By Mercy Hill
Some of the most inspiring personalities are people who faced difficult circumstances and encouraged others to do things right. Such people are often characterized by humility, ability to learn from others, courage, kindness, and above all, have been able to look beyond the social norms and conventions, bringing out meaningful changes.
For me, nothing is as inspiring as hearing and learning from real people who have found ways of turning obstacles into opportunities; those who have figured out ways to be resourceful, even when they lacked resources; those who focus more on persistence and dedication rather than excuses and reasons why something would not work. One of such persons I would like you to meet is an academia, who has made distinctive footprints in the field of chemistry, an orator of high standard and a man of wisdom, love and peace. Let me present to you Professor Moses Chendo.
Can You Introduce Yourself?
My name is Moses Nkemakonam Chendo, precisely from Umudioka, in Anambra State. I am a Professor of Chemistry and presently the Dean of Postgraduate Studies in Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University, Anambra State. I studied Chemistry in my first degree, Geochemistry in my second degree, Industrial Chemistry in my third degree and acquired a Post graduate diploma in Education. I am also a fellow of the Chemical Society of Nigeria. So, I am a Chattered Chemist. I am happily married with kids.
Would You Want to Share Your Childhood Experiences With Us?
I grew up in a very poor home of six children. After the civil war when I started school as a young boy, my dad was already retired as a police officer. He trained us as a retiree and you know life after the civil war was not very easy. After my secondary education, I gained admission to further my studies abroad but there were no funds. Even sponsoring my education here in Nigeria wasn't easy for my father. But today, we thank God for seeing us through, because in my extended family now, we have about six professors.
How Were You Able to Attain These Heights?
I prepare for everything I do. Right from my secondary school days, when I was in class four, I registered for GCE. My friend and I would take turns to teach ourselves different subjects at the close of school each day. If today was physics, next day would be Mathematics. That was how we covered our syllabus, we went for that exams and we made our papers. He went to ASUTECH in Enugu, and today he is a civil Engineer, I went to UniBen and studied Industrial Chemistry.Today, I am a professor of Chemistry.
What Were Your Motivations?
Like I used to tell my students that I was trained in the village, I attended government schools in Umudioka and Abatete in Anambra State. I was motivated then by my seniors, teachers, especially my Chemistry and Physics teachers who were then auxiliary teachers. They were just secondary school graduates who had problems with their results then, but joined us to write our final year exams so as to clear their papers. Presently they are now renowned in their various fields. That time, there were also competitions amongst us. A friend of ours then who was some years ahead of us dropped to grade three because he failed Mathematics. Though his aggregate was impressive, he came back and registered for WAEC again. He said WAEC disgraced him, he had returned to disgrace WAEC. And then when he repeated, he got distinctions. So, all this amounted to what motivated me. When his results were announced in school, everyone carried him up, singing his praises, and someone said that if you want to be carried like that, go back and read well. And so, I read! I gained admission abroad to study but there was no fund to take me there. It was then, I got admission into the University of Benin to study Industrial Chemistry, which was where I encountered Prof Kemen who was so young and was a prof. of Chemistry from Sanford. He was part of my motivation because he inspired me, and I wanted to be like him. Another was our lecturer then who took us in Physics practicals at UNIBEN who hated it then when we made excuses for coming late for practicals, he would tell us, 'you don't rest while you are still alive, you only rest in peace when you are dead''.
How Was Life After University, Did You Encounter the Brighter Side of Life?
I encountered challenges. Life was not easy at all. When you are in the university, all your thoughts will be, whenever you graduate, you become a high flier, become employed in an oil company. I went to Liver Brothers, PZ, CAPL, but with my certificate nothing substantial came forth. I then engaged in part time teaching at Yabatech in Lagos but eventually I was not retained. Afterwards, I applied to study in Sanford, University of Manchester, Pretoria, for my MSc. That time, it was easy to gain admission outside the country. They all offered me admissions, but my parents were not financially buoyant, so I had to resort to teaching, that was after National Youth Service in Lagos. I had to come back to the village and joined Anambra State Education Board, taught in a Memorial Secondary School in Orumba. It was challenging for me, leaving a city like Lagos to come back to the village. In as much I never dreamt to be teacher, I still accepted it with good faith, and I started teaching Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics. But I was not motivated with all around me at that point, so I engaged myself in extra moral lessons, moving from one school to another to teach. I got one rickety bike which I moved with then from one school to another, with a small bag used in carrying my implements like pendulum and other simple implements for simple experiments. It was then I employed some teachers, gathered some students and established a very big lesson center. Our students started doing very well in WAEC and JAMB. My name gradually became very popular then at Orumba. I moved from Ezira, Ufuma, and Oji River to IMT in Enugu to teach. So, I compiled JAMB questions from the first JAMB in 1977/78 to that year. It was not easy using the manual typewriter to type chemical equations at all. I engaged myself in teaching, sometimes from morning to 9pm in the evening. I started marking WAEC, Chemistry. And I was able to write my first book, Comprehensive Practical Chemistry, which was recommended to several states in the country. And it was from the proceeds I got from the book that I bought my first refrigerator and also started sponsoring myself further to other degrees I got.
As God would help me, I secured employment with the then Anambra State Polytechnic, at Uli, as the first Chemