Nkechinyere Chidi-Ogbolu has every reason to be the pride of her parents and envy of kids. At 18, she has not only completed her Bachelor’s Degree in Chemical Engineering from Howard University, Washington, she has also been awarded a PHD scholarship to study Biomedical Engineering at the University of California. TIMOTHY ODUTOLU writes
She became the cynosure of all eyes, grabbing both local and international headline for her feat when recently, she launched her first book, “Tales of an Uber Minor in College.” She spoke about how it was travelling thousands of miles abroad without any of her parents at age 14 to pursue her dream and what motivated her to be a published teenage writer.
What is about your new book?
The new book, ‘Uber’ doesn’t refer to the taxi service. It means super- so basically a super minor in college. I started college at 14 years old, while 17 is considered a minor, 14 is VERY minor! It’s like a look into my diary for those four years. My fears, my joys, my challenges, my experiences. It’s all in there. There is also advice, from my perspective, for parents and their children who are young and have dreams as well. It’s about taking every opportunity to be exceptional. It’s about being informed. It’s about teenage antics and angst. It written in such an informal way, as though I am having a conversation with you. I think it’s a book people from all walks of life should read and enjoy and it’s for all ages as well! The book discusses everything from scholarships to mentorship to parent-child relationships to crushes and more…
What was your motivation?
Realising the impact the book could have on my generation. My mom of course has been there every step of the way to remind me of how important the message would be for young people everywhere no matter their status.
What was it like living and schooling thousands of miles away without mom at age 14?
My parents were only one call away and so it was no issue at all for me. I have a relationship with them where I can talk about anything and not feel judged. I was and still also blessed with friends who are extremely supportive in every way and I mean I was really just blessed.
Success is about the individual…it may have taken a different path but I do believe, with determination, I could have got here. I was without my parents in the US and I was in an environment that was extremely free and extremely distracting for a young girl. The fact that I was able to maintain my sanity with such mind-numbing freedom means that with my family around me and with people around to ground me, I would have done just as well, or even better, for myself.
People who obviously love and care about me, and were genuinely worried, discouraged the idea of me going all the way to the US by myself despite the excellent educational system. They were concerned that the environment at my vulnerable age and all that would have caused me to derail but I did not. The actualization of a part of my dream was not because I went to the US but because I had a solid support system, which would have had an even stronger foundation in Nigeria.
What lapses do you understand are in the current Nigerian education system?
I would say it is the applicability of what one is taught. It is a system that calls for cramming and passing exams based on that and less of practicality/creativity. In the US, there is more effort made to relate classroom activities to the real world while encouraging creativity, which I think is lacking in Nigeria most times. There is more effort to ensure students remember material in creative manners. For example, I took a class where an extra credit activity was to create a song out of what you had learnt in the class that semester. If you wake me up from sleep today, I can spit out the lyrics of the song and teach you that particular topic quite easily. More emphasis is based on being a total child and not just a book worm- a well rounded child is preferred. The educational system is geared towards all round development of a child and not just totally focused on grades. In fact, your ability to get a job, or get into graduate school, is highly based on the interview process, which is more a chat session, where they get to know you and what you are all about. I think it is important that the educational system in Nigeria encourage the development of a well-rounded child.
What’s your take on feminism?
Everyone should be a feminist because being a feminist is just being a decent human being. Being a Feminist is about women being treated equally with men- socially and economically. Many today twist that around to mean women hate men but that’s not what feminism is about. It is not such a petty issue and not about men at all. It is about women being properly appreciated for what they do and not having their accomplishments downplayed because of their sex. It is also about important movement that highlights the contributions of women to society and demands that they be acknowledged for that in the same way men would because we are all human. It is about giving women freedom to express themselves in whatever way they want and not stuffing into a box of what others have deemed to be “lady like”. It is really just about letting women be the women they chose to be and be duly rewarded for their contributions to society.
What role did your mom play?
Now my mother is a youths advocator and is always looking out for and trying to help young people achieve greater heights. She runs an organization called Croyden Consult which is geared towards empowerment of young people through provision of information and the very many opportunities available to aid them on their paths to success. She brought us up with that. She also believes nothing is impossible as long as we are determined and focused which is part of the reason I never even thought it would be an issue for me to go abroad alone at 14. She was so confident in the fact that I would do well which made me confident.
