From Pushing Barrow To Shoe Mending To A Professor: Inspiring Story Of Professor Nicholas Uchechukwu Asogwa Of University Of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN)

Prof Nicholas Asogwa

MY JOURNEY TO PROFESSORSHIP —

By Prof. N.U. Asogwa

Today is indeed a great day and a momentous occasion in my life, as the University of Nigeria, Nsukka earlier today announced my elevation to the sublime and prestigious rank of Professor. I am deeply humbled to celebrate this momentous occasion. My gratitude goes to God, the undisputed Supreme Power of the universe for making my attainment of this feat possible.  I stand before the world today overwhelmed with a profound sense of gratitude, honor, and accomplishment. I make bold to state that I am a living testament to the power of persistence, determination, and unyielding faith in the face of adversity.

 I am deeply humbled and happy because looking back at my journey I am reminded of the enormous challenges and obstacles that stood in my path. I was born into a family facing abject poverty, which posed a serious threat to my educational opportunities. Times were hard, resources were limited, and dreams seemed unattainable. However, I was blessed with parents who instilled in me the value of education and the belief that anything is possible with hard work and perseverance.

My path to the prestigious rank of Professor was not an easy one. I had to navigate through financial constraints, societal stereotypes, and a myriad of doubts. As I stepped into the hallowed halls of this university the very day I was offered employment, I knew that I carried the weight of breaking the cycle of poverty in my family and proving to all those who doubted me that a person’s background does not define his/her potential.

Throughout my academic journey, I was fueled by an insatiable thirst for knowledge and a burning desire to create a better future for myself and my loved ones. There were countless nights spent studying while others slept, sacrificing personal comforts to ensure I could excel in my chosen field. I faced numerous rejections, disappointments, and setbacks along the way, but I refused to let them define me.

The sublime position of Professor which I attained today is an affirmation of the truism in the saying that, ‘determination is the key to success’. I could have been demoralized by circumstances, if not for my determination to succeed. I recall with tears my days as a barrow pusher at the popular Orie Orba market in Udenu LGA  of Enugu state, and then my days as a shoe-mender in one of the female hostels (Bello Hall) in the same university where I became a professor. Sometime in 2016 I had a chance meeting with the owner of C.O.U Barrows, the owner of the then flourishing business outfit from which I used to hire Barrow.  In the course of our discussion, he told me that seeing me and getting to know what I have become makes him to believe that, ‘what God cannot do does not exist’.

At this juncture, may I, in addition to my parents who laid the foundation of my education, mention the names of two persons who were strategically instrumental to my academic career and achievements. They are Bar. Mrs. Nkechi Ohanuka, and Mrs. Proscovia Ndoboli from Imo State and Uganda, respectively. My relationship with them dates back to my days as a shoe mender in the university. Both of them were my regular customers then. Upon realizing that I attended school up to secondary level in one of my interactions with her, Nkechi Ohanuka asked me why I didn’t want to further my education. I replied that I desired higher education badly, but that owing to my background, I needed to make some money that would help me to forge ahead. Coincidentally, the discussion took place at a time that JAMB form was on sale. In the evening of that same day, Mrs Ohanuka came back to my shop, tapped me at the back and upon my turning to know who tapped me, she handed a wrapped paper to me saying, “I have discussed with my husband, go and purchase JAMB form”. When she left, I unwrapped the paper, and lo and behold, it contained six hundred and twenty naira (#620), the exact amount JAMB form was sold then. That was in her final year. As GSM was not in place in those days, there was no means for me to contact her, nor for her to even know the progress of the person she has invested in. One thing I did and which later helped me was to write her name boldly at the door of my room. Not knowing where and how to locate Mrs Ohanuka became a source of worry to me to the point that I had to open up to people that come around me about what was becoming a big challenge to me. Although I could not locate Nkechi Ohanuka, yet I dedicated my Ph.D work which has been scheduled for oral defence in February 2014 to her and Proscovia Ndoboli. As fate would have it, and through the power of internet (Google & Facebook), I was able to reconnect with Mrs. Nkechi Ohanuka in late 2013, about two or three months to my Ph.D oral defence, thank to the suggestion made to me by my then office mate, Ven. Dr. Joseph Chukwuma. To the glory of God, Nkechi Ohanuka was present in my Ph.D convocation. The rest is now history.

 In the case of Proscocia, when I informed her that she might not see me in my shop when next she comes to repair her shoes, as I was due to leave, having gotten admission to further my education, she was shocked, shocked because she said she didn’t know that I attended secondary school much less sitting for JAMB examination. After congratulating me, she told me that she would like to come and know my place and see my parents. We fixed a date and after visiting my place, she told me that even though my place is very close to the university, she wouldn’t want me to be attending lectures from my place. In addition, she told me that she would pay for my initial school fees. She fulfilled her promise and left Nigeria the next year, following her graduation. Proscovia Ndoboli was a student of the department of Religion. That was how I started. Nkechi bought JAMB form for me, while Proscovia paid my first school fees and put me in the hostel. From there, my parents and I took over, and the struggle continued.

