I am the first child of my parents. My father worked at NichemTex in Ikorodu while my mom had a shop where she sold provisions. I grew up under a hectic routine. I would wake up 4:30am/5:00am do the chores and go to school. Once my siblings and I returned, we would go queue up to buy water for the house. I would go out into the street to hawk cold water. I’ll stop hawking water around 3:30/4:00pm. Once it was close to time to go to ile-kewu which would have started at 3:00pm, I’d return home, eat lunch and then head to ile-kewu. I’ll return from ile-kewu in the evening and I’d trek down to Sabo/Ile-epo Oba and hawk bread till 8:00/8:30pm.
After spending the evening hawking bread, I’d return home to face the fire and cook dinner, eat and sleep. It was when we returned home after hawking bread that we’d do our homework or any other pending school work. The only days we didn’t go to ile-kewu were Thursdays and Fridays. Saturdays and Sundays, we went to the ile-kewu from morning till evening but during the school days, we’d go only in the evenings. Despite these hectic schedules back then, my grades were great. My position was always between 1st and 5th.
Then at some point, my mother packed out of my father’s house and, to be honest, I don’t blame her for it; but one thing she did which I begrudged her for was that she left us – her children – behind. The day I was going to write G2 (or Common Entrance) that they came to pack my mother’s things.
After she left, our survival was solely dependent on whatever we could find. No motherly love or care. I was just ten when she moved out. I had three younger siblings that I had to cater for but I was a baby myself who still desperately needed the love and care and attention of a mother. When I experienced my first menstruation, I had no one to guide me through or explain to me what was happening to me. I was all by myself.
I went into secondary school and life got really horrible. I picked up some really terrible habits. I remember a cousin came to stay with us and I stole her money. I remember that there was also someone else whose money I stole at that time. I just wanted to have something to spend while in school. In those years, I was a truant.
I’d dress up in school uniform but never go to school, I had two other friends that we would link up and go to one of our friend’s house whose parents would have gone to work. We would stay indoors and chat and have fun. Then partying set in. We would were jumpers (now known as cropped top) and go partying. That was my life in secondary school.
I was really rebellious because I wanted attention and affection; I was growing up and there was no love or care from anyone. My mother who could have shown me the love and care had packed her things out of the house. I believed in my heart that if I caused enough trouble, someone would look my way, take my matter serious and then I can be loved. I don’t even know at what point my grades began to take the downward spiral but I just realized that I had gone from being a top-grade student to becoming the girl who repeated a class twice.
In 2006, my sister-in-law was going to travel to the UK and she informed my husband that she’d love to see their mother before travelling. My husband who had just returned from the UK after being away for so many years decided that we’d all go visit mama together. On May 27, 2006, our driver – IK, my husband, myself, our 10-month old baby, my two sisters-in-law and a guy who worked for us, Richard, got into the station wagon and we hit the road. My husband sat with IK, the driver in front so as to keep an eye on him.
Our destination was for Igbokoda, Ondo state, somewhere in the waterside area of Ondo and we had come in through the Benin-Ore axis. I was asleep when I heard a loud sound. A tire burst. I heard my husband say, “Ik, má te brake!” That was the last thing I remembered.
When I woke up, I was in a hospital, my head was heavily wrapped up and my right arm was badly swollen. I was lying down and couldn’t move any part of my body. It was at the hospital that they began to fill the gaps for me. The car somersaulted, I wouldn’t know how many times. The corner of my mouth had torn out and you could see my dentition all the way in.
I was told that when I was brought out of the wreckage, my heart had stopped pumping blood so I wasn’t bleeding. As I was told, I was laid out on the floor, people gathered round – some praying, others wailing. I was also told that it was a good Samaritan who had stopped that held my wrist, felt a weak pulse and chartered a cab to rush me down to the teaching hospital in Ijebu Ode.
I survived the accident with serious injuries but my husband who had promised to support me through my journey to earning my degree did not. He and his two sisters died in the accident; and I would eventually spend 2 full months in the hospital.
My admission letter was brought to me in the hospital by my friend Tito. The challenge was that the person who had promised to sponsor me through school was dead and everyone wanted to know what I was going to do about the provisional admission I had been given.
