In a rare, yet controversial, exhibition of selfless service to the community, the minority leader of Ebonyi State House of Assembly, Hon. Maria Ude Nwachi, trades in her official SUV for badly needed amenities in her constituency. Benjamin Nworie, in Abakaliki, reports

When on July 7 Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State distributed brand new latest version of Toyota Prado sport utility vehicles to the 24 members of the House of Assembly as official vehicles, he certainly meant to facilitate their legislative activities. He wanted a befitting and more comfortable transportation system for the legislators. But one lawmaker, Hon. Maria Ude Nwachi, who is the member for Afikpo North East state constituency and Minority Leader of the Assembly, elected to trade in her own comfort for the welfare of her constituents. Nwachi decided to sell her official SUV to raise additional funds for projects in her constituency.

Nwachi gave herself a pat on the back. But she drew flaks from some who saw her action as a mark of ingratitude for Umahi’s gesture.

Blotch

Umahi had faced criticism in some quarters for his government’s inability to provide official vehicles for lawmakers more than one year after he took over from former Governor Martin Elechi. Although, the governor acknowledged the need for the vehicles to facilitate the oversight and other activities of the lawmakers across the 260 communities in the state. He appealed for patience and understanding on the part of the legislators, some of whom were said to be taking the commercial motorcycles and tricycles to official engagements.

The legislators’ poor transportation system was seen as a blemish on Umahi’s widely commended record of performance. It was rumoured that the lawmakers were so aggrieved by the lack of official vehicles that they threatened not to consider any memo or request from the governor until he met their transport needs. Some of the aggrieved lawmakers, it was learnt, even reminded the governor of the saying, “The teeth with which the dog plays with its master can still bite.”

Umahi has been generally applauded for making great strides towards the human and physical development of the young state since he was sworn in on May 29 last year. He has embarked on massive transformation works in critical sectors, such as education, health, agriculture, and urban renewal, despite the lean resources of the state. Ebonyi, like other states in the country, has of late groaned under the weight of dwindling federal allocations and general economic downturn occasioned by the fall in crude oil prices.

Vice President Yemi Osibanjo and former President Olusegun Obasanjo are among prominent Nigerians that have praised the Ebonyi State governor for his ability to rise above economic limitations and deliver good works for his state.

However, the non-availability of official vehicles was seen as a hindrance to the oversight functions of the Assembly members in the largely rural state.

Pleasant Surprise

But Umahi surprised and thrilled the lawmakers on July 7, when he gave an SUV to each of them for their official duties. Commending the governor for the gesture, the chairman of the house committee on information, Chike Oguji, said the official cars for the lawmaker was their entitlement, though, any legislator had the right to reject the vehicle. He said the beauty of the official cars was the unison it offered, at least for “people to identify the honourable members of the house and to ease their official duties.”

The governor was said to have taken a soft loan of N1.2 billion, to be paid in four months, to enable the government purchase the vehicles for the lawmakers. He said his aim was to aid the oversight functions of the legislators and to complement the efforts of the state government in its aggressive transformation mission.

While distributing the vehicles, the governor noted that the Speaker, Hon. Francis Nwifuru, was privy to all arrangements on the choice and cost of the vehicles, explaining that the unit cost of the vehicles is the cheapest in open market. On that Thursday, July 7, the lawmakers were in high spirits, as they received the keys to the brand new SUVs. The Speaker was overwhelmed that at last, the murmuring and bitterness among his colleagues over official vehicles would stop. Nwifuru was happy that with commitment and perseverance, he was able to stand his ground to ensure that his colleagues got the best.

Radical Ideas

But Nwachi had a different idea about the use of her own official vehicle. She sold it on arrival to, according to her, fund projects in her Afikpo North East constituency. Nwachi’s confirmation of the sale has generated criticism and controversy.

Justifying the sale, Nwachi wrote on her Facebook page, “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. For Afikpo so love their daughter/mother, BCEL, 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, 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. So what are we talking about here, this hot ride is yours biko.

“This ride will be turned into liquids! The proceeds will be used towards 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.”

She continued, “This ride is our official entitlement. Literally every state in the federation has already given their honourable members their cars; Ebonyi is basically the last to do this. Our governor was even under fire from various quarters for not having yet given us our own.

“This has been the norm since the advent of democracy in this nation. Ebonyi cannot be different. If any change has to be made; it has to be a national change. To those wondering if our governor pays salaries, our governor is not among the state governor not paying salaries of workers…

“Every elected (member) should be able to do what they want with their entitlement. I chose to do this because it is convenient with my lifestyle. It coincides with my person. And it is my personal choice. Do not judge others based on my personal choice because they also have their own way of doing good things for those they’re representing.”

Nwachi said she would use only N200, 000 of the proceeds of the SUV for herself, while the rest would be spent on the people of her constituency.

Commendation

A community leader in Afikpo, Francis Orji, praised the action of the lawmaker as a show of love and exemplary leadership. Orji recounted, “Nwachi restored electric light in her community, which no other politician from the area has considered necessary. Her commitment towards the uplifting of the welfare of her constituency is unmatched.

“Nwachi’s decision to sell the car is the best choice any politician who is committed to the welfare of his people in a state like Ebonyi would make. She has the right to determine what she would do with the car.”

Orji advised other lawmakers to emulate the minority leader in her giant strides to better the lives of her constituency.

Controversy

However, some people feel the action of the lawmaker may cause a rift between the legislature and the executive. As at the time of going to press, none of the principal officers of the House of Assembly was available to speak on the sale of the minority leader’s official vehicle. But the Speaker’s media aide, Mr. Tony Nwizi, said that matter was still under investigation. Nwizi noted that there was no need to jump into conclusions without hearing from the lawmaker, saying if at the end it is discovered that Nwachi actually sold the car, the House of Assembly would apply the necessary house rules to deal with the matter.

Nwizi stated, “Let’s not jump into conclusion that she sold the car. A matter that concerns a lawmaker is always handled gently. We have to be careful so that we don’t jump the gun. A House of Assembly is a sacred institution that does not act on hearsay. The matter is under investigation and if it’s true, the house rule is there.”

He added, however, that if the lawmaker had any need to sale her car, it should not have been her official car, which the state government laboured to procure for the legislators.

Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Fred Agbaje, said Nwachi’s choice of selling her official vehicle was “a criminal offence,” saying, “She should be arrested and prosecuted.”

Ebonyi State chapter of the National Youth Council of Nigeria has condemned Nwachi’s decision to sell her official vehicle. The state president of NYCN, Comrade Sam Igwe, described the lawmaker’s action as a show of ingratitude, alleging it is a calculated plot to smear the image of the Umahi administration.

Though, on her social networking websites, Nwachi sent, A” special thank you to HE. Engr. David Nweze Umahi, my Right Honourable Speaker, and my fellow honourable members.”

Igwe contended that Nwachi should have sold her personal property if she was so committed to the welfare of her people rather than selling her official car barely one week after it was given to her.

According to him, “The youths condemn it in its entirety. She should get back the car or return it to the House of Assembly. She has right to reject her inclusion in the Car before it was procured. In fact, at what point did she make up her mind that she was no longer interested? The Governor laboured day and night to get this vehicles and the only appreciation was to sell it on arrival. What impression does it send? That the state government is insensitive to the plight of her people or what, when the governor is touching the lives of his people?”