Remember her story? She is the grandma that bagged a PhD at age 62. Her story went viral and has become a source of inspiration for many Nigerians. Curious to know what was the main reason behind her going for a PhD, Rasheed Adebiyi had a chat with her on issues ranging from this, her writing and parenting in this era. Here are excerpts…..
Tekedia: Could you tell us about yourself?
Joan Oji: My name is Joanah Iheoma Oji, but I’m popularly known as Joan Oji, my pen name. By popular Nigerian nomenclature, my name is “Dame Dr Mrs Joan Iheoma Oji, JP.” Laughs. I hail from Abia State and a resident of Abuja. I’m 63 and a Pensioner from FCT Administration where I retired as an Assistant Director of Education in 2017. My field of specialisation is English Language Education, but I also possess a Diploma in Spanish and a Certificate in French. My highest academic qualification is Ph.D in English Language. I currently work from home as an Education Consultant, Academic Mentor, Editor, Proofreader, and a Translator. I train teachers, broadcasters, preachers, etc. on English Language Proficiency. My clients are mainly private schools, authors, PG students, and Researchers.
Tekedia: You recently made the headlines on your feat of attaining a PhD at an advanced age. What was the motivation behind obtaining that degree at that age?
Joan Oji: My so-called late bloomer status in higher education wasn’t because I was a slow learner. Quite the contrary. My TC II was obtained at age 19, while my NCE in English /Primary Education was with Distinction in 1983. I actually completed the NYSC in 1983/84 at age 27, and went straight back for my Bachelor’s Degree in Language Arts in 1985. I earned it with a First Class Honours in 1987. The university (ABU, Zaria) offered to retain me for an MPhil/PhD but I declined because I was 30 and already a mother of 6. I needed to go home and attend to my children’s education before it was too late… So, to answer your question, what prompted me to return to academics was because those children were doing exceptionally well and I wanted to spur them to do more. The eldest is wrapping up her PhD while the rest have higher degrees in their various disciplines. My Master’s in Language Education was obtained in 2011, while my PhD in English Language followed in 2019, by which time I was already retired. My unstated reason for this PhD, I can share now, was to validate my B.Ed Language Arts (First Class Honours) of 32 years earlier. My course mates from that time needed it, to prove to them that I am still the same brain they used to admire. You see, about 5 of them are lecturers now, 3 of whom are full-fledged professors. Yet, I was the only First Class in that 1987 Language Arts set. Even my lecturers back then are now very happy with me. As one of them used to tell me, “You treated ABU First Class degree as if it was trash.” I have pacified them all.
Tekedia: You have four books to your credit. What moves you to write the kind of books you have written?
Joan Oji: I write a lot, but I read more than I write. As a bookworm, I can spot errors in grammar and usage that the authors didn’t see. At first, I tried to point them out to the writers. Over time, however, I realised that Nigerians don’t like to be told their faults. That’s why I now charge them real money for editing and proofreading their manuscripts. And they are paying without qualms. It took me many years of reading badly written books by Nigerian authors before I summoned the courage to write Heart Trick, which I self-published in 2009. By August 2010 when I did the official launch, someone suggested that I should submit it for ANA Prize evaluation. To my surprise, this debut novel made the Shortlist of the 2011 ANA Flora Nwapa Prize for Women’s Writing. It didn’t win, but it was all the boost I needed to deepen my creative writing ability. Since then, I’ve published a children’s non-fiction, Abuja The Beautiful (2012), a preschool textbook for teaching young children to read, Phonics For Beginners (2016), a short story for teens, Gone Too Soon (2016), a true-life short story on parenting, The Girl-Child Challenge — How We Raised Eight! (2017), and the tribute to my late husband Mazi J. M. Oji’s Witty Sayings & Quotes (2017). These last two were launched on my 60th Birthday and Retirement Thanksgiving in 2017.
Tekedia: I know that as a grandmother, you would have had experience with the millennial youths. How could you describe them? And what is your advice for parents on these young ones?
Joan Oji: As a Teen wife, working and studying mother, my parenting style was quite different from what obtains now. I don’t know how I would have handled this digital age children, because, from my teaching experience (primary through secondary) male students are more difficult to teach than girls. Now, I’m honestly very apprehensive about my grandsons (I have a soccer team of boys already). My candid advice to millennial parents is to embrace change and make room for the generational gap. Be as up-to-date on current trends as your children. I’m on Social Media and my eldest two grandchildren are my friends/followers. I urge parents to befriend their offspring, and give their children the benefit of choosing what they want in life, and then support them to achieve those dreams. I wouldn’t force my grandchildren to pursue a PhD if they have their own contrary view of success principles. But I insist that all of them must get at least a Bachelor’s degree before anything else. That is our family benchmark. Finally, life outside of Christ is chaotic and and painful. Faith works in all areas of our life. I’m a living proof of that.