WITH DETERMINATION, A CARPENTER TURNS PHD HOLDER
The story of Dr. Obiennenue Osuya is that of a man who has risen from nowhere to somewhere commendable. He came from the dark pitches of life into a brighten light of elevated honour. It is a fulfillment of the dictum that no matter how dark the night, it must break into daylight and that most people you see smiling and enjoying today have a rough side of their life.
Osuya is a native of Abbey, Ndokwa West Local Government in Delta State and born into a large family of 10 with a strong Christian background. As a young boy, his dream was to get education and live a comfortable life. Unfortunately, this was a tall dream. Apart from the fact that his father was illiterate, his poor background did not help matters. He only had access to a mere elementary education.
Shortly after his primary school, he decided to learn a trade and what readily came handy was woodwork. After completing his apprenticeship, where to work became another problem since he had no capital to set up his workshop. As succour, he started doing menial jobs and working in construction sites. But when it is time for his light to shine, it started breaking into slides and shades. With time, it got brighter until it hit a high noon. So, lifeline eventually came his way.
Osuya narrated his experiences and how it all began very tough for him until he resolutely wheeled it into some steady course of progress.
'I have a large Christian family of 10 siblings. We were an average family, not poor in the real sense of being poor but not definitely rich. As a result of our background, we were brought up the strict moral way. And that helped to shape me as a young boy. My parents did not allow us to mix up with the people they regarded as the wayward and aberrant. My father always advised us to be focused in life and be dedicated to whatever we desire to do irrespective of the situation we find ourselves.
'At Abbey in Ndokwa Local Government Area of Delta State, where I hail from, my father was highly respected as a disciplinarian and for his humility. One thing that militated against him was that he was not educated, even though he loved education. Since we were a large family, and with the little resource at his disposal, he managed to send some of his older children to the elementary school but without a plan. After the usual primary school, they either learnt a trade or any other thing for sustenance. But when it eventually got to our turn, even the primary education had become a luxury for him to afford. Our elder brothers who would have initiated our being educated were not forthcoming. We, however, went to primary school but dropped out. Then the idea of what trade to learn was the next.
'I had wanted to learn automobile repairs because I wanted to be called or regarded as an engineer. But my elder brother kicked against it because of the dirty nature of the job. Sequel to that I had to learn woodwork or if you like call it carpentry. I was about 12 years old then. It was a period I had spent without a focus. When I eventually completed the training, there was no money to set up my workshop. With the situation confronting me, getting a place to practise the art and make a living became the next challenge.
'This did not also work and I ended up working for in construction sites just to keep body and soul together. After all the toiling here and there, what seemed like a lifeline eventually came. It was the time the government used to organize exams for people to earn a trade that would prepare them for public employment. So, without hesitation, I took the exam. After scaling the hurdle of the first and second stages, I got employed into the University of Benin as a studio assistant. That was how I found myself in a different sphere of life other than the one I was used to at home. I vowed to continue to keep track with the quality of life I had imbibed from my parents. With this, I drowned myself in Christianity and ended up being a Sunday school teacher. In the process, many young students passed through me.
'What actually got me challenged was the atmosphere and activities at the University of Benin. There was no greater challenge than to see the same students who had been under you being admitted into the university and graduating in your presence, while you sit still like a lame man. This sent me into deep thoughts on the need to join the race. So, I decided to register for secondary education at the Institute of Continuing Education, Benin City. After struggling with the difficulties involved in combining job with studies, I sat for my school certificate.
This was in the 80s. Luckily, I cleared my papers. After that, the ambition to go further started burning in me even though I knew what it entailed. It was a moment a man needs to be conscious in taking a decision because every decision taken either makes or mars the future. As it were, I had left home and now regarded as a man. So, it would be difficult to just wake up and say I want to be a student having been enjoying the benefit of being regarded as a worker even though at a junior level. The major question was who would sponsor me. I honestly faced this challenge. But after the plus and minus, I sat for JAMB and as God would have it, I passed very well. The happiest day of my life was the day I was eventually given a letter of admission in 1988 to read Theatre Arts in Uniben.
I was like a man who won the Golden Fleece. But as happy as I was, the whole mission didn't go down well with my elder brother who regarded it as a misplaced priority. And he said, 'What is your problem? When you should be thinking of getting married and settling down, you are talking about going to the university. Don't they pay in that school or you think there is a pool fund where you would be drawing money from?' I immediately felt cold. But not to be daunted, I also replied him: 'If I married and come to your house with my wife pleading that I can't feed her, what would you think of me? Won't you think I am irresponsible? I know it is a hard decision but life is a continuous struggle. So, I am just picking first thing first.' With this, he stormed out of my sight and turned his back on me forever.
