[INTERVIEW] “I FAILED ENGLISH IN WAEC & BROKE 20 YEARS FIRST CLASS RECORD IN ENGLISH DEPARTMENT” ~KINGSLEY UGWUANYI, LECTURER, ENGLSIH DEPARTMENT, UNN
His name is Kingsley Ugwuanyi but his followers on his Radio Programme, English Parliament* know him as The Speaker of the Parliament. Kingsley, a lecturer in the department of English, University of Nigeria, Nsukka failed English in WAEC, became a commercial cyclist (Okada) to enable him raise school fees for his university education and broke 20 years first class record in Department of English, University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
For Campus People this week, Brojid.com Editor, Joseph Dinwoke sat with him to tap his story and success secrets. This week on Campus People, I serve you the first part of my conversation with him. Sit back and be inspired!
Tell me a bit about yourself?
My name is Kingsley Ugwuanyi. I lecture with the University of Nigeria, Nsukka; in the Department of English and Literary studies. I do a radio programme called English Parliament on Radio Nigeria, Voice96.7FM. Off the class, I do a lot of editing for authors and for publishing houses. As I am talking to you, I just opened a mail of someone who sent me a PhD thesis. Well I do that for a charge any way.
How were your days on campus?
Well, I have two shots – undergraduate and post graduate. When I was doing my masters, I was already a member of staff. It was some kind of two lives so to speak – teach students in a class and enter the next class to be taught by your colleague. So, it was interesting.
My undergraduate time was fine with a lot of challenges; but surmountable challenges. I do not know any challenge that is not surmountable. I was telling to a group of students recently that you can’t give excuses why you didn’t succeed academically.
There is no problem or challenge you have that even other people don’t have; even worse challenges. I had challenges as an undergraduate but God helped us to surmount them.
Let’s talk about the challenges. Can you highlight one of the challenges – may be the major one – and point out how God helped you to surmount them?
The foremost challenge which was there before I gained admission was financial support. I wasn’t born with silver spoon in my mouth so when I finished writing JAMB, I had to engage in a business. I was doing Okada. I did it Okada for one year and within that one year, I was able to save N27,000 as my first year school fees. First and second year, I paid it myself.
From my third year, my brother started doing a little bit well and so assisted.
My financial challenge was a big problem. If not for my resolve, the passion I had for education, there was nobody out there I could look up to pay my school fees. Nobody! In fact, I have been lined up to go for apprenticeship so that when I finish secondary school, I will go and join. That was the in thing around that time. But I have fallen in love with education, so I insisted that I must go to school.
What spurred you to continue your quest for education straight from secondary school despite the trend of apprenticeship then and financial hardship?
You know, WAEC exams are usually taken in May/June. I finished schooling in 2001. Then, they wouldn’t allow you write WAEC and JAMB the same year. I was to write JAMB the following year. So, I had ten months to stay at home.
So, what I did was to start Okada business to buy JAMB and pay school fees. Incidentally, I didn’t get admission. That gave me more time in my business because what I did was that once the exam starts getting closer, I will stop and continue after the exam.
I got admission the following year. By then, I had done Okada for close to two years. My sister gave me a mandate that every Sunday, I must tell her how much I have saved. She asked me to open an account and I did. Monday morning I must save at least a thousand five hundred. That was my target then. I had a lot of money then.
How did you get the inspiration to pursue your academics with the amount of doggedness that you even had to do Okada to make headway? Were your parents’ teacher?
My mother was artisan. My dad was a security officer with the University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus. I hardly even knew my father because we lived in Nsukka and he lived in Enugu. In a year, we saw him only few times. So, he wasn’t so much an influence on me. So, the influence wasn’t so much from my family.
The passion to continue my education was around my WAEC period, not even in my early secondary school. I had two friends – Chima (Alkaline) and Gabriel (Gabrede). Those two friends were very great influence on me.
In our class (Arts Class) three of us were seen as the best. We all agreed that we are going to be lawyer. They so romanticsed the law profession – if you become a lawyer you will be respected and nobody will insult you. So, it was some kind of passion in three of us.
