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‘How the Carnegie Africa Diaspora Fellowship enriched my knowledge of home’

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Nduka Otiono

Nduka Otiono

Former journalist and teacher, Nduka Otiono, is Assistant Professor and Graduate Coordinator, Institute of African Studies, Department of English Language and Literature, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada. He has been at Delta State University, Abraka, twice for the Carnegie Africa Diaspora Fellowship. He spoke glowingly how enriching the experience was in giving him firsthand knowledge about home and the interactions he had at the university community, particularly the establishment of Niger Delta Literature, Environment and Climate Change Centre. He spoke with ANOTE AJELUOROU, who was in Abraka

You are on the Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship and this is the second leg of the fellowship. Could you sum up your experiences so far?
To clarify the context, in this round of the fellowship application, Carnegie Incorporation expanded applications to accommodate a percentage of alumni, which is academics, who have won the Carnegie before and now have a competitive opportunity to return to continue or consolidate the work they have done. So, it’s like an Alumni Fellowship. We made application in collaboration with Professor G.G. Darah and we were fortunate to have got one of those limited Alumni Fellowships. That was what brought me the second time.

Otherwise, for a while, it’s been just one fellowship. The opportunity of coming here the second time, selected by Carnegie, indicates that I actually have something good going from the first report on my visit. It was based on that that we filed our second application to consolidate and to advance the work that we have started.

The experience has been very enlightening for me. It has been a two-way traffic for me, as I always like to emphasise. That is, I do believe that I have used my knowledge/modern skills and experience to impact on the community, especially the students in the Department of English and Literary Studies of Delta State University (DELSU), Abraka, with whom I have primarily worked. The project that we proposed and much of the Carnegie Fellowship target higher education. I started working with the Masters and Ph.D students last year and we have developed some working relationships because I initiated ideas on curriculum development, on research that matters and also on writing for grants and for academic publishing.

Coming back here has given mean opportunity to deepen the instructions, deepen the seminars that we have covered. I think from the feedback that I have got from the students, I am very pleased with the way they have received it.

On the other hand, I have also learnt a lot. It has given me opportunity to interact with the immediate community. I happen to be from Delta State. So, it has been a homecoming of twice in a row, afforded by the fellowship in Carnegie. In so doing, I have also broadened my scope. I have also updated my knowledge of the community and Nigeria. I have visited the library and was surprised to see important publications that have been done but which are not enjoying any form of international circulation, unfortunately.

So, you see how important and brilliant books are produced and published but are limited in circulation. If I didn’t come this way or visit the library, I wouldn’t know that such important books have been published. And so my coming here has enriched my knowledge and then also to establish newer contacts. I left Nigeria about 10 years ago. I left in the sense that I moved to Canada to do my Ph.D about10 years ago. In between, I have visited home fairly frequently but I have not had the opportunity of staying for this period of time for three months, which I stayed last year and this year to update my knowledge, my network and at the same time to build fresh bridges within the fields I admire and work in (the media and academia).

On the other hand, I have also been able to experience at a more sustained level, the kind of living conditions in Nigeria. It is beyond what anyone can imagine or read in newspapers or on social media. Yes! That gives you the extent of the kind of conditions that people live in now. That has enabled me, as a matter of fact, to get to the ground, with regards to the basics of life in Nigeria. Beyond my comprehension, I have seen how much Nigeria has changed within the period I have been away.

Is that change positive or negative?
I wish I could say positive with all of my heart. There are areas that there are positive advances. In the area of communication, with the penetration of mobile telephony and we have seen modern technology. The clearest example of it will be in the banking sector. So, there are some ways in which globalisation and technology have impacted positively on the country.

You have made donation of books and other learning materials to DELSU, Abraka. Could you just enlighten us a little bit on what motivated you and the quantity of materials that you donated?
As I mentioned earlier, the Carnegie Fellowship has offered me an excellent opportunity to reconnect with home in the most extensive way that I would have dreamt of beyond the few weeks that I spent at home in the past. Being here has opened my eyes to a lot of things about the challenges that students and colleagues face. And during my first time as a Carnegie African Diaspora Fellow here, I discovered that there was an opportunity to provide infrastructural support in the form of books. Well, you can’t call that infrastructure; I mean, learning and teaching materials to improve learning and teaching in this university. And so based on that, I thought that when I have any other opportunity at a formal level, I was going to work towards contributing to supporting teaching and learning.

When I got back to Canada, and when I had to apply again for the Carnegie Alumni category, I decided what I was going to do because what I had in mind was to do what you call a personal corporate social responsibility, to demonstrate some social responsibility by supporting in whatever way I can the production and the work that goes on in this university. That is how I had to source books from my friends, colleagues and my institute. And I looked at them and choose some of them and I bought some, too. I bought quite a number of books because I had access to buy some and there were auctions, too.

And then, I decided to work on projectors because I love active classrooms. I love to use instructional materials in ways that makes learning more enjoyable for students. I love very lively presentations. I was so frustrated working through many of the seminars without this accessory to my classroom and I thought that one modest way of doing it was to provide a projector.

Fortunately, in the process of searching for a projector, I was trying to save some money and a friend of mine, Victor Odili stepped in. I brought it in with the hope that students and professors will have access to them towards enriching their knowledge and improving on the output of outcome of their research and learning.

What should we be looking forward to next from you? Would you like to come back or probably retiring and relocating to Abraka?

Thank you so much! One of the important outcomes of my visit to DELSU, Abraka, is two important announcements, one of which recently took me by surprise was being appointed as Associate Professor to the university. The other, very significant, too, is that from the presentation ceremony, the Vice Chancellor adopted our proposal for the establishment of the Niger Delta Literature, Environment and Climate Change Centre and pledged total support towards its establishment.

What will that centre entail?
That centre will be dedicated to promoting research in the Niger Delta in Nigeria with emphasis on its literature and environment and climate change in essays, books, creative works and what have you. In addition, it tends to also attract potential funding for students and scholars in the community to pursue their interest in climate change. Three, the Niger Delta, being what it is as the most productive in the world, requires this kind of a project as a way of raising awareness about the importance of climate change and environmental protection.

So these are the tripartite proposal of the project that has been approved by the Vice-Chancellor. It is now for us to work towards the next stage, which is actualising it. That is important because it is beyond writing on paper or computer screen into actual living and experience to see how a centre like this could become a world renowned, a go-to place, not for Niger Delta issues alone but also issues bordering on the literature and the environment and also for future policies.


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