In a country where the average Nigerian wants to ‘japa’ by all means, Chioma Ugwudi-Nwigwe shares how she dislikes her mum’s decision to have her in Nigeria when she could have been a proud American living her dream now!
I was born in Enugu on March 2, 1980.
I’m the first of six children, though I have other siblings that are not from my mom, but from my mom, I am the first child.
One of the interesting facts surrounding my birth was that my mom was pregnant with me when she travelled to the US with my father and decided to come home in time to give birth to me. When I heard this story, I was particularly sad because I would have preferred for her to have given birth to me in the US because I had always desired to possess a dual citizenship besides being a Nigerian.
I started my career in banking where I spent about 10 years before I moved on to set up my publishing and e-commerce outfit known as DSAbooks Planet. I also co-founded Early Genius homeschool with my husband, which is a homeschool/children’s club we operated in Lagos. The homeschool is currently in the process of being rebranded and re-launched into a full blown coding virtual tech school targeted at raising more technologically inclined young African children.
Recently, in order to fill the need for women who are being abused suffering from domestic abuse, I decided to register the NGO called Desmonds Women & Youths Empowerment Initiative, which aims to offer guidance, education and support to African women on how they can live their best, rewarding and fulfilling life. This NGO is yet to commence full operations.
My mum is a medical doctor (though now retired), my late dad was an engineer, but operated his own building and construction businesses. Towards the end of his career, he moved into politics.
My parents were quite comfortable, and I would classify them as middle class. They provided us with all we needed as children. My father believed so much in education because he did not have the privilege of being trained by his parents since he never met them. He trained himself through school, he believed that the best gift he could give his children was to ensure that they got an education at least to a bachelors degree and if the child desired, to also progress to a masters degree.
Growing up, my parents exposed us to lots of books and book reading, and they also registered me with the local library in my city, which I visited often during the weekends and holidays. I was exposed to books and book reading quite early in life. My father travelled quite often and he would usually get us those colorful story books such as The Little Mermaid, The Ugly Duckling, etc. My father may not buy you lots of new clothes from a trip, but you can be sure to get new and colorful story books. This made me a very studious child because I loved to read those colorful story books. I think the love for books translated into my academics because during my primary and secondary school days, I never missed the first to third positions in my class. I was so good in my academics that I was chosen in Primary 6 to attempt the Gifted Children examination, we were just two students in the whole school then that were nominated to attempt the examination. I would say that my early exposure to books and book reading was one major influence that positively influenced me today.
I had very strict father who never wanted us to mix with boys or men. He was very protective of his daughters because my mom had a total of six children (five girls and a boy). However, as a child I was very inquisitive, I asked a lot of questions and would go in search of knowledge and information as a child.
My mom, on the other hand, would not be described as strict but she was quite principled and had a totally different approach to raising her children. While my dad was more of the talking father being the more extroverted one, my mom on the other hand did less talking (being more of the introverted one), but did more of action speaks louder than words. Both parents’ approach complemented each other to raise well rounded individuals in our home.
I attended Alvan nursey and Primary School In Owerri, Imo state. Yes, I was a cry baby. I started school at age three and I would cry any time my parents dropped me at school. I think I cried till almost kindergarten (at five years).
One of the memorable things as a child that I remember was the day I was scheduled to write the Gifted Children Examination. I was tensed up in the exam hall because it was my first timed test where I had to compete with other children in Nigeria and I did not want to fail. We were just two from my primary school that were chosen to represent the school. This, for me, was a memorable experience.
I went to very good model school and I had very good teachers. However, I would like to talk about my Physics, Chemistry and Maths teachers who were Mr. Onyebuchi, Mr. Ajah and Mrs. Ajala. These teachers were excellent and I would say that their impact in my life was what helped me to achieve excellent or A grades in my WASSCE.
My ‘addiction’ nearly killed me!
As a child, I had an unusual addiction to Cerelac which almost cost me my life at age seven. The nanny we had then (one Da Anna) refused to allow me have some of the Cerelac that was meant for my little sister , and I decided to take it without her permission. At this time, my mum was nursing the fourth child and the Cerelac was reserved for my baby sister.
On this fateful day, the sliding door that demarcated the dining area from the sitting room had been shut because earlier on, my dad had sprayed some insecticide in the dining area. Both of my parents were not home, we were just at home with the nanny.