After the WAEC exam, even though the result was not yet out, my elder sister said she didn’t trust the exam I wrote and picked a GCE form me. I had to leave the village and come to town to start lesson with Bishop Alex Academy. Incidentally, I couldn’t make English and Mathematics in my WAEC. In my GCE, I made English.
I studied hard for the second JAMB so that I could make the cut of mark for Law. What I read for that JAMB, I have not read since. Then I could read till day break and I will feel normal. In day time, I will prepare and go to Library. There was state Library around Total Round About. Then, the library opened by 9.00am. Every day I will go there and stay till 3PM before going for lesson. I did that especially when the exams were getting close.
After writing that JAMB, I got 287 and my name was number 2 in English Department. I saw one Hyginus who got 294. Then I said I must meet this guy to know how he did it; from then we became friends.
From your background of failing English in WAEC and wrestling with your financial challenge, how did you clinch first class in the Department of English, a subject you failed in WAEC?
Well, it’s a big question you are asking. A lot of factors played out in that.
My academic capability took a different turn when I was doing my GCE In 2001. By the time I finished WAEC, I lived with a sister and they did this kind of business that hardly gives someone time for books. I went late to school most times and when you come back you have to face business most times. You don’t even have chance to read. So my relationship with education was not so close. It wasn’t so good.
But when I finished and had to do GCE, I was living with my other sister and I didn’t have all that distraction. She told me that the only reason why I am here is to read my books. Then, I joined Bishop Alex Academy. By the time I was getting to Bishop Alex Academy, I didn’t know Parts Of Speech, that was after my WAEC.
all the Exam I wrote in WAEC I did all by myself. When I got my papers through GCE, I decided to read and read to pass JAMB because I know nobody was going to give me one Naira to go and sort admission.
When I came to Bishop Alex Academy and saw young people, boys and girls who were ready to do anything to gain knowledge. So, it was a big experience. Bishop did what he called Practical English Class; you had to pay separately for that. Then, he would tell you to write letters and essays. In the normal class, we were over a thousand but in the practical class, we are about 30 or 40; so we had time to interact with Bishop. So, I started reading and that exposed me greatly until I developed confidence in myself.
By the time I did my first JAMB, it wasn’t so wonderful. From the kind of religious background I came from, exam malpractice was a sin. So all the Exam I wrote in WAEC I did all by myself. When I got my papers through GCE, I decided to read and read to pass JAMB because I know nobody was going to give me one Naira to go and sort admission.
So I read! The kind of reading I did then for my JAMB in 2003, I haven’t done it till today.
So, after writing that JAMB, I scored 287 and gained admission. I had already built confidence. I started believing that I belong to the best. Among my league of friends that did JAMB that time, I was among the best. I started telling myself, ‘You can be the best.’
When I came, I started mingling with the best in my class. We were told that it’s not possible to make a first class in English. The rumour was very rife that the last time someone made a First Class was in 1984, which was 20 years then.
Another angle to the rumour was that it was no longer possible to give someone First Class in English because English is the White Man’s language and before you make First Class in English, you must speak English the same way they speak it which is not possible for any Nigerian. Other people said that it was GP (Grade Point) thing; once your GP is up to 4.5, you will be given a First Class.
I had to go and meet my HOD, Prof Opata then. He is currently the HOD but he was HOD even then. I asked him if it’s true that one can’t make first class in English and he asked, ‘Who said that?’ He said that once your Cumulative GP is up to 4.5, you will be given First Class. Then I asked him why the department hasn’t produced First Class since 1984 and he said because nobody has made it. I went with that and started working.
It took a lot of strategizing, reading and talking with people.
I always tell people that it starts from the mind. The Bible said in Proverbs that as a man thinks in his heart, so is he. If you think something is possible, you start seeing possibilities and options on how to do it. But if some part of your mind tells you that this thing is not possible, you find that you won’t make it. First, I believed that it was possible.
Incidentally, one of the courses we took in first years was handled by my HOD, Prof Opata and people said you don’t make an A in the course. It was rumoured that the man said A is for God and the best student will get a B. But I told myself, ‘I have to make an A in this course o.’
