She is a daring combination of beauty and brain but with a heart of gold, sharing all she has with those in need. Hon. Nkeiruka Onyejeocha who is a fourth term member of the House of Representatives rarely responds like a politician but answers as the questions come. Her greatest influence was her grandmother who trained her after her mother died. Nkeiruka tells Charles Ajunwa and Ahamefula Ogbu that she established foundations to ensure that people would not face hardship the way she did after her grandma died
How did you start life?
I started life like every other person. I was born in a family, was trained, my mother died early in an accident, then my father remarried and I went to school, primary, secondary and university, got married, was appointed a commissioner in Abia State and later was appointed local government chairman. In 2007, I ran for House of Representatives and I won under the platform of PDP.
Can we know the schools you attended and the memories you have of those places?
I attended Isuochi Central School for primary school, then proceeded to Isuochi Secondary School but after class three, changed to Ovim Girls High School, then proceeded to University of Nigeria, Nsukka and got my Masters from Imo State University, that was before I was elected in 2007.
What about the fond memories?
Would I call it what was motivating? I remember when I was in primary school, we use to have ridge where you plant cassava, water melon or anything and it comes with your tag, your name tag and then you have Agric Master; who is anyway, your teacher in class which was fun. It was fun because you look at it and after that nobody was talking about agriculture anymore and then everybody started looking for white collar job. Even when I was in Ovim Girls, we use to get things from our farms in school and that was part of our programme then. Another thing that I cherish is the spiritual angle because I grew up with my grandmother having lost my mother early. She wakes you up at 5 or 4.30a.m., then we pray, then you must go to the stream and when we come back, we prepare for school. I was attached to my grandmother and I wouldn’t go to school because I wanted to stay with her and they will use cane to pursue me to school because of the attachment.
At that particular time, I was feeling empty because I was still growing up and I didn’t know what death was all about; that you lost your mum and you are scared of everybody. My grandmother ensured that I was always in school on time and of course in our house then, we always had many people, not necessarily related to us but when my grandmother saw people with one form of problem or the other, she inherits and brings them home and so we always had one full house. At no point were we having less than 20 people in our house then and when we cook, even if you know we are 20, you are going to cook more in case someone comes carrying someone on her back. It was like a communal thing and my grandmother was a community leader so to speak. At a time, people no longer regarded her as a woman because she was very strong and she was this kind of person that would not look at anybody’s face to say the truth. Of course, when things got stuck that people did not say the truth, she would be called and she would always resolve it because she would say the truth. So, these memories are there and of course, she was a very staunch Christian which you call born again today. She doesn’t joke with going to church, fellowship and all that. We use to go with her for soul winning where the women will follow her around and I was a member of the Scripture Union. At a point in Ovim Girls, I became the Secretary of the Scripture Union when I was in form four. Those memories are still there and still very strong.
Do you remember yourself as a pliable child or a stubborn one while growing up?
Would I call it stubborn? Because of the type of grandmother I grew up with, when people are doing something wrong, you must say it. You don’t overlook it, you say it but you are not going to insult them but politely say it. You don’t just keep quiet because she said if you keep quiet, they tie your mouth. ‘If you see something, say something’. I remember that, ah! that was what I was taught by my grandmother. If you see something that is wrong you must say it and if you see something that is bad, you must shout. Those were the African training I got. If you go outside your environment and you behave so, people will think you are stubborn but you are not being stubborn, you are being whom you are and you exercise your life the way you see it. But other people might see it differently because they want you to fake everything around you. I always tell them I am a village girl because I went to a village primary and secondary schools and I went to University of Nigeria, Nsukka, which is in a village, so that is my background.
Can one say losing your mum at a tender age endeared you to widows and informed setting up foundations?
Apart from the fact that I lost my mum, my grandmother was just there. She was the kind of person that would want everyone with problems to be in our house. So, I grew up feeling that everybody who has problem should be in my house and then while I was living with her, if somebody’s husband dies, she would go and bring the woman and her children. If you beat your wife, my grandmother will go and bring your wife, detain you and say your relations have to come and say something disgraceful to make you stop beating your wife. So, we grew up in that background that your grandmother was a disciplinarian in such a way that she goes out of her way to intervene in other people’s home and affairs just to bring justice and make people live well-disciplined lives. The other thing is that because she was doing that, in my mindset, I just said ‘oh, once you have two naira, you will only need one naira, so the other one naira should be for the next person so to speak.’ When my mother died, my father remarried and the wife didn’t want to see us; the woman now seized our father. So, it was me and my grandmother and two brothers. Of course, my father felt that the boys, he needs them. To him, because I was a girl, because my mother was an only child, so my grandmother took hold of me. She said ‘I am not going to leave this one. My only daughter died, this is a girl and I have to live with her’, even though I was living with my grandmother when my mother was alive.
