There is every reason to celebrate Nicholas Uchechukwu Asogwa, a man who rose from zero to hero at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) where he sits today as Professor of Ethics. His achievement bothers majorly on fate and divine intervention. Rising from zero is not in the derogatory form for a man whose first contact with the Ivory Tower was as a cobbler. If ranks were to be awarded in such an academic environment, a shoe shiner would hardly be recognised or put under any department. However, it was through the same pursuit of mending shoes on campus that Asogwa met his helpers.
The young man who went searching for daily bread found more than food; he was offered an opportunity to change his life for good. The lesson to draw from Asogwa’s experience is simple: Life is full of hope only if idleness does not become an option. Or as he rightly put it, “a person’s background does not define his/her potential.” Hard times do not mean eternal condemnation to a life of poverty. Asogwa’s rough road was paved with a wheelbarrow which he hired daily to work at Orie Orba Market in Udenu Local Government Area of Enugu State. From carrying goods, he veered into the leather industry.
You would think the man worked with Bata Shoes or Clarks. No, his job was to fix faulty wear. While other men dressed to impress girls on campus, Asogwa proudly positioned himself in front of one of the female hostels at UNN – Bello Hall. That was his office. Many of his customers only said hello to him when they needed his services. Two of them stood out. Mrs Nkechi Ohanuka was moved when she heard that the popular ‘shoe maker’ possessed some academic qualifications. Without asking for any favour, she provided money for him to buy his Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) form. The cost was N620. Asogwa used the money wisely, sat for the JAMB exam and gained admission into the same university, where he was making ends meet as a cobbler. From his little savings, tuition would take almost all. And combining school with work was not going to be easy. While on the job, another customer, Mrs Proscovia Kyazze Ndoboli, showed concern, asking how life was treating him.
She came all the way from Uganda, East Africa to study in Eastern Nigeria. Asogwa told her that he was spending his last days on the job since he was on his way to the classroom as an undergraduate. Ndoboli was shocked to learn that her shoe-shiner was educated to the level of fighting for admission. After probing further, which caused her to visit his home; she supported Asogwa with his initial tuition fee. And to crown it all, the woman asked him to move into the hostel, all bills settled by her. The cobbler began a new life. He graduated and looked up. The post graduate school was attractive, Asogwa earned a Master’s.
When money wanted to fail him, his lecturers made themselves available. Loans were attracted; grants came, exposing him to lands beyond Nigeria and Africa. In September 2023, Asogwa became a professor. This rise from bottom to top should awaken the younger generation. The beginning may be rough but the end will be sweet. Many who found themselves in Asogwa’s shoes would scorn the idea of cleaning shoes, worse still, for women. Some young men see women as tools to be used for riches. They look for a way to milk them of whatever cash sitting in their bank accounts, especially those who appear to have made it.
These folks sit idle, visiting social media sites in search of opportunities to swindle unsuspecting hard working ladies. Asogwa’s story paints women in glorious colours. If it was the other way, some people will say that the helpers assisted because, apparently, there were sexual favours to gain. In our climes, it sounds uncommon for wellintentioned women to show kindness to the opposite sex. This is not to say that every other man out there is looking for free lunch outside Freetown. Many Asogwas are littered around us. This story will be like oxygen to their souls. Providence is not selective, hard work is not wasted.
The end may not always be rough. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the first President of Nigeria, was a dishwasher in the United States. In the bid to make ends meet, he was almost executed for accepting employment in place of striking workers. Zik was the first Nigerian to earn a degree in the United States. Prof. Asogwa has shown that one can excel in the same environment where the beginning was lowly. The height of achievement is a course that defies obstacles. Being born in a manger does not mean mansions are beyond reach.