I am Efana James (E. J.) Usua and a product of Hope Waddell Training Institution, Calabar through a scholarship by the Church of Scotland Mission (which later became The Presbyterian Church of Nigeria).
I did not like the subject combination I was given there for the advanced level - physics with chemistry and biology - so I decided to leave. I wanted chemistry, separate, physics, separate, and zoology or biology.
Where did I go? I saw a vacancy advertisement for a teacher at Remo Secondary School, Sagamu in Western Nigeria. I applied and got the job. I preferred Sagamu because it was midway between Ibadan and Lagos - two university towns.
Our principal then was E. O. Dada. One Mr Sonaike was teaching physics. I was attached to him and I taught Classes One and Two. I met beautiful young men and women. One of the students I taught in Class One was Gabriel Ogunmola who became a professor at the University of Ibadan and is now the chancellor and chairman Board of Trustees of Lead University, also in Ibadan.
There were the Okusanya brothers, one became an engineer and the other a professor of botany. There was also an intelligent lady named Ebun Salako. There are many others.
At RSS, I met Godswill Okezie who became Secretary to the Military Government of Gen Ike Nwachukwu in Imo State. He passed the entrance to UI.When he left I could not stay again, so I left for Lagos. I stayed with a former classmate of mine, who unfortunately died last year, at 30 Griffith Street Ebute Metta. I took the entrance examination to UI in July 1956, to read biology. I passed and was admitted to the university in October that year to read biology.
There were 10 of us in my set. Out of that number, seven of us eventually became professors. We lost J D Gomwalk in the aborted Bukar Sukar Dimka military coup of 1976. Ozumba, an Igbo chap, went to teach and became a principal in one of the Federal Government Colleges. Afolabi Toye became a professor and vice-chancellor, University of Ilorin. Ogidi and Anya O Anya became professors. We had two Marks, both of whom became professors of zoology.
Professor Caleb Olaniyan was one of our teachers. Following the Eni Njoku/Saburi Biobaku crisis at the University of Lagos (Unilag) in 1965, which made many Igbo lecturers quit Unilag, Olaniyan went to Unilag to become head of department of zoology. When I finished at UI, and taught at Methodist Boys' High School (MBHS), for two years, I won a federal government scholarship for my master's degree, which I did at UI. On completion, I decided to go to Unilag, to teach under my old teacher (Olaniyan), as an assistant lecturer.
There is a story behind why I taught at MBHS.
You see, when I was given admission into UI, I returned to my hometown, Itu, in present-day Akwa Ibom State. The school fees for the first year was ninety-one pounds. With personal contributions from my cousin and some other family members, I was able to raise the sum and I resumed at UI. I thought that I would be awarded a scholarship by the Eastern Nigeria government but I was not. When I finished the first year, I did not know where to get money to continue. So, during the long holiday, I went back to my friends in Ebute Metta. One morning, one Chief Bassey Ita. told me, 'E J, why don't you go and see the principal of Methodist Boys' High School, he would give you a scholarship?' So, I dressed up, complete with a tie, took my Hope Waddell result and my Year One UI result and went to MBHS. Coincidentally, one of my townspeople, N J Etuk, who would later become Nigeria's ambassador to Uganda, was then the vice principal. He saw me and asked 'Efana, what do you want here?' I told him I was there to see the principal. When I met the principal, Rev. S. A. Osinulu, I told him off the cuff that I wanted a scholarship. He asked: 'Scholarship? Who are you?' He then demanded to see my documents. He examined them, and, assured that they were my results, he said, 'I like that result from Hope Waddell. I will give you a scholarship.' He then asked someone to go to the Ministry of Education which then was under Francis Archibong who later became the Secretary to the South Eastern State Government of U J Esuene, and, eventually I got the scholarship valued at eight hundred and twenty pounds, and covered boarding, tuition, books, holiday allowance, for the remainder of my years at UI. So, I went back to the university as an extremely rich student.
The post-graduate scholarship I got from the federal government was to have taken me to the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom. I chose to go to UI instead, because when I asked them at the Ministry of Education about my two brothers who were then at Hope Waddell, I was told that they were my father's problem. Well, if that was the case, since my father was not capable, I toll them that I would have to remain in Nigeria to take care of them. So, during my master's programme in biology, I did demonstrations in the laboratory and other things which earned me some money which I used to sponsor my two brothers' education. I earned one pound for every hour of demonstration, helping the undergraduates during practicals to understand what they were being shown and taught. I will come back shortly to what I also did to further sponsor the education of my brothers.
My Ph D was fully paid for by Unilag where, remember, I was an assistant lecturer.
It was also in Lagos that I met my wife, Elizabeth Olayinka Ojelade, in 1957. She was a clerk in P & T (Posts and Telecommunications) at Race Course. I came from Ibadan and had a holiday job at the Savings Account Department of the same P & T. We were living in the same area. We took the same bus from Idi Oro going to Race Course. So, one day, I went up to her and said, 'Young woman, we are going to the same place, let's go together.' We became friends, lovers and got married on 25 September 1958. That means we have been married for almost sixty-four years. Together, we have been blessed with many children and grandchildren. Her father was an old teacher and graduate of St. Andrew's College, Oyo, and we became good friends but he was more of a father to me.
