The idea to write about my struggle first occurred in 1992, following a review of Fate's Choice, a book I self published after my eldest brother's assassination in cold blood on October 19, 1986. Fate's Choice review by a magazine had drawn attention to why children should not be denied education based on poor parental background, the reviewer's comment derived from a brief mention I made about how I lost the opportunity for high school education.
Informed by other experiences and conviction that higher education had not eluded me, I started notes on the subject after I arrived in the United States in 2002. Work on the manuscript began in 2004. The Nigerian side of the story was half completed by the time I secured admission in Mercy College in 2007. And I realized it was quite a long way from 1969, when I completed the elementary education and there was no money to pay for my high school admission.
It became obvious after I started writing that I had traveled through life's travail from 1969-2007, clinging to the wish for education like a child asking the mother for milk without blinking an eye. The first question I asked was what could have influenced my decision, and secondly how had I managed through years of marriage, years of having children monumental life's travail capable of dousing the most stubborn souls, with desire and fervor to go to school still burning in me? What gave me the tenacity and the drive; what disappointments and helps came my way; where, how, when and what experiences worthy passing to young people who may find themselves in similar circumstance?
No account about my struggle will be complete without mentioning environmental factors: the social, economic and political situation in the society where I grew up as a child. This brought my country into focus as a former colony and later as an independent nation; the effect of the transformation, its influence on the society that caused my response to my father that I would wait to go to school, since he could not get the money to pay my fees, and he had asked if I would like to be apprenticed to learn bicycle repairing. Secondly I realized that if I had not been married at the age of 28, I would not have passed the high school and the higher school equivalent in 1983 and 1985 respectively as a private candidate, after I had worked odd jobs from 1975-1979 that allowed no room for serious reading.
A wife in charge of chores enhanced reading for examinations, in addition to exceptional readings that helped my aptitude between 1979 and 1983 when my room was library in my brother's home, having put behind me how I was brutalized for writing the promotion examination as a debtor student in 1972 (in my first year in high school); application for scholarship as an indigent rejected, forced out of school involuntarily, walked the streets and traveled impromptu in search of a cousin to help with money for fees and met the cousin recuperating from surgical operation. Dumbfounded and confused; confronted the evil of polygamy in my father's home, before I packed my bags and head to the city for survival. Emergence of a light at the end of the tunnel in 1979 was marked by the arrival of my eldest brother and benefactor from the United States.
The arrival marked a new beginning. But the evil of corruption in Nigeria forcibly took the center stage. I was a victim of the monster in 1985. Dreadful information to my benefactor's life began to emerge at the same time. While I struggled to survive the tangle of corruption, I alerted him in writing about the dangerous development in his home that portended danger to his life. We argued and discussed the issue. His last statement to me was : "If I divorce, people would say I cannot manage a home." Lamentably, nine months later, on October 19, 1986, he received a letter bomb at home and the rest became history.
The assassination, one of the fiercest of my experience reminded of my father's statement: "The only thing I can give you that no one will take away is teach you how to use your hands." The assassination stood like the end of my life's aspirations. I was broken and buffeted. My employer lost its license to continue operation in the country and a struggle against divisive forces ensued. I remember a nephew asking what I will do against seeming defeat from forces that beset. But I pressed forward toward my goal for education and survival, fully aware that realization of the education goals could turn the equation. I did not seek to defeat anyone, but be given a chance to live. My growth may have been delayed and stunted, but I have refused to bow to defeat.
Sixteen years after my brother's assassination, and thirty three years after my ordeal began in 1969, I broke through every human and mysterious obstacles... arrived in the United States of America, like millions of others who had sought life away from persecution in their home countries. Working in the headquarters of an investment bank in Manhattan as a security officer, seeing young men and women whose tickets to high flying jobs are college diplomas rekindle my stride for higher education. Learning that had eluded me in my country came into grasp, and made it possible to document my fruitless search for survival and education in Africa's most populous country, and how I got them in America.
My struggle in the United States between 2002 and 2007 gave impetus to the American side of the story, without which the story of my struggle for growth and education would be incomplete. In the land of the revolution of the spirit against the tyranny of ignorance, I discover the truth in the words of President Lyndon B. Johnson, "Ability is stretched or stunted by the family you live with, and the neighborhood you in, by the school you go and the poverty or richness of your surroundings. It is the product of a hundred unseen forces playing upon the little infant, the child and finally the man."
(Chapter One will be published next week in continuation of serialization of the memoir.)