So, I called my friend who was a good Christian and told him about it. We fasted and prayed and read books. We resolved to read beyond what he prescribed. He prescribed about 28 different novels. My class rep read all of them. Me, my class rep and one other girl who was borrowing that course also made an A in the course.
When Prof was coming to the class the following semester, he came with those three scripts and called out three of us in front of the class and said, “Although I don’t give A, but these three will make A.’
“It takes a lot of strategizing.” You said. What strategy do you think a student should use to make a First Class in a department labeled No Go Area For First Class?
Well, let me say what I did. I wouldn’t say they apply generally. But at least, they worked for me. I had to understudy the department. The first step I took in understanding the department was to get academic mentors. I didn’t say mentor. I said mentors. I had to look for the best students in second year, third year and final year. I looked at the results of those ahead of me on the notice board, located them in the department and got closer to them.
I met a guy, his name is Obed Chijioke Nwakaego in third year then. I approached him and said, ‘Somebody said you are very intelligent and I want to stay under your mentor-ship.’ he smiled and accepted.
Sincerely, he followed me up; gave me books and told me, ‘You see this lecturer, this is what he thinks of literature so if you are analyzing a literary text, this is what you need to tell him to pass.’ He told me the right books to read and I followed his guidelines to letter.
He was giving me the techniques on how to write in literature and language. Because he will give me assignments and I will do them, anything he asked me to read, I read, he so much loved me and said to me, ‘Kingsley, I know I won’t make a first class but I will do everything possible to make sure you make a first class.’ He followed me up, looked at my result and asked me questions about my course. Whenever I made an A in a course, he becomes so happy. Sometimes, I was reading to make sure that Obed won’t spank me. But I know that I was also working for myself.
So, I understudied the department and the lecturers.
Something happened in my first year and it taught me a big lesson. I remember one day I was in town to get some food stuffs. A friend call me and told me that there was a tutorial in the department.
before I do any exam, I get past questions for three to five years ago to see the nature of the question I am expecting. This keeps me on the guide.
The out gone departmental president was doing tutorial for the first years and it was LS 141 and when I came in, the guy was reading from past questions and was teaching it to us one by one. At some point, he said the lecturer will give us the same question tomorrow. How can a lecturer give exactly what he gave last year. Doesn’t he know that students must have seen the past question? I thought to myself. I was so annoyed and carried my bag since I thought I was wasting my time. I left angry and disappointed.
Surprisely, when I came for the exam, I saw the question word for word. I still made an A in that course. But from that I learnt that lectures could repeat questions and the need to use my past question. It wasn’t only that lecturer but other lecturers repated questions; though not word for word.
So, before I do any exam, I get past questions for three to five years ago to see the nature of the question I am expecting. This keeps me on the guide.
“Because of the religious background I had, I know exam malpractice was not possible and nobody was going to give me money for anything.” Tell me about that religious background.
I was raised in Assemblies of God Church. We were taught in children’s department that once you cheat in exam, it’s a sin against God.
During my WEAC, people were giving either N10 Naira N100 to the NECO person so that the man will look away while they cheat. But me and my friend, Chima didn’t pay.
The school was so harsh on us. During the exam, we were kept at an empty space back of the hall since NECO was new then, not everybody that took WAEC took NECO. We were put at the extreme ends of the back of the hall. On the day of government, a subject I love so much. Incidentally, the only textbook I have written is on Government.
(Cuts in….) What’s the title?
It’s Government Terms and Facts. So, I love government so much.
A new supervisor came to invigilate us and wondered why we were separated from the rest of the students in the hall. The school lied to him that we chose the back so that nobody will disturb us. We became friends even after school until I lost contact with that man.
My government was A1.
From my WAEC till date, I haven’t been involved in Exam malpractice. During my undergraduate days, it was a very big challenge. Some people you are close to will want to sit close to you in exam. At some point, I devised a strategy to avoid them: I intentionally came late to exam; almost when everybody is seated.
Keep a date with us next week on Student Groove for the second part of this interview, where Mr Ugwauanyi shares more nuggets for youths and students, his relationships on campus and how he found his wife.
*English Parliament takes the South East airwaves at 8.30am on Radio Nigeria, Voice96.7FM
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