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Kema Chikwe

Posted by Webby on 11/20/2001 10:04:14 PM

Kema Chikwe

Nigerian 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

Let’s 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 father’s 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.”

Let’s 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 Queen’s College of the City University of New York. Her doctorate from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, is in curriculum education.

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. Chikwe’s 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 journalism background.

For a woman who defines her objectives in everything she does, what are Chikwe’s objectives in politics? To serve? That is the common objective of all politicians, male and female. So, what is new?