Pregnancy helped me make my Facebook page No 1 in Nigeria
Social networks are fast becoming the most important youth socializing and business tool in the world, and Maria Ude Nwachi, who returned to Afikpo, Ebonyi State Nigeria after many years in the US in 2006, is the creator of the No 1 Facebook page in Nigeria, Ndi Igbo. A rallying point for Igbo youths, Ndi Igbo has risen to be the most talked about Facebook page in Nigeria, beating Vanguard and others by a wide margin. In this interview with Jungle Journalist, Maria, popularly called Afikpo Chic explains the power of the social media as a pressure group amongst other issues:
We understand you are the coordinator of Ndi Igbo social forum on Facebook. What was your motive in establishing the group?
I have always been someone who likes to brag about where I come from. It’s just who I am. In fact, due to this obsession, I am most happy when I’m addressed as Afikpo Chic. I am usually as happy as a lark when I am in my village. I am out of my mind with joy. Even my jeans and other wears are customized with the words “Afikpo Chic”! I will say “Afikpo or Nothing, Afikpo is the best, Afikpo this, Afikpo that’, so then I created a forum called “Afikpo people” on Facebook and it became an instant hit then. But when I searched for something about Igbo people, I could not find anything good enough or big enough on Igbo, and Facebook has become so big then. So I decided to do something about that. So I created the page to create an awareness, for people to be proud of being Igbo- ‘Igbo this, Igbo that, Igbo for life, you know’.
Another big reason is the development of Igboland. Already, I had set a good example because I feel I have the bona fides to tell people to come and develop Igboland- I had already done that. I have already put over a billion naira worth property in my village, and I felt that I have the qualifications to say, ‘hey guys, come do the same’. I built a sort of island home; I had always wanted to build a good structure in Igbo land, particularly my village, Afikpo. The complex is literally done, except for one section, which I intend to use as a hotel. Since then I have been travelling.
I built the first night club in my state, Ebonyi. It was a platform I felt I could use to tell Igbos to please come home and develop home. What is going on now in Igboland is sickening. An Igbo young man will leave Igboland, go to Lagos, Kaduna, Kano or wherever before he can make it. There is nothing going on here, all our big boys, all the rich men are busy developing Lagos, Kaduna, Kano and Abuja. I, Afikpo Chic, I built mine at home with my own small money. Because of what I did, a lot of Afikpo big boys are now coming home and building businesses and building homes.. But I challenge Igbo businessmen to beat what I have done in Igboland. I am only a woman, and I have 6 massive structures plus 4 others structures in the Island. Try it, Umu Igbo, this is a challenge. Come and beat Afikpo Chic, come and beat my island. So, that’s one of the reasons I started the Ndi Igbo page. Then I got pregnant in 2009, then came childbirth and afterwards, it incapacitated me from my businesses and many other things, but it gave me the time to sit down and really work on the page. It was then that I really developed it. After a few months when it got so big I could not handle the updates alone, I hired a couple of admins that are on payroll. As I talk to you, there are 10 admins on payroll, and costs me about N300, 000 a month to run. But the bottom line is that we have done so well that Ndi Igbo page has become the number one Facebook page in Nigeria. It’s not easy. This page has brought Igbos together more than anything else has done in a very long while- In fact I don’t remember anything playing that role.
Some people are of the opinion that Ndi Igbo is a page designed to help relaunch Biafra. Is it true?
Ndi Igbo are very much alienated. Because of how Nigeria is today, Igbos don’t live at home and have become strangers in their land. So for the first time, they are the ama alas, the land-owners on Ndi Igbo page. It is a very popular page. Not just with Igbos, but in the whole of Nigeria, but it is only on Ndi Igbo page that has the locus standi, the temerity to talk the way they like without fear. A non-Igbo will not comment with the same boldness when he or she is on that page. And at any minute, they can be attacked by any of the Igbos who ask what they are doing on the page. This is giving Igbo people what they don’t have in real life- they don’t have a sense of belonging in real life. Most of them make their money outside Igboland. In fact, sometimes when I read those comments, I smile, because I understand how they feels . I am the master of ego-boosting, I love boosting egos, I know how to boost the ego of Ndi Igbo on the page, to make them feel ultra-important. I try to make them feel that without them, the world will cease to be. My goal is to make them feel at home. Other Nigerians must come to Ndi Igbo page, because we are number one with the type of info we put out. We are the only page that consistently dishes out up-to-date information and we do it very well. Facebook has a ranking that you can’t manipulate, that ranking puts us as number one, and it cannot be only Igbos that are going there, the level of visits to the page is so huge that it must be other peoples that make it up to that level.
Are you saying that Facebook ranks that page as number one in Nigeria?
