Transport Minister Kema Chikwe addresses members of the aviation industry
18 May at the ceremony to commemorate the laying of the foundation stone
for the reconstruction of a new domestic terminal building of Lagos airport.
The entire former terminal was completely razed down by fire on May 10 last
year. Since then, domestic flight operations in Lagos, Nigeria's commercial
capital, have been carried out from a nearby makeshift earlier abandoned
terminal, upgraded recently to meet ICAO standards
Lets hope her mother does not read this. The fact is this: Kemafo
Nonyerem Chikwe, minister of transport, was closer to her father than her
mother. When her father died, she thought her young world had come to a mournful
end. She recalls and let no Amebo tell her mother this I
had a scholarship to go to France but it took me six months (because of her
fathers death) to remember. We were very close.
She speaks of her father with affection bordering on hero-worship. My
father was a very humble person. He was an achiever, highly disciplined. He
related well with people and yet kept his dignity. He did not discriminate.
He was very patient and he was very cautious in the choice of his words. Anyone
that came in contact with him was charmed by his dignity. He was everything
I wanted to be.
Lets see what qualities in the father we can find in the daughter. He
was a patient man; she is not a patient woman. No, she does not fly off the
handle but she does not let those working with her forget that when she wants
something done, she does not allow them the luxury of plodding their way towards
tomorrow. Hardworking? Check. She trembled when she found herself saddled with
the ministry of transport. The night before her swearing-in, she looked up to
heaven from whence her help has always come. After that, she knew she was on
her own in an environment crawling with experts whose credentials in the transport
industry can fill a ship. She set to work, to arm herself for the job before
her. Within a couple of weeks, she had taught herself the language of railway
men, added wharf rat to her vocabulary and could hold her ground with the professionals
in the maritime industry. Humble? Check. Charming? Check. She exudes charm.
She has it delicately wrapped around her delicate person. You feel it in her
voice and you see it in the sparkle of her eyes. Love of people? Check. I
love people around me. I love human beings. We can confirm that. After
three hours on the hot seat at The Newswatch Summit, Chikwe hugged each of the
editors who had put her through the grill. You knew she was not putting on a
show. It was her. It is her. Natural. Warm. Her winning way.
Chikwe is an educationist. Ironically, when she started school at the age of
five at Aba in what is now Abia State, she simply hated school. They actually
used to force me to go to school. She had her reasons for not liking school.
They lived far from the school. This meant that whenever her father travelled
she and her brothers and sisters had to walk all the way to school and back.
She did not like it at all. On her first day at school, her class
teacher had a cane in his hand. He shouted at one or two children and
I was really scared of the cane. And because she feared the cane, she
refused to close her eyes during prayers. One day the class teacher caught
me and told me off. The cane did not come down on her. It made no difference
because the incident made her hate school completely.
You would think that being an educationist would be the last thing on the mind
of the little girl who did not like school. But her educational career was moderated
by two factors. She was an intelligent child. She always came first in her examinations.
School taught her to compete and to compete to win. And then there was the looming
shadow of the man she adored her father. I think taking education
as a career was due to my passionate attachment to my father. Her father,
Nathan Ejiogu, was a well-known educationist, who ruled his household of four
wives and 22 children with a mixture of care and iron hand. He spared no expenses
on his children but he brooked frivolous spending not at all.
Another part of him (her father, that is) that I took is that he had
a purpose for everything. And anything I do in my life, I must have an objective.
Chikwe majored in French at the Advanced Teachers College, Owerri. Her
first and second degrees in French from Queens College of the City University
of New York. Her doctorate from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, is in curriculum
Why did she study French?
Chikwe: You see, from the word go, I always see French as synonymous with sophistication.
You may think that sophistication does not rank too highly as a calculated
objective for someone who likes to count her steps towards a set objective but
if so you would miss an important point about growing up and choosing a career
which is that choices are made early but objectives come in later life. But
you must admit that the lady achieved her objective here too. She is sophisticated.
Her dress sense is obvious. Her voice has the taste and the colour of honey
and the timbre of under-stated elegance.
Until she was appointed a minister last year, not very many people knew her
as a politician. But Chikwe was not an unknown politician. It would be correct
though to say that most of her political activities were in Imo, her home state.
She took her first unsteady steps into politics in the second republic. Her
sympathies were for the National Party of Nigeria, NPN. She cast her political
lot with the NRC, UNCP and now PDP. But she denies that her politics is right
of centre. If you want to label her politics, she offers you this: choice of
political bedfellows is practical politics.
On her way to politics, Chikwe became a radio journalist, editor and a publisher.
She was chief executive and publisher, Prime Time Limited, publishers of Ash
magazine. She has published three books, edited a number of publications and
contributed to several books. Chikwes world is a world of many colours
and varied experiences. You may think she abhors standing still and you would
be right. Her involvement in a number of non-governmental organisations was
her door to a political career, which has taken her to her present position
as a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It is easy to see that her
varied careers have left some impression on her politics. She has not yet learnt
the fine art of pretentious diplomacy of professional politicians. In other
words, she still does not know another word for a spade. Put that down to her
For a woman who defines her objectives in everything she does, what are Chikwes
objectives in politics? To serve? That is the common objective of all politicians,
male and female. So, what is new?