Chioma Nnani

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Person

Early Life and Education

Chioma Nnani (born 13 March 1983) is a Nigerian award winning author, Ghost-writer,[1] Storyteller, Radio presenter,[2] Producer and best known for her novel, Forever There For You.[3] She is the first of three children, born to the family of Churchill and Mercy Nnani in Port-Harcourt, Rivers State in Nigeria.

She acquired her nursery and primary education at Bereton Montessori Nursery and Primary School, Port-Harcourt.

In 1993, Chioma proceeded to federal government Girls' College, Calabar, Cross River State, Nigeria. Apart from enjoying English Language and English literature, Chioma says of her time at FGGC, Calabar, "I hated high school. Because of my experience, none of my children will ever go to boarding school.”

Post-secondary school and father's death

Chioma left FGGC, Calabar on 6 June 1999 as she had been registered to write another exam Cambridge O-level in Port-Harcourt. Her first paper was on 7 June 1999.

On the evening of 18 June 1999, Chioma went to get her hair done, in preparation for a wedding that she was to attend with her parents, the following day. There was no water in the salon. This meant that Chioma was in the salon for nearly three hours (while they went looking for water), for a procedure which should have taken about an hour. On her way back home, she noticed two men standing and discussing at the beginning of a close. Her family house was at the end of the close. She thought nothing of the men, but continued to make her way home, as she wondered how she would explain her late arrival to her mother. It couldn't have been past 1930hours.

When her mother opened the gate, Chioma noticed her mother's welcoming smile freeze, just before she said, "Please, don't shoot." Chioma looked back, only to discover that the men who had been standing at the beginning of the close, had (unknown to her), followed her to the house. One of them had a gun. They both forced their way into the compound.

The screaming and the commotion that followed brought Mr. Nnani out of the house. The men ordered all three of them to lie on the floor. Then, they asked Chioma's father to stand up.

Chioma is unsure of what happened next – whether her father rushed at the man holding a gun, or if the force of the bullets propelled him forward. She says of the incident, "I remember feeling like I was outside my body and watching events unfold in slow motion. I remember thinking to myself this is not real; this is not happening. I also remember thinking that the gunshots sounded like 'Christmas bangers'. I don't know how many gunshots I heard. I think I stopped counting after five .[4]

While one of the men shot him, the other stabbed him in the stomach. He fell and they walked straight back out and into the night.

Chioma also says, "The entire episode couldn't have taken up to ten minutes, but it felt much longer. It felt like an eternity times a million. Then, I discovered my mother had been shot in the leg. I don't know if it was a bullet that was meant for her, or it was a stray bullet. I was very fortunate that I didn't get hit with a bullet or anything else, because it was a very messy situation. That image of my mother sitting in a really awkward position because she couldn't really move after being shot; my father lying barely five centimetres away, bare-chested and in a pool of his own blood, as he breathed his last – that image has been burned into my brain forever. I was 16 years old.

“I had another paper to write, a couple of days later. I failed the entire examination.”

A police report was made, but nothing was done about it. Chioma says, "I suspect that the report was never filed; they probably just chucked it away. My father didn't matter because he wasn't a politician, 'a big man'. It hadn't been that long since Nigeria had resumed to democratic rule. In my head, this was democracy, Nigerian style. The incident was democracy's gift to my family. It took me a long time to forgive.”

Fortunately, her father left a Will. "If there had been no Will, we would have been completely destitute. My father's relations (brothers, sisters, and mother) were willing to take every single thing that my father had ever worked for. They had even gone around my home-town, telling all the villagers that it was my mother (instead of me) that the assassins had followed home; that she actually brought them to kill my father; and that she was just lying down in a cushy clinic, because nothing had happened to her during the attack. My father had done lots of things for them, as soon as he had started making money. The way they wanted to repay him was ensure that his children were out on the streets, unable to feed and without any access to education. My father had fed their kids and paid tuition fees for many of their kids. I don't have any actual proof (yet), but I am 100% certain that my father's people had him killed.[5] They did all sorts of things – from voodoo to other ridiculous stunts – to wreck my parents' marriage and when my father told them to leave his marriage alone, they killed him. Whether it was for money or just out of spite, I don't know. Their reaction when they found out he had left a Will, wasn't great at all.”