I told my friends that I’d pursue the program despite all that had happened. I had set my heart on getting the degree and I wasn’t going to give up. I was really determined not to use my husband’s death as an excuse for not seeing the dream through.
In 2006, it was my friend Tito that helped me with my registration and all. At first they weren’t going to allow her register for me so she had to take my pictures in the hospital bed all wound up due to the accident and so they allowed her. From the condolence gift I got, I was able to pay my first school fees. Second year, I scraped together all the money I could get and I paid my school fees. They allowed us to pay in two or three installments and so that was how I paid.
However in the third year, it was totally difficult. My school fees was about N36,000 and I had no clue how I’d make it. I went to meet our coordinator to explain things to him. It was a helpless situation. He wanted to help but he didn’t know how he could.
The coordinator was sympathetic to my cause because from the very beginning – in the days of the registration – he had heard about the accident and how I had sustained injuries in the same accident that killed my husband. He explained to me that, by policy, UI did not allow students – especially final year students – to write exams without having paid their school fees yet because final year students have nothing to lose and they could just move on with their lives once final exams were written without making efforts to pay their outstanding fees. I offered to make an undertaking that I would pay the fees and the coordinator stood in for me.
That was how I wrote my final exams without being disturbed.
When our results were released, I did so well, I graduated with a merit grade but still, I hadn’t been able to raise my school fees. I was a widow with a little daughter and almost no form of support. As I was working to pay rent and pay my child’s school fees and meeting her needs, I was chipping some small amount into a savings till my school fees was complete.
My thesis nko? I did not have the money to do my thesis after the course-work was over. I called a cousin of my mom – he was a lawyer and because I had no one else to turn to I called him. I explained to him my predicament, how I had completed my course work but needed money to finish my thesis. He asked me how much it would cost me and I told him. Even though he wasn’t available to send the money to me, he got his friend to pay the money into my account. I wrote my final exams in 2008 but I didn’t get my certificate until 4 years after, 2012. It took me 4 years to be able to raise the money for my final year school fees. That was how I was able to obtain diploma degree.
When I paid my outstanding school fees, I decided to take a leap of faith by obtaining a degree form via the Distance Learning Centre program. I had no money whatsoever to pay for school fees but I got the form still. I filled the form and submitted. In my calculation, since I already had a diploma in Education, I would begin my degree proper from Year 2.
It was while I was at it, trying to make inquiries and all that I found out that I had a setback. My 4 credits in GCE from 1998 may have been sufficient to get me into a diploma program but it was not going to be enough to get me in for a degree program. UI required 5 credits in one sitting but I had 4 credits including Maths and English.
One option that was open to me was to be offered admission as a ‘matured candidate’ based on my diploma but instead of starting at 200 level, I would go start from 100 level. I was offered the admission and I accepted but I got to thinking again – will this 4 credits saga not come back to haunt me in another endeavor much later?
In 2012 when I accepted the admission, I took the NECO/GCE form too. I had to read and study hard like I was in SS2 or SS3. As God will have it, I made all my papers at that exam. That meant I didn’t have to combine any results. My first year, I took a loan from my friend – Tito – in order to pay my school fees. My second year, it was my godmother that supported me with a loan.
All through it was never easy – the road has been filled with ups and downs. One thing I am grateful to God for is that I had the discipline to pay back my loans. Once I got money, the first thing would be to offset whatever loan I had hanging on my neck at that time. I really just thank God that I am alive to wear this graduation gown. I have dreamt of this day for so long and I am very emotional right now.
For many, all it takes to get a degree in education is 4 years; it has taken me 17 years to wear this gown and earn this degree.
Exactly a month from today, I will be 40!
Not only does Mrs. Johnson have her degree in the bag now, she runs a foundation that reaches out to widows within Oyo State. The foundation is the Hope Soar Foundation for Widows. She doesn’t run the foundation because she’s got so much but, having been through a torturous journey and knowing how daunting the rode is, she has committed her life to making the journeys of as many widows may be in need as easy as possible through Hope Soars Foundation for widows
📸: Amogunla Femi Kayode (femiamogunla.com)