[INTERVIEW#2] PROF JONAH ONUOHA#2: HIS FAMILY, AND SUCCESS SECRETS FOR EVERY YOUTH
Weeks ago, we served you the first part of our interview with Prof Jonah Onoha where he shared how he surmounted poverty and discouragement to attain career and material success. Today we serve you the second part of our conversation with the Head of Department, Political Science, University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), Prof Jonah Onuoha. In this part of the interview with BROJID.COM EDITOR, JOSEPH DINWOKE, he reveals how he met his wife, runs his family, secrets of academic excellence and how he started Centre for American Studies, UNN. He also offered wisdom that can help any youth succeed despite their poor background.
You talked about people trying to stop your being a professor. I have also heard people say that they are qualified to be professors but there are cabals working against them. How did you manage your situation?
Experience has taught me that you cannot stop what God has ordained. If it were possible to stop what God has made someone, I could have been stopped at my family level when nobody talked to me or cared about me. But they couldn’t. For three years, the paper I sent didn’t get back.
This prepared my mind that as a professor; I should do my best to work for the progress of others. If nobody could stop me then, I should not stop anybody. I will promote those who are qualified for promotion. That has been my principle. I urge those who try to stop others progress to stop because anybody you they are holding down, they are holding themselves down as well. They should have a change of mind; and look at people on the basis of their merit because no man can stop you if God doesn’t stop you. If anybody is threatening to stop you; don’t believe you can be stopped.
There is this general conception that people who are academic, like you, hardly have time for their family and children because they are either researching for paper or in the lab doing assignment. What’s your case?
I told you I lost my wife very early. My primary constituency is my family. I am a very busy person but that does not stop me from going to market to buy clothes for them. I cook for them; take them to hospital when they are sick. I cannot imagine how busy anybody will be and forget their family. I give my children time; I don’t want them to suffer what I suffered.
Now, they are adults. I can now afford to devout more time to academic work. But that does not make me keep away from home without seeing them. Anybody who pretends to be too busy for his family is not a family minded person.
How did you meet your wife? What was the attraction?
The attraction was her beauty. I had what I call theory of four Bs. I believe that love is not blind. There are four things that a young man must have seen before he walks up to a young lady to propose. One is beauty. The second B is brain. By brain I mean anybody that enters the university has a brain. If you are able to survive all the obstacles in the university you have brain. The third B is background. Who is your father or your mother. Are you people criminals? The four B is behaviuor.
She came around for condolence in my compound and I saw her and that was all.
It is generally believe that two people in marriage will always disagree. How did you ensure that your disagreement does not degenerate into conflict?
Conflict between two people is certain. But handling it is a matter of maturity and love you have for your spouse. If you are really in love with your partner, there is an extent you cannot go. I don’t think anybody came in between us to resolve issue throughout the period of 15 years of marriage. She was quiet a nice and understanding woman even though she was not perfect and I am not too.
What inspired you to think of the starting Centre for American Studies?
One of the best things that happened to me is to travel to the United States. It happened without much effort on my side. Whatever God has for you is for you.
We were in a train on our way to the US. I was not sleeping but I heard a voice ‘Centre for America Studies’. “What is centre for America Studies. I started asking each person what it means. My colleague from New Dehli India said he is coming from Centre for America Studies in his country. Because my colleague from Ghana was not disposed, I went alone. They told me to go back to my country and start and if it starts doing well, my country will inform them.
I rushed back to Nigeria and organized a programme to share what I learnt from the programme abroad. The then Head of Department refused to allow us hold the programme in the department. He said that by the time she came back as a minister she didn’t do anything. So why should Jonah?
It was the passion to share what I learnt that pushed me to start thinking of a different platform. I meet someone and told him what Prof said and he asked me, “Can’t we do it outside? Let’s do it in PAA (Princess Alexandra Auditorium)”
That’s how I formed the Centre for American Studies. I organized a programme there and the hall was filled up. There I shared my experiences. The following night, I rushed to the American Embassy but they were not enthusiastic. They said I should drop that they will look at it. But I told myself that I won’t drop it since I don’t have an extra copy.
I went home and decided to continue to shout America until America comes to look for me.
So, eventually, they came to look for you?
