I love reading stories of women who overcome difficulties
and gender expectations to make a better life. I also enjoy
learning about different countries and cultures. Combining
the two in this modern fairytale seems like a perfect
match. Adaugo is a girl growing up in Lagos, the forward-
looking, wealthy capital of Nigeria, where various
religions live side-by-side and oil money merges with
telecoms firms. Adaugo begins to live a Christian girl's
normal life, then her world becomes TWISTED IN A POSITIVE
WAY when her ambition to make something of herself grows.
We first meet Adaugo as a schoolgirl hoping to pass exams
that will let her get into secondary school early. Her
mother is keen for her to make progress, as her own parents
refused to let her study law in case it would scare away
prospective husbands. This combination of positive attitude
and cultural restriction continues throughout the book.
This is a well-off family, with good schools and the
respect of their community. Yet the man sees himself as the
breadwinner, though his wife also works. Some of these
tales are amusing, but perhaps not if you were living
Boarding school brings the sad lesson that some so-called
friends are only sponging off the kind-hearted Adaugo, and
we continue to watch her progress through university and
the world of work, where her ambitions are put temporarily
on hold. When she wants to do more study, the gender gap
will once again force the brave woman into painful choices
and life lessons.
A lovely touch is that Adaugo feels the contact of her
inner voice, a spiritual guide which might be her
subconscious personified. Through this voice she puts words
to the newfound wisdom she gains and solidifies her
determination. Maybe this is what Cinderella really meant
by a fairy godmother.
Chikamso C. Efobi grew up in Lagos and now lives in
England, after graduating with a Masters in Information
Systems Management from De Montfort University Leicester.
She writes motivational and personal development blogs.
What we are told
the work of women in banking will shock you. This is an
educational and enjoyable read.
Spanning decades in the heart of Mushin, Lagos Nigeria,
age tale of a charming heroine unfolds delicately and is
based on the
story of a young girl, Adaugo who faces difficult odds.
The loss of a
loved one and navigating cultural expectations and gender
major themes in this personal narrative documenting the
learning of a young girl with big dreams.
As Adaugo listens to the still small voice within her,
her growth from
a young girl in boarding school to a precocious brave
woman is studded
with precious gems of divine insight.
Her journey is one that any person, young or old will
learn from as it
illustrates the beauty and triumph of dreaming big and
never giving up.
It may not have been an extraordinary sight to most,
seeing a 9-year-old in Primary 4 stepping out of an
examination hall. However, Adaugo was no ordinary 9-year-
old, and writing her common entrance exams in Primary 4
was no ordinary occurrence, at least not where Ms. S.T.
Shoniyi, headmistress of Excel Primary School was
A student of Excel Primary School, Adaugo had fallen
under the umbrella of a new rule instated by Ms. Shoniyi.
The headmistress banned pupils who were “under-aged” from
writing the National Common Entrance exam. Under this
rule, Adaugo would have had to wait until Primary 6 to
sit for the exam. Sitting for and passing the National
Common Entrance exam is a prerequisite for attending
junior secondary school.
Ngozi and Obiora, Adaugo’s parents, were skeptical about
this rule though, especially since pupils who had
graduated in years prior to Adaugo’s set had sat for the
exams in Primary 5 without issue. Mama Obinna, a family
friend, had even reported that her son was enjoying
junior secondary school and was doing very, very well and
he had sat for his common entrance exams in Primary 5!
Adaugo’s parents tried to make sense of Ms. Shoniyi’s
rule, even going so far as to postulate that it was her
future income stream she was protecting by requiring
students to wait until Primary 6 for their exam. In the
end, there seemed to be no rhyme or reason for such a
rule, and Adaugo’s parents decided to take matters into
their own hands, rules or not. In an act of blatant
defiance, Adaugo was enrolled in a different state run
primary school, one where she would be allowed to sit for
her exam in Primary 4. They rationalized that Adaugo
could use the exam as a mock trial of sorts, one which
would give her opportunity to practice the exam and get a
feel for it so that she would know precisely what to
expect when she took it again in Primary 5.