She knows how to relate with young people at their level. For example, when I wanted to drop chemical engineering for a singing career, if she had yelled at me or fought me about it, I probably would have done it anyway because I had offers from people willing to promote me as a musician. But, she knew just what to say and how to entice me using my Baby Boo Falz( Folarin Falana) She used his story of being a lawyer and a musician and pointed out that he didn’t drop school for his music and that was what got me to stay. That is the kind of person she is, she does not live your life for you. She lets you be you but with a little push and guidance but never force.
What message do you have for the average Nigerian kid while growing up?
Nothing can stand in the way of you but you. If one road does not work out, try another. Search for information because it is a formidable weapon. You can break the mould and set a new standard no matter your background.
How to check cancer in children, by Nwobi
That one’s child is sick is worrisome enough, but that the child has cancer is dreadful news no parent ever wished to hear. In an interview with Dr. Nneka Nwobi, founder of Children Living with Cancer Foundation, she said that the best way to avoid the dreadful news is for parents to be alert and do regular check up for their children. Oluwatosin Omoniyi writes
What is the progress made so far on Children living with cancer?
We are in a better place than last year. We are in a better place in the sense that things are looking up. Nigeria is out of “recession” and we are hoping that corporate bodies, individuals would continue to help in getting us the medicines and facilities we need. The test we need and equipments we need to get better chances of cure for these children
Last year was horrible. People did not donate. Just very few people donated and we have an anonymous donor.
I don’t know who the person is but the person is always giving us money. After every two weeks, he or she drops money into our account. I don’t know who the person is but I’m most grateful because those monies come in at very crucial periods.
We owed the pharmacy that supplies us drugs last year. At least we were able to clear off that debt. Things are looking up and we are hoping that as the year goes on we will have better response from the public, from corporate bodies, individuals and religious bodies.
What really could be the factors responsible for cancer in children?
Unfortunately, it is not as well known as adult cancer. For adult cancer, they will say lifestyle -related but it is not lifestyle related in children. The youngest I have heard about was nine weeks old. The baby had muscle cancer.
When you see a child like that, you start wondering what type of life style would a nine week old baby have apart from being on breast milk but then you think about how does a child get formed. It is from the ova and the sperm of the parents. Therefore, if there is a genetic manipulation or if the genes making the ova and sperm are distorted, the child can come down with it during the formation.
Because you know, these ova and sperm would make the cells organs in the child. So, If there’s anything wrong with the sperm and the ovum, definitely the child may be affected but then again, there is a correlation with some ailments such as down syndrome and leukemia. A child that was conceived in a place where there is nuclear reaction like the Hiroshima nuclear explosion, people living under high-tension wire, it is postulated that such people may come down with a cancer.
High-tension wires emit rays and those rays can cause a distortion in the genes. Like any other radiation, it emits rays constantly, even when women go for mammogram and stuffs like that there are precautions to be taken because the rays are not our best friends
Would you say that the lifestyle of the parent possibly contribute to the cancer status of their children?
I will not say lifestyle. Well, lifestyle in a way because what they are trying to make us believe is that all refined things we consume have to do with our health in one way or the other. Refined things like sugar are called killer. They are still working on that to know the relationship between refined sugar and cancer.
What I know is that we do not allow children on treatment to take much processed food especially those white sugar. Also refined foods such as poundo yam have chemicals that are used to preserve them and these chemicals have their effects on the body.
For you to keep juice for more than two days, it would ferment and to prevent that fermentation, you must preserve it one way or the other, what effect does that preservation have on you, that you know? It’s about discipline and mindset.
What are the precautionary methods parents need to take?
Know your child; know what is normal so that when there is anything out of the norm you can track it fast. Go for necessary checks during the baby period, the preschool check such as 1-year and the 5-year check. I was in a school and I asked the children if they have had X-ray’s done and none of them had done that. In most public schools, we usually have an entry medicine check and we do that at intervals but we have deviated so much from the norm.