The funeral Mass, which held at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Oguta in Imo State, Nigeria wasn't without controversy. That was when the villagers saw that contrary to the tale they had been told, my mother was actually physically injured. It was also during the Mass that my mother found out, along with the entire town, that before his death, my father had met with the Rector of my brothers' school. He had allegedly warned the Rector, not to release my brothers to his (my father's) relations, if anything happened to him. We only knew about this, because my father's relations had tried to take my brothers out of school for the funeral, without my mother's knowledge. They had to seek permission from the Rector to do so. The Rector remembered my father's request and chose to bring my brothers to the funeral, himself. He informed the priest in my town, who proceeded to tell the congregation at my father's funeral.

“In my opinion, my father's lawyers were one of the most incompetent tools on the planet. It took my mother reporting him to one of the most feared judges in Rivers State at the time – Justice Elizabeth Membere – and getting her own lawyer, for him (my father's lawyer) to begin to adequately represent my father's wishes and interests. That was when I decided to become a lawyer.”

Getting into University

The road to university admission was fraught with many challenges – one of which was the combination of JAMB (Joint Admissions Matriculation Board), the body responsible for administering the University Matriculation Examinations in Nigeria, and WAEC.

Chioma has said on a number of occasions that Mathematics is not her strong point – especially when it has nothing to do with money.[6] This subject proved to be one major reason for her inability to gain admission into university to study Law.

There were also other incidents that caused a barrier – including a situation in which Chioma refused to bribe her way into a Nigerian university.

“I had just taken the IJMB (Interim Joint Matriculation Board) examinations. This was meant to get me into second year of my chosen university. So, it would be what was called 'direct entry'. After the exam, I was informed that I wouldn't get a university place, because the university had decided not to offer direct entry admissions to any applicants, that year. I was also told that if I paid some money, my name would miraculously appear on the list of students who had been offered university admission. I was tempted because this was the one thing I wanted, more than anything else in the world. But I refused. I told myself this is how blackmail starts. They ask for a bit of money now. I'll have to keep paying them to hide what will become a very dirty secret. I will never be free of them. This will come back to bite me; especially if I actually become successful in my life.[7] I also knew [that even if I wasn't blackmailed in the future], I would know what I had done. I wouldn't have been able to live with myself. So, I left the Ambrose Alli University,[8] empty-handed. I made the five-hour trip back to Port-Harcourt, crying all the way. Before that day, I hadn't known it was possible for anyone to cry for five straight hours and still be able to breathe.”

But more was to come. “I was very involved in church and when some people heard what had happened, they called me a fool. Some of them were ministers and pastors. They said God helps those who help themselves. You can always pray to God to forgive you'. But you're in this position because you're being too holy for your own good. There was only one minister who knew, who told me that I'd done the right thing.”

After this, came another. “I was very involved in church; I was a church worker in the Redeemed Christian Church of God. I was one of the Youth Exec in the parish where I was, as well as the leader of the Drama Unit within that parish. There was this lady – Miss Nwikina – who was a chorister, meaning she was also a worker in the parish. One day, the pastor told us that there had been an electrical fault in her house, so her house had burned down. He encouraged church workers to show love and Christian care anyway they could.

I divided my wardrobe into three and gave her two parts. Then, we struck up what turned out to be a truly parasitic excuse for a friendship. Her fiancé, Mr. Idiodi was a pastor within Christ Embassy. To cut a long story short, he ended up going behind my back to withdraw the application I had made to study Law at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi. I only found out after my admissions pack failed to arrive and I travelled back to Ghana with my mother.[9] Mr. Idiodi then enrolled at the same university to further his own education. Miss Nwikina told everyone that she could, that I had slept with her fiancé – even when she knew it was a lie.”

Soon afterwards, Chioma enrolled at Showers International High School in Port-Harcourt. By the time the result for the O-level Mathematics she had written in November/December 2004, was released, Chioma was already in the United Kingdom on the University Foundation Programme at Abacus College, Oxford.