In my relationship with students and my fellow staff, and in carrying out my official duties, I have always been guided by my background and the circumstances behind my getting to where I am today. I promised myself that I will not disappoint God, my lovely parents, Nkechi Ohanuka, and Proscovia Ndoboli. In this regard, I have been doing my best to serve humanity and help in shaping the destinies of those that come in contact with me.

Let me at this juncture, remind us of this stark truth: To invest in material things is good, but investing in people is far much better. Look at me: ever since I got employment as a lecturer, there has been no day that I entered the bathroom to bath and prepare for work without remembering Nkechi Ohanuka. Look at what the seed she sowed in me some years back has grown into. I, myself, have leveraged on that seed to sow seed in others, and it will continue like that. What I am today and the more that I will become tomorrow are in one way or another the results of that seemingly small investment she made in me. Whoever sees Nkechi Ohanuka and Proscovia Ndoboli should thank them profusely for me

In my pursuit of excellence, I was fortunate to have mentors, teachers, and colleagues who recognized my potential and pushed me beyond my limits. They provided unwavering support and guidance, nurturing my talents and challenging me to reach greater heights. Their belief in me, even during times of self-doubt, played a pivotal role in my academic success. In this regard, the likes of the late Prof. J.O. Eneh, Prof. J.C.A. Agbakoba, Prof. Benedict O. Eboh, and Prof. Ernest Ike. Onyishi readily come to mind. At a time when I could not continue with my master’s program owing to lack of finances, it was Prof. Agbakoba who helped to launch me back into the program by providing with a loan. He also facilitated my trip to both Mali and Germany, courtesy of the Volkswagen Foundation’s research project that he attracted. In fact, that project was the engine that eventually saw me through my Master’s programme. May God continue to reward Prof. Agbakoba beyond his expectations. Late Prof. J.O. Eneh single-handedly initiated and implemented the idea and strategy that gave me job at the University of Nigeria. May his soul rest in peace. The role and impact of Prof. Ernest Ike Onyishi, the current Dean of the faculty of The Social Sciences, University of Nigeria in my life can never be forgotten. He encouraged and has continued to encourage me from the very first day I joined the university till date. I owe a lot to him as far as my enhanced art of writing is concerned. Prof. Onyishi is indeed a motivator, a selfless helper, and a defender of justice per excellence. One thing is clear: For all the unusually difficult time that I have faced in my life God had always visited me through a fellow man. In fact, what God cannot do does not exist.

I accept this promotion with immense gratitude to all those who have aided me on this journey. I am indebted to my parents for their unwavering belief in my abilities, even when the odds were stacked against us. To my family, friends, and loved ones, thank you for standing by me, lifting my spirits, and supporting me every step of the way. To my esteemed colleagues, with whom I have shared countless hours of research, discussions, and collaborations, thank you for your intellectual engagement, inspiration, and continuous pursuit of excellence. Together, we will shape the future of education and contribute to the progress of our great country.

I have no doubt that becoming a Professor is an important achievement, but I am also convinced that what one does with one’s Professorship is much more important than becoming a Professor. I stand here today aware that my promotion carries with it a tremendous responsibility. It is not simply an acknowledgement of my accomplishments, but a call to serve, inspire, and empower young minds. I pledge to use this position to uplift others, to create opportunities for those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, and to inspire belief in their own capabilities.

In conclusion, as I celebrate this significant achievement, let it stand as a testament to the triumph of the human spirit over adversity. Let it serve as an inspiration to all those who may feel bound by their circumstances, reminding them that they too can overcome any obstacle and achieve greatness. Admittedly, level has changed (yes, it changed simply because I can now perform the duties of a Professor which I could not perform as at yesterday), but my identity remains the same. Relate with me first and foremost as Nicholas Uchechukwu Asogwa, and only as a Professor when the need arises.

To my family members, friends and well wishers, I thank you for being a part of this joyous celebration, and may we continue to strive for excellence, leaving a lasting impact on the world around us. Lastly, and in the light of the above, I dedicate my PROFESSORSHIP to God, my parents, late Mr. Fidelis Asogwa and Mrs. Roseline Asogwa, Nkechi Ohanuka, and Proscovia Ndoboli.  To God alone be all the glory!

Prof. Nicholas Uchechukwu Asogwa (JP),

Professor of Ethics,

University of Nigeria, Nsukka.

September 26, 2023.

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