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ODEFUWA: A HANDBOOK FOR SURVIVING ADVERSITY
"And Elisha said, Take the arrows, and he took them. And he said unto the king of Israel, Smite the ground. And he smote thrice and stopped. And the man of God was angry with him and said, If you had smitten 5 or 6 times, then you would have totally conquered Syria whereas as it is now, you shall only defeat Syria thrice". -Holy Bible, II Kings 13,18 and 19.
Have you ever asked the question why some people, faced with adversity and setbacks, decide to jump into the Lagoon, while others, like Elizabeth. Odefuwa who failed the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Exam 6 times turn their affliction into ladders of outstanding victory? To fill the readers in on this exemplary young lady, she only passed her UTME exam on the 7th attempt, but emerged at last week's Convocation Ceremony of Lagos State University, not just with a first class degree, but as Best Graduating Student with a Cumulative Grade Point Average of 4.74 in Accounting combined with Education.
The opening quote, taken from the Bible, contains an allegory reminding us that grand dreams and noble visions do not materialize in the short-term but are won in the crucible of sustained exertion over a longer haul. The moral of the story, which is taught in all ancient religions, is not to take the tragic road to suicide, as an increasing number of Nigerians are doing because of adversity, but to keep striking the ground, to use the biblical metaphor until awesome victory is achieved.
Odefuwa could have given up her dream after failing the UTME 3 or 4 times, but encouraged by her father she kept trying until she was admitted. It is interesting too that she did not merely wait or lay around idly while repeatedly sitting for the exam. In her own words "During this period of waiting, I started professional career at the Institute of Chartered Accountant of Nigeria in 2007 and became qualified as an Associate Chartered Accountants in 2010". In other words, she refused to take the back seat to which the UTME would have consigned her, but rather sought other opportunities for grooming her talent and mainstreaming herself. A pertinent digression will be to inquire why anyone so brilliant as to qualify as a chartered Accountant kept failing UTME. Is this a pointer to the fact that there is something hard to understand about the operations of that exam body ? Are there other Nigerians who have been unjustly denied higher education because of the mysterious ways of UTME? Whatever the answers to those queries, the point is that Odefuwa did not allow herself to be suffocated by the so-called Nigerian factor or bow to the outrageous arrows of adversity, but like a long distance runner continued to come back at it.
A cursory reading of the history books suggests that bouncing back after failures is the way in which several great people rose to stardom. Consider a few examples. J.K Rowling, celebrated American writer and author of Harry Potter, had several manuscripts rejected before making an entry into the National and World stages.Rowling told a graduating class at Harvard University, some years back that " it is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might not well have lived at all -in which case you fail by default". This insight is of particular relevance in an age of rapid flux, tumults and rapid changes around the globe. Obviously, it also situates the need to dare and transcend difficulties or turn them to opportunities in a country like ours, where successive governments have backslid on the Social Contract, by not making available to most citizens minimal amenities.In such a context, success can only be achieved by triumphing against several well known odds. For those who sit complaining, and bemoaning system failures, there will always be a thousand and one excuses for doing nothing tangible or staying small. Some may even get so desperate that they either contemplate suicide or consider undertaking the perilous journey to uncertain immigrant status.
Most readers would have heard also about Albert Eisten who was a halting and late starter; he could not speak until he was 4years and could not read until he was 7years old. Very few could have predicted, given the inclemency of nature, that Eisten would later become a Nobel Price Winner in physics and make landmark contributions to human knowledge.In politics, the several failures and electoral defeats of Abraham Lincoln, who later became one of America's greatest presidents, are well known. Here in Nigeria, we have the example of President Muhammad Buhari, who was defeated thrice in the presidential race but won the coverted prize on the fourth occasion. In sports, the examples are legion but often cited is the case of Michael Jordan, who failed to make his high school basketball team, but later went on to become one of the greatest basketball player. I can go on and on, but the point has been made that many of those who made history, did not start out as the favourites of the gods, but in desultory ways, often contending with adversity and late recognition, before emerging as super stars.
Of course, it will be nice if Nigerian leaders could focus on building a society where it will be so much easy to achieve one's dream. But successive governments have turned the country into a graveyard of aborted dreams and failed destinies. The other day, Prof. Moses Ochonu, a Nigerian Historian and public intellectual achieved the distinction of appointment to the Cornelius Vanderbilt Chair in History. One of the most prestigious distinguished Chair in the United States. We rejoiced with him, as we did a few months ago when Wale Adebanwi, one of our own, was appointed as Rhodes Professor at the University of Oxford in England. But even as we celebrated, the regret lingered concerning whether those outstanding Nigerian Scholars could have hit the global limelight from the intellectual backwater like Nigeria sadly remains. The case of Odefuwa offers a counter narrative however, by suggesting that outstanding individuals can ride to distinction in the face of the drawbacks of an inhospitable clime. It also foregrounds that Nigeria itself does not need to remain the wonderfully resourced but perpetually sick man of the globe. It can like Odefuwa rise from its current blight to become a land of opportunities where it is not so difficult to succeed even at small or routine tasks.
To fast track such a movement, it is suggested that Buhari should invite the Lady to dinner, offer her a scholarship for training up to Doctoral level, and showcase her as a woman of courage and notable achievement, not the least because of her legendary perseverance.That would be one way of building national character as well as teaching our young men and women that they themselves can be the game changers, even when the odds are stacked against them. Such a step will also correctly signal a renewed commitment to quality education on the part of a government whose low budgetary allocation to education has raised doubts about its policy direction.