Normally, while you are in school, you should have checks and when you are through with a session, there should be another check before you enter the next class and in between, they should be checked because if that is done, there is a possibility of knowing whatever is wrong with them on time.
Knowing your children health status is key. We had a parent who didn’t know that her child had a lump in the abdomen. It was a tailor who felt the lump, and for a tailor to feel that, it meant it was a big one.
As parents, you wake up very early and you leave the house, by the time you come back, the child is already sleeping, You don’t know what’s wrong with the child. No time spent with them to know what is wrong with them. I will advise parents to ask their children questions habitually.
Abroad, a test is conducted, pre-natal diagnosis to know if a child is predisposed to have cancer but we do not do it here. We do not even do the basic ones. The cancer tests help us discover quickly certain markers of cancer. If a child has those markers, it means the child would be followed up. It doesn’t mean that the child has cancer, it just means that there is a possibility of having cancer. All these things are things to keep in mind.
What is the survival chance for children living with cancer?
Abroad, we have 80-90 per cent of survival, cure rates. Here in Nigeria we have less than 20 per cent. It is very dismal. A while ago, we were
looking at 25 per cent cure rates by 2025 but white men are already making us feel that we cannot achieve it. We have to take care of ourselves, for instance chemotherapy drug is not produced in Nigeria and whenever we want to use it, we get it abroad which is more costly.
For example in India, when they had the right to produce the drug, the cost rates dropped. A drug they were buying at $3, came down to $1. That could be because the government key into that course. Our government too should key into it, the government should encourage pharmaceutical companies to produce cancer drugs in Nigeria. Not many people use cancer drugs, it’s not very popular, even when we are looking for it here it’s not very easy to come by. All those are things one should look at when we are talking about survival rates.
When we are talking about cancer drugs, how accessible is it for children living with cancer?
It is not cheap and we have very few companies bringing them in and of course they too have to make their profits and sometimes, not all the medicines produced in India are acceptable in our teaching hospitals and because it is cheaper people go for the Indian made chemotherapy drugs than the England made chemotherapy drugs.
What is the difference between Indian-made- chemotherapy and US or Britain-made chemotherapy drugs?
Sometimes some doctors just prefer the England-made ones above the Indian-made drugs. It is a thing of mentality. Some of the Indian made chemotherapy drugs may not enhance healing the way you want it to. Some of the doctors ask specifically for British made drugs and we go for that.
Would you say that childhood cancer is on the increase in Nigeria ?
I want to believe that there is more awareness for now. More people are bringing in their children and more children are dying from cancer. They are now coming out because when we started, we used to have families hide their children. We used to have families send the children to the village. One of the parents we had, the child was 14-years old, had a large, massive tumor, they sent the child to the maternal grandmother place, the child stayed there until the woman died. The mother of the child went home to bury her own mother brought back the child to Lagos and the father refused to have that child in his house. Even when the boy needed blood, he refused to let the boy’s siblings donate blood to the boy.
At a point, the tumor was so much that the boy could not eat. He had a muscle tumor so it was compressing his airways, the esophagus, so he had to eat through tubes and of course there was no way that child was going to survive for long but you see that brokenness in him. Knowing that your father has rejected you is something that no child should go through, even when the child does not belong to the man.
We’ve had some crazy family set-ups that one father asked us to pay for the DNA test because he was not sure that the child was his.
February 14: Widows’ day out
With smiles on their faces and shoulders held high, widows in their hundreds celebrated their Valentine party in grand style on Wednesday. The ‘Head High International Organization’, a Non Governmental Organisation for widows, gathered widows together at the VGINIS hall in Yaba axis of Lagos, as part of its visions to give succor to widows on a day famously celebrated as lover’s day all over the world.
These women have no husbands or supporters anymore. They are left to cater for children single-handedly in a society where forces against single-women are on the increase. Head-High foundation did not, however, leave these women to bow their heads in shame or feel irrelevant, rather, they gave hope to those who felt they were hopeless and had their heads high again.
Highly respected female personalities were present at the event. Personalities such as Her Excellency, Dame Abimbola Fashola, wife of the Minister of Power, Works and Housing; Honourable Commissioner for Women Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, Dr. Mrs. Lola Akande represented by Jumoke Odusanmi; Mrs. Laide Latinwa representing the Honourable commissioner of youth and sports.
