‘It Is God First And My Husband Next’
THAT Professor Emilly Alemika of the Department of Public Law, Faculty of Law, University of Jos (UNIJOS), emerged the first female law professor to have come out of the entire Kogi State, was an act of fate. A victim of child labour who registered for primary education at 13, she was undaunted in her drive to the top. Little wonder she is an apostle of encouragement, not only to women, but all she comes across. In this interview with BRIDGET CHIEDU ONOCHIE, the wife of Professor Etanibi Alemika, also of UNIJOS, gives all credit to her husband.
Being the first female professor of law in the whole of Kogi State
I did not know I was the first in my state until I started receiving congratulatory messages. In fact, it was my senior colleague that drew my attention to it and I told him I have not thought of that because I did not set a pace for myself to be there before any other person. But in all, I thank God for the grace because that also includes the old Kwara State from which Kogi was carved out.
This position was further confirmed at the recent conference in Afe Babalola University. So, we are not just making the statement, it is a fact. At least, we are sure of the whole Kogi State and I come from a community called Kabba Bunu where also I was known for my struggle and determination to become somebody.
How background impacted her career
My background was very interesting. You can imagine starting primary school between the ages of 13 and 14 years. Before primary school, I had stayed with more than 12 people but none of them sent me to school. All I was known for was the fact that I was hardworking and very good at helping people. So, I was always asked to help either an aged person or a young woman giving birth or someone that has business to do and felt I would be of help.
Coming from a broken home, it was difficult to have a feel of what happened. So, those times I was being taken from one home to another, I never had the privilege of knowing my mother or father. I was dashing from the hands of relatives to the friends of relatives but wherever I was taken, I did my best diligently. There was never a time I knew myself to be a child. I was doing things like adults; walking distances, quickly taking a tin of oil to the market before rushing to the farm. If I have to tell you how my background impacted me, I will tell you that it made me rugged.
Late enrollment in school
Talking about my primary education, I can tell you that all hope was lost until 1968 in Lokoja when I was in the 12th home and coincidentally, the last place I was taken to. I was there as a local restaurant attendant and I was receiving six pence per month. One day, the lady said my father wanted me back so I could enroll in school but I refused because whenever they did that, it meant they wanted to give me to another hand. So, I pleaded with the woman not to allow me leave her because that was the only place I was treated like a human being and also had the privilege to earn income.
I told her I would rather die with her. Once she agreed, I was happy and went about to hawk pounded yam but after few days, she said, ‘Look, you have to go back to the village because your father has threatened to arrest me with police if I do not send you back.’ I went back December of that year. That was the time I started being able to pick years and I knew that it was in 1968. Eventually, January 1969 came and I was enrolled in Primary One. Within these years, I had moved round the 33 Bunu villages, serving people. But one thing on my mind was that I wanted to go back to school. So, in the farm, I would be marching to the tune of school drum’s beat.
Journey to the top
As I have been saying, there was a spirit in me – the spirit of determination, the spirit of ‘I can do it’ and the spirit of ‘what you are assigned to do, do it to the best of your knowledge.’ Even though I was the fourth in my family, I was the only one that was able to scale the hurdle. It was tough though, but I was not looking back. I kept moving along, trying to fit in with those younger schoolmates. I never knew where my mother was and I never lived with my father. It was not as if there was anybody around to encourage me. It was a hopeless situation. Even the day I saw my mother, they just called me and said ‘that is your mother’ and before I knew, they asked me what I was still doing there with her and that was all, she disappeared again. So, I continued with my life the way I found it. Any stage I got to was where God wanted me to be. In my trying to know how to read and write, I excelled.
It was my performances rather than my career choices that were taking me to the next level. For instance, at the end of my primary education, I was among the best three. Aside the Common Entrance examination held in my locality, I was taken to Lokoja for another interview and that was how I got admission into a secondary school.
When I finished secondary school, I chose to go to Teachers’ Training College because it was free. I was moving towards teaching but because I love people, I wanted instead to go into nursing. It was at that point that my husband came into my life. I was the talk of the entire village because of my academic performances and he changed my idea of becoming a nurse.
It was not as if I sat down to choose Law. I read Law by default and also in my husband’s house. That is the reason I tell people that it is God first and my husband second. If he tells me to put my hand in fire, I am not going to think whether it will burn me. I will rather obey him first. He has been my guardian angel. Our marriage was very new when I gained admission to study diploma in Law at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. When I was through with the programme, I went to join him in the United States. When I got there, he bought form for me to do Masters in Criminal Justice. I could not understand how he expected me to do Masters with Diploma in Law but he encouraged me by reminding me that I was brilliant enough to do it. Behold, by the time I was through with the first stage, I passed very well and I continued till I finished it.
When we returned to Nigeria, he worked hard to see that I was enlisted for National Youth Service Corps. Again, he came back to tell me that it would be nice if I go for Law so I could practice. I earlier told him I was tired but he pressed on and I accepted. That was how I came to read Law.
Why women are unable to able to break even in politics
It is still the problem of men. I wish everybody will be like my husband who sees women first as human beings before thinking of gender. If all men should see women as human beings first, the world will be a better place for all. There is the fear of insecurity in men that sometimes make them hinder women from aspiring in some areas of their lives. There are all sorts of unfounded fears that are not originally there. But as women, we should also allay men’s fears because sometimes, they are acting out of past experience – there were few women that God used men to bless who took advantage of the men and at times, bolt out of the union, stubborn or uncontrollable.
Addressing broken marriages and impact on female children
I will say that it is going to be very difficult curbing the wave of broken marriages in our society. Traditionally, before a woman abandons her home and children, it would have been a matter of life and death, a situation where people advise her to either run away so that she can live to see her children in future, or stay in the marriage and die. So, you discover the matter was less in the past but with pragmatism of the society, education and other issues, I do not see the problem of broken homes reducing. It will rather be on the increase.
There are so many factors or parameters now than before that are responsible for broken homes the greatest of which is the economy. Women are out seeking ways of keeping the family together but the man has given up. Yet, he is still at the helm of affairs, dictating the way things are to be done and because the woman is economically empowered, she tells the man to get to hell. The only thing I can say is that we should start thinking of how to manage the children born into such homes. There should be a law that permits the mother to take care of the children in their formative years while the man assists financially.
Being in an academic environment
Academic environment is what you make out of it. For socialisation, you have more than enough. If you are the hard working type who wants to excel, you have more than enough work to go by. To become a professor is not about acquiring more certificates but about researching and bringing up new things. So, while doing all these, preparing students and be relevant to them, I create social interactions in that setting. You can get enough interaction with students. One thing that is good about academic environment is that it gives you the freedom to express yourself and use your time judiciously.
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