And my consideration for doing that is to enable the people of the country to know that my governor is working”, Mrs. Nwachi answered.
The story of Afikpo chic
Before her voyage into politics, the embattled legislator uses her various social media platforms to promote and project ideas and people she believed in. In her words, she has been “running things on the internet since 2009.”
Popularly known as Afikpo chic, Daily Sun learnt that Nwachi founded a social media group known as Igboist in 2012; three years before her election into the Ebonyi State House of Assembly.
Born in Ozizza community, Afikpo, Ebonyi State, Nwachi left Nigeria for the United States of America (USA) in 1989 at the age of 19. She later returned to the country in mid 2000.
Over there in the US, Nwachi was popular in the country for her expertise in the social media. This, it was gathered, earned her plum contract in 2002 in the state of Florida where she managed the media concerns for Jeb Bush when he contested for governorship of the state in which he won. In Nigeria, Nwachi reportedly manages the media concerns of some companies.
In 2015, Maria contested for the House of Assembly on the platform of the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA) for Afikpo North-East constituency and won. Before contesting on that platform, the PPA was very unpopular in Ebonyi but given her philanthropic gestures to the people, they gave her overwhelming support. In the House, she was elected the Minority Leader of the House of Assembly.