By: Onifade Bello
Napoleon Hill could not be more right when he stated that “success comes to those who become success conscious.” This consciousness becomes stimulated when one is surrounded with those whose knack for pursuit of success is unwavering. In this interview with Onifade A Bello of The Transverse, a University of Benin first class graduate, Tochukwu Okafor shares how he climbed the top to become the University scholar. Below are the excerpts:
TT: May I meet you?
Tochukwu: My name is Tochukwu Emmanuel Okafor. I was born in Lagos, into a Catholic family of ten. I am a graduate of the Department of Electrical/Electronic Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, at the University of Benin, Benin city. I was fortunate enough to graduate with a first class honours with a cumulative grade point of 4.95. I have been a recipient of many scholarship awards including the MTN Foundation Science and Technology scholarship and the Etisalat (now 9mobile) Merit Scholarship Award. I am an alumnus of the Unilever Campus Ambassador program and the Young Talents Programme at the Lagos Business School, Pan-Atlantic University. I am a writer and an editor. I am very passionate about programming and android development and business management. I love to cook and mentor other people.
TT: How was it like growing up?
Tochukwu: I had a very lovely and interesting childhood. I have the most caring parents and siblings in the world. Luckily, I am the seventh child, so I was pampered with a lot of love and kindness. Being the seventh child also meant that I got to see what my elder siblings had done and how I could perform better. My siblings are great achievers; it wasn’t inevitable therefore that I would be taught to struggle, to create my own world, and be relevant to society. Although I must confess that I wasn’t that playful kid who returned home with stained uniforms and still ran out to play soccer with friends. I was quiet and shy. I grew up filling my notebooks with happy stories about my family and poorly drawn cartoons. I remember I wrote a lot of letters. I enjoyed writing letters; I still do. And oh, I attended a lot of doctrinal classes as a young Catholic, which I enjoyed so much. The classes were a chance to learn something outside school work. I painted a lot, wasted my parents’ money buying packs of crayons and water colours. During the holidays, I spent time with cousins, if I was in Lagos, or with extended families, if I was in Nnewi (North), my hometown. My extended family is really huge; you may be surprised to learn that I’m still struggling to know each one of them at the grand age of 24!
TT: How do you feel graduating with a first class from the University?
Tochukwu: Oh, it feels normal, really. I didn’t get into the university actively thinking of graduating with a first class honours. In fact, I did not know what a grade point was. In my first year, I only wished to excel in all of my courses, as my family had struggled to pay my fees into the university. My father sold his shop. My mother lost her business. Life was not especially bright for us back then. I only became aware of the classes of honours in my second year, after news began to spread round the Faculty of Engineering that I had the best academic result for the freshman year. I was surprised, overwhelmed mostly. I was thankful to God. But it all felt normal eventually, after the brief moments of giddy delights of knowing that I was the best and had a first class each academic session. When I think of it now, I realized that I was too busy and immersed in course work and my writing and falling in love with engineering that I forgot to feel anything.
TT: Aside strict academic works, what other activities did you engage in as a student?
Tochukwu: I was an active member of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul at St. Albert’s Catholic Church within the campus. I still love to visit them when I can. (And I encourage everyone on this planet, catholic or not, to join the Society.) I was actively involved in the Creative Writing Workshop at the Department of English & Literature, Faculty of Arts. I was a member of Enactus, a global community of student, academic and business leaders. I was a Unilever Campus Ambassador throughout my five years at the university and worked in teams to organize health awareness events, and I attended seminars and conferences organized by Unilever off campus. I was member of the Catholic Engineering Students’ Association and the Nigerian Universities Engineering Students’ Association, though I ended up being not so active as I had originally planned; there were always some other urgent pre-occupation (I always sent them apologies enough to fill a big notebook!) For a year or so, I took readings at Mass as a lector. Ah, I can go on and on; the list is endless!
TT: How would you describe your day in school?
Tochukwu: As a student, I had no scheduler of sorts. So, it was a bit difficult to predict where I would be or what I would be doing at a particular time. I tried to manage this so I could make out time for other people and balance out other parts of my life. But on a typical day, if there were no engineering laboratory exercises, I woke up late. I barely got enough sleep; I still don’t. I read or teach into the night, and in the wee hours of morning, I write. So I was often late to classes. At classes, I listened and jotted mostly. Before I visited an optician and got a recommended pair of glasses in my third year at the university, I could barely see what was written on the board. I borrowed notes from mates or copied from others during classes. After classes, I ran off to St. Albert’s Catholic Church, which, luckily for me, was close to the Faculty of Engineering. I said prayers, spent some time at the church library, went to Mass by 6pm, and sped off to John Harris Library (I love John Harris Library!!) Some days, I don’t go to church to pray after my classes. I said my prayers within the library, because I often had a lot of research work to catch up on and did not wish to expend energy trekking from the faculty to the church and back to the library. I did all of my cooking in the morning or late into the night. I left the library when it closed, walked to my room, dropping briefly to say hello to some friends. Then after resting for a while, I grabbed my socks and sweater and my books and dashed off to the Faculty of Basic Medical Sciences, where I read every night in one of the lecture theatres.
TT: There are recent occurrences in the Nigerian political setting which saw the agitation for the #NotTooYoungToRuleBill. Do you agree that Nigerian youths are really not too young to rule?
Tochukwu: Does the youth have potential ideas for a better Nigeria? Does the youth have to be in a position of power to effect the ideas? Does the youth know that as a follower, he (or she) is just as equal and as powerful as the one who is in power?
TT: Back to personal life, how were you able to manage emotional struggles with academic excellence? Considering the maxim that behind every successful man, there is a successful woman. (smiles)
Tochukwu: Life is just too short. Dump the emotional struggles. There is a lot of work to be done.
TT: Being a University scholar, how do you intend to turn things around with your area of specialization?
Tochukwu: Ah, I can list a billion things outside the six hundred and eighty nine already in my diary. Perhaps when I begin the actual motion of turning things around with my area of specialization, you will certainly know. And we can talk about them in another interview. (wink, wink.)
TT: Where do you see yourself in 5 years to this time?
Tochukwu: Oh, you make me add more long years to my grand age. Which scares me! I have always wanted to grow younger. But reality tells me that in 5 years I will be 5 years older and I hope that I would have let go of my superstitious instincts so I can tell you the visions that I have for myself.
TT: What advice do you have for the government of the day? What advice do you have for youths and students in higher institutions in Nigeria?
Tochukwu: I’m tempted to say that the government does not listen to its own self – and by this I mean it never pays attention to its needs and those of the masses – why waste my precious time offering pieces of advice it will never heed to. But because Nigeria is a place I care about, because Nigeria is home to me, I think the best advice I have for her is that she has to let go of the incompetent, corrupt officials who make decisions for her, after which she can begin to renegotiate her potentials. And for the students in higher institutions, the best advice I can give is the one you already give yourselves. You have only a limited time at the institution, why waste it? Hard work never kills. Don’t wait to get out of the institution before having big dreams of driving great changes in the country. Dare to be at your best now.
TT: Thanks for your time.
Tochukwu: Thank you for having me.