Funke Olaode reports on how Nollywood diva Chika Ike has overcome the trauma of her failed marriage to institute a reality television contest for young African women

One of the striking virtues possessed by Nollywood actress, Chika Nancy Ike, is her honest disposition. With her, there is no need for the dodgy character that gives a hint on a half full or half empty understanding. She calls a spade by its name. And that is how she has been able to get on in life – by being truthful and humble. By her own admission, her 11-year career in the Nigerian movie industry may have put food on her table, given her access to reasonable comfort and made her face recognisable, but she is far from living the diamond life.

She has no qualms about admitting that she is not yet where she would like to be, as far as her career is concerned. “My career is still work in-progress. I have not reached my zenith yet. I have a lot of things to conquer and have a lot of miles to cover. My only breakthrough is the ability to do a movie. I also feel fulfilled when people tell me that I have impacted their lives. I am happy too for the number of accolades and awards that have come my way.”

She is even more grateful for little mercies, particularly when she recalls where she is coming from. It’s been a long walk from her first major role that earned her N2,000. Although, she would not say how much she earns now, no doubt, she has moved several rungs up the ladder of success. One clear evidence of her newfound wealth is her revived African Diva Reality TV Show which was first organised in 2013. The programme which follows a winner-takes-all format empowers a young African woman beyond her wildest imagination. Winner of the debut edition went home with N4 million to start a business for herself. She also won a one-year acting contract under the Chika Ike Production outfit. The prize, this year, is a brand new car, $10,000 and a one-year acting contract.

Chika is mindful of her somewhat humble beginning. She may not have experienced crushing poverty, she, however, saw from a close distance the ugly manifestation of destitution. She lived in Papa Ajao, a lower middle class suburb of Mushin in Lagos. The larger Mushin environ was noted for its squalid and overcrowded condition; so for the first 15 years of her life, Chika observed the repulsive sight of poverty.

Her parents were self-employed. Her father owned a bakery. Her mother initially ran a business centre, but later closed shop to join her husband in the bakery. She as well doubled as an evangelist, travelling frequently to spread the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Relatively protected from poverty, Chika, the fourth child in a family of six, attended Ronik International School for her primary education and had her secondary education at St. Francis Catholic School in Egbe. She would later study Human Kinetics and Health Education at the University of Lagos.

Through the years, those bold images of people living in grinding paucity never left her memory. She made up her mind to intervene and bring as much relief as she can to as many of those poor persons as possible through charitable purposes. Thus was born the Chika Ike Foundation.

“Growing up in the Mushin environment made me see the other side of life. It opened my eyes. I believe that one must give back to the society by feeding a hungry child and taking him or her away from the street. My growing up really influenced this and my mother also was very giving. This also motivated me to do more. Every year, the Chika Ike Foundation blesses poor people with tonnes of various gifts. But in the last two years, the foundation has focused on public schools, giving school bags and books to children in these public schools. We also have some scholars on scholarship. One of them is about to finish secondary school.”

Throwing more light on the African Diva programme, she said, “I want African women to have a voice and a young girl like me to believe that they can do it; they can be successful. The first African Diva was held three years ago. The last season featured Nigerians only because of the Ebola scourge. This time, the programme has expanded with participants from five African countries. This took a lot of time to achieve. I had the support of their Ministers for Arts and Culture and also the ambassadors of participating countries such as Togo, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria and Benin Republic.”

“African Diva is a TV reality show that aims at empowering African women. We put 22 girls in a house where they have to compete to win a task to become an African Diva. Each week, there is an elimination. We give them tasks based on African root and culture, hospitality, motherhood, and being an entrepreneur and how to pitch a brand to an investor. At the end of the day, one winner emerges.”

For this Ekwulobia, Anambra State-born actress whose parents passed on within two years of each other, with the father going first, her journey to self-discovery began in secondary school when she used to stand in front of the class to narrate past soap operas and movies to the admiration of classmates. For a long time, she kept her talents within her peers. Knowing her parents, particularly, her father’s opinion that the entertainment industry was for never-do-wells and the drop-outs, she did not have the courage to assert her choice of vocation. It took a lot of persuasion. Her mother was the first to lend her support. She later convinced her father to allow her act. However, she had one condition to meet: She must acquire a university degree. Of course, that was not a problem to her.

Her journey to stardom began in 2005 as a diploma student in the University of Lagos. “My sister was studying English but she also had a flair for entertainment. We heard there was an audition in Surulere and we went. I got a role and my sister got a bigger role in a movie titled, “Sweet Love.” She was frightened to stand before a camera. Encouraged by the director, she braved it, and the rest, as they say, is history. It looks like yesterday. So far, she has featured in over 300 movies and still counting.
For her charity, Chika has been rewarded with the United Nations Ambassador for Youths.

Through this platform, she has reached out to Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).
Chika Ike can be described as a woman of many parts: an entrepreneur, actress, movie producer and director of a thriving non-governmental organisation. Her fashion accessory business established five years ago in Abuja has acquired impressive clientele. She credits an innate strength for the ability to cope with many tasks.

“I wouldn’t call myself a super woman. Sometimes it is tiring, but I tell myself don’t give up. I think women have this multi-tasking spirit from God and this has helped me.”
Chika has had her fair share of controversies which tainted her personality. Some of the bickering which made a subject of hot contention in the public space includes her claim to periodic celibacy. Her age was also disputed. The rumour mill also spawned tales of her alleged intimacy with Senator David Mark. Even her colleagues descended on her for being awarded the Most Disciplined Actress. Unruffled, she explained it away as the price for fame.

“I have been able to deal with my controversies and scandals. You don’t even create these scandals but people create it for you. Some things they say about me are not true. What can I do? I can only try and debunk them and tell my own side of the story. I have leant to deal with controversies and not to allow it affect me in a negative way. I have developed a thick skin. These controversies are made up by people who are determined to pull you down.”

One episode of her life which was not phony was her divorce in 2013 which she adduced to abuse from her husband. Since then she has decided to give marriage a wide berth. And this led to the controversy over whether she was having sex or not. The events leading to the end of her marriage were so traumatic that, she has decided to be married to her career, for now.

“I respect the marriage institution and it is a beautiful thing if you meet the right person. I had issues in my marriage. I left the marriage because of case domestic violence. Going forward, I think I want to concentrate on my career now. When I got married, I knew what I wanted at that point. And when it was not working, I took it as part of life because I can’t force anybody. I don’t have any regrets. There must be no excuse for domestic violence. I am an actress and like any other profession I should be taken for who I am. You knew before you got married and you should have studied the person you are getting married to.”

To Ike, talking about life regrets is like turning back the hands of the clock. “I have no regrets but sad moments. Losing my parents within two years is like taking an umbrella off you but you have to understand that there is a better umbrella which is God. So I have no regrets but only lessons of life. Life has taught me to be very patient. It has taught me that I should take one step at a time, to be giving and to be tolerant.”