After forty minutes of talking to Kema Chikwe, former Minister of Aviation, Ambassador to Ireland and Women Leader, Peoples Democratic Party, one cannot ignore her infectious humility and friendliness.
According to her, these qualities stem from her childhood and parental background which she says kept her well-grounded.
“I grew up in a sophisticated and elitist environment because my father, Nathan Ejiogu, was the Chief Inspector of Education and a household name in Eastern Nigeria. But he always told us that we needed to do well because people will employ us on the basis of our educational qualification and not on the basis of our relationship with Ejiogu. When he died as the Chairman, Public Service Commission, East Central State, we started struggling for ourselves. As highly respected as he was then, my father was very grounded and related to everybody in a down to earth manner,” she says.
Now a grandmother, Chikwe who has been active in public service for over two decades, says it is very important for women to always strike a balance between home and work. She states that her home is very important to her even as a public figure.
“I like to be down to earth in everything I do. When I come back home, I am no longer minister, ambassador or women leader, I am just the matriarch of my family. I make sure that my family eats well. I cook, I supervise the house and make sure that everywhere is clean. I go to the market to buy foodstuff for my home and I call my children every night before I go to sleep; I visit the school where my grandchildren are to participate in activities with other parents and to hang out with them on their special days,” she says.
Relieving fond memories of her childhood, she says her father was very strict and it was difficult to convince him to allow her attend parties. She states, “If there was a party, we would be very nice around the house four weeks before the date. Since informing him about the party was very difficult, my siblings would always nominate my sister, Ngozi, and myself to announce the party to him. My father would be disappointed because he did not understand why children like us should be interested in parties. He would then start preaching to us but of course, since our minds were not on the sermon, we would continue to scheme, until he would finally agree. However, he would ask the driver to take us to the venue and wait for us. On getting to the party venue, we would give the driver money to go home because if he waited, it meant we would go home after about one hour but if he went home, we would stay for as long as the party lasted. My father was not easy to dribble but we always came up with excuses that would allow us the freedom we wanted. We would say we wanted to visit friends but we would all have a meeting point where all our friends from the various homes who had given their parents the same excuse would meet and proceed to the party venue. All our parties were like Cinderella parties, at a particular time, we would all rush home.”
Kema who met her husband, Chief Albert Chikwe, through her father, recalls the encounter, “He was a diplomat based in France and my father had invited him to our house because he wanted to give him a letter to deliver to my sister who was in a university in France. When he saw me, he told his parents that he had seen a girl he wanted to marry. With encouragement from his parents, his family approached mine and that was how we got married. We did not date before then since it was unethical for a girl to expose herself to a man who wanted to marry her before the parents had given their consent.”
Mother to Nigerian rapper, Naeto C, Chikwe says she disagreed with his music career and attempted to prevent him from pursuing his passion.
“Naeto’s first degree was in Biology, we were in America then and he was supposed to be a medical doctor, but he was also very talented in poetry. He started writing lyrics for his friends and I noticed that in between going to classes for exam into medical school, he would branch into the studio and I just did not like the studio idea. I started chasing him around. My husband thought I was supporting him but I was not, I was pushing him away from music. I would go to the studio to try to stop him but he would disarm me with his charming ways and I would leave him alone,” she says.
One day, she fell in love with a particular music and had no idea her son was the singer. “I was in the car and I heard a very fine music on radio done in collaboration with Hugh Masekela of South Africa, I was enjoying the music so much that I instructed my driver to get me the CD. At the same time, the radio announcer said the song was done by Naeto C in collaboration with Hugh Masekela. When I heard it, I was embarrassed because my driver knew that I was not supporting him,” she adds.
Continuing the glowing tribute to her famous son, Chikwe says, “He is very good in research, very knowledgeable; he is somebody who will apply his attention to everything he sets his mind on. He obtained an admission to study Oil and Gas in Scotland but later switched to Energy Economics. According to him, he would like to be known as an economist. Right now, he is in London at the Oxford University taking a course in Energy Economics. He is there with his wife and baby. He is a son any mother would want. In December, he bought me very expensive jewellery and said he had saved up some money to thank me for everything I did for him.”
On the secret of her looks, Chikwe who has managed to stay trim and pretty after all these years has this to say:
“The important thing is that I don’t engage in dangerous beauty activities like surgery and injections, I try to eat right. The grace of God is sufficient for me and I have inward happiness. I pursue my own desires; I don’t bother about other people.”
Also about her style, she notes, “I like to dress very well and I like to be complemented on my dressing. Dressing announces the presence of the wearer. I don’t want to be seen as not well dressed at all, I don’t want to be caught unawares. But I would never wear short dresses, sleeveless or shorts.
“I believe fashion should be according to the function you are attending. These days you see people wearing evening dresses in the morning and afternoon, they think it is a joke, it is not a joke. I like women to be appropriately dressed. I try to be modest with jewellery so as not to attract the wrong attention to myself.”