Oluchi Okala, 25, graduated with first-class honours from the Faculty of Law, Abia State University, Uturu, and repeated the same feat at the Nigerian Law School. The state government recently gave her automatic employment, cash reward and scholarship for postgraduate studies. She tells SUNDAY NWAKANMA how determination made her succeed
Did you also excel when you were in primary and secondary schools?
My primary and secondary education wasn’t easy. I attended a lot of nursery schools because I was always troublesome. So every time, they (my parents) had to change my school. I finally went to Baptist Primary and Secondary School (in Aba). I lost my dad at the age of five, while still at Nursery 3. So, I had to move to a public school (from a private school).
What kind of result did you have after your final examination in secondary school?
I have been always been very smart and never gone beyond the third position in any class. In fact, each time I returned from school, my mum did not bother to ask me about my result because she knew that I would always take first place. I played a lot and always tried to study hard. At every class and every level, I always had teachers that helped me. My teachers were always nice to me and they always advised me to go the extra mile.
How would you describe your experience at Abia State University?
My Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination result was okay, but my name was not in the first admission list. I actually wanted to change my course but my elder brother said I should not do that because he wanted me to study law. He urged me to calm down and take another UTME. I listened to him. I took the exam again and got admitted to study law at ABSU.
What were your major challenges at ABSU?
It was just about finance as it was only my mum and brother that were my sponsors. It was very difficult and most times, I had to wait for some time before my school fees would be sent to me but God was there for me. Before each examination, God ensured I was able to pay. If not, I could be sent out of the examination hall.
What is the size of your family?
We are eight in the family and I am the eighth child and the last. We are five boys and three girls.
Did you ever think you would graduate with a first-class degree?
During my first year in school, I always thought of graduating with a first-class degree because my brother always put pressure on me. It was not that others in the family were not involved but he was more active and bent on seeing me succeed. Each time he called, he would say, I hope you are reading. He always told me not to bother about my school fees. So, he made me go to university with the determination to graduate with a first-class degree and I was determined to get it for him.
He also read Biochemistry at Abia State University but did not have many opportunities because of inadequate funds. He had a lot of challenges in school regarding getting school fees. He was schooling and working at the same time to ensure he could make some money. So he was just trying to make us get the kind of result that he couldn’t get. So, for me, since he was out there working for me, I needed to get it for him.
So how did you feel when you realised that you would graduate with a first-class degree?
I knew I was going to graduate with a first-class degree because I always calculated my grade point average. So, when my calculation showed that I would graduate with a first-class degree, I was happy. But I wasn’t surprised.
Apart from your brother that wanted you to study law, what other reason made you choose law?
I decided that if I was going to be in the Arts field, I had to do the best. I also felt that studying law would give me the opportunity to do something different as most of my friends were studying courses related to literature and education. I was the only one that said that I was going to read law, irrespective of how difficult it could be.
Then looking at my family and background, I felt we needed a lawyer as other family members did other courses.
What made you decide to also graduate with a first-class degree at law school?
I knew if I graduated with anything other than a first-class degree like I did with my first degree, it was meaningless. I had a lot of friends there that made me determined to achieve it. I saw students from other universities that I felt were more intelligent than me. I saw other students who graduated with first-class degrees from other universities and at a stage; I felt I wasn’t going be able to achieve it. But then, I kept pushing. Also, what helped me was that it was just one session, unlike at the university where we spent five years. But when the results came out, I was shocked.
Did it occur to you that you would be celebrated the way you have been celebrated recently?
It did not occur to me. I thought it would be a family affair. I was not expecting people to celebrate me this way.
Would you attribute your success story to hard work or providence?
Every factor worked in my favour. God was there for me, if not, it wouldn’t have been possible. Then, I also worked towards it.
Who would say inspired you the most to succeed?
My mentors and there are a lot of them. My brother is one of them.
How were you able to surmount the challenges you had in the course of getting here?
The challenges were basically financial and surmounting them was achieved through prayers. I made sure I belonged to a Christian fellowship. I had good friends who were serious-minded, and God helped me. My brother was actually working to make sure I didn’t lack anything. Though I didn’t have everything, he tried his best.
What is your life philosophy?
My philosophy in life is that excellence is achievable. You just have to grow it. Desire it, work for it, pray for it, sow it, and you will have it.
Did you get married while you were an undergraduate?
No, I got married while I was waiting for admission into law school.
Will you like to become an academic?
Actually, I love teaching so much. I enjoyed teaching my junior colleagues whenever they came around.
The Abia State Government has already offered you automatic employment, what do you think about that?
I highly appreciate the Abia State Governor, Dr Okezie Ikpeazu, for the gesture. I am highly grateful to him and the management of Abia State University and of course, I know how to further thank them. I am not going to let them regret the offer they gave me by working hard to justify their belief in me. When I eventually start lecturing at the university, I have to give in my best to produce more students, who, if not like me, will be better than me. So, when they look back, they will not regret the appointment they gave me.
Other students will be looking up to you and may see you as their role model, what advice will you give them?
I will advise them to be focused and determined and not to allow peer group or social media to distract them. As students, they just have to concentrate on their studies. If they really want to study, they have to give up certain things to get what they want.
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