An ambulance had come to get mum for night duty, and the moment I saw that the nanny was out to answer the ambulance or receive the call mail from them, I ran with all my strength to the dining area. Boom! I hit the sliding door with my head and the whole set-up shattered and my whole body was covered in blood.
Luckily, my dad got back home early to get me to the Federal Medical Centre on time for the wounds to be stitched because I was losing so much blood from the accident. My mum eventually joined us when she got back.
I had a few male friends growing up, even though it was not encouraged by my dad, as he was quite strict and did not allow male friendships. However, I did explore a bit, because that was the inquisitive side of me.
The first was in my junior secondary school which was not a very serious friendship, because the guy was busy sending me cards until my school girls read my letters and I cut off the friendship.
The second friend I had was during my JSS3 holidays. I met him at a birthday party. That, too, did not last more than a month because he wanted intimate friendship, which I did not have time for. These friendships did not last more than a few months because I easily got bored when they did not offer value. I did not have so many male friends growing up, maybe I would say that I was too serious for relationships.
I only surrounded myself with positive minded friends, such as Chinwe Onuoha and Ijeoma Ibeto. These were hot brains of the school also. Incidentally, these two ladies are medical doctors today.
I attended the University of Nigeria Nsukka, and I read Microbiology. I also furthered my education to a Masters degree in Microbiology from the University of Ibadan. I recently concluded a Master’s programme at the University of Chester, United Kingdom (International Business), where I graduated with distinction and was one of the top people in the class.
Talking about career dreams, like most Nigerians, we need clarification about our careers because most of us try to fulfill our parents’ goals. As a child, I was told that my dream course should be medicine and surgery, and I started out trying to be a medical doctor. However, I could not make the UTME cut-off the first time because I was both disillusioned and confused about what to study. I had wanted to study Psychology, but the voices of elders around me were so loud that mine was drowned within me, I could not voice out my inner desires because I was conditioned to accept that the ultimate course to study was medicine and any other course outside of medicine would result in one failing in life.
Talking about fulfilling my dreams, I would say that I am still in the process. This is because part of it is the inspiration I give fellow Nigerian women to take charge of their lives and not leave it to chance, husband or other issues of life. More of it would be around creating a programme to help women to discover their purpose in life, so they can live that fulfilled life and also make more income.
Why I chose banking
While I was in school, I was made to believe that the course I read could not get me a good job, etc., and based on that, before I graduated, coupled with the fact that the course was never my original choice, I decided to move into the banking sector to let everyone know that it is not the course that determines the pay anyone gets or how successful they would become.
I encountered a few challenges in my first job. My first struggle was in the location of my first posting which was Ibadan. Actually, I had requested of the bank to post me to Ibadan because I was still trying to round up with my Masters defence. However, I could not cope with the language because I was unable to speak or understand Yoruba language and that impacted on my customer conversion. Secondly, when I was later deployed to Lagos, I faced victimization from a boss I worked with who swapped my sales figures which led to me being laid off by my organization. However, when the organization discovered the foul play, they called me back within a week and disciplined my boss. The staff whose figures were swapped with mine was eventually advised to resign.
Working in a financial organization is very demanding, however, I pulled through. I was happy working as a banker then because, financially, I was fulfilled. I was that person whose parents didnt believe that anything good would come out of. I read, and I needed to change that. However, over the years, with more understanding, reading and maturity, I no longer approach issues from just the financial gain.
DSAbooks Planet This business started because we stumbled across a man I consider my mentor today because he had stepped into our lives at the time my husband and I were facing a crisis in our marriage. Through his books and messages, we were able to fix lots of problems in our lives. Recall that I had earlier mentioned that I loved books and book reading. For me, I decided to expand the reach of those books and this was how DSAbooks Planet was birthed and through that it developed into an E-commerce also. We also have some future plans for the business which is in the works.
I am married to Uchechi Nwigwe. We have been married for 11 years now and we have two sons.
My work does not affect my private life because my husband is everything like me. Both of us are workaholics. We were both bankers, we share similar values and we think alike in a lot of topics and issues.
My concept of feminist is one who believes in the cause and prosperity of females. I believe that women have a lot to offer to the world, however, we have been gagged and stopped from showing forth. As a feminist, I calli on all women to arise and take their place in the world and begin to do everything in our power to shine because the world is waiting for us to shine.
My relaxation is to read and browse the internet. I love to search for knowledge and I find it hard to relax in the real sense of it. However, my husband helps me in this area as he is more of the outgoing person.
I’ll love to meet award-winning novelist Chimamanda Adichie and former Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.