Pioneering Nigerian administrator, academic and author

Ejine Olga Nzeribe is the first daughter of Flora Nwapa.  A British Chevening Scholar, she has an MBA from Durham Business School, an LL.B Honours degree from the University of Buckingham, and a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Jos, Nigeria. She was a practicing lawyer and company secretary before concentrating on her chosen field; customer care, training and development and management leadership. She has a passion to develop people to reach their highest potential through training, coaching and mentoring. She is also the writer and publisher of ‘Inspiring Growth-The History of Red Star Express’.

Ebere Okereke is Flora Nwapa’s niece. She is a consultant epidemiologist working with Public Health England. She is an honorary senior lecturer in public health at the Leeds University Medical School.  She specialised in the prevention and control of tuberculosis, zoonotic infections and new and emerging infections.

To Nigerians, who would be considered a dangerous woman?

Flora Nwapa, (b.1931 d.1993), considered Africa’s first internationally published female novelist fits this bill.

The two leading characters in Flora’s books, Efuru, and One is Enough, lived in a society dominated by the male and by gender issues. A dangerous woman is one that elopes from her father’s house to live with her poor lover who could not afford to pay the customary bride price necessary for a marriage contract, bringing shame to her successful warrior father and family name. The character Efuru in the book Efuru knew she had committed a taboo; she does it irrespective of the consequences and has no apologies for following her heart. Whereas Amaka in One is Enough escapes from being beaten by her husband for her utterances (nearly killing him in self defense). She walks out of the marriage to start life afresh in a new city rather than be insulted and maligned just because she has not conceived a child and is considered a persona non grata within the community.

A dangerous woman is enterprising. She can do what men do and even better with a quiet quintessential and dogged personality, holding her own in matters concerning the home and business. Efuru refuses to go to the farm with her husband – preferring to trade instead because, as she succinctly explains, she is not cut out for farm work. Her first husband Adizua, in deference to her (or his own personal and selfish needs) abandons the farm; joins her in trading, thereby committing an act that is anathema to the norm. Her second husband, Gilbert, trades with Efuru as a partner and equal. He does not lord it over her; she has a say in how the business will be run and takes decisions even when these put her on a direct warpath with Gilbert.

One Is Enough’s Amaka is not only enterprising, but a dangerously ambitious woman. She is a contractor, one of the female contractors that had sprung up during and at the end of the Nigerian Civil War. With others, she had taken part in the ‘attack trade’ – going right behind enemy lines to buy products from the enemy who were killing her people. Her ambition is to become an economically independent woman, which she believes will insulate her from the whims and caprices of rapacious males parading as husbands or lovers, and provide her with the recognition and respect that she is being denied because of her perceived predicament.

A dangerous woman excels in everything she does to the detriment of her male counterparts. Adizua could no longer work successfully in the farm as he was intoxicated with his love for Efuru. Indeed the full Igbo language meaning of Efuru is ‘Nwanefuru’, a child that everyone loves. It is not surprising that Adizua gives up farming to the total consternation of his fellow farmers. Clearly the ‘dangerousness’ of Efuru had overpowered his authority over the home and the ability to focus on what appears to have been a clear cut profession. Amaka also set out to excel in everything she laid her hands on; contracts, business, acquisition of wealth and relationships, irrespective of her misfortunes, in a bid to gain the respect she so much craved as compensation for her childlessness; and to prove that she could be successful notwithstanding her situation.

A dangerous woman is opportunistic, devious and cunning. Amaka moves to Lagos to start life afresh and uses the association of her sisters’ friends to find out information for getting contracts. A dangerous woman is also one that uses what she has (‘bottom power’) to get what she wants. She sets out to lure a Catholic priest with everything she has, including sexual gratification for material gain. She knew she had made an impression on the man of God from the first day she met him and set out to exploit the situation. Her personal assertion was that she would go for the kill because a priest is firstly a man capable of feelings and like any other man could be tempted. She does the same with Alhaji and the many others that came after him, never for love and always for her own material needs – to survive and excel on her own terms.

A dangerous woman is one that totally annihilates a man. The Catholic priest falls head over heels in love with Amaka. She gets pregnant and when he decides to be accountable and own up to his deeds, she rebuffs him. This is not part of her plan. She wants to prove to the entire world that she is not barren, she wants to continue her life as is, without the trappings of a marriage. She is sure the priest would not contemplate leaving the priesthood for her sake. And she is happy with this regardless of the stigma of being the mother of nameless children. Indeed, as a dangerous woman, she has taken the decision to name her children after her own father and is bent on hiding the paternity of her twins.

A dangerous woman is one that wants to be a mistress rather than a wife because she wants to be free to express herself and do the things she wants to do. This is seen in One is Enough’s Amaka. Being a mistress is unheard of but as a dangerous woman she does not care what people will think; she does not care about the shame to her name and family; she does not care what or how the society would label her. She declares to her mother and sister that she is through with marriage and is not shaken into submission despite all her mother’s entreaties to marry the priest.

In the characters of Efuru and Amaka we see different dimensions of what it means to be a dangerous woman in the Nigerian context. Flora Nwapa depicts these women as dangerous, not because of who they are but because of what the masculine society they lived in had turned them into being. Who is a dangerous woman? A dangerous woman is one who dares to survive in a man’s world and does so successfully to the utter consternation of her male counterparts. A dangerous woman is one who does the unthinkable, irrespective of culture and tradition. She takes ownership and accountability for her actions, be they positive or negative, without fear, even a fear of the unknown. A dangerous woman is a woman who literally declares to the whole world: ‘I am who I am’.

Florence Nwanzuruahu Nkeiru Nwapa, popularly known as Flora Nwapa was born into two prominent families in Eastern Nigeria – Nwapa Nduka and Onumonu Uzoaru. The latter, her maternal grandfather and Madam Ruth, his influential wife, established the Anglican Church in Oguta. Flora’s father worked as a UAC agent in Nigeria whilst her mother was the first local woman to achieve a standard 6 pass at St. Monica’s School Ogbunike.

Flora’s secondary school education was at the famous Elelenwa Girls School, followed by CMS Girls School and Queens College Lagos. She attended University College Ibadan in 1953, where she was President of the Queen’s Hall, meeting the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh during their visit to Nigeria. After her BA degree, she attended Edinburgh University and obtained a Diploma in Education.

Flora Nwapa started her career life as a Woman Education Officer in the Ministry of Education Calabar, from where she moved to Queen’s School Enugu as a teacher. She soon left for the University of Lagos where she started as an Administrative Assistant and rose to the position of Assistant Registrar in charge of Public Administration in 1966. Efuru was published the same year. Flora had sent the manuscript to Chinua Achebe who sent it to Heinemann Educational Books London. Upon its publication, Flora innocuously became the first African female writer to be published internationally. Heinemann published Idu in 1970. This Is Lagos and Other Stories and Never Again were subsequently published by Nwamife Publishers Enugu. Other books, essays, articles, followed in quick succession, depicting a writing career of 30 years.

During the Nigerian Civil War she married Chief Gogo Nwakuche who became an Industrialist. At the end of the war, Flora was appointed the first woman Commissioner for Health and Social Welfare of the newly created East Central State. After stints as Commissioner for Lands and Survey and Commissioner for Establishments, she set up Tana Press Limited and Flora Nwapa Books Limited to print and publish books. She still found time to lecture in creative writing or literature in Nigeria and abroad. Consequently, she was at various times a visiting lecturer at the Alvan Ikoku College of Education Owerri, Visiting Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Maiduguri, and she gave lectures in many universities in the United States. She was billed to travel to East Carolina University, North Carolina as an Associate Professor in Creative Writing for one year when she died in 1993.

Apart from Efuru, Idu, This Is Lagos and Other Stories, and Never Again, Flora wrote One is Enough, Women are Different, Wives at War, Cassava Song and Rice Song, Emeka, Drivers Guard, and other stories, some of which are yet to be published. Her children’s books included Mammywater, Journey to Space, and Miracle Kittens, these were books she wrote to preserve the oral tradition of storytelling that she had experienced whilst growing up, and to provide books that would make sense to Nigerian and African children.

Flora never set out to be a writer. She maintained that the feeling came from within based on a particular interest in both rural and urban women in their quest for survival in a fast-changing world dominated by men. She was not a feminist. She proclaimed herself a womanist, believing that a woman must be economically independent in her own right.

She was truly a dangerous woman.