Showers of love flooded the arena as warm hugs, handshakes of hopes were exchanged among the widows and the trustees of the organization. There were also souvenirs distributed to the widows in the spirit of the season.
While rendering her welcome address, the executive director of Head High International Organization, Pastor (Mrs.) Tinu Odugbemi established the purpose of the gathering. According to her, the Valentine love feast is a way to reach out to those who might be missing their loved ones during Valentine and may be feeling lonely and neglected; setting up a platform for widows to mix with peers, relax, network, be encouraged and enlightened also reconstructing love both in pattern and expression at Valentine season.
She added that at the 16th year of the organization, it has really attracted widows whose loves had been impacted in one way or the other, “many of our widows have been empowered through our skill acquisition schemes and at least 280 women and girls including widows and their daughters and 17 men have benefitted from these schemes”
She, however appealed to the widows to help the organization with its social and skills centre currently under construction at Isolo and to use the skills acquired to benefit themselves and the society at large.
While rendering the keynote address titled ‘Not without purpose’, Her Excellency, Dame Abimbola Fashola encouraged the women to truly keep their heads high and see God as their husbands.
She stated that there is no woman God created without a purpose whether widow or not but that the difference lies in the nature of the assignment given to each person and individual discharge of duties assigned them by God. She asserted that a woman was created by God to have dominion and nurture the earth.
She then enjoined the women to live impactful lives as expected by God and pray for other people around them because if everybody engages in selfish prayers, at a time of need, there would be nobody to pray for them.
Before rounding off her speech, Her Excellency gave the widows three key areas to improve upon in order to live impactful lives “First and foremost, you have to love God; Secondly, love people around you and when you do that God averts evil for you. Also, take care of yourselves. Eat the right meals, use the right drugs because health is wealth.”
She also encouraged them to teach their children to love God, let them develop personal relationships with God and see how things would turn out for them. “And you shouldn’t be complaining instead you should give thanks, because it is you that is blessed, you are not the dead one, you are alive, you are not in the hospital neither were you brought here on a wheel chair”.
She also advised widows to learn a vocational skill to empower themselves and try to learn something new every year. She enjoined them to make their children acquire skills too asides formal education. “Anything a child wants to do, let him do it, some of you parents, simply because you don’t want people to mock you, you push your children to University. In as much as there is nothing bad with a University degree, I decided not to attend one and I didn’t, I made up my mind to be a secretary and today I am one and proud of it”
The state Commissioner of Youth and Sports duly represented by Laide Latinwa encouraged the women to endeavour to engage in activities that would make their impact felt even by the unborn generation.
She also encouraged women whose lives have been touched by the head-high international organization to help lift other widows around them, “let the lifting efforts be multiplied”, she said.
In her message, the state Commissioner for Women Affairs and Poverty alleviation, Dr. Lola Slander duly represented by Jumoke Odusanmi, established the sufferings of widows in a typical African setting highlighting the inhumane treatments they are made to go through even in the 21st century of which Nigerian widows are no exception.
She, however, believes that it is time for women to come together to help tackle the challenges such as violence and discrimination against widows of all ages, “we must ensure that widows are well treated with equal opportunities for education and participation in the economy.”
The honourable commissioner also reiterated the efforts of the ministry towards poverty alleviation for widows through the skills acquisition schemes and programs organized by the ministry at intervals, “we would not relent in our campaign for women emancipation and empowerment. In the ministry of women affairs alone, there exists eighteen skill acquisition schemes established to empower young people and women across the state, most especially, widows. It is worthy to note that the short term and long term trainings are totally free of charge.”.
