One of the striking qualities of Kemafor Nonyerem Chikwe, (fondly called Kema), is her love for people; a rare quality among leaders in modern Nigeria. She once confessed this to the media, “I love people around me. I love human beings.” This innate quality has taken her beyond the realm of the ordinary.
Another quality of hers is humility, which is cheap yet very difficult to come by amongst the Nigerian political leaders. This explains the surprise when availed of the secret of her political success, which underpins the significance of loyalty and service to leadership. Kemafor rode on these values to become a political machine. She became the first female Minister of Transport and first female Minister of Aviation and later, Nigerian Ambassador to Ireland and Iceland.
However while she may be people oriented, she is not patient with mediocrity. She may not fly off the handle like they say but those who work with her knows they must deliver promptly as she is not a fan of procrastination. No wonder she is impact-centric in leadership. She ensures that she lives memorable footprints of growth and development wherever she is called to serve. She demonstrated this leadership virtue in the ministries she headed between 1999 and 2003, with unprecedented reforms that were to reposition the industries. These land mark legacies in both ministries earned her honours and respect in the sector, as she was not only conferred with the title of a Fellow by the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT), Nigeria but was appointed a Board of Trustee member.
She will be remembered in maritime sector for abrogating the repulsive cargo sharing policy that was anti-indigenous capacity development, while she created the enabling environment for active private sector participation in the aviation sector on the aviation plank.
Ironically, Kema, an educationist, did not like school in her early days. “They actually used to force me to go to school,” she said. She had her reasons though. They lived far from the school, this meant that whenever her father travelled, Kema and her siblings had to walk all the way to and back from school and she did not find this funny even at the little age of five.
She told a story of how 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.” Because of this, she feared the cane and she refused to close her eyes during prayers. “One day the class teacher caught me and told me off,” she revealed.
Based on this antecedent, nobody will believe she would be interested in education. But like she explained, her interest in that area was fired up because of the looming presence of her father, Nathan Ejiogu, a well-known educationist and her brilliance was effortless. Her father however had so much influence on her and this help to shape her trajectory in life. “I think taking education as a career was due to my passionate attachment to my father,” she said in an interview.
Born January 12, 70 years ago in Owerri, Imo State,Kema majored in French at the Advanced Teachers’ College, Owerri. She obtained her first and second degrees in French from Queen’s College of the City University of New York. Her Doctorate was in Curriculum Education from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
Asked why she studied French, she said that from the beginning, she always perceived the subject as synonymous with sophistication. For those who know her closely, her entire world seems delicately wrapped in this word. In her career path, Kema became a radio journalist, editor and a publisher. She was chief executive, Prime Time Limited, publishers of Ash magazine. She has published three books, edited a number of publications and contributed to several books.
She became involved in a number of non-governmental organisations, first joining politics in the second republic. Her foray in politics began with her sympathy for the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). She progressed later to the National Republican Convention (NRC) and the United Nigeria Congress Party (UNCP). She was appointed Minister of Transport, and then of Aviation by President Olusegun Obasanjo and she held that office until May 2003. She later went on to run for the position of Governor of Imo State. In 2009 she became the Nigerian ambassador to Ireland and Iceland.
As a politician, she believed in the God factor and service. As the then women leader of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), she, together with her team organised a prayer session for the release of the abducted chibok girls. She was quite vocal during that prayer session which unsettled so many. “Today, we will pray for miraculous revelations and solutions to this issue. We have convened this prayer session to bare our hearts open to God as Christians and Muslims. We shall make a way in our hearts for God to come in and settle, as we are contact points of our party members and all Nigerian women.”
Recently she announced her decision to quit her position and also said that she is no longer interested in contesting for any position under PDP.
Her tenure was however eventful especially for empowering women and mentoring younger ones in polical leadership. Talking about her blueprint for that office, she said “You know my office, I have a strategic plan, but in politics you don’t really disclose what you want to do. What is important is that we are focusing on empowerment of women; we are partnering with those who have the resources to empower women and we have structured it to ensure that women are actually engaged in commercial activities so that they can earn their income.
“We also have a strategy of partnering with the media, because a lot of women don’t get media exposure. We just started a workshop to partner with women in the media to assist. I run a programme, the PDP e-women network, these are younger women from age 18-45 and they mobilise online and I think right now, there must be more than 1 million e-women online.Kema said.
Her passion for service and women mobilisation made her embrace the idea of aggregating women of substance to mentor the younger generation into taken up their career of choice, while inculcating in them the right family values under the Non-profit organisation called MMS Plus Woman of Fortune Hall of Fame(WOFHOF) Initiative. She serves as the Governing Council Chairman.
Surprisingly, even at 70, Kema has remained restless. She founded a Leadership Academy, with the objective of demystifying politics, and ensuring the increased participation of women in politics.
Kingsley Anaroke is the Chief Executive Officer of Kings Communications Limited