From zero to hero

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By Sam Otti

As a school kid, Dr Gideon Nwafor suffered the pinch of failure. His wobbling start in primary and post-primary schools took him down the valley.  Times without end, he took the last position in his class. His annual results at Community Secondary School, Ugwueme, Awgu Local Government in Enugu State left him limping. After six years of post primary education, he hugged failure when the results of the Senior School Certificate Examination were released by the West African Examination Council (WAEC) in the year 2000. The National Examination Council (NECO) didn’t spare him either, as he dragged his feet home with only a credit pass in Igbo Language to his name. To save his face from shame, he tucked the results deep into his pocket and told his father barefacedly that his results were withheld.

In an interview with Saturday Sun recently, Dr Nwafor, who is now a lecturer at the Department of Mass Communication, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University (COOU), Igbariam, Anambra State, said failure was the foundation of his success.  Speaking with this reporter in his office, he recalled how his late father, Chief Emmanuel Nwafor, a retired school teacher, on a fact-finding visit to his secondary school discovered that his son only had credit in Igbo Language out of the 18 subjects he offered in both WAEC and NECO exams. Rather than vilify or scold him in anger, he walked quietly home and invited his son for a motivational session.

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“He told me that I was short-changed, that the result given to me wasn’t mine. My father started praising me in the face of failure. He told me that I was brilliant, that I was not a failure. I was wondering how he could be praising me when I already saw myself as a failure. I had expected him to scold me or talk to me in a manner that would make me run away from the house. Instead, he embraced me with fatherly love and assured me that I was intelligent, brilliant and a son whom he would always be so proud of.”

Nwafor said his father looked beyond the gloomy cloud and inspired him to walk into a brighter future. Bruised beyond words, those words of hope reinvigorated him to pick up his broken gauntlet and return to the academic ring. Strings of success followed him thereafter, he recounted.

“It was from my father that I learnt the word, “deterred.” He kept telling me not to be deterred. You are meant for greatness. He told me that he would enrol me in extramural classes in Awgu Local Government, so that I could attend lessons and retake the exam. My father, out of his meagre earning as a pensioner, enrolled me in lessons. It was at that point that I told myself that I couldn’t fail a second time. I started doing all the necessary things, reading even when I didn’t know what I was reading,” he recounted.

Nwafor said his life took a dramatic turn after the incident, embarking on months of intensive studies at extramural classes. He wrote the Senior School Certificate Examination for a second time and obtained credit passes in core subjects. But he suffered another setback with only a pass in Mathematics. Unbowed by this drawback, he enrolled for Preliminary Studies at Federal Polytechnic, Oko, Anambra State in 2003, Ufuma Campus. In 2004, he was admitted into the Main Campus of the polytechnic, where he successfully completed the Ordinary National Diploma (OND) in Mass Communication. He proceeded to Anambra State University, now Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University, through direct entry and graduated in 2011/2012 academic session. He further obtained his MSc in the same university in 2016, and later bagged a Ph.D in Mass Communication in 2020, with interest in Development Communication.

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While undergoing this study, Nwafor said he was employed as a Technologist in the Department of Mass Communication of the university from 2014 to 2020. He combined work and study, and persevered to the finishing line. He later converted to a teaching staff, and now imparts knowledge to other people.

Looking back at his cheerless past, Nwafor blamed his poor performance on the deplorable state of primary and post primary schools in his rural community, Ugwueme in Awgu Local Government of Enugu State. With zero learning facilities and insufficient teachers, school kids studied in pitiable and intolerable conditions. It was not surprising that he was labelled the dunderhead of the class. He noted that poor environmental and social factors inherent in rural schools have continued to take a heavy toll on the academic performance of school children.

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“In Community Secondary School Ugwueme, there was no English teacher at that time. I didn’t have the exposure or resources of going to other schools in the city. My parents didn’t have the resources, even when there were obvious reasons why I should change to another secondary school.  We lacked teachers in different subjects. This affected my SSCE, both WAEC and NECO. We were the first set to write NECO examination in 2000,” he narrated.

Dr Nwafor expressed concern that several children in public primary and secondary schools nationwide face the same frustrating experience at school because of decrepit state of facilities, lack of teachers, and lack of government support for an efficient running of the system. According to him, a lot of post primary schools have closed due to decades of negligence by the government.

“In the secondary school I attended, we usually had students’ population of 300 to 400. But now, in that school, total population is not up to four students. Buildings are dilapidated, one or two teachers teach the entire school. Secondary school system in Nigeria is suffering more than the university sector because some of them have been neglected and abandoned,” he explained.

Nwafor warned that the negligence of public schools in rural communities has increased urban migration, thereby putting a strain on facilities in urban areas. He said the education gap between the rural and urban areas has continued to widen.

“Parents are now under pressure to send their children outside the community, to study in private schools, which are very expensive or few public schools that are better equipped. Those secondary schools in communities that were actually established to address the education imbalance and encourage access to formal education for rural dwellers are suffering. A lot of public primary and secondary schools in rural communities have collapsed totally, while several others have merged to survive,” he noted.

He advised the government to accord public primary and post primary schools the attention they deserve to increase access to formal education at the grassroots level.  He further maintained that basic amenities should be provided at the rural communities to encourage teachers and other rural dwellers.

“Teachers don’t find pleasure going to schools in rural communities to teach. So, when they are posted to Community schools, they work their transfer to urban schools where they will have access to electricity, good roads, and other amenities lacking in rural areas. He called for the revamping of public primary and post primary schools nationwide in order to breed youngsters that would one day rise to the zenith of their career.

“There is hope for every child that may have a poor academic background. But that child must be determined. It took a lot of determination to remove the shackles on my way. What happens to many children is that they give up. Don’t give up. Don’t be deterred”, he advised. 

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