'However, I went ahead. But in the process of embarking on the expected long pothole-filled journey, I lost my job in Uniben, my only hope or sustenance. I was thrown out because a junior staffer needs the university's recommendation to embark on further training. A junior worker hasn't the opportunity to ask for a training or study leave. Even when I wrote, I was expressly told that. They said it was not the university that initiated it and moreover, the programme I was going for has nothing to do with the job they had offered me. I became downcast. But the then Vice Chancellor of the university, Prof. Grace Alele-Williams, in her letter to me, commented: 'I think you have taken the right steps to be educated. It is the best thing that can ever happen to a man. So, in spite of everything, I advise you not to give up.' This was the only consolation left for me. So, I continued without a means of livelihood.
The bull has been taken by the horns and to survive on campus was a mountain to climb. All my efforts to get assistance from my relatives hit the brickwall. To my elder brother, my case was a close chapter. To him, I had taken a wrong decision and that was being irresponsible, so I was left with the reality of suffering for what I did. Instead of settling down on my own, I have decided to become a baby they would be caring for. So, I wasn't getting anything from him. But my mother's contributions cannot go unnoticed as she sent me foodstuffs occasionally. The question was, how do I survive in such a big city where every man is for himself? But I kept moving, struggling and hinging hope against hope. Thank God, some kind-hearted friends and church members did not abandon me. In all, one thing was clear. Everybody in the school community could guess what I would wear the next day and even throughout the week because at that point, whatever little money was given to me was channelled towards feeding and keeping myself healthy. So, clothes were essentially clothing and not fashion. There were other students who after morning lectures would go back to the hostel and change for the next class. For me, that was a luxury. Even if I decide to change like the others, what would I wear the following day?
'Again, I wasn't a fast reader in school. So, I didn't appreciate taking books from the library or from somebody who would give me a limited time to return it. I decided to be making photocopies of books so that I could read them conveniently. That also ate deep into my meagre resources. However, I survived and somehow or expectedly, I saw myself through.
After the completion of my first degree in 1991/92, God did something miraculous in my life. The then Head of Department, HOD, now Prof. Austin Asagba was absolutely impressed with the project I did in my final year. I planned many projects and I had wanted to do something on management, acting and directing and so forth. I wanted to see acting and directing in religious activities by featuring a religious personality. And the late Archbishop Benson Idahosa of the Church of God Mission was my target. But when I discovered that it would be difficult for me to see him, I opted to do something practical within the theatre. Looking at the problem of lighting in the theatre, I discovered that we could offer an alternative lighting source by improvising since the lighting equipment is expensive. So, I did project on that. The then HOD happened to be the second reader of my project. After going through, he gave this verdict: 'This is a down-to-earth practical project and it is devoid of story telling. I think you have to be retained.' That was how I was retained and became a lecturer in the same department.
He advised me to opt out of the NYSC scheme even though I was mobilized. Since I was already above 30 at the time, I opted out. I officially started work in 1993 and a new life began. So, knowing what it entailed, I started taking further steps to aim higher and do my master's degree. The pendulum of my choice eventually rested on the University of Ibadan.
At Ibadan, life was a different ball game. At every convocation ceremony, events always gave birth to events. The atmosphere was wonderful. I was further challenged when I saw a physically challenged man who walked on crutches graduating with master's degree. But because he could not ascend the stairs to shake hands with the vice chancellor, the VC came down to the lobby to shake hands with him. And it was a great sight. The scholarly atmosphere boosted my desire the more. There was this consciousness of the need to be educated for both old men and women to the young ones. With this, I sank deeper into academic pursuit. Things were a little bit easier because I was already working comfortably. After my masters, I registered for my doctorate which I never dreamt of.
That is why I cannot stop thanking God. He made it possible for me to be retained, whereas there are some others who graduated with me but are yet to secure good jobs. I didn't waste any time at home. It was like regaining the years the locusts had eaten. There are some lecturers who taught me that are yet to attain my academic standing. That is life. And that is why I am a fulfilled man even though the meaning is relative in the Nigerian context. I have what my mates have and acquired what they have acquired. I am married to my beautiful wife, Bridget and blessed with four marvellous children who are my beacon of further hope. Here is a little boy who was hopeless but has suddenly climbed the ladder of success and waving hands in thanks to those who have been part of his life. What else do I want God to do for me?'
In his lecturing career, Dr. Osuya has held several important positions and credited very well by my superiors. He has been saddled with the responsibility of a sensitive position like the exams officer, which he held between 1993 and 2008. 'I did not only perform to expectations, it became almost a profession for me because of the confidence reposed in me. A letter to the then HOD, Prof. Morison Osifo about me once said: 'With Osuya, exams are safe.' What is more? Today, I am now a PhD holder and currently holding the position of a Technical Director in the Department of Theatre Arts and Mass Communication. It means that I have to be consulted as far as technical issues are concerned in the department.'
Osuya has already told his children: 'If I, who did not have the provision to go to school is educated to a PhD level, then until they have a PhD, they have not started. And if they become lecturers like me, they must be professors before they get to my age. After all, the saying is that the children must be greater than their father. It has been a long tortuous bitter/sweet experience. But never again can the glowing light be extinguished. What I do know is that as the days roll by and with my publications in the offing, the exalted professorial chair is within my grasp. I know it won't be long.'