He was once a wheelbarrow pusher, bus conductor and tout. His shelter was under the bridge. Education for him seemed far-fetched, Uche Okwuoha, now a Law student at the Obafemi Awolowo University narrates how his life began to take a meaningful shape, Motunrayo Aboderin writes
Uche Okwuoha, an indigene of Imo State, scored the highest mark in the Obafemi Awolowo post Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination in the 2010/2011 academic session. He had the highest score of 320 (out of 400) and he is presently a Law student in the institution’s Faculty of Law. But Okwuoha’s journey to stardom was one filled with pain and hardship.
The 27-year-old young man who was once a street boy said at the time he was leaving his secondary school at Okigwe, Imo State, his intention was to gain admission to any university, join a cult group and kill as many people as he could.
Now, Okwuoha said he is a changed man. In his words, “Life has dealt with me; the only thing left in me is hope for a brighter tomorrow.”
Narrating his story to our correspondent, the year-two Law student said that his life as a street boy began in 2001. “I was born in Okigwe, Imo State. I had my primary and secondary education at St. Augustine’s Grammar School, Nkwere, Imo State.
“I was a good boy, brilliant and focused. But when I got to S.S.2, my story changed. I became disinterested in my studies. Then the eagerness to go to university became very strong because I wanted to join a cult group. I had heard that cult boys were strong people and that people feared them. I also heard that as a student you could only succeed on campus if you were a member of a cult group. I told myself that I would join a cult group and kill as many people as I could.”
Interestingly, Okwuoha said he never derived pleasure in inflicting pain on people and never looted people’s property. “I don’t enjoy seeing people in pain and I don’t steal; but still the thought of joining a cult to kill was very strong in my mind.”
Okwuoha said that he wasn’t the only one that had the thought. Most of his friends in secondary school had that thought too. “I may be wrong, but a typical secondary school boy has this thought. These boys have the notion that if they weren’t in a cult group, they wouldn’t be able to survive on campus. I believe most of these cult groups didn’t start on campus; they started in secondary schools. People may be surprised to hear that there are cult groups in secondary schools.”
After writing his West African Senior Secondary School Examinations, Okwuoha said his result was not too good. He opted for the General Certificate Examination but failed again. In 2007, he wrote the Unified Matriculation Examinations and scored 244. But his choice, a state university back at Imo State, didn’t accept him. ‘’I guess God did not want me to execute my plan to kill people,” he explained.
Okwuoha said that at that point, he had lost all. He kept roaming the streets. And because he felt staying back at home would be a burden for his parents who were both teachers, he decided to live with his brother who was living in a one-room apartment in Imo State.
“I am the sixth child in a family of nine; I needed to leave home so that my parents could have enough money to take care of my siblings. When I arrived at my brother’s place, he welcomed me with open arms but after spending some days, I realised that I was on my own.
“The place was quite uncomfortable and my brother did not have a high-paying job. Taking care of us was a bit challenging, that was when I decided to become a wheel-barrow pusher. After that, I became a bus conductor. It was very challenging and risky.”
Life for Okwuoha during that period was not joyful. He said he could only wish every night that the morning would bring something different. When it looked like things weren’t going to get any better, Okwuoha said he decided to move to Lagos.
He said, “I was just so tired. I did not know what else to do. Lagos seemed like the only visible option. One morning I woke up thinking enough is enough; I have to go to Lagos. I did not inform my parents of my trip. I just told my brother that I was going down to Lagos to stay with my uncle. Deep inside my mind, I was a bit scared but I was a little confident that I would survive in Lagos.”
Okwuoha said that when he arrived at Berger, the mass of people on the streets took him aback. “When I arrived, I went straight to my uncle’s place at Jakande Estate, Isolo. I was there for about a year just sitting at home. Though I opted to write G.C.E the second time, I did not do well again.”
Okwuoha said life at his uncle’s place was manageable and that his uncle was giving him money to take care of his daily needs. But after some months, he left the place and went to stay with another brother of his. That was where he started his street life in full force. “I rarely slept at home. I would sleep under bridges. My life back then was a mess. I was always drunk. There was nothing I did not smoke. I became so promiscuous.”
Okwuoha said his future looked blurred. “I did not think I would get out of the pit, my life was just a mess. I had become an agbero. Going to school was not even an option. I would roam about the streets of Lagos smoking and drinking.”
He said after a while, he decided to get a job at a hotel but the job did not last. He got another job at a joint as sales boy. He kept jumping from one job to another.
Okwuoha said he finally got tired of his brother’s place and then decided to move to his aunt’s place. “I did not know that I was jumping from frying pan to fire as the adage goes. Life there was worse. I was treated like a houseboy,” he said.
During his stay at his aunt’s place, Okwuoha said he got to hear about a college that trained students to write external examinations. “One day I was outside my aunt’s shop and I saw one young boy holding some books. I was just curious about where he was going, so I stopped him and asked; he then told me about a college that prepares students to write external examinations. Right there, I felt this joy. It was like my dark days were over.
“The next morning I went to the college called Adams College in Oshodi and enrolled for UTME tutorials. I managed to pay part of the fees with the little money I had on me. I would go for my lessons in the morning; then later go to my aunt’s shop. But I did not have time to read. Anytime I tried reading at night; she would give me work to do.”
Okwuoha said he managed to stay at his aunt’s place until he could not bear it anymore. “I left her place and moved back to my uncle’s place. I thought his place would be better. But the distance from his place to my tutorial centre was very far. So for a month, I would trek for about two kilometres.
“When I got tired of the stress, I quit the tutorials and got a job in a hotel. But some months later, the owner of the tutorial centre came to the hotel where I was and accidentally bumped into me. After narrating my plight, he asked me to come back and that he would take care of me.”
Okwuoha said he eventually rewrote UTME and had scored 289. “When I went to write the post-UTME at OAU, I had the intention of being the best. I used to tell people that if two people were chosen as the best; I would be one of them. Thank God, I made a high score of 320 and two of us had that score.”
Describing his life at OAU, Okwuoha said it’s been better than what he expected and receiving a full scholarship from Mr. Adams has been a blessing.
The Proprietor of Adams College, Mr. Adebola Adams, said Okwuoha has been his best student so far. “His story is remarkable. I was touched with all the challenges he passed through. For him to emerge as one of the best students at the post-UTME was a blessing to me. At first, convincing Okwuoha that he could excel was a big challenge. But I’m glad he is what he is today.”
On his future aspirations, Okwuoha said he hopes to be the best graduating student. “I also plan to get a Master’s degree in any reputable university abroad. My dream is to reach the apex of my career.”
Advising parents, Okwuoha enjoined them to spend more time with their children.
by Motunrayo Aboderin