Some of the widows shared their experiences with New Telegraph one of which is Mrs Justina Ugwu, a mother of four children, who had lost her husband since 2006. She lamented that since the death of her husband life has been tough and hellish but with God by her side, she was able to overcome as three of her children had been in the higher institution one of which is currently in the compulsory National Youth Service Scheme (NYSC). “It was not easy at all. My husband’s family abandoned me and the children to survive alone and God helped us. I am a teacher in a private school so what I’m earning is just peanut so it was difficult for me when my first child gained admission into the University but God saw us through. I give him all the glory. ”
Mrs. Ogunmade Juliet stated that it has not been an easy journey since there was no one to support her, though her husband’s younger brother tried to make some efforts, he could not cope with it. “I have lost my husband since 33 years ago now. I never enjoyed my marriage because my husband died young. He just celebrated his 45 year old birthday. He had future plans for us but death cheated us. Since then, I have been running here and there to train my children to the level they are now and truly, God has always been faithful”.
She said that she appreciates the woman of God that have been helping widows and prays that God takes her higher.
Deaconess Busola Shomade, a mother of three, who lost her husband since year 2000 said that widowhood has not been easy on her. She described it as a tough one, that sometimes when a widow wakes up in the morning, her next option might be to cry knowing that her husband is nowhere but that God has helped her through it all.
“When I lost my husband, my mother-in-law sent I and the children out if the house so we had to look for our own apartment. But then we continued collecting the rent but later she stopped us from collecting the rent and took over though she promised to send us feeding money but we didn’t see anything. However, when my daughter gained admission into Yaba Tech last year, she gave us 20,000 but one thing is that God has always been my husband. He has always been there for me”.
Also speaking, Deaconess Opeyemi Falaye, a member of the trustee board stated that everything was rough but with God, it went well. She said that her husband died in year 1999 and her first son was in the first year in the University, the second was writing his senior WAEC while the last born was in his penultimate year in the secondary school.
“But today, with God by my side, all of them have graduated, they are doing well, they are in good places of work and they are taking care of me but initially, I thought I was going to die, I could not go to parties, I could not mingle with people, even friends that promised heaven and earth abandoned us. Initially, I was annoyed but later I realized that everybody has his cross to bear. So, I give God all the glory”
In an interview with Journalists, Pastor Mrs. Odugbeni spoke on what led her to establish the organisation
She said that as the first female pastor among her peers, she felt an urge to influence other women’s lives, “so I made up my mind to read the two books named after women in the Bible. I started with the book of Ruth because I was quite familiar with Esther. It was then that God arrested me, he showed me that there are different categories of widows.
With the information God gave me, the first thing that came to my mind as a journalist was to start a magazine or newsletter for widows but later we started with a Television series on NTA ten and with the way things turned out, I knew that was what God wanted me to do. This later led to a widows it held at Isolo where widows spoke at length and wanted more meetings. That was what led to this”.
Speaking on the challenges of the organization, she mentioned finance as one of the major challenges of the organisation and called on the government and other corporate bodies for assistance. She also expressed her gratitude to the sponsors and donors of the Head high international organization.
I didn’t sacrifice my career for family – Professor Folayan
To some, life is just a phase, a compendium of events. To others, life is seen as an opportunity to achieve milestones that would make significant marks on the sand of time. In the latter category is Mrs. Morenike Oluwatoyin Folayan, an associate professor of Child Dental Health, Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital and member of the College’s research and partnership unit. In a chat with Elizabeth Ogunbamowo and Mayowa Ososami, the scholar speaks on her career
What motivated you to toe the teaching line?
I ventured into the teaching line by accident. I never planned to be a lecturer. I trained as a dentist and I had a very experienced professor- Odunsoya. I would say that almost 90% of my set came back into what we call the residency programme where we specialize. In our own world then, that was like a PHD and you know when you get a PHD, the more you research, the more you get interested. In our world then, there was a lot of gap in the academia and once you do your fellowship, there is always a space for you as a lecturer. I got in there. I think what I enjoy most is the research work. Teaching gave me the opportunity to share that and mentor young people. As an advocate also, I could share my research findings to change the world and students are the most available persons you can share that with. I enjoy that. I do not really enjoy clinical work.
In a University, you must do three things. You teach research and do community works. For most medical doctors, their community work is what they do in the teaching hospital. For me, my community work revolves a lot around advocacy worker.
What were your challenges like?
