71 years old Ambassador Kema Chikwe is a woman whose drive for inclusion and results earned her notable career opportunities in Nigeria. She has successfully held positions as the Minister for Transport, for Aviation and Chairman of Joint Admissions and Matriculations Board (JAMB).
Amb. Chikwe gracefully held the office of the National Woman Leader where she created opportunities for other young women to achieve career and political ambitions.
In all of this, she remains optimistic about the future of women in leadership and is the founder and chairperson for Women in Leadership Institute (WLI).
Talking with Amb Kema has no dull moment. Añuli Ola-Olaniyi, an SLA contributor, sat through an interview with this remarkable woman and shares with all the deets with us.
How did you begin your career?
I finished my secondary education at age of 17 and I got a job at the Pay Section, Ministry of Education, Nigeria.
How did you become an Ambassador?
I challenged myself to take the position. It was an appointment actually which I believe was given to me based on merit and results from my previous appointments.
I served as the Minister for Transport and Aviation. Later I became the Chairman of the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB). Also, I contested for the office of the Governor, Imo State.
Hard work, commitment to public service, and my result-oriented attitude have always propelled me.
What would you say is your proudest achievement today
I am very grateful for all my accomplishments to date, some of which are my exposure to many years of public service and strong legacies.
A notable accomplishment was the reformation of the Lagos Murtala Muhammed International Airport -MM2. As the Minister for Transport and Aviation, the reform projects spoke for themselves. As Transport Minister, we achieved 48 hours turnaround and 24 hours of port operations.
While I was the Chairman of JAMB we embarked on the automation of the system and some of the results from this are the use of scratch cards for examinations.
However, as a National Woman Leader, the adoption of the bill to mainstream disability in political parties was achieved. The office of the National Woman Leader was institutionalized, a Gender audit was conducted and we developed programmes for women running for office.
We created and ran the E-Women Network for young women and we have to date, women who have benefitted and done well.
What’s the boldest thing you’ve done?
My boldest move was to contest for Governor of Imo State, Nigeria. I was the only woman campaigning in an era where the mindsets weren’t particularly ready for a female Governor.
Did you encounter any setbacks, and how did you get past it?
My biggest setback was not winning my governorship and Senate elections. When you invest a lot in something and it doesn’t end up the way you envisioned, it can be difficult to comprehend sometimes.
I overcame it by understanding that failure is a challenge, you rise and fall. My dad (who was also my mentor) had a rhyme he used to encourage us and it says
“If at first, you don’t succeed, always try and try again”
After losing the election, I had tremendous support from people like President Yaradua and Baba Kingibe with the Ambassadorial posting.
Please understand that when you work very hard, people support you and anything you do will eventually go well because people will recognize your efforts based on the legacies and results you have shown.
Once you focus on your career, work, job or assignments and perform well, the recognition comes.
I must add that there must be a virtue of hard work in Nigeria amongst young men and women. A person qualified for a role or position should get that role/position. No shortcuts.I stay inspired by watching people succeed- Amb Kema Chikwe Click To Tweet
One piece of advice to your 20-year-old self would be…
Be more adventurous and courageous. I was nervous about stepping out of my comfort zone.
Moving forward, I realized that life outside my comfort zone wasn’t as scary as I thought. With focus, determination and positive support. I was able to achieve my goals. Look at me now; many young women can be me or even greater.
What would you advise people starting a career or going into politics?
My best advice is this – convince yourself that it is what you want to do. Let it also be that you are meeting or creating solutions for the needs of people.
I also encourage young women to know that you can have it all. Career, marriage, children, business, all of it. Raising a family is possible with a thriving career.
There are many benefits of marriage. I understand that not every woman is lucky, but note that it is an important institution.I want to encourage young women to know that you can have it all. - Amb. Kema Chikwe Click To Tweet
How are you keeping up with the new trends
The future excites me because the rate at which innovative ideas are quickly changing our lifestyles and the way we view the world gets me really excited to see what next is in store.
Imagine some people who do not speak a word of English, operating a mobile phone with such dexterity. The internet culture has made this world a smaller place by bringing a better understanding of life.
What are your future plans for the Women in Leadership Institute?
I founded the Women in Leadership Institute and this is positioned to give a new orientation to women in Nigeria and Africa.
It will change narratives, give women the opportunities to study and be experts in Women and Leadership Studies.
The future is very exciting for women.
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