She excelled at Abacus College and was offered a place to study Law (LLB) at the University of Kent, Canterbury.

University

Getting to the University of Kent[10] [11] in September 2005 was a dream come true in many ways.

“I honestly believe that was the first time I'd been happy in education. Kent gave me a lot more than I can describe. It helped me explore possibilities, question long-held traditions and have the courage to begin to be me.”

Chioma was active at the Kent Law Clinic,[12] where she volunteered from her first year. She was also one of the founding members of the Criminal Appeals Team.

She took part in Student Union Government and functioned in a variety of elected roles throughout her three-year university career – from Course Representative in first year, to Kent Student Union Women's Officer in final year.

“In terms of a career, I was sure that I would be a lawyer. At first, I'd wanted to go into Family Law. So, I did a mini-pupillage in January, 2006 at Stour Chambers in Canterbury. I was shocked at how horribly members of the same family, could treat each other in the presence of strangers. I figured out that I just understood money, so I decided on a different aspect of Law. I was particularly fascinated by financial crime; so fascinated, that I wrote a dissertation on it, in my second year at university. My supervisor had a reputation for being 'difficult' and he told me later that he hadn't realised I was in my second year, when I approached him. I was so sure it was what I wanted. Then, in my final year – I was actually due to write a paper in a matter of hours – it hit me that that [Law] wasn't what I wanted to do with my life.”

Chioma also holds a Postgrad Certificate in Food Law from the De Montfort University, Leicester.

Career

Although she had written from about the age of eight,[13] Chioma's career began by (what many would call an) accident. Writing was not something that Chioma would considered a viable (or any other kind of) career.

“Someone I met through a mutual friend, in the summer after my first year at university, noticed I could write. They knew I was writing what turned out to be my first book. They had just completed a degree in Communications at Thames Valley University. They proceeded to the New York Film Academy, to study Producing & Directing.

“I made a very stupid mistake. I sent them my manuscript.[14] My mistake didn't stop there; I went on to share other pieces of my work – television pilot, movie script, stage production script – with them. The scales fell off my eyes, when they started to claim they wrote half of it and demanded that I sign over the rights to the other half, to them. That was when it dawned on me that they had faked a friendship with me for five years, so that they would have access to my material.

“It took the intervention of a friend, with whom I go back about two decades, to halt the theft.[15] The thief had technical skill, but couldn't write. Their intention was to return to Nigeria (after their stint at NYFA) to become the Tyler Perry of Nollywood. They needed good material and were ready to use what they had stolen from me, to build their legacy.”

Chioma's boss at the time, who had actually seen Chioma's blog, advised her to take a second look at the talent she had taken for granted. One of the things that taught Chioma was that if you don't recognise your gift, someone else will – and they might be willing to use it against you.

Chioma had two friends – Carmen Rose and Keely Augustus – who ran an artiste exposure company. They gave Chioma a slot at one of their events. The result was such that Chioma felt encouraged to continue writing. She says, "I'd received so many rejections and knock-backs from literary agents and publishers, that I didn't think my work was good enough to be published. So, I needed to test my work in the presence of an audience, who didn't know me.”

A month later, she located Word2Print.[16]

Publications

In 2012, Chioma's debut novel Forever There For You was released.[17]

Chioma's writing has been compared to that of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Some have referred to Chioma as 'the new Chimamanda'.

Of the comparison, Chioma says, "I have an incredible amount of respect for Chimamanda as a woman who's not afraid or ashamed to show that she has a brain or a voice. However, I don't understand why anyone would compare us. Why do we need a 'new Chimamanda' when there's nothing wrong with the one we already have? I think that's just lazy, because yes, I admit that some of our ideologies are similar, but the content and style of our writing are different. The only other similarities I can see are that we're both of Igbo descent & have 'Chi' as the first letters of our names. We're not even from the same state.

