Friday June 14 was Chika Okwuosah’s birthday. Months before it, she died of a brain tumour, but her parents, friends and colleagues still gathered to mark it – by setting up the Chika Rita Okwuosah Foundation (CROF) to immortalise her.
They say it is to fulfill her aspiration to be a “renowned fashion designer and a catalyst for social, educational and economic empowerment of women and girls.”
CROF will support female startups in beauty and fashion design to develop skills and access funding to grow.
It has instituted an annual award of excellence for the best female graduating student from the Nigeria Law School.
It will promote the rights of girls and women to quality education toward attainment of social and economic development.
It will advance health and wellbeing of women and girls, helping them grow their knowledge about their reproductive health, modes of early detection, access to treatment and patient’s right, especially around terminal illnesses like brain tumour.
That’s what Chika died from, aged 31, the only child of her parents.
“When it happened, it was tragic, heartbreaking, it was bad,” her father Dozie Okwuosah remembers.
“I even questioned my faith. It almost led to my saying I don’t think God hears prayers.
“After two, three days, I was saying ‘why me’? Upon all the things I know I do, with my wife: we serve God so much. I’m not boasting about it. The first three days were terrible. I said I’m not praying to God.
“On the fourth day, my daughter came and told me something. After that it became a case of ‘why are you not praying this morning, I am with God’. That is what my daughter told me. That evening, I got some solace. We decided we are going to make Chika a person the world will remember.”
Since she died of a brain tumour, her family started CROF to assist all brain tumour patients.
“We are more into God now because we believe God has a purpose for taking our daughter at the time God took her. She was our only child but we believe God has a way of doing things,” he says.
Her loved ones remember Chika as “curious, independent and intelligent.” And it overshadows the tragedy of loss and grief for her parents.
“They want to show that uniqueness to others. These parents want to show others,” says a friend of the family. “Wherever she is, she will see her ideals are held up.”
At 31, she already had her bachelors in law from University of Essex and a master’s in International and Corporate Law from University of Derby.
But she had no interest in law. She wanted to unseat Dolce & Gabbana.
“When she got her master’s, she told me, ‘Daddy, I have fulfilled your wish, can you allow me do my passion?’” her father recalls.
“Which was fashion, she wants to be a Gucci or more than Gucci, so when they come, they see she’s a lawyer but more than Gucci.”
Giving up a law career for fashion wasn’t a contention.
“I didn’t have an outrage,” her mother Nonye Okwuosah recalls. “I know that was her passion. When you get to my house, she’d already opened a shop. That was why we decided to encourage the oncoming, downtrodden fashion designers. That was Chika’s passion.
“Parents should allow their children to be themselves, not discouraging them from taking up their passion. Once they have a mind of doing it, they will do it better.”
In her 31 years, Chika touched different worlds – from schooling and the bar to volunteering and philanthropy.
“She had power to walk into a room and fill it with light, the power to not be forgotten,” a friend said.
“In adulthood, she became a woman with so much to give. She was unforgettable.”
CROF’s aims and objectives come from the passion and desires of the woman it is named after. Volunteer staff and a board of trustees are bringing those desires to life in any number of women and girls.
Its award of excellence to the best graduating female at law school also extends to the best beauty and fashion designer from recognized institution – a deliberate reference between those fields that defined Chika’s life.
Its launch opened with a fashion design competition, offering sewing machines to three winners.
“She was an only child. She died in her thirties. She had achieved most of the things a child should achieve to become a person of her own,” said Oche Odey.
“The death was very, very painful. The only way the parents felt they could immortalise her is to set up the foundation. I think it is doing something very laudable.”