This plan made perfect sense to Ngozi. There was no way
she was going to allow her daughter to waste one more
year in “that school,” as she always put it. Her first
daughter was almost always at the top of her class, and
clearly she was ready for secondary school. Delaying that
progress was nothing but a waste of everyone’s time.
Adaugo didn’t see the situation exactly the same way as
her doting mother. She quite liked being the best in her
class, and it was flattering to be the class monitor (a
position reserved for either the most brilliant pupil, or
the oldest and toughest looking pupil). She didn’t
complain about the new exam rule, not the way her mother
did, because being at the top of her class was something
she had grown accustomed to, and being the class monitor
had its perks. For example, she could write all the names
of her enemies on a list, and each would then receive
about six strokes of the cane. She didn’t write names
lightly, truly it was reserved for her enemies – those
bigger, older boys who defied her authority by continuing
to make noise when the teacher stepped out of the
classroom. On some days when the boys got really, really
angry at the flogging they received from their teacher,
Miss Banke, they would chase her. She in turn would run
to Papa Chikata the security guard, waiting at his
station until the boys got tired of waiting for her to
emerge or until she was picked up from school. On some
days, she got lucky and extreme patience wasn’t required:
Papa Chikata would chase the boys away for her, and
Adaugo would stick out her tongue at them all as they
Undoubtedly, Adaugo was a lively child as much as she was
bright. She questioned what was, what wasn’t, and why
things were or weren’t the way she saw them. She feared
no one, yet she respected all. If it was her mother who
encouraged her to excel in school, it was her father
Obiora, a clearing and forwarding agent, who taught and
encouraged her to ask questions and speak her mind. As is
often the case with parents, a moment arrives when they
wonder what they have done, what kind of inquisitive
monster they have created, and Obiora was no exception.
Sometimes he would grow weary of Adaugo’s numerous
questions, especially when she continued to stream them
in his direction when her father was in the middle of
some other task, like tucking in her and her younger
sisters, Ifeoma (younger, but only by eleven months) and
Obioma (younger also, but by three years and three
The bed time routine included a story usually, read to
the three girls by their father. More often than not,
whatever bed time story Obiora chose to read was
interrupted repeatedly so that he could intervene in
arguments between Adaugo and Ifeoma. They argued about
what story should or should not be read, while Obioma
quietly sucked her thumb and watched her two older
sisters bicker and argue. Her displeasure with the scene
was registered with a sharp, tearful cry when the
argument became too loud, too animated, or was simply
taking too long to resolve. In these instances, Obioma’s
cries usually resulted in a near immediate stop to the
argument, with the energy of the two squabbling sisters
being redirected towards stopping Obioma’s crying.
With their patient father doing all he could to peaceably
put his three daughters to bed in one room, the girls’
one-year-old baby brother, Ugonna, was being rocked to
sleep by their mother in another room. Theirs was a busy
home, a three bedroom flat in Mushin, a part of Lagos,
Nigeria, an area known for being riddled with violence
and criminal activity. It was not unusual to hear the
sound of someone’s tearful wail after being dispossessed
of their valuables by armed robbers who operated at
night. One of their neighbours was recently a victim.
As she rocked Ugonna to sleep, Ngozi, a trained food
nutritionist, elevated her feet which were swollen from
pregnancy. As Ugonna drifted off to sleep in one arm, she
pulled out her dog-eared law textbook and studied for one
or two hours before finally retiring for the night. Ngozi
had always wanted to be a lawyer, but had postponed her
dream in order to follow her parents’ advice. It was the
1970s then, and her parents cautioned that a powerful
career path, like law, would prevent Ngozi from marrying
“on time,” whatever that meant. Instead, she had settled
for a career in nutrition, but only after making a
promise to herself that one day she would become a
lawyer. Now, some twenty years later, Ngozi was still
studying to become a lawyer, even while she helped to
guide Adaugo through her own education by creating
opportunities for her to sit for the common entrance exam
as early as possible.
Adaugo emerged from the examination hall. It had been a
big day for her, a momentous experience. As excited as
she was to learn the outcome of her exams, she was more
excited to be able to finally visit her sister in the
hospital. Two weeks prior, Ifeoma had fallen ill.
