Pix: The Golden Girl, Dr. Rita Orji speaking with Asst. Editor, Uche Amunike
Do you mind telling us how old you are? (Laughing) You know ladies don't tell their age. I won't tell you my precise age, but I will give you a range. I'm between my late twenties and early thirties.
You have come a long way, obviously. You said something about going to the next level. You already have a Ph.d. at this very tender age and we wonder what that level would be. Tell us about it. Growing up, I remember telling my people that I was never gonna live in Nigeria. I was just about ten years old then. I didn't know how it would work out but I always saw myself in that light. Also, right from my primary school days, I knew that I was going to be a doctor. Today, I am one. I call myself a Prof, even though I know that I am not yet a professor, I know it will certainly happen. It would be the second stage of my life and it won't happen like a miracle. I have to work my way into doing that and I did have a great passion and zeal in helping people, especially under privileged ones. There is value in trusting yourself and where you are coming from should not determine where you are going to. I prayed to God to get me to the stage where I don't need to talk to or speak to people. I'm talking about the stage where my presence would do most of the talking. I think that is the next stage of my life. To begin now to use whatever God has deposited in me to impart back to humanity and as I am doing that, and I think I've gathered what I need to launch into what would be the second phase of my life where I would be giving back to society. This can actually be likened to what I am doing with UNIZIK right now. I always tell their students that I do not teach them because I need anything like money. I have important things I could do to get the money and the fame which is basically what I want, but each time I remember that this was actually where I started, and those times when I wasn't even sure of where the next school fees or next meal would come from, I want to be able to show people that this actually does not define you. There is a bigger dream and a bigger hope for you, irrespective of the fact that things might not be going on too well for you. So, this is what I see as the next stage of my life. So, that's what I meant when I said that I am ready to go to the next level.
How long do you intend to stay? I come to the country every year and spend approximately one month. I have more or less spent the one month and I am due to return to Canada and to my work.
You have travelled a lot. How many countries have you been to now? I've travelled basically a lot. I should say approximately fifteen countries and I've studied in so many different countries too. I've been to France, Germany, Austria, Sweden, Italy, Switzerland, Denmark, Norway, Australia, the United States of America, Turkey, and of course, I live in Canada. I've been to almost all the European countries. I can't really mention them all off head.
What exactly did you go to do in all those countries? I studied in some of them and worked in some of them. Most of them, I go there to give presentations about my work.
Can you react to this? Sometimes, when Nigerians who have the intent of travelling outside the country want to study computer science, they're told that most of those countries don't need computer scientists because of their technological advancement. What's your take on it? That's not true. See, if there is a job that is enduring and most assuring, it is computer science. I'm not married, but I hope that when I do, I would have a child that would develop passion for the course. The truth is that the whole world is going into computer. Computer is such a profession that places you in the position where you don't look for jobs. Jobs look for you. The only problem we have here, however is that we are not technically inclined. Computer science is not theory, it is practical. Because we are not technically inclined, when most people come, especially to Canada and some other countries that I have seen, they have the interest to study Computer Science but eventually drop because they are not able to cope with the tempo and technicalities involved. What I do in my wall on face book is to predict where the economy of the country is going to and the professions that would turn out to be obsolete. I've always made it clear that one of those professions like computer science is a profession for the future. As of date, the computer graduates, the demand at hand is more than the supply. That means that we need more computer people than are being produced daily. Don't get me wrong. What it means is that being a computer scientist is not just studying the course, but being able to do it. So, they are at high demand everywhere and it will continue in the nearest future. It will still continue in the next twenty years. Some professions, on the other hand would be dying because technology would overtake them and make them obsolete. Who are the people that would make that technology happen? They are none other than the computer scientists. So, it is one profession that would be there in the nearest future in the next twenty or forty years. Therefore, saying that you don't need to study computer science abroad is one of the most misleading comments anyone could make.
