By Josephine Agbonkhese & Naomi Tenebe
Among the biggest news stories of the past three weeks was the suspension of Maria Ude Nwachi, a lawmaker representing Afikpo North-East in Ebonyi State House of Assembly.
One of the few lawmakers voted into office because she was allegedly strongly supported by her constituents, Nwachi is by no means a ‘regular’ female lawmaker.
Sometime last year, Nwachi, popularly known as Afikpo Chic, was seen in two videos which trended on social media, dancing both energetically, sensually and electrifyingly to a music she referred to as Talk and Do.
According to the lawmaker also known for her brave sense of style, the dance was in celebration of the construction of St. Mary’s Road Afikpo.
Unlike other lawmakers who would ordinarily try to dissociate themselves from the leadership of any socio-cultural group while serving in office, Nwachi openly coordinates an ethnic forum, Ndi Igbo Social Forum, on Facebook.
Hence her tenure in the Ebonyi State House of Assembly has been persistently trailed by controversies.
Nwachi returned to the news again, three weeks ago, when the Ebonyi State House of Assembly handed her a two-week suspension “for abusing and disgracing the honourable house by turning herself to an ordinary photographer”, taking photographs in public places with a professional camera.
This reportedly came after series of warnings issued her, and her failure to comply eventhough it was deemed to be demeaning for a legislator to be seen taking photographs in public.
Mrs. Nwachi was actually suspended in January for 14 legislative days by House Leader, Joseph Nwobasi, after which the Speaker constituted a committee headed by the Chief Whip of the House, Chike Ogiji, to consider the allegation and report back to the House.
On February 6, the committee presented its report and recommended a six-month suspension. The House accepted the recommendation.
But nine days after the suspension, the Deputy Leader, Kingsley Ikoro, approached the House with a motion to recall her, citing remorse on the part of the lawmaker. This led to Nwachi’s eventual recall to the house, last Thursday.
Hobby and legislative duties
Photography is apparently one of Nwachi’s main interests; one which she also allegedly uses in her grassroots activism. Investigation by Woman’s Own reveals that the lawmaker had been routinely photographed on photography walks in plain clothing, without an entourage or security.
Unfortunately, Nwachi seems to be the only one whose productive pastime is worthy of punishment.
According to a Northern female member of the House of Representatives who expressed displeasure over the issue, a male parliamentarian would not have been punished for having such interests.
“How does it clash with her parliamentary duties? Remember Senator Dino Melaye ventured into the entertainment industry when he made an appearance in a new music video titled Dino, done by a rapper. That was the first time a serving Nigerian lawmaker would be featuring in a music video.
“The song praises the lawmaker’s wealth and celebrates his glamorous lifestyle, displaying his fleet of exotic cars among other material possessions. In the video, Dino can be seen alighting from a convertible car donning a t-shirt with ‘legend’ boldly inscribed on it.
“This is, however, not seen to be morally wrong in any way. But believe me, if it were done by a female legislator, she would have probably been dismissed the next day.
If Hon. Gudaji Kazaure of Katsina State were to be a woman, I believe she would have been suspended as well for giving such embarrassing, hilarious interviews like Gudaji has done in recent times,” the lawmaker said.
Aside being summoned, embarrassed and suspended for pursuing her interest—photography, Nwachi was at the same time accused of running an illegal online lottery scheme through her Facebook group known as Igboist. This, according to her colleagues, further diminished the House, even though the forum is neither political nor intended to defraud people; since its illegal and criminal nature could destroy the public’s confidence in the parliament.
While the Ebonyi State House of Assembly could not be faulted for this particular accusation, the idea behind embarrassing and suspending a lawmaker who is first and foremost a human, from engaging in a productive pastime like Nwachi’s, remains dodgy.
Hence, while Hon.(Mrs)Binta Bello, another female member of the House of Representatives could not say much for political reasons, she simply told Woman’s Own: “I sympathize greatly with Nwachi. It is quite unfortunate.”
In other climes where lawmakers see themselves as equal to members of the public, and commonly use same transport and other public facilities with members of the public like we see in places like the United Kingdom and United States of America, Nwachi’s office as a lawmaker would have offered her power and immunity to pursue her interests. Unfortunately, this is Nigeria where lawmakers are no ordinary people. A nation where anyone holding public office is unequal to ordinary citizens; the same people who voted them into power. Where lawmakers must move with an entourage and not do almost anything for themselves. Thus, an attempt to be different has opened Nwachi’s life to scrutiny.
But as another respondent who spoke on condition of anonymity concerning the issue said: “Until Dino Melaye and Hon. Gudaji are also suspended for ’embarrassing’ their prospective law-making offices, we can call this what it is, another round of thinly veiled misogyny.”