I came back and used the little money I made form America to organise a conference and scholars were applying to submit papers. It was two days before the conference that I came back from school run that my wife said that some people called from American Embassy and they called back the following day. Some called from the Embassy and asked, “Is your conference still holding tomorrow? We are happy to announce to you that the American government has approved your centre.” They came for the conference with cartons of books which is used to establish the centre.
One of the essentials of the centre is to promote international peace through cross fertilization of ideas…. How has the centre helped in the cross fertilization of ideas between Africa and America?
We have done that in two particular ways. About five academic staff has traveled to the United States at no cost to themselves or the University. They are back to develop the system. We have organized yearly conference. People have also used the centre to educate people on the American people and culture.
You have held many leadership positions. What is your leadership philosophy?
I believe a leader is one who is able to inspire to do what you want them to do, influence people to do it and also discipline them when it’s important.
From your experience both as a student and a lecturer for 25 years, what do you think make students fail?
There are there three reasons why students fail. At times you find very brilliant students who come to the university and join bad group. University is a no man’s land. If you come here whatever you want, you get it. Your parents are not here. You can travel and nobody will know where you went to.
When students come to the university and join bad groups, such groups can distract them from their major assignment, they fail.
Secondly, some fail because they don’t know how to read. Some rely so much on the note given by lectures and so if you ask any question that’s not in the note or that requires effort outside the note, they can’t cope.
The third one is poverty. Many students are suffering. Their parents don’t care about them. And for you to read and concentrate, you need a conducive atmosphere. At least you must eat good food.
Many children of wealthy or influential don’t turn out well in life. Are there things you are doing to ensure your wealth and success won’t be an advantage to the children.
There are some successful people that turn out successful and training. At times some children entre groups and by the type they know it they are beyond redemption. I think rich parents also try to spoil their children by over pampering them. When you give your children money beyond what they need, they start keeping unnecessary friends. They have so much luxury that they don’t pay attention to their academics. Therefore we should not over pamper them. We should just give them what they need. Let them not suffer. So that’s what I think. Parents, particularly the rich ones, should not over pamper their children.
Sometimes you find students who come to class and they are richer than the teacher. And they don’t have respect for their teachers and some teachers respond by punishing them. Are you getting me? You are driving a jeep and the teacher is driving a beetle and when the teacher talks you won’t obey instruction. I don’t have any problem with patents giving their children something but you should realise that you have brought your child in school for training. You don’t have to spoil her with your wealth. We should know how we dish out wealth. It affects the quality of their performance.
Assuming you are standing before 5000 Nigerian youths and they are eager to hear from you the secret of your success. They want you to tell them what they must do to succeed. What would you be telling them?
I will tell them to believe in themselves. Forget about your parents or your father. Be fearless. Don’t fear any obstacle. Face every obstacle until you conquer. Be creative and proactive. If you are not creative, you cannot survive in this world. You must create something people need. You must stand up to work hard. Hard work pays. Unfortunately, people don’t want to work hard. Hard work pays. If it doesn’t pay today, it will pay tomorrow. Even though people seem to be making it without working hard, I will tell Nigerian youths to work hard, be focused, pray and believe in God.
While walking into this office (his private office) I saw a photograph of you dressed in traditional regalia and Omelu oha inscribed on it. Why did you choose it as your traditional title?
I didn’t choose that. It was conferred on me because I am known to give out. I touch people’s lives. Having come from my background and seen how I suffered, I can’t endure seeing someone suffer. I can’t endure it when someone is hungry and he comes to me and says he is hungry or you have a problem I know I can solve without helping. So, I have been doing that and people felt that I should be given a traditional title , Omelu Oha meaning someone who does it for all.
There is common thinking in our clime that when you give someone material resources, the person can use it to diabolically harm you. Does it not cross your mind that you can be hurt?
I give to people who are really in need of that money. Not those who are jealous of my success. Of course you should know those you should not give to. Meanwhile, I don’t believe anybody can use my material gift to do me anything.
I can see so many plagues and certificates of award on your site. Which of them is dearest to your heart?
They are all quiet significant in one way of the other because they represent different groups. I think the most significant one is the one from the Rotary Club of Enugu.
Editor’s Note: We apologize for the delay in publishing this second part of the interview. It was largely due to the restructuring on brojid.com. Meanwhile, you can read the first part, HERE