Women in power: The beginning
I am writing this article Women in Power because l think it is seminal. But to get there, l must tell you more. I believe that most of the problems we face today would be less daunting if our women were educated. If 70% of our women were educated, then a 100% of our children would be. Imagine teaching them Nigerian values and channelling our inbuilt ambition for progress. Women should have the opportunity to serve as we did. The cliché is: “educate the women and you educate a nation”.
If it was not for my mother l would not be educated. She was a midwife in Lagos, Akure, Enugu, Onitsha, Degema etc. She baked bread and cakes, catered for ballroom dances at the various recreational clubs. When she moved l moved. Now you know why I speak all those languages. She made dresses, including wedding dresses for people. And she read at least one novel every week; her favorite authors were Leslie Chatteris (the creator of The Saint) Agatha Christie, (the famous detective novelist).
Cocooned as l was with all this love, l could not forget for one moment the sacrifice she made for me to go to school. Those of you whose father paid for your education will still appreciate the two shillings your mother gave to you. She remembered that the bus or lorry stops at Owerri for passengers to buy Udara (agbalumo,) banana etc. and at Mbgidi for oranges and mangoes; bukka food at Agbanikaka and Ilesha; roasted meat at Shagamu. No father has time to know about how we grew up.
Who fights in your corner when you are bullied?
After Higher School, I gained admission to the four Universities – ABU, Nsukka, Ife and University of Ibadan. I went to the University of Ibadan. Three faculty professors wanted me to study in their departments; Classics, English and History respectively. I was given a room at one of the Hostels – Tedder Hall or NnamdiAzikiwe – I forget which. But two weeks into the term, I had to show that I had paid the fees or I had a scholarship. I could not and got rusticated. I went back to Lagos, then to Onitsha to tell my mother. She cried and prayed, which also made me cry and pray. She told me to go back to Lagos, that the Lord will provide. I came to Lagos, and realized nearly all my schoolmates had Federal, U.S or Israeli scholarships, and I did not.
Out of frustration, I tackled the Scholarship Officer to find out why out of 29 of us in the higher school classes I was the only one without a scholarship. His name was Mr. Okafor. Having just returned from the International Labour Organization, he tried to kick me out of his office. I refused. I had to show him the results of my higher school certificate and the results of the other 28 in my class and their scholarship as was reported in the Gazette. Mr. Okafor took pity on my petulance. He quietly looked at what I showed him – 1, 1, and 2 in Higher School. He gave me a sheet of paper and dictated what I should fill out the Application for Foreign Scholarship and I did as he said.
A little while later I was going to watch football at the George V Stadium, Onikan, when I ran into Mr. Okafor going home from work – just outside the US Embassy, near All Saints Church. He stopped me, opened his bag – gave me a passport and tickets and said I had a scholarship to go to Iraq. I took the passport, tickets and other documents; I then asked him if he had a son, would he send him to Iraq? He said no, and he took the documents back and put them into his briefcase and left. About eight weeks later or so, I ran into him again at almost the same spot. He opened his briefcase and gave me my passport and told me I was to go to New Zealand. New Zealand is in the Southern hemisphere which meant that its academic year started in February after its summer which was between December and March. But I had no clothes, no money. I did not even know what to take. I told Mr. Okafor all these. He asked me to write for an advance on clothing allowance and he would see if New Zealand would refund any such allowance given to me. He also asked me to apply for travelling allowance since it would take me three days or so to get to New Zealand in 1962. I applied. Both were approved and I took off to New Zealand. I never saw Mr. Okafor again. I have searched for him everywhere, but to no avail. You know the kick in this story, the then Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education was my relative!!!
Dr. Cole, OFR, is a former Ambassador of Nigeria to Brazil.
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