Let me return here to the sponsorship of my brothers' education.
It was to shore up my seven-hundred-and- ninety-pounds-a-year income as a university lecturer that I went into writing.
I started with a novel which I gave to Faber & Faber to publish. It was rejected.
I decided then that I should write the biography of Sir Francis Akanu Ibiam. He invited me from Lagos to Enugu when he was the Governor of the Eastern Region l was fully prepared to interview with him. But, he told me he would instead write his autobiography, and I returned to Lagos. By the way, he never wrote the autobiography. Years after, someone approached me for the manuscript I had put together based on my research, on Sir Francis, from when he was the doctor at Mary Slessor Hospital here in Itu, but I refused to release it.
In 1962, I attended a workshop at UI, organised by the British Council, on writing books. It was after that workshop that I started working on my book, Objective Tests in Biology. On completion, I took it to Rev T. T. Solaru of the Oxford University Press (OUP) Ibadan. He looked at it, and said, 'Young man, I like this work. Let me find out if OUP London will publish it.' He sent it to London and the reply was negative. He said he would publish it under the University Press Nigeria. He got the artist, Doig Simmonds, to do all the illustrations for the book. Just as the book was about to go to press, London wrote to Rev Solaru, that they were ready to publish it. The manuscript was sent to them and that was how the first edition of the book was published 1967/68 by University Press London. It was a hit. The first royalty I earned on that book was about nine hundred and sixty pounds, about two hundred and forty pounds more than my salary. The second royalty was almost two thousand pounds. Following its success, I did several other titles for Oxford including a co-authored book titled Biology for West Africa.
I also did some works for indigenous publishers such as the Onibonoje Primary Health Education Books 1-6 for G O Onibonoje Publishers. All the publishers, foreign and local, were transparent with their sales' returns and I was paid the ten per cent commission on the books sold as and when due. I still received royalty last year (2021) from Longman for my book, Agric Science for Primary School published in 1982. From Onibonoje, I once got forty-six thousand naira and it was what I used to build my house in Calabar.
In 1979, I was made a commissioner by Clement Isong, governor of the old Cross River State. The secretary to the government, Prof I. I. Ukpo was also at Unilag while I taught there. During the long holiday in August 1979, my wife said we should come home on holiday. One day while showing her around Uyo, I saw I. I. Ukpo and went to congratulate him on his appointment. He said, 'Oh Gov Isong wants a commissioner from Itu.' I said, 'here is one man from Itu, take him.' From there, I was invited for an interview. That was how I became commissioner for education and served for four years. Among other attainments, we established the University of Cross River State at Uyo in September 1983. Our starting grant was five million Naira, and I have the wife of the governor, Nne Clementine Isong, to thank for the support she gave to us.
I went to Ile Ife and invited the Ooni of Ife, His Royal Highness Oba Okunade Sijuwade, as the university's chancellor. I also went to Idah to get Bishop of the Catholic Diocese, Ephraim Silas Obot, to be the chairman of the University Council. We acquired the land for where the University of Uyo started. I have told the authorities of the university to call the driveway into the university Clement Isong Drive because that is where he laid the foundation stone.
After being commissioner, I did not go back to Unilag. By the way, once my service was over, I returned my official vehicle to the Governor's office even as I was being owed four months' salary, which has remained unpaid.
In 1981, Professor Adamu Nayaya Muhammad came to the University of Calabar as vice chancellor. We were at UI at the same time. He read biology/zoology while mine was zoology honours. We are also at Kuti Hall together. I am not sure I did not influence his appointment as VC (long laughter). There was one M M Mohammed from Kano who was a member of the Board. He had visited me at the Ministry of Education when I was commissioner. I told him to tell Adamu who was then a Dean at the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, after being the university's deputy vice chancellor, Academic Affairs, that if he wanted to be the VC, he could apply. He got the job. When I finished serving as commissioner, he came to my house and said I could not return to Unilag where I had risen to associate professor before I left in October 1979; that I could become one at University of Calabar. I had to go to Imperial College London, Ascot, where I spent six months to brush up my zoology. I became a professor in 1986, and was at the University of Calabar up until 2011. I became a dean, acting vice chancellor, consultant to Shell on environmental studies. I did a lot of work there and enjoyed it.
Now, I am enjoying being the village head or Enen Atai Itam, a position I have been occupying, without taking a kobo, since April 2009, following the demise of my predecessor. I established a Scholarship Fund to make sure that no child in this village who passes the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination and wants to go the university fails to go. Where I do not have money, my son in the United States of America supports.
On my own, I have been able to sponsor the education of sixteen university graduates in my family including all my children, my half-sister's and my half-brother's. When the villager's children come here to tell their Baba, which is what they call me, that they are hungry, they are well fed. Those who have among the villagers come with gifts of yams and all.
I have been immensely blessed by God.
My wife has been a pearl in my life. Whatever I have today is because of her wonderful companionship. We are living happily together here in the village.
Many thanks to XL FM 106.9 Uyo for local support in Akwa Ibom State. Please visit https://xl10069.fm for an enriching radio experience.
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