Because of that background, where my grandmother was kind of a caregiver, perhaps because she had an only child, my grandmother will be going on the street, see someone who has nothing to do with her, and invite the person over to eat. Sometimes, if the person was one sent out of the house, she would adopt the person; she had many adopted people that if I see them today, they will be like they lived in our house even though we did not have any relationship with them. That was the kind of background I grew up with. The foundation thing was because I went through school and when my grandmother died, I had issue with funds. It was like your caregiver died and the people who were supposed to take care of you were busy doing something else. I had it very rough and I know that as I speak, there may be people who are going through that; people who lose their parents or caregivers and need people to help them and that is the reason I established the foundations, even scholarship foundation because I know that there are people out there that if you don’t do anything, nothing will come their way, That was what brought about the foundation – giving people scholarships.
What gives you happiness and fulfillment?
What would you say has been your saddest moment in life?
Anytime I remember that my grandmother and my mum are no more.
What is your happiest moment in life?
Anytime I am in the presence of God
You are a very beautiful woman and intelligent, how do you fend off men that flock around you?
I know that people just blackmail men, if you don’t give a man any eye he would not chase you. You have to invite a man to chase you. The only men that can chase you without invitation are people who are daring, what’s even making her so tough? When they go out of their way to do that, then you tell them they have to give their life to Christ. It will be an opportunity for them to know about Jesus Christ.
What is your most prized earthly possession?
My relationship with God, I don’t want any interference.
So you are not moved by state of the art cars, mansions and…?
Vanity upon vanity all is vanity. That is why I give back to society. I will tell you that maybe people think I have so much money but the point is that the money I have is on human beings.
If fashion police raid your wardrobe, what are they likely going to discover?
Classic things, I am not a fashionista. I do classic, I don’t follow the trend. I grew up with a grandmother who was so disciplined that you cannot wear a slit skirt, so even when they sew clothe for me it cannot go off shoulder. If you see me wear an off-shoulder I must have a shawl to cover it. There is nowhere you go with trend. I don’t go with fashion trend. It is what fits and what I am comfortable in that will make me look responsible. Sometimes what you wear gives out a lot of impressions that may not be true.
Do you believe in women liberation?
Yes, I do, that is why I am contesting for speakership because if women are not liberated and they are boxed to one corner, where everybody will like tell them like sit down there, the world would not be a better place to be.
What is the easiest way to your heart?
It is just a disciplined person.
You sound quite tough and daring, how did you meet your husband?
Well, another kettle of fish. I finished from the university when I was going for youth service and I had a lot of suitors but my problem was my grandmother because she used to tell me I should marry someone from our side. I didn’t want to marry anyone from outside and so when I met him, he was like ‘this small girl, you said you are going for youth service.’ He said it was a lie that I couldn’t have finished university and I said I had finished. He was telling people I am his sister. From being sister, we got home and he proposed and I didn’t want to marry an outsider. That was it.
What did you see in him that swept you off your feet?
I just saw someone from my place that is like my brother because my grandmother used to tell us that if you marry someone from your place, if marriage fails, then you can be brother and sister. So, I had it at the back of my mind and that was that. Again, after school, someone who is just yellow, slim even if you don’t do anything people will feel you are doing something and I did not want to live my youthful life leaving from one place to the other. It was my grandmother that would have provided security and comfort, but she was no longer there. Being a Scripture Union member, after camp meetings, you don’t have any other place to go, so I needed to get settled.
How do you relax?
By playing gospel music. If I want to go out, I will go to fellowship and dance David dance and I laugh the laughter in Psalm 2, why do the heathen rage and people imagine vain things. When you go down that chapter it said, look at them and laugh.
What makes you angry?
When I find out that people are not sincere because I want to be as sincere as possible.
What attracts you to people?
Simplicity of mind and straightforwardness.