Yes. There is something called ‘Talking About’. The talking about tells who comes in there, and could say, 16, 000 is talking about this, 1,000 is talking about this. It is from that ranking that you know which leads. We are number one, followed by Vanguard Newspapers. It’s by ranking, and we are ranked highest. That’s what makes Igboists- these are members of the page- proud. They love it that their page is the highest.
The Niger Delta people are urging Jonathan to run in 2015, while Northern governors saying they are going to support a Northern candidate in 2015. As the coordinator of one of the most powerful Igbo group in the world, do you think Igbos still stand a chance of getting their long-desired goal of getting the presidency in 2015?
Igbos are people too, they are part of this entity called Nigeria. In fact, Igbos are nation-builders. They must also taste this thing called Nigeria’s presidency, which is the most powerful in the world. Even the worst president of Igbo extraction can’t be so bad as to forget where he comes from and refuse to develop it. Because Igbo people are mumu developers- they go to other people’s places and develop them, forgetting where they come from, that why I call themmumu developers, because they develop other people’s homes while criminally neglecting theirs. With that mumu attitude they will develop the whole of Nigeria. To me, only an Igbo man will develop this country. An Igbo will do everything possible to develop the whole of Nigeria and maybe we remember his land too. We have suffered humiliatingly enough in this country. Let an Igbo also become number one man in Nigeria. We must stand our ground.
What is your take on the slaughter of southerners and Christians, including Igbos in the North by Boko Haram?
It’s not a complicated matter. If you come to my house and I tell you to leave, that I don’t want you, and you refuse to go, telling me you have a right to be there, whatever you see, you take. These killings are not new. Igbos have been killed from day one, and their properties destroyed, and we keep going back there. Between 1966 and today, how many killings have been accounted for? How many people have been tried for killing our people? How many Igbos have been compensated by governments for those killings? No matter how much you are going to make in the North, there is nothing more precious than life. It does not matter whether I go to the north and spend 20 years making money, only for them to slaughter me in the 21st year. It doesn’t make sense. It’s a waste of life and effort. Igbos suffer more to make wealth because they usually don’t have government connections. They make it by sheer effort. So after making it for 12 years, you get murdered in the 15th year. What’s the point? They should leave the North. They should g back home and try to build the East to the point that it will be like Lagos, or even better.
If you were the president, and have this problem of Boko Haram in your hands, what will you do?
Boko what? (laughs) I like Boko Haram o, please. End of comment, before somebody becomes a target.
You have been able to unite Igbos youths over 50, 000 strong through Facebook. Do you think social networks could solve some of the problems we have in this country?
O, yes. Let me tell you something, social networks are literally the most powerful things on earth in this age of information. As bad as the Nigerian democracy is, social network has been laying a very important role. Igbo states used to have very wicked, mean-spirited governors. We don’t really care whether you are stealing or not, but Igbos do not like to be afraid of anyone. That person that puts fear in them is their problem. I cannot mention names, but these governors and chairmen that were feared are no more. There can never be such leaders among us ever again. Those who go about hiring thugs to kill people, cannot happen anymore because of Facebook. Members of Ndi Igbo AKA Igboists will finish him. It’s very powerful. It will be difficult to find such wicked leaders among us again. And governors should pay attention, because these are their constituencies, whether they like it or not. They need us. They need to pay attention to us, to their youths and the Igbo world. It only Igbos that do not know about this page that is not on the page. Once you become a member, you simply get addicted!
Are you saying that the governors are now listening to you people?
Absolutely. The state governors are paying attention to us. They really do not have a choice, they don’t have a choice, they need to pay attention to their people. They are the Igbo leaders; they are the ones chopping money and toying with power. But without us, there will be no them. Ndi Igbo page is where core Igbos congregate to discuss issues affecting Igbos on net. So it’s only a heartless government that will not pay attention to see what they can do to mend their ways so that their people can love them. I don’t think any governor is ever happy because his people hate him. Unless he is demented and cold-hearted.
We were invited by Abia State government recently, we were there for four days, looked that many of their projects, and made some suggestions. Whatever the problem is that people have with T.A. Orji’s government, they made a conscious effort to tell us their own side of the story, They care what we think, by saying, ‘my people, come and see what we are doing’. When we got there at first, I was expecting to see nothing, because this man is so bashed and abused in all the social networks, especially Ndi Igbo page. When they said it will take four days, I said it’s not possible, there is nothing to show. But I was pleasantly surprised that we lasted four whole days inspecting the projects. There were so many projects and we didn’t even finish the inspection. But the bottom-line is, he is not perfect. Who is? Who will see the kind of money these people see and be perfect? He is better than a few Igbo governors I know of. There is one who has not done a single project in his state. Yet nobody talks about that governor. But T. A .’s name come in anytime governors are being discussed.
Are you saying that T. A. is a listening governor?
