CHIKA IKE: I Use Nollywood to Open Doors for Me

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Her road to stardom was paved with odds. Chika Ike exemplifies the grass-to-grace cliché. But she is more than that as a young woman excelling in a country where women are often given a raw deal – expected to fail and kneel down at the mercy of some men. It may still be a man’s world but Nigerian women are picking up the gauntlet and showing the world how success, industry and fulfilment can be blended with class and style. Funke Olaode writes

Beautiful; brilliant; brave; and breathtaking – Chika Ike stands for all that and more. First is her 13 years on the grind in Nollywood, gracing the world’s third largest silver screen. Until that time, she was just the fourth child of a family of six – from Ekwulobia in Anambra State – in Papa Ajao in Mushin. Meet Chika Ike.

Her self-discovery into the world of movies began in secondary school when she used to stand in front of the class narrating soap operas and movies she had watched to her classmates. She had to endure some years of waiting before she could explore her artistry because her parents did not approve of her desire.

Last Saturday, Chika was caught again in the klieg light, not for starring in a new movie. With a throng of people, petulant to catch a glimpse of her and get a copy of her book, the young Nollywood actress has raised the bar of hard work, ingenuity and serendipity. Walking majestically into the waiting arms of the media, Chika – decked in cream jacket and a pair of pants – enthralled all with her beauty – an embellishment of her brain. Though reticent, Nigerians can read all about her in her new book, Boss Up.

“I am a very private person but if you read this book, ‘Boss Up’ you read me, the truth and my journey. Boss Up is a 41-chapter book that covers all the obstacles we go through in life: money, self-esteem, fear, relationships. With Boss Up, I opened up a lot about myself. I dabbled into what we go through in life and gave a guide on how to conquer our fears. People say I try to live my best life. Yes, I try to because life is short,” she says.

But to her, life is more than being short. “Life is a journey and is full of ups and downs. I am talking from an angle of my mother who died at a very young age and I realise that life is a journey and as a being you can’t determine how long you are going to live because you don’t even know what happens tomorrow. So you have to embrace today and make the best out of it,” she counsels.

The book, Boss Up, has five sections: one talks about Chikaidibia – her full name – which means ‘my God is greater than any soothsayers or any obstacles’. According to her, the name came up out of an event “during my birth”.

She explains further: “I was rejected from birth by my father because he didn’t want a girl. So, it (that section) talks about me, my challenges growing up and the rejection I faced from my family. The book also talks about the business world because people think I like money. Well, they may be right because I grew up with nothing and don’t want to be a failure and I always push myself to succeed. I want to challenge myself to be somebody people thought I can never be.

“In the business world (section), I talk about how to have a successful business. I went to Harvard Business School. Harvard Business School was a launch pad for me because I found myself in a room with professionals – big people who run global businesses – sitting among business tycoons. I talked about tricks and how to run a successful business.”

Chika also underscores the importance of the society in human’s existence. To run a successful business empire goes beyond huge money and Chika explains why. “When I was in Harvard Business School, the first two weeks was about personal case studies and personal development. I was given a coach and I was like I didn’t come here to talk about my family and my life. But the school authority realizes that before you can be successful in your business you must deal with the home front first. Every successful man and woman you see out there has succeeded in their families. They gave me a personal coach who went deep into my personal life: my family, my upbringing and me. I was someone who was brought up guided but Harvard Business School unguided me. They made me stand in front of over 200 professionals to talk about my life. I spoke so much about my life, family and how I was rejected by my father who was a good husband and father to all his children. But I didn’t have a good relationship with him growing up. I learnt early that you have to fight for yourself because at the end of the day it is you alone. I talked about my father, my mother and my siblings.”

Still throwing more light on what her readers should expect, she talks about another factor pertinent to success. “I mentioned grace because I believe that we do not exist alone on this earth. I believe that there is a superior power you can go to and ask for forgiveness because human beings can be very judgmental because they see everything that you do but God is the only one that cannot criticize you and will protect you in all your ways. So I have this relationship with Him. A friend of mine once told me that to succeed in life you need 40 per cent hard work and 60 per cent grace, favour and lucky. For me, I call it favour, I call it grace. It is good to work hard to succeed but you must have a guiding power which is God,” the author states.

