After watching BBC’s Sex for Grades exposé and following media audiences’ comments on sexual harassment in Nigerian higher institutions, I have finally developed the courage to write about what happened to me in the Faculty of Arts office of a University of Lagos Professor in 2001.
I was in 200 level studying Mass Communication and was registered to take a compulsory course titled Feature Writing by Mr. Innocent Okoye (now Prof. Okoye).
It was the first time he would be taking my level and our senior colleagues had scared us about how tough he was and how difficult it would be to pass or even score an A or B grade in his course.
I was therefore very worried and determined to do everything within my power to ensure that I passed the course – and pass well.
When Prof. Okoye commenced lectures, he was as described; very tough and disciplined. He informed us that we would have to write a publishable feature article on any topic of our choice for his continuous assessment.
He stressed the ‘publishable’ aspect and emphasized that if it was beneath the quality of feature articles in the local press, we would be poorly graded.
I got old newspapers and read all the feature articles I could find, after which I eventually decided to write on examination malpractice. I interviewed students, read literature on the issue but something was missing – expert interviews.
The articles I had read featured experts. After taking SOC 101 (Introduction to Sociology) as an elective in 100 level, I knew a sociologist was the best professional to interview. But the Faculty of Social Science didn’t have its own structure then. Their lecturers had offices in the Faculty of Arts Building.
So I entered the building, got the room numbers of lecturers in the Sociology Department and started knocking on them. I was sent out of the first office I entered before having the opportunity to state my mission.
The second and third attempts ended the same way after stating the interview was for an assignment. At this stage, I had lost my confidence and excitement.
I thought of giving up and falsifying an interview. But I decided to give it a final trial and so with shaky hands, a fast beating heart and a perspiring face, I knocked with great caution on yet another door.
I peeped in and saw a man alone, seated by his table and working on some papers in a nice and cozy office. He motioned for me to enter and I stuttered as I stated my mission.
He must have noticed my discomfort as he told me to sit down (across the table) and to give him a few minutes to wrap up what he was working on. I thanked God silently in my mind as I also needed the time to get myself together.
After breathing in and out for a few seconds, I brought out my reporters’ diary and a pen and tried to recollect the questions I needed to ask.
He asked if I was ready to start and I answered in the affirmative. I would ask the question and he would answer as slowly as he could to enable me write his responses down because I did not have a midget or recorder.
And we did that until we exhausted the few questions I had. I asked him for his name and position and he wrote it in a jotter and handed it to me.
I thanked him (without looking at the paper) and stood to leave. I was close to the door when he called me to return to the seat.
He asked for my name and I told him. He asked how old I was and I responded. He asked what my year 1 CGPA was and I mentioned that it was 3.67.
He squeezed his face at this point and said that was a risky grade and that I needed to do better or I could risk dropping to a second class lower grade, so he advised me to be more serious. Then he threw the bombshell; he asked if I had a boyfriend.
I looked down at my palms and responded nervously and without looking up that I didn’t. Then he said that was great because boys were serious distractions and they could prevent me from focusing on my studies.
He asked what grade I wanted to graduate with and I responded that I was working on ensuring it wasn’t less than a second class upper. He asked what my ambition was and I mentioned that I would love to be a lecturer.
He smiled and said he was impressed and he would be willing to support me in any way he could.
By this time I had relaxed again. He told me to feel free to walk up to him if I needed anything and he would also mentor me to ensure I achieved my goal of joining the academia.
I thanked him and left. The whole encounter couldn’t have been more than twenty minutes. It was when I gave my report to a colleague to edit for me that I was informed that Prof. Lai Olurode was the Dean of the Faculty of Social Science. I couldn’t believe he was that modest.
I told my colleagues I wouldn’t have dared to enter his personal office if I had known he was the Dean. I shouldn’t forget to mention that I got a B in Feature Writing. That was how I met Prof. Lai Olurode.
I am sorry to disappoint you; he didn’t ask me to lock the door.
He didn’t ask me to turn off the light, he didn’t ask me to sit close to him or kiss him for a minute. But he did something that has changed the course of my life from the moment I walked into that office in the Faculty of Arts Building.
He kept his promise: he mentored me, he ensured I graduated with a second class upper, he ensured I got my results so I could claim the NNPC/Chevron Scholarship I won in 200 level, he ensured I stayed focus and didn’t go into any illicit relationships, he ensured I did my masters’ degree immediately I finished my NYSC.
He made certain I focused professionally and made me value my job as an editor in Voice of Nigeria (VON) even though my salary was less than forty thousand naira (in 2007) and he made sure I achieved my dream of becoming a lecturer.
I obtained my Ph.D. in Media, Gender and Communication from De Montfort University, Leicester, United Kingdom early 2019 and his contributions towards these great strides cannot be discounted.
He didn’t know my parents, our physical meetings never exceed 30 minutes, our telephone calls are always less than five minutes. We may not relate more than twice in a year but this great scholar has been true to his commitment since 2001! So I can’t forget what happened to me in his office in 2001.
That meeting changed my life. I met an angel who God is using to help achieve my life’s goals. And he has never taken anything material or immaterial as a form of appreciation.
All he says whenever I ask how I could show appreciation was that I should treat others the way he has treated me. And I wonder if I can ever beat his record. I doubt it.