Other Work

When Chioma walked into a radio studio to publicise her book in February 2014, she had no idea who would be listening to the broadcast. The show was pre-recorded as the station (One Harmony Radio) had just moved premises. After the show aired, the presenter called her. She told Chioma that a retired BBC correspondent had listened to the show and said, "You need to get that one back into the studio. There's something about her voice." Chioma returned to the studio the following week, unaware that the owners of the radio station were also listening. She was offered her own show. She subsequently co-produced and co-presented a series on domestic violence with the presenter – Shamaya – who had initially interviewed her.[18]

Chioma is very passionate about gender issues,[19] especially as it relates to domestic violence – and when asked about men who are intimidated by her success, stance or outlook, she says, "If a man is intimidated by my success, it's not my problem. It is not my job to make him more comfortable. I don't understand pretending to become smaller, so that someone can feel bigger. A man, who does not abuse women, has nothing to fear from me.”

Of her work as a ghostwriter, Chioma says, "I love ghostwriting because it is one of the most lucrative aspects of my work; not just in terms of money, but also in terms of experiences. There are some stories that I would not hear, if I didn't have a chance to co-create them by ghostwriting them. Even when they're published, I would not normally buy or borrow. They're that far out of what I thought was my comfort zone."

Chioma also carries out consultancy work – mainly because apart from the fact that it pays, she enjoys the challenge of being a problem-solver.

Awards and recognition

In April 2014, Chioma won a literary award[20][21] in the city of Port-Harcourt, where she was born. In September of the same year, she was nominated for Black Entertainment Film Fashion Television and Arts (BEFFTA) for her writing.[22] She has also been featured in a number of online and print media outlets.[23]

Chioma was one of the first to be given a Kent Student Certificate for Volunteering (KSCV) Platinum – recognizing at least 200 hours of volunteering – by the University of Kent Student Union. She got the Platinum in her final year (2008) after having received a number of normal KSCV (recognizing 50 hours) and KSCV Gold (recognizing 100 hours) certificates in her first and second years at university.

Health Issues

Chioma who currently lives in Abuja, has suffered from asthma from a really young age.

“Coming back to Nigeria was a shock to my system. I hadn't had an asthmatic attack for about four years, only for me to suffer five asthmatic attacks within two weeks of my return to Nigeria. In fact, it took the second attack for my brain to actually compute what was happening.”

She manages the condition with inhalers and a healthy lifestyle.

Chioma has also suffered from skin problem, since about the age of nine.

“High school, teenage years and my early 20s were hell because of my skin. It also ate away at my self-esteem because I felt ugly. I couldn't believe it when I found skin products that actually work for me.[24]

References

  1. A Konnect Africa Interview with Chioma Nnani; Writer, Communications Expert & More”, Konnect Africa, 9 December 2014
  2. / Speaking with Author Chioma Nnani”, July 2013
  3. Forever There For You”, Amazon, 15 June 2012
  4. blogger', 2012,
  5. blogger', 2012,
  6. 'Remembering Chioma Nnani... 2 May 2014
  7. blogger', 2012,
  8. Ambrose Alli University”, 1981
  9. Chioma Nnani – Forever There For You, “Author Interview”, "Myne Whitman Writes", 9 December 2014
  10. Intrnaltional Students at Kent Law School”, September 2005
  11. Chioma Nnani – Forever There For You (Author Interview), "Myne Whitman Writes", 9 December 2014
  12. Intrnaltional Students at Kent Law School”, September 2005
  13. A Konnect Africa Interview with Chioma Nnani; Writer, Communications Expert & More”, Konnect Africa, 9 December 2014
  14. Nigerian author Chioma Nnani on her first novel ‘Forever There For You’”, 17 October 2013
  15. Nigeria: How I Recovered My Stolen Manuscript – Chioma Nnani, "AllAfrica", 10 May 2014
  16. word2print', 9 December 2014
  17. Forever There For You”, Amazon, 15 June 2012
  18. 'Remembering Chioma Nnani... 2 May 2014
  19. Not every African woman is trying to subjugate and ruin others”, September 2014
  20. LITERARY AWARD”, 13 April 2014
  21. PORT HARCOURT LITERARY LECTURE AND AWARDS EVENT‘, 14 June 2014
  22. Black Entertainment Film Fashion Television and Arts” Awards, September 2014
  23. Interview with Chioma Nnani, a wildly talented, award-winning creative”, August 2014
  24. blogger', 2012,

External links