For Chika, the journey into writing Boss Up was wrought with tears and fears. “It was a journey that took seven years. I would write for one month and suspend it for another month because I would cry. It was a process for me because it is a journey about me. So, Boss Up exposed a lot about me that you may not love. Boss Up will change your perspective about life. It will tell you how to succeed, and Boss Up will tell you can do it no matter where you came from. I once struggled to pay my house rent. I was told ‘no’ a lot of time with doors being slammed at my face. I didn’t get here because I am an actress. I got a lot of ‘nos’ in my life. You get ‘nos’ in your life but you have to keep pushing.”

But there is something else that inspired her to write the book. She confesses: “Another inspiration to write that book was my mum who passed away two years ago. I was sitting on her sickbed in the hospital and she asked me a question whether I would ever get to publish my book because she was also an author. I was like I am scared. She looked into my eyes and was like: ‘tell the truth’. That was the day I said to myself that I would go ahead. My mother propelled me and after she passed on I found that this life is very short and as a being, you don’t know what tomorrow holds so the earlier you start running your race and achieving your best goals.”

What informed the title of the book? “The initial title was ‘I Chose to Be’ because whatever choice you make in life makes you. One morning, I wasn’t excited about the title because I wanted something that would call to action. Then I was going through a social media when I stumbled on a quote that says, ‘Boss up or you get bossed around and l liked it. And that stuck with me. Boss Up makes you spring up from your seat to achieve your dreams,” she points out.

With Boss Up, Chika has unravelled a lot about herself. Doesn’t she think she is giving Nigerians too much of herself? “I am unperturbed. God makes you go through a lot of things in your life for you to learn and to share. I want to be a blessing to others – that is my view about life. People will always have their perspective about living and even with the dead. For me, basically, I have passed through that stage of being judged. Right now, I am learning everyday to focus on me. I can’t control people’s thoughts and I am responsible for what I do. People would always have that idea. Am I sacred? Yes. I get uncomfortable sometimes but not worried,” she says.

For Chika, determination, perseverance and being focused no doubt has played a huge role in her life – five times she applied to Harvard and four times her application was rejected. So, why did she keep on applying? “I was disappointed because I did not know that Harvard selection process is done abroad and even realise that even the professor’s children teaching in Harvard don’t get automatic admission. I was depressed and really wanted to go to a business school and not just any business school but Harvard which I believed was out of my reach. I didn’t grow up wanting to go to Harvard because I felt it was out of my reach. I didn’t want to go to just any business school and at the same time I wanted to go to the best. I cried, but at the end I overcame by going to the business school of my dream,” she says with glint in her eyes.

Not a few will wonder how she will be able to balance her new role as a writer with acting. “We are programmed to multitask but at every moment in your life you must know what method works best for you and prioritize. You can have it all but not at the same time. It is tough but I believe in life God will never give you something that you can’t handle. You must constantly push yourself because most successful people in the world manage several business empires. If I need to step back or take a break I will do that,” she explains.

She has a take on whether actresses do make enough money, in Nollywood as she says: “People often talk about actors and actresses in Nigeria not to be financially buoyant to have a life style. When you realize being an actor, you have series of goodwill that come into your life, and you have business opportunities to invest in. For me, I have always had a business platform. I made my first million when I was 20 years old. To some people, it wasn’t a big deal. I started investing at the age of 20 in real estate. Some people say actors don’t make that kind of money, well, they can speak for themselves because I know the kind of investment I have done over the years. I am an actress and acting has opened doors for me.”

While Nigerians may continue to watch Chika as she keeps evolving, her future is never in doubt as she points out: “I constantly push myself. I want to keep pushing myself and soar in my acting career beyond the shores of Nigeria and Africa. I want to be the voice for the voiceless. I want to have a breakthrough into the international scene, express my talent further by doing collaborating with Hollywood, if the opportunity arises.”

Is she planning to write another book soon? “Writing is fun and this took me seven years to achieve. I don’t know about years to come. For now, the focus is on Boss Up and on other things. The level of impact I can make in my environment and society at large is my topmost priority,” she answers.