By TONY ONYIMA, Ph.D.
Some time in December 1986, I arrived Rutam House, head office of The Guardian, to begin what turned out to be a 24-year-old exciting and fulfilling career in journalism. I had realized early that only hard work and dedication will take me far in the career; just as it has brought me on board the flagship of media practice. Therefore, I focused attention on efforts that will take me higher, including knowledge acquisition. From being a reporter, I diligently and patiently climbed through the ladder to edit one of the titles within The Guardian stable and then moved on to be part of the pioneering team of some of the notable newspaper brands in the country. I was privileged to have been invited at different times to be part of great teams that midwifed The Independent, ThisDAY, National Interest and then The Sun in 2003.
With a great team led by the irrepressible duo of Mike Awoyinfa and Dimgba Igwe (God bless his soul), we disrupted the newspaper business industry with exciting content and innovative distribution strategies. Seven years after (in 2010), I was given the rare privilege of leading the company as the Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief. Our mandate was to turn around the fortunes of the company and reposition it to be competitive in a digital environment. Halfway in the four-year tenure, I started thinking about life after the newsroom.
Among other couple of plans, going back to school to get a doctorate degree was but overarching. Anyone close to me then knew that I had become intensely obsessed with quest for knowledge. It was, therefore, not surprising that I ended up with three M.Sc. degrees in different disciplines. The knowledge picked up helped me tremendously in the latter part of my career. A doctorate, I had envisaged, will not just be an icing but would put one in good stead to participate actively in the knowledge production industry. Therefore, at the end of my tour of duty in December 2014, I had sufficiently primed my mind for a student life at Pan Atlantic University, Lagos where I had earlier gotten an M.Sc. in Media Enterprise.
But Providence had a different plan. I was drafted to serve Anambra State as Commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism. After a 14-month momentous and eventful public service, I returned to the dream and got admitted to Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University (COOU), Igbarium. Before I could accept the offer, I had a meeting with my family because my decision to go to school will affect them in one way or another. My children were happy but worried about the effects the school rigor would have on me. Nnenna, my second daughter was more interested in the length of the programme. I told her that, all things being equal, the programme will end in three years. If so, she reckoned that I might be graduating with her. The prospect excited her. Inwardly, I knew that things are not always equal in Nigeria.
Nevertheless, I plunged into the programme with much enthusiasm. After one and half years of coursework, I started losing steam. The toll was getting debilitating. My interest started waning. And the short lull caused by the university authority didn’t help matters. Then, one day Nnenna called. She wanted me to help her to source primary data for her final year project. After directing her where and how to source her data, she asked how my studies were faring. I lied. In the days and weeks to come, she kept asking me of my progress each time she called from her school. Coincidentally, there was renewed efforts by the university authorities to clear backlog of doctorate students. The idea of disappointing my daughter who was already working hard on her final year project in the hope that she will be graduating with her father, was unnerving.
I returned to the programme with renewed vigor and determination – a resolve not to disappoint my daughter, family and to uphold the dignity of man. Through God’s grace, I was able to successfully defend my thesis on July 14, 2021. To mark the anniversary of that auspicious ‘feat’, I finally granted Nnenna her wish to have a photo shoot of the class of 2021. After the photo shoot, an ecstatic Nnenna enthused: “This is my biggest pride. I feel special because I am one one of the few in the world who graduated with their fathers”. The photo shoot, she said “is also a comfort to me because I didn’t have a normal graduation ceremony due to Covid-19 pandemic. Knowing that the photographs I took with my daddy exist makes me happy and helps me forget the covid disruption”. She said that she was not surprised that I went to finish the programme. “It did not surprise me because my daddy has always been a high achiever. Secretly, I was worried for him because school can be tough even for young people let alone old people. I was therefore elated the day he defended his thesis. It was a moment of pride”. Warm regards from the class of 2021.
•Source: ThisDay Alumni Network WhatsApp Platform