Yes, there are challenges but for me I have lived a life of overcoming challenges such that it has become a part of life. I could very well say that working in the University has its own peculiar challenges. I guess I could complain, just sadly I don’t. For me one of the things that was a challenge and extensively challenging was not having supporting seniors. I did not have supportive seniors so I had to learn the ropes myself and I had to climb the ropes myself. I think that is the only thing I can think of. Then it was a tug of war. I had to fight my battles. I fought battles people had never fought. I probably survived because I had God and maybe one of these miracles.
What are your teaching philosophies?
One thing for me, I think I got that from my own teacher, that when students fail, I failed. I remember the time that I was HOD, I was excited that I had a one hundred percent pass rate. The second year, it wasn’t the exact rate. But I was able to do a one hundred percent pass, so for me, when students fail, it should be me that failed.
In recent time, the second philosophy I share with my students is that, I am working with you to be everything you want to be in life, you make the choice. When I am in class teaching them, I make them to understand that I’m working with them. So that when they pick up their CV, there is something extra in that CV that gives them the likelihood to be taken up anywhere else despite the fact that they studied in Nigeria.
How is your marital life?
I am not married now. I am divorced. I was married then to Mr. Ukpong and he was supportive of my career. As a researcher on HIV/AIDS, I remember the times that HIV patients would come to the house and sleep over but my husband would not kick against it. They would use the bed in the guest room because we were staying in a two-bedroom flat and my husband never bothered me.
As a career woman, how do you jostle between the home front and your career?
I think one of the things that probably made me call for a divorce was that I could not sacrifice my career for my home and I am happy I did not. Because now that I’m divorced, I’m still going on, I don’t feel any loss and I don’t feel that I’ve wasted my life. In addition, I must acknowledge extensively that my husband stood at home front for me, spent a lot of time with the kids. He did and I would always acknowledge that.
However, following up my teenage years, I think I had trained my children to become very independent. That is one of the things that make me sad, sometimes. My kids do not really need me around. At times, I just wonder if my kids really need me.
Actually, the three of them are now in the UK, one of them is married and two are in school. I send them text messages through Whatsapp, Messenger, and two weeks after, they reply. I really brought up independent children, it has its disadvantages but it allowed me a lot more in my career.
What do you hope to achieve in your teaching profession?
I am looking forward to highly successful students. I usually tell my students that I want them to become the people that would fill those spaces up there. I want them to be those I would be watching on my TV tomorrow. I want them at the top.
As a researcher in areas of HIV/AIDS, will you say it is reducing or on the rise?
Excellent question! There has been a lot of progress in the field of HIV response. However, we do know that it is an infectious disease. It is not an infection you just go and catch because it is invisible. It is transmitted in such a way that you do not see the event happening and even though we have globally controlled the epidemic, in Sub-Saharan Africa, it is still a problem. In Nigeria, it is still a real problem. It is a problem that if not reinforced; you just want to start all over again. Although, it is in control in some parts of the world, in Nigeria it is not and without funding, it would still be a problem.
How can a woman in a typical African Society live a self-purposeful life without having to pay for it?
You said typical. She will pay for it. In a typical African setting, you are assertive and pursuing your goal. You are going to pay for it because there is no way out, you just have to choose to pay the price or you conform. That is the chart you have in a typical African setting. You would pay the price of stigma, rumors and backlashes. The only thing that saves you is if you come out well, the gist, rumor, backlashes would become less if you succeeded but if you are assertive and then you fail. You are doom.
Cases of domestic violence flood our societies daily. Do you think it is on the increase as against what was once obtainable?
No, it is not on the increase. It has always been there. I think there are lot of noises and voices around now. I think what you are just seeing is a lot more of harvesting. People are now speaking out and going to the court.
Can financial independence of a woman be a factor for home-break?
It is not about the economic empowerment of women. It is just that women are becoming more educated and this translates to financial independence. Financial independence of a woman does not determine a broken home except both parties do not manage it well and home will break whether you are financially independent or not.
So you do have people that their home are broken but are yet in marriage. What you will find out is that with more independence, your life becomes prior and you don’t necessarily have to go through the torture of maintaining a home. Therefore, independence does not necessarily mean home-break; you have to work it out. In every relationship, partners have to work it out together.
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