Just before going to senior secondary school I had the chance to go to a teenage Christian youth camp. (I wasn’t a teen yet but it was the week before my first teen birthday). I think there I first realized that my life was my responsibility and I had to be more hands on about it. Till then I had been on autopilot pretty much, in the que sera sera lane, being guided and watched under the loving care of my parents. But after this first time away from home, I started personal devotions and studying without being told or pushed. I like to think that was when I became personal with my Christian faith.
I failed chemistry and further maths in some terms in SS 1, but I placed 7th overall at the end of the year. Personal record for me! I mean, coming from 60-something position in class to 7th without even trying, while failing some subjects at times even. I suddenly believed that I could do much better if I put in a little effort. And I did. Secondary school soon became a series of competitions and travelling to represent my school and state. The stone the builders rejected had become the head of the corner.
I still laugh when I think of those times. I hardly expected what was to follow. I was young and the world was at my feet, or so I thought. But immediately after finishing secondary school and setting a record with my WAEC result, I went through my period of depression. I still see that four year period as the major turning point in my life and I wrote about that already here.
When I finally was tempered by my stay at home, my parents had the idea that we could apply to the Petroleum Training Institute in Warri. It was for a diploma programme but I didn’t care about university anymore because I had become bitter against the system anyway. So my brother and I prepared for the exams and applied. We got in easily enough. And at the end of the two year programme, we had set record GPAs for our departments. I think PTI was the only school that did not give me trouble. In fact, I think it was my best school ever. It was so lovely; I saw a real library for the first time and I immersed myself in books on my course, even those that weren’t relevant immediately. I think that was where my love for Petroleum engineering was sparked. Here was a course that combined the best in other engineering fields to solve problems as complex as human beings.
People on the outside didn’t see this decision to go to PTI as a smart one. They looked down on the school and wondered why two wizkids would waste their talents there. I think that was the time I also learned to block my ears to popular opinion too (when it was misinformed of course). In the end, my younger ones didn’t bother writing the university matriculation exam. PTI was the first choice immediately after school, with direct entry to university after the diploma programme. I also represented PTI in a students’ quiz competition. UNIBEN was one of the schools we competed against and the lecturer in charge of the students programme was from UNIBEN too.
After my diploma programme at PTI I came to another crossroads. Was I to go on to do the higher national diploma programme? Or get a job as a technician? Or go to the university? A friend of mine told my brother and I (yeah, we were in the journey together by now) that if we applied for direct entry, it would be painless and easy with our qualifications. So we went ahead and applied. And waited. We waited extra long that year. That year was the first year UNIBEN wanted their graduating diploma students’ results to be out in time to apply for that year’s direct entry too so they delayed closing the admission process. This was fortuitous for us at first because the PTI staff were on strike and our results to be used for the admission had not been released either! But then the delay stretched and stretched even after our results were ready.
We were advised to begin lectures before it would be too late to catch up on assessments and assignments. Dilemma. We had to take a leap of faith or stupidity and even went as far as having to pay for a room in Bendel estate on 19th Street. The Admissions list (UNIBEN book of life) did not come out until six weeks into the semester. By then we’d made friends and become a bit popular even. Just imagine the humiliation if your name wasn’t on the list! We rushed down to the cyber cafe to see if it had all been worth it. We saw people collapsing to the floor in thanksgiving while others stormed out with strong, unrepentant faces. Rejection was never tougher to take in all my years of school.
I learnt later that the head of the petroleum engineering programme I applied to was reluctant to take PTI students after the poor performance of those who had entered UNIBEN from there the previous year. The department admission officer happened to be the same man who’d been in charge of the students quiz I’d gone for while in PTI. He insisted that we’d be different because of that meeting, and argued I should be given a chance.
Gratefully we were all admitted. The rejoicing that day was heard as far as the tents of the righteous in Obiaruku. We were finally in university! For me, it had been six years since I first applied for the same course (meaning I could have graduated in the time I spent in the wilderness journey). But it was all worth the wait. University was a school of hard knocks, with extra credits to take because we came in after the compulsory courses were done (in 100 level). The trials of the brothers Jero continued with Nepa, water fetching, struggling for seats in class, missing scores, cult members and robbers dodging, and being beaten by the rain while wading through the flooded streets.
We never left 19th Street till we graduated with top grades four years later. I’d been in school for over two decades by then. But that was not the end of my education journey.
God is in charge of human lives, watching and examining us inside out. (Prov. 20 vs. 27, The Message)