The first of three children born to Mr. Churchill and Mrs. Mercy Nnani, Chioma Esther Nnani was born in Port-Harcourt (Nigeria), on 13th March, 1983.
Crush at an early age?
She obtained her nursery and primary education at Bereton Montessori Nursery & Primary School, Port-Harcourt, Rivers State. Chioma says, “I was painfully shy and really awkward. I didn’t count myself as really academic – able to get by in certain subjects. Some others, like English Language, Social Studies, Bible Studies – felt like I didn’t even have to try. They came naturally. But being good at a couple of subjects, doesn’t necessarily translate into an average score that puts you at the top of the class. I wasn’t terrible; just that there were a lot of people who were more academically able, at least on paper. And some were a lot more outspoken. We were very young and relatively innocent, and I think some people were just more self-aware than others, and knew how to ‘start building empires’ – even at that age. Yes, there were a few tricks and naughty behaviour. But I don’t remember a lot of mean-spirited stunts. Apart from this one, that (in retrospect) was quite evil. The boys and the girls weren’t talking at all – I don’t know why, but it was as serious as stuff could get at that age. So, when one of the boys had a birthday at home, none of the girls showed up. It was very upsetting for him, so his mum came to the school and told our teacher. I think that’s when our teacher noticed that boys weren’t even sitting with girls! Or maybe the teacher had noticed, but thought we just wanted to sit with our friends. We all got told off and whooped, for being malicious. Then, our ‘clever seating arrangements’ were dismantled. It took a while for us to get over whatever the issue was, and resume talking to each other. There were some cute crushes, although I don’t remember any of the boys having a crush on me!”
After the National Common Entrance Examinations, it was strangely difficult to secure admission into a federal secondary school. Despite passing the exams on Merit, admission just seemed to elude Chioma – her name didn’t appear on any of the admission lists. It took a number of visits to the Federal Ministry of Education, for it to be resolved. At the time, federal colleges were the place to be; the quality of education dispensed at state-owned colleges, left a lot to be desired. The other alternative was private, but a lot of private colleges did not have the necessary accreditation, meaning that they weren’t trusted.
Art, Science or Suicide?
Chioma got into the Federal Government Girls’ College, Calabar, Cross River State (Nigeria) – for her high school education. Of this six-year period, which ended in 1999, she says, “I absolutely hated the boarding school experience. I had leadership qualities, which were recognised (I was made a college prefect). But I was utterly miserable, as I tried to find myself and navigate all of that. I was relatively well-known (I was also Fellowship President, Praise & Worship Assistant Team Leader in the chapel, as well as a Chapel Worker), and had many acquaintances – but truthfully, not many friends. I don’t think there are up to five people from that period in my life, that I really talk to, today. And it’s not because I can’t find them, because there’s Facebook. Inasmuch as I don’t see why I would attempt to obliterate that part of my history, it’s not a part of my life that I like to get chummy with. I struggled – with a lot of things: people’s perceptions of me, cliques, gossip, bitching, and what I now call the beginning of my descent into the twistedness of organised religion. I remember feeling like an outcast (even within my own circle), being so afraid of the rejection that inevitably follows those who are individual, that I would modify my behaviour to suit certain people (fellow students) who were more influential. Yet, I didn’t fit in, anywhere – I was in a Science class, yet loved and had an affinity with Arts subjects; my skin was the kind of mess that gave one undisputed ugly duckling status; I was asthmatic and couldn’t do sports to save my life; I wasn’t boy-crazy (apart from the fact that I was focused on not repeating any classes, the boys around were just not cute AT ALL); and I’d been raised Catholic, but was now Protestant, so was regarded with suspicion and (some) hostility by some who had come into the school as Protestants. I just couldn’t fit in, and I didn’t realise at the time that it is OK to be your own person.
“I tried so hard, that one Sunday afternoon, I found myself crying in an empty dining-hall, as I penned a suicide note. I felt like the world’s biggest loser. I’d painstakingly considered the pros and cons of different suicide methods, but there was always a flaw. But the one method that I know for a fact I’d have succeeded at, I just didn’t remember. If I’d thought of slashing my wrists, I would not be here, today. I don’t know what blanked my brain at that time – I’m not religious (anymore), so I am not attributing my not killing myself to any deity, especially as I know it was my engagement with organised religion that sent me in that direction. Like I said before, it was not a good six years. No child of mine will ever go to a boarding school.”
Law, Kent & My Place
Getting into university was to prove even more complicated, than getting into secondary school had been. A mere twelve days after she had come home, Chioma’s father was assassinated. The drama surrounding that, the aftermath, and some other events meant that university felt like an impossible dream.
In 2004, Chioma attended Showers International High School, Port-Harcourt, to address her deficiencies in Mathematics and Biology.
From January – August, 2005, she attended Abacus College, Oxford where she had enrolled on the University Foundation Programme in Law. Passing this course meant she could proceed to her first-choice university.
Chioma attended the University of Kent, Canterbury and obtained a Law (LLB) degree in 2008. Of the three years spent in Canterbury, she says, “I have many fond memories of Kent. I believe it’s the first time that I was truly happy in education. Yes, I’d made overextending myself, second nature – because I felt like I had something to prove, so I wasn’t as relaxed as I could have been. But Kent helped me find my place, because it helped me see that I could actually make my own place in the world. I’m a very proud UKC alumni, and if I could do it all again, I would choose Kent. Always.”
Feminist – A grateful one
Chioma self-identifies as a grateful feminist, who is completely averse to organised religion. Of this, she says, “I don’t feel a need to defend what and who I am. Even in a fundamentally misogynistic-cum-religious society like Nigeria, that is annoyed by successful women, and afraid of people who don’t pander to religion. If at my age, with everything I’ve learned or come through, with what I’m still learning, if I was afraid to say This is what I am, and this is what I stand for; it would be such a crying shame, and my life would be a waste. I’m in the third decade of my life; it would be an insult to my preceding years, not to mention a disservice to my future, to create some religious chic persona – no fan base is worth that kind of self- or industry-inflicted torture. Any fan base that would implicitly encourage or expressly demand the propagation of a lie, is just not the right one. It’s not something to argue about, or something for which I need to take permission; it is just what it is. I fully appreciate that some people need to believe in some things, for a host of reasons, and I am tolerant of that – until they attempt to shove it down my throat. I don’t need to be immersed in a religion, in order to know that I should treat people decently. If I didn’t know that I should be a productive member of society, in the absence of some so-called eternal reward, that means something is very wrong. I have a brain; human decency should be (a matter of) common sense.”
In addition to a host of certificates recognising her volunteering activities and achievements at Kent, Chioma also holds a Postgraduate Certificate in Food Law from the De Montfort University, Leicester.
Chioma is now an award-winning storyteller.
She is somewhat obsessed with making mincemeat of challenges and creating new solutions, white chocolate, New York penthouses, music by Emeli Sande and Professor Green (particularly their collaborations), all things Gary Barlow, Swarovski, and self-improvement. Oh, and she really wants to ride a camel … 🙂