Quite frankly speaking, he is. If he were the very bad governor, people won’t talk anyhow about him. These abuses I think is out of the fact that others are abusing him. You have not even seen what he has done. When we displayed the projects he did, many Igboists were surprised. Those things he did with Orji Uzor Kalu and other issues muddled up his name to many. We have evidence to prove he is not what people say he is, and he listens. He is actually better than many governors, and what we hear is a warped image of him. It’s not so in real life. Do you know that T. A. pays almost all the unemployed youths N15, 000 monthly in Abia State in all the LGAs? This is what is known as welfare which is practiced in civilized world. I am glad an Igbo gov has started something of that nature. Hope other follow suit. He doesn’t have to do that because this is his second term. But he is seriously doing things, and everywhere you go in Abia, there is work going on. When I asked for the projects of OUK, we were informed by Abians that he did not build a single structure.
With the type of success Facebook has made, do you think the other social networks can reach them in popularity?
The way Facebook is designed makes it a powerful media. Twitter is very popular also, but each has its use. Quite frankly, most Nigerians do not understand Twitter. I am sure with time that will change. But with Facebook, its different, a lay person can work it. Facebook is self-explanatory. I don’t care what anybody says, but Facebook tops them all. Nigerians are not at that level of Twitter yet. Where they are is Facebook. If you check through 50 persons online, 48 of them are on Facebook, while the rest social networks share the other two. It is a powerful media for advertisement. If you sell anything through Facebook, it is swift. Over 5 million people are exposed to what we post on Ndi Igbo at all times, and that’s a lot of exposure.
With the success you have made, what is your next step after now?
Honestly, the page has taken me unawares, I have no time for myself, I have no time for anything and it has become so popular. Due to what is happening, we are going to have an office in Enugu and Lagos. As time goes on we’ll expand. We are also getting a website platform in our bid to expand. A registered platform will be better for us, where our members can register and it will simply be our very own space on net while still on FB. We are also planning to make two important websites, but those are surprise packages for our members. All these we will debut by next month. You know that Igbos don’t have power media as other tribes like Yoruba etc in Nigeria, but since we have been able to overtake the media on Facebook, we can become a real media organization with time.
What is Ndi Igbo worth today?
Well, let’s say, that for almost three years, I paid the salaries from my purse, and it was not easy. Basically I have been using my money to pay salaries. But since we started taking adverts, we have not paid salaries with my money since then..the last 3 months. I cannot tell you it’s worth, because the potentials of Ndi Igbo cannot be quantified. It’s coming from my brain, and I know that my brain is always on fire, and nothing is going to quench that fire. And the response from Igboists has been very encouraging, and finally I must thank the Admins of the page who work tirelessly with me to get the page where it now.
We see you are cruising a Hummer Jeep. Why did you choose one of the most expensive vehicles in the world today, of all vehicles?
Actually I never did care for Hummer, but there was so much hoopla surrounding Hummer in Nigeria that it got my attention. I mean, a situation where even if you own a N100 million car, Nigerians will still ask but does he have a Hummer? I also wanted to tone down the bigmanism associated with it. But do you know what? Once you drive a Hummer you will then know it is no longer about showing off, it is the perfect vehicle for those of us who live in our villages in the South East. Simply the perfect ride. A hummer is the perfect SUV for Nigeria's road in general.
I now know why Nigeria christened it the number 1 ride. It deserves that honour! I am currently in Lagos with the Hummer and my God! People are still always in awe whenever they see a Hummer even when there are other rides around it that cost way more than it. The funniest part is that wherever you drive into, be it a mall, restaurant etc, people there assume you must be rich out of your mind and expect you to dash them lots of money. Whether you have money or no concern dem, you must drop something. No wahala. I go dey do my best, ha hah! But honestly the car has served me really well and I thank Americans for coming up with such an amazing ride!
Is it true that you bought some motor vehicles for some people in Afikpo?
I returned from the USA just when boys all over Nigeria were groaning from being used as thugs, errand boys, etc by heartless politicians who later dumped them and move on with the spoils of war fought by others. My village was no different, boys where down and the only ones who drove fine cars are those they suffered for. Imagine where one politician would own about 30 cars while those who suffered for him are not even allowed to go near the cars- that is why I truly wanted to rubbish cars in my village. Anyway when I finally bought my cars which were Tundra, Hummer, and a Golf 4 and 3, I bought a few Golf 3 cars and shared to some of my home boys. I also maintained the cars for months for them. But I am proud to say that the recipients of the cars and now completely looking after the car on their own which is not easy thereby making them more responsible and hardworking. As I am talking to now, even if you carry any kind of car enter my village, people will not even see any big deal about it. I have completely rubbished cars and toned down the aura that was associated with them before I returned to the village. And I love it. How can these men be stealing our money and at the same time intimidating us left right and centre with big cars without giving a hoot about the welfare of those they claim they serve? In my village today, we no send their cars!