By Toni Kan
“I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy’d
Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when
Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;”
Alfred Lord Tennyson, Ulyssess.
Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, the sports shoe company famously declared that “you don’t win silver. You lose gold.” It is not clear whether Ngozi Uche Benedette Ukachukwu, the author of Cracking the Walls is conversant with the Phil Knight quote but when she writes on page 186 of her thrilling, page turner of a book that “the only thing I dream of is to be the best in whatever I do.
That is why I strongly detest the second position. For me, what exists is only number one …” she might as well be quoting Knight.
Ngozi Ukachukwu’s life story reads like the best of fictional narratives. It is fun filled, action packed, almost unbelievable in places and throws up characters that would give Nollywood actors a run for their money.
Take for example an incident that happened while she was seeking admission into the university. She had asked her father for money to go to Benin for the exams and the father had sent her to clear six plots of land in one day.
Devastated, Ngozi who was working as a teacher went to seek the counsel of her school principal who, then, sent the entire school to clear the plots of land.
She writes that “it was one of the highpoints of my life, that for me to be able to further my education, someone sacrificed the entire school hours to flatten the hill between me and my dream. It was one of the greatest sacrifices that left an indelible mark in my heart…”(p. 83)
Ngozi Ukachukwu’s life story told in two parts; “Cracking the Walls” and “The good, the bad, and the ugly” and is replete with examples of mountains surmounted and thick walls cracked through divine intervention, the kindness of strangers or stubborn determination.
She understands, as she writes, that success only comes “when a man sweeps off challenges in his track…” (p.47) and to that extent, her life story has been one long, unending battle of chasing away challenges and cracking walls to step into the glorious blaze of success.
Born in 1961 in Jenta, Jos to the family of Mazi Moses Ositadinma Ojukwu aka Nwachinemelu aka 2020 aka Idi Amin and Madam Maria Ojukwu, Ngozi displayed early the traces of the precocity and striving for excellence that have become her hallmark.
Writing about her in the testimonial section of the book, Ngozi’s Sister, Mrs. Udoka Okeke had this to say: “she started driving at the age of 15, which was quite unusual in those days and was pleasing to our dad. Though she was young at that time, our father preferred her driving to that of his personal drivers. That defines how unique she has been from childhood.”
The testimonial section abounds with tributes that recall her special traits, her uniqueness, uncompromising and unwavering focus on the truth, her generosity, forthrightness and stubbornness.
Ngozi ‘s father was a self-made Igbo man, who having found success in the North where he lived on a street named after him, relocated to Nnewi, his home town at the start of the war and despite not having lived in Nnewi for years turned around his fortunes and made a huge success of himself.
He was the proud owner of over 20 vehicles at the peak of his wealth and all of them had 2020 on their plate numbers which accounts for the 2020 appellation.
The Idi Amin nickname came from his very strict, heavy handed rule over his household. His word was law and no one was allowed to question them. The children could not even look him in the eye when he spoke. He was, in many ways, reminiscent of Chinua Achebe’s Okonkwo.
But it was his fourth child, Ngozi who knew how to get him to melt. She was the only one who could question the validity of his assumptions and get away with it. She ran away when he chose a husband for her, hid his car when he planned to buy his second wife a car, went to university when her father had decreed that there would be no higher education for his female children.
Ngozi Ukachukwu is her father’s daughter. She may not be as strict as her father, but her father’s iron clad discipline shines through in her own life as her children attest to in the testimonial section, but as her daughter Ngesochukwu writes ; “I would refer to her as an egg –hard on the outside, soft on the inside.” (p.23)
Chinua Achebe wrote in his famous book Things Fall Apart, that when a man says yes, his chi will also say yes. Ngozi’s determination to succeed had been there from when she was a child watching her parents carry on their business activities. She said yes at an early stage and her Chi concurred.
She writes that if her unschooled “parents could do it with all their short comings, why can’t I do better with my wealth of knowledge and international exposure.” (p.173)
And her wealth of knowledge is vast. Ngozi Ukachukwu is a well travelled and well read woman who is conversant with the best of western thought, logic, metaphysics, history, philosophy, politics, mysticism, the scriptures and business strategy.
A multi-lingual, international business woman, she is at home with the arcane thoughts of French philosophers and her training as a teacher is manifest in the way she organizes her thoughts.
Ngozi Ukachukwu does not speak of things she does not understand. Her book is full of definitions and these definitions do not point to pedantry but a need to fully articulate the thoughts and philosophies that have guided her life thus far.
As you read through “Cracking the Walls” you will be struck by her unique approach; by defining and describing things she understands and inhabits them. It is surprising that in a book of over 300 pages with copious definitions, she refers to the dictionary only twice. The rest of the definitions are borne out of her own experiences and in her own words.
Let me share a few: “Humility in a woman is a divine analgesic to a hot home.” (p.33) “War destroys the future of the kids. It separates them from their un-hatched vision.” (p.45) “Education removes the curtain of ignorance from the eyes of men and women who embrace it.” (p.57)
“Talent is a natural ability divinely endowed on a person,”(p.63) “Wisdom is a kind of knowledge guided by special understanding.” (p.98) “Life’s ingredients are patience, endurance and confidence, while the condiments that you need to sweeten it are vision and knowledge.” (p.119) “
A lady’s patience is like a journalist’s camera which captures the true picture of an unsuspecting man.” (p.138.) “When friendship is struck out of marriage, it becomes a business partnership.” (p.154)
In Literature, there is something called Heroic Vanity which is the unending seeking after laurels. This is best exemplified by the Alfred Lord Tennyson poem, Ulysses. Ngozi Ukachukwu suffers from an acute form of Heroic Vanity. She has a deep need to explore and conquer new frontiers.
Her ambition, as a child, was to surpass her father and despite having done that she is not relenting in her quest. As she writes “you must have an insatiable taste for success, and an unquenchable thirst for growth, in order for you to be able to make it in life.”
Most diseases are prevented at early stages by vaccines. In Ngozi Ukachukwu’s case, instead of getting a vaccine, she keeps getting re-infected by no other person than her husband whom she credits with “being the pillar behind my business successes.”
She describeS Chidi Ukachukwu as “her pillar of support, her backbone, her great support, her friend with an impeccable nature.
Most autobiographies and even authorized biographies are often economical with the truth but not this one. Ngozi Ukachukwu seems to have only one vice; an inability to speak an untruth. This is an attribute that everyone has attested to.
She can be wrong but not untrue. She is so forthcoming with information in order that those who read this book will learn from her successes and failures that she even tells us of her first sexual encounter as a cautionary tale for young women.
Every book is a labour of love and fraught with challenges. The major one facing “Cracking the Walls” is one of editorial laxity. Much was left undone in terms of ensuring that the rough gem of a woman’s incredible story is polished to perfection.
To end, I will return again to the last line of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem Ulyssess where as the aged King sets off on another adventure, leaving his wife, Penelope and son Telemachus in the care of old Mentor, he says that he goes again to “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
This is the guiding principle behind this amazing Amazon who has been described by her brother Ifeanyi Ojukwu as ”incredibly strong, exceptionally amiable, amazingly generous, outstandingly hardworking, extremely excellent and marvelously tough.”
• Toni Kan writes from Lagos.