I’ve been waiting for a chance to write this piece for many years now. Today, the opportunity presents itself, in a rather weird way. Thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, our university has not been able to safely organise our graduation ceremonies…yet! Having completed PhD study in the middle of the pandemic however, some former students like myself feel that we have not had closure from our years of hard work. At one point, we planned to have a “guerrilla” graduation (a great suggestion from my friend, Dr Leanne Cameron) but hiring the academic gowns proved to be another challenge.
But I was determined to do this, not just for myself but for Dad. So today, on what would have been his 88th birthday on earth, writing this tribute provides that much-desired closure. Last month, the young men (my sons) visited for a few days and we were blessed with beautiful blue skies, so we headed to a local park and the creative one @Casperdot took some fantastic shots that I will treasure for life.
My postgraduate journey
Anyone who knows me well enough, knows that I was either tricked into returning to formal (postgraduate) education or some brainwashing happened somewhere!! During my undergraduate years, I COULD NOT WAIT to finish university and once I did, I swore never to set foot in a classroom again. I’m not sure I ever enjoying formal schooling and (confession time!) never liked homework, tests, exams, etc. I never saw the point of all of that. So I was more shocked than anyone else when I found myself registering to study for a one-year Master degree in 2014.
And it was tough!! At the beginning, my brain was so closed and after a 25-year break, I felt like I was the ‘grandma’ of the class. It was not a ‘what’ but ‘who’ that kept me going – Dad. We had lost him in the February of that year. If you believe that our dearly departed watch over us, it certainly happened to me. Slowly, I seemed to get my act together, worked hard and achieved a distinction. Yaaayyyy!
Having gone through all that, are you wondering why I went on to study for a PhD?
So. Am. I.
In my defence though, I had been bitten by the research bug. I had found a topic that presented many questions and not enough answers. And we needed more answers. The welfare and wellbeing of women students in Nigerian universities IS an important area to explore and develop. I had to do it. Was it Dad prodding, nurturing, encouraging? Maybe…
So I carried on. Did I mention that Master’s study was tough? This one was on a whole new level of “Who send me dis kain message again??” Perhaps it was this niggling little message written in my Master’s dissertation:
Yes, HIM again!!! Notice the last line? Oh, that line held me to ransom. For 5 long years.
Acada no be moimoi
And I persevered. Through the 5 years of highs and lows, through the brain-cracking moments, the classes, workshops, presentations at conferences and work-in-progress sessions, through the late nights and sleepless nights, with tears, food, teas and coffees, through fieldwork visits, emails, informal group discussions, wrangling with concepts, through ill health, reading books, journal articles, academic papers, through boot camps, writing retreats, writing groups, writing trips, solo writing and more writing…
Through it all, working the day job and concluding that acada no be moimoi at all.
Through it all, remembering one of Dad’s favourite phrases: “This too shall pass”.
Through it all, keeping that promise, his photo (see left of featured image) and a dream… that one day, I will wear Dad’s academic gown and cap.
Dad, the African feminist
[Content warning: FGM*]
First, permit me to explain who he was to the world, then to his family and friends, and then to me.
To the world, he was a legend! Paediatric surgeon with a huge heart for babies, children and young people. Numerous surgical exploits. Pioneer Vice chancellor of the Nnamdi Azikiwe University in Anambra State, Nigeria. A versatile reader, author and astute administrator. Loyal friend and dependable colleague. An avid and lifelong supporter of Arsenal Football Club. Founder of the Professor Festus Nwako Foundation. Celebrated with numerous awards and trophies.
To his family, he was a pivotal point – adored by most but never suffered fools gladly. Fondly called “Uncle Prof” or “Nnukwu Nkita” (Da Big Dawg) by his nephews and nieces. Loved immensely by his grandchildren, one of who wrote about him much better than I could – read David’s endearing piece titled ‘The Professor’s Grandson‘.
To me? Well, he was simply everything! Looking back through my life and academic journey, he certainly influenced the woman that I am today in more ways than one. But as an African male feminist? Yes. Let’s start with this story – at the time of my birth my grandmother (Dad’s mother) believed in the culture of female circumcision*. When she suggested it for me, Dad firmly disagreed and although the matter caused a big row, his insistence protected me (and many others) from going through such a traumatic, life-altering procedure.
Female circumcision, also known as “Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a procedure where the female genitals are deliberately cut, injured or changed, but there’s no medical reason for this to be done… FGM is usually carried out on young girls between infancy and the age of 15, most commonly before puberty starts”.(Source: www.nhs.uk)
This stance, plus many other opinions that he maintained on similar issues, often contrary to certain patriarchal, traditional practices in Igboland of Nigeria, prompted yet another dedication, this time in my PhD thesis. Here’s an excerpt from it:
Graduation day hasn’t happened yet. But I still got to wear his academic gown and cap.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Dad.
My journey is now complete!
*If you found this information upsetting or disturbing as a result of similar experiences and would like some support, please contact me privately. Your message will be treated in the strictest confidence.