Yesterday, she had successfully undergone surgery to
correct an intestinal obstruction, a condition which was
quite rare in Nigeria but easily treatable with a simple
surgical procedure. After the surgery, Adaugo was
relieved to learn the procedure was a success, and
especially relieved to hear from the doctors that Ifeoma
could begin receiving visitors the next evening. Ifeoma
would be very tired of course, and her visitors must be
Surgery or not, Adaugo could not wait to pull her
sister’s hair and for them to fall right back into
quarrelling, which would feel normal after Ifeoma’s weeks
of illness. She had missed her sister during Ifeoma’s
time in the hospital, and was dismayed to learn that
Ifeoma was still in some pain and wouldn’t be fun to play
with again for quite some time. Still, she looked forward
to the visit after her exams were done.
Standing outside the exam centre, Adaugo waited for her
father’s company driver, Uncle Peter, and felt somewhat
uneasy. Quickly she dismissed this uneasiness as post-
exam jitters and resolved to continue waiting patiently
and quietly. In short order, her father’s blue Peugeot
504 saloon car pulled into view and Adaugo noticed that,
not surprisingly, Uncle Peter looked as grumpy as ever.
She greeted him and received the usual muttered, non-
committal response in return, though he did manage to
remember to ask how her exams went.
“I think I will pass,” she said.
Uncle Peter glanced at her through the driver’s front
mirror and gave her a smile, a sight she had seldom seen,
and she thought it odd. Puzzled, she fastened her seat
belt and reclined in her seat, waiting for the usual car
sickness to strike. At Hare Krishna hill in Oshodi,
another less than glamorous area of Lagos, she caught
Uncle Peter’s gaze once again. He stared at her through
the mirror and she smiled back at him, though she
continued pondering the reason for such frequent glances.
Finally, curiosity got the better of her, and she posed a
question to Uncle Peter, hoping it would begin to uncover
some answers behind his strange behaviour.
“Uncle Peter? Please, do you know when Ifeoma will be
discharged from the hospital?”
“Soon, very soon,” said Uncle Peter.
Smiling, though no closer to understanding Uncle Peter’s
glances, and exhausted from her exams, Adaugo fell asleep
quickly in the backseat. After what seemed like only a
few moments, she felt the car come to a stop and knew
that they must have finally arrived at home and she could
tell Mum and Dad all about her first common entrance
She climbed up the four flights of stairs, and her
excitement changed abruptly again to unease. It hit her
suddenly, and the closer she got to the door of the
family’s flat the more intense the feeling became. Again
she shook it off and, arriving at the door, reached up to
press the doorbell.
The door was opened by Obiageri, the house help, who
immediately and excitedly whispered, “Ifeoma is dead!”
Thinking the house help’s exclamation some cruel joke,
Adaugo admonished Obiageri and sharply warned her never
to try such a joke again, and walked into her home.
However, as she drew closer to the sitting room, Adaugo
could not help but wonder if Obiageri’s outburst might
actually be possible. She called out to her parents then:
“Mummy, Daddy, where is everybody?”
When no one answered her call, her curiosity grew to
annoyance. Why is no one coming to ask how my exams went?
She carried on, walking through the flat and calling for
her family, but with each step and each unanswered call
it seemed as though the world was beginning to slow down.
And then she saw her pregnant mum, sprawled out on the
floor, completely given over to her tears. In that
moment, she noticed a number of strange faces in the room
as well, and she couldn’t understand what was happening.
Her head was spinning, her confusion grew, and then, her
dad emerged from his room.
“Is it true?” Adaugo asked him. “Daddy, is it true?”
“Is what true?” her father replied.
“Who told you this?”
“Obiageri. Obiageri told me. Please, please, tell me. Is
it? Is it true?”
His one word reply was unnecessary by that point as her
mother’s tears and the strangers surrounding them told
her all she needed to know, but a tearful and weak voice
mustered one anyway. “Yes,” Obiora replied to his young
Adaugo felt the world spin, faster and faster and faster
it spun, pitching her into black silence. Through the
deep silence that suddenly surrounded her, she could hear
a distant sound of people scrambling around her as her
body hit the floor, and her yellow lunch box dropped from