By Abiola Ogunleye, Seyifunmi Soremekun, Faith Enang and Faith Ojo
At 77, she got her first degree. Now at 81, the daring grandmother has emerged as UNILAG’s oldest female postgraduate.In many circles, old age is seen as a period of gradual depreciation and slackness till the end of life. Not many 80-year-olds are looking for challenges, and it is understandable. Body processes slow down, and the senses reduce their perception, generally communicating the idea of such folks having gone through life and all its challenges, coupled with the Nigerian situation where most people emerge beaten hands down.
77-year-old Okonji Bridget Obiageli caused quite a stir three convocation ceremonies ago when she bagged her first degree in Guidance & Counselling as the oldest person ever to bag a first-degree certificate in the University of Lagos. Five years later, Mama Okonji graduates as the most senior female from the School of Postgraduate Studies at 81. The octogenarian who expressed her happiness at the feat shared that her primary reason for pursuing her postgraduate studies was to beat boredom by interacting with people outside her everyday life.
“When I retired, I felt I should come out to read more so that I would not die in time because loneliness makes someone die in time. When I felt very lonely, I felt like coming out to register for further studies so that I would see people to talk to because I like talking. I don’t stay idle. That is not my thing.”
Describing her stay in the Postgraduate School as an enjoyable one due to the exposure her study gave her, the scholar noted that relating with people of different ages and backgrounds exposed her to new information a person of her age would not have ordinarily had access to.
“It was helpful because I was relating with people that informed me of many things I did not know before. When you think you know a lot when you come out, you’ll see that you have not known many things, and you will learn a lot from those who know more than you. Even children that you have, you can’t say because they are your children, they know better than you. There are things they may know that may be relevant to you that you don’t know, and they know. So, you don’t underrate any age.”, she said.
Okonji described her course, Guidance and Counselling, as a course that holds answers to societal and family problems in today’s world. “It is a nice course that helps people to build good homes. Sometimes, some parents are not supposed to be parents, but some are parents just to have children. Having children is not the most important thing, but having and knowing how to bring them up. You can have one and build that one up. It is better than having millions but not being able to bring them up.”
With the knowledge from her course, Okonji is confident that she can counsel people who do not know about family life and child upbringing. She believes that this will help create a happier society. Mama, fondly known for referring to her colleagues as honourable, explained the reason behind the appellation, “From what I have seen in UNILAG, I am so glad that I related with people not in another university but at this university. I am so proud of the lecturers and the staff – the non-academic staff. Honestly, I am happy with all of you, and that is why I give you that honour. I always greet you people with honour, that is, if you are honourable.”
She also appreciated the SPGS Dean, Prof. Soneye, for mainly being instrumental in the success of his students. “Prof. Soneye is a man of the people. He helps to find solutions to students’ problems, which is a very good attitude, and I appreciate him for that.”Interestingly, a key attribute of the octogenarian is her unbeatable spirit. Although age has begun to tell in her eyes due to strain, Okonji insisted that she is unbeatable and did not have any challenges during her studies. What would have been a challenge for many was funding was not an issue for Okonji as she instead resolved to use her pension funds to finance her studies. She did not even bother to inform her children so they would not deter her.“You know, I am unbeatable. People that know me to know that I don’t have any challenges. That is why I said I am unbeatable…it took a year before I told them I was doing a course here. It was when I saw one of them going somewhere, then I went nearer to him and told him that ‘I’m doing a course here because they thought I was going to church every morning to pray. I am somebody like that. I don’t like depending on them.”
Okonji hopes that other older generations will take a cue from her and embrace every opportunity that will broaden their horizons. “They will know about me and know what I have achieved, and they may even like to emulate me because I am giving myself as an example of somebody that reads further after retirement. So, for those like this, I am telling them that staying home often is not the best. They should register and do further academically so that they will help their lives to be prolonged. Because the more you read, the more you exercise your brain.”