INTERVIEW: How I survived my suspension — Female lawmaker punished for doing photography

Mrs Maria Ude Nwachi
Mrs Maria Ude Nwachi

Maria Ude Nwachi, member representing Afikpo North-east constituency in the Ebonyi State House of Assembly, hit public attention a few months ago when she was suspended by her colleagues for working as a photographer alongside being a lawmaker. She eventually weathered the storm and was reinstated.

A lot has happened to the lawmaker since then. In this interview, Ms Nwachi, who was elected on the platform of the Progressives People Alliance (PPA), but later defected to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and is now in the Alliance for New Nigeria (ANN), says she was in ‘political wilderness’ for six months before she decamped last week. She explains her political sojourn from obscurity to limelight. Excerpts:

PT: How did you join ANN?

Nwachi: I have been worrying for six months about where I was going. I didn’t even worry about money because usually in my life, even if I don’t have a penny I never worry about money. What I do is just to have the intention and know what I am doing.

Once I know what I am doing, once I know where to be, forget money because I am a talented woman and I will make that money. But in this case, I don’t even need to hustle – money or money. I am now a political ‘Aje butter’ (elite).

I was just relaxing one day when one Alhaji Tijani, a Fulani man from the North, came to me and he said he was having problems. He told me that any time he goes to my Facebook wall, he sees inspirational messages. He told me that I changed his life with the short messages I always post on my Facebook wall about life.

When the state House of Assembly suspended me, he sent an Igbo person to come down to Afikpo to me to know how he could help me. The person came and left. Later, I met that Alhaji in Abuja and he said he didn’t want to come to me so that it would not look as if he wanted to date me.

He told me about one Mr Gbenga running for election on the platform of ANN. He said he told Mr Gbenga about my very selfless service and how I built a multi-million naira toilet facility for my people; that I have done a lot of jobs for my people. Within one hour, this Mr. Gbenga called and asked if I was the female lawmaker that was suspended for practising photography.

He said when that happened, he actually sent one of his staff to me but they didn’t do anything about it. But he said ‘now that Alhaji Tijani has mentioned your name to me, I trust Alhaji Tijani. Let me tell you, wherever you want to go, be it governorship, House of Representatives, I am there for you, I will sponsor you to any level you want.’

He immediately asked me to send my account number to him and I asked him ‘for what sir?’ He said he learnt that I wanted to open the multi-million toilet facility I built for my people, and insisted I gave the account number, that he wanted to do something for me and promised to come down to Afikpo to witness the inauguration of the toilet facility.

I have not seen this Gbenga before and I did not give him the account number. He called again shortly and requested for it and I gave it to him. Within 10 minutes, millions of naira dropped into my account. The following week, he came down with his entourage to witness the opening of the toilet facility. He opened the toilet and told me ‘I don’t need you to come to my party to do what I am supposed to do for you but if it is your desire, please come to ANN where we can nurture your type’.

PT: After this, you defected to Alliance for New Nigeria, a new party that has no structure in your constituency instead of joining the ruling APC as expected by your admirers. What made you to join the ANN?

Nwachi: I had no structure when I went to PPA and I won my election. I later joined PDP but they pushed me aside. PDP has a hierarchy; they do their things the way they like. I can’t fight a battle I know I can’t win.

I decided to find my way. All this time, I was looking for my way. For six months I was in a political wilderness. All this time I was looking for my way, I never went to anybody to ask them for help, or ‘PDP leaders, please help me and I know a lot of people because I am a photographer and I am an image maker, so I enter even where the biggest people cannot enter due to my job.

I don’t need to beg anybody for ticket; I don’t need to scuttle anybody’s plan or agenda to find my way. While I was in this wilderness for good six months, I lived in both Afikpo and Abuja; I have a place somewhere in Maitama, Abuja.

I was mostly in Abuja figuring out what to do and I was not even working anymore because I was no longer doing my photography and image making businesses. I stopped my businesses; I was not even making money anymore because I don’t want to get into trouble.

PT: Is it true that people in APC made overtures to you? If yes, why didn’t you join the party since it has structures like PDP, your former party?

Nwachi: People were approaching me; APC people were approaching me to join the party, many people were approaching. I didn’t go to APC not because some people will say it is bad and all that, there is nothing wrong with APC.

Anything that is wrong with APC is also wrong with PDP. PDP and APC are the same people and I didn’t join APC not because of what people will say because those people that will talk are not in my shoes.

I did it because these major parties have structures and no matter how good you are, no matter how big you are, they can scuttle your plans. They have too many wahala (challenges); they are dealing with. I just quietly decided to do my own because my agenda in politics is completely different from that of these people that came from the system.

I didn’t come from any system and I was the first person in this country to be elected without a single structure. I had never been to any political meeting when I was elected by Afikpo people, Afikpo people started a silent revolution and it is not going to end. I am going to perpetuate it.

PT: How will you describe PDP, your former party?

Nwachi: I will always love PDP because it gave me my first start in politics; it was PDP I first entered as a politician before any other party. I didn’t know anything about party (politics) but the first time I said I wanted to run in an election, it was PDP. So, I will always value the party.

On a lighter note, PDP has structures that cannot be penetrated anyhow no matter who you are. You cannot say you are good, you are this and you just come and you will win primaries. If they want to fail you in primaries, they know what to do. Go and ask Uchechukwu Sampson Ogah.

He was one of the best in this country in all ramifications. He spent billions of naira for primaries, who beat him? Okezie! Okezie who is nowhere around Ogah in anything and that is the structure we are talking about.

I went to see Senator Anyim Pius Anyim few days ago in Abuja because he is somebody that I admire, he is a man I respect so much; he is a colossus, an honest man. I was talking to him and we were just laughing. Jokingly, I told him ‘Sir, I am so lucky that suddenly I found my way now because I was just in the wilderness and I couldn’t find anything and somebody just came from nowhere and rescued me. He said ‘eeh, let’s put it this way, your luck is from God, because if I had any idea, if they told me in 2014, you are a problem, there is one small rat giving problem to PDP in Afikpo, I would have just factored you in.’ You can imagine if Anyim was honest enough to tell me this. That is his level of honesty and that is what is obtained in these political parties with ready structures.

PT: We have few months to the general elections, how do you intend to build structures in your new ANN party?

Nwachi: This time around, we are going to build our own structure and this structure is going to be sustainable; this structure is not going to be one of those that humiliate people. If you are good, you are good and you will run the election and you will have support.

This is because when I contested in PPA, I was just a political orphan and I spent all my money and that was why till today, I have not recovered the money I spent in that election. Everything I did for my people was from my pocket; from my photography and image making businesses.

I spent all my money leaving just N10, 000 in my account just to make sure I was not disgraced in this country so that when I come out and talk, I can talk with a good soul, with confidence that I have done something.

PT: You are running for the House of Representatives in next year’s general election. What is your manifesto like?

Nwachi: Forget about manifesto! When I was ‘running election’ on the platform of PPA, I didn’t even know what manifesto was but somebody later told me it is what you want to do if elected.

The multi-million naira toilet facility I built for my people in Afikpo, I never promised them that but I did it for them. I spent millions of naira in renovating a police division. I didn’t even promise Afikpo people anything but I did things for them.

There is no money for these House of Assembly members unlike the past ones but I tasked myself and did things for my constituents. I am nothing but a product of grace and my antecedents speak for me.

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