Pix: Rita, far left, with Fides team. From her immediate left are assistant editor, Uche Amunike; editor-in-chief, Jude Atupulazi; director, Rev. Fr. Martin Anusi, after the interview.
If there's anything that I love, it's seeing a grass to grace story. There's nothing that shows the awesome presence of God in our lives like the story of the young lady I'm about to unveil to you, our esteemed readers. It's a typical story of determination, strength of character, commitment and belief in God. The lady in question left an indelible mark in my heart and mind after having a session with her with the Fides Editor-in-Chief, Hon Jude Atupulazi, right in the comfort of the office of my Director, Rev. Fr Martin Anusi. Here are the excerpts…
So, let's get to know you. My name is Rita Orji. I'm a Banting Fellow at the University of Waterloo, Canada and also a visiting senior lecturer at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka here in Nigeria where I work with the Computer Science Department. I'm originally from a town known as Owelli Court in Enugu State of Nigeria. That's where I grew up and was raised before leaving the country. That's all about me.
Lately, you've been in the news for the right reasons. Can you tell us what those right reasons are? Actually, I've been in the news for various reasons, most of them, being about my academic accomplishments. Growing up in Nigeria, in the remote town of Owerrikote in Enugu State, I was born and raised by parents who never had formal education and who were peasant farmers, so, going to school and struggling to make a living was a very difficult thing. We were not sure where the next meal would come from, and finishing primary school and secondary school was basically accomplished by the help of relatives, my uncles and some people of goodwill. Basically, what is so important about the whole thing is that I looked beyond my immediate challenge and came to the realization that education was one of the ways I could get out of where nature had placed me as a person, so, actually little or no guidance. I was determined to succeed. So, basically, finishing from secondary school was actually a miracle because I never attended a private school. It had always been either community primary school or community secondary school right there in my village. The only time I stepped out of my village was when I went to a special science school. That was at the later part of my education, and then, eventually got into the university, precisely Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka. At the time I came to the Awka university, something very interesting happened. Like I said, finishing secondary school was a miracle, of course, with the help of my uncles and relatives who saw me and my sisters through school. By the way, we were nine in number and I was the fourth child. We were all growing up and trying hard to support each other, but when it was time for me to go to the university, even after I had passed my exams, there was no hope of coming in because of the financial constraints. What however happened eventually was that my uncle was determined to go as far as selling his clothes to see us through the university. People brought in lots of suggestions. Some suggested we go and look for jobs as sales girls, petrol attendants, etc, but my uncle however remained focused about seeing us through school. This he did with the help of my community which gave me a scholarship when I got into UNIZIK. Thankfully, after my first year, my result was very good and then I got a Federal Government Scholarship which actually alleviated most of my sufferings and did help me finish up from the University. I finished as one of the best with a First Class Honors and that was how the whole thing started. I graduated from the Faculty of Computer Science of Nnamdi Azikiwe University which is where I am presently as a visiting Senior Lecturer. A department where I studied before I left in 2004/2005.I left Nigeria in 2007, and with the help of the Nigerian and Turkish Governments, I got a scholarship because of my performance after I finished my degree. The scholarship is determined by your result, so after I had my First Class, I wrote the exams, they eventually selected me and I went for my Masters fully sponsored by the Nigerian and Turkish governments. As God would have it, I have always vowed to make the best of every good opportunity. Another thing that kept me going was the conviction that where I was coming from is not going to be a determinant of what I can do and where I can end up. So, with that conviction and by the help of God, I actually finished as one of the top students again with a First Class Honors for my Masters Degree. When I was done with my Masters, I told myself that was not all. Then, I left for Canada where I finished from the University of Saskatchewan with a Ph.D in Computer Science with several scholarships and several awards in my name both from the Canadian Government. So, I was sponsored through my Ph.D by the Canadian government and currently, I am still under the sponsorship of the Canadian Government who is taking care of everything that has to do with me. In summary, I have won so many awards both in Canada and Nigeria in recognition of my academic excellence and dedication. I was also recognized by the former President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan who actually had some officials attend my Ph.D graduation and featured me on NTA as the pride of Nigeria as they called it and the hope for our generation. I got some commendation letters from President Goodluck and some other dignitaries. So, that has been about me and most of the reasons why I have been in the news. I have also appeared in the Canadian Parliament where I was called to present my works to the members of parliament and the House of Commons, and that work actually had to do with my research which was based on how to use technology to change people for the right behaviour. So, these are some of the strategic things that have happened, but what stood out among all these things is that it has been consistent. Stepping out of Nigeria, I think the result I had here in Nigeria from UNIZIK was the least I ever had in my life both from my Masters and Ph.D, so, that was a very remarkable thing that people actually pointed to because some people left the shores of this country and end up being slowed down by distractions but it wasn't so in my case. Nigeria actually gave me the background to explore the world and reach for the stars beyond all expectations. I just concluded the first stage of what I planned to be as a kid and about to achieve exploits to embark on the next stage.
Do you think anything in your life prepared you for where you are now?
I think a lot of things prepared me for what I am and where I am right now, one of it being my family. I have a lot of belief and commitment to my family, so most of the time, there are two things that I fear a lot in my life. I reverence God a lot. I believe in the power of God to make me successful. This is one of my greatest strongholds as a person and it is one of the things I had to face abroad. Basically, it was just me and me alone. It was always two things. I call on God. I call on my family. At the lowest point in my life, these are the things that come to mind. At a point, I feel like I am going to quit. I pray about it. Most times, when anybody in my family picks my calls, they tell me what I want to hear. It's because we have that connection in my family and I think that belief we have in each other and the upbringing that we have make us believe that we can actually do anything. My parents didn't go to school, but they really did love education even though they didn't have the means, so, that propelled me and encouraged me. Growing up in secondary school I was looked up to for coming home with straight As . My uncles always insisted on the best results. I was never made to feel like I had landed. On a particular instance, I came back with my result after I changed from the community secondary school where we never had full time teachers, to the special science school which was a very big challenge to me. The strategy and zeal which I used to read in the village school certainly wouldn't help in doing the magic, so, the change from coming first to being in the middle was a very huge shock to me. My uncle wasn't happy because he knew I had the capacity to do better, so that discipline was always there. His belief in me however changed my orientation and became more serious with school work. I played less and did extra work and found myself on top again. So, my family was a strong force. I was free in all the countries I visited and had all the liberty I was entitled to as an adult, but my family still saw me as that little girl that left home many years ago. So, I think that helped me remember that wherever I am, I had a family that loved me and which I wouldn't want to disappoint...
to be continued.