You have been to about fifteen countries now, either teaching or learning computer. In comparison, what do we need in this country to make the Nigerian child meet up with the demands and technological advancements out there? Like I tell people, Nigerians are good. I am a Nigerian and I'm proud of telling people I'm from Nigerian everywhere I go. The problem is that we are very good in courses that are theory, so what we actually lack as individuals is the platform and framework to actually build our practical skills. Most times, as a student, I practically finished my four years in the university before I had access to computer. This is unbelievable. In places like Canada, people start using computer and start writing codes and programming from secondary school. That means that at the time you are coming in to study computer science, you can create and build anything. We need that kind of environment. We need people to have a hand on experience. We need equipped libraries for computer science students with computers and technical stuff that would actually help someone who is studying computer science, not just to write the code on paper, but actually run it in the computer and see how it is being done practically. So, I think what we are lacking here in the country today that could transform our education is the technical part of it. As per being good, I do believe we are good and also determined to make things happen. We however lack that technical know-how, and that actually always turns out to be challenging when you leave here to join more advanced countries. If we actually do have that here, I believe Nigeria can be better. We can actually produce graduates that can compete anywhere in the world. Not that we are not doing it right now, but most people that can do computer and do it very well actually do it on a personal note. You would go an extra mile to develop yourself personally. It doesn't happen in the universities because we don't have the platform to create those practical skills needed to make things happen.
What are you as a person planning to do, to give back to society, what they gave to you? I think I'm already on that track. One of my commitments is actually not only to pick up a job in any part of the world, which I could do, but actually I want to have a connection to Nigeria where all my story started from, not only to inspire people with my story but actually to show them how to do it. Last year, I taught, so that's why I chose this visiting this professorship position this year. Basically, I come every year and I teach a course. I supervise both Masters and Ph.D students. Eventually, what I do is that with the little I have known from having studied in all these countries, I want to bring out the practical aspect of computer science, give them access to the way it is done there and try to revolutionalize their thinking so that they will begin to see computer science as a problem solving eschew as opposed to the theoretical thing. I think that with time, there will be many other avenues that I will create, using my link to various other schools abroad and link them to Nigeria where we can actually begin to have synergetic relationships between these two, but before that happens, I'm committed to coming to impart on the students, mentor them, supervise their projects, and eventually see whether I can create that kind of synergy that would allow people to come over and have some of their works done, while people from there can actually come around as well.
Being such a young girl, we wouldn't believe it's all work and no play. How do you catch your fun. I do a lot of things. People that know me would not be surprised at how I succeed. I believe in balance. I have been really deep into sports. Left for me, I would have gone into the sports side more than the academics because it's one thing I have great passion for. I do like dancing and singing and stuff like that. So, I used to do those things but not like before. When I was in UNIZIK, I played football. I was into basketball as well. In fact, I have always been involved in so many extra-curricular activities and most of my awards in international stage did not happen because I am good academically. They need people who are not robots. People who are human beings. People who could combine other aspects of life. For example, I'm into leadership. I have been a senator in the university senate. In fact, for the whole period I studied, I have actually led one group or the other. I have been actively participating even in the Nigerian society and the Canadian society. As a student, I've held so many competitive positions. I competed and won the elective positions. So, these are the ways I think I catch my fun because, they are like hobbies to me. I like good governance, politics and sports and I really take time to do all these things. I also love travelling, and my work offers me that privilege pretty good.
Tell us about your Banting Fellowship.
This is a very competitive fellowship given by the Canadian government. It is usually given to the top Pd.D graduates from all over the world. So I competed and I was among the twenty three winners and I was ranked 6th position among all the participants. So, I think if you check my profile online, you would probably see all of them because, this is just one out of all of them. I have lots of outstanding laurels. For my Ph.D, I studied with a veneer scholarship which is top notch and is given to the top Ph.D students who are currently doing their Ph.D and I was the only one that won it for my university and for Banting, I think I'm still the only one so these are some of the things that have happened over time because of my dedication, leadership skills and commitment to giving back to the people, selflessly.
Are your parents still alive? No. interestingly, I am an orphan.
We are very sorry about that but we also congratulate you for doing so well for yourself, that notwithstanding. Thank you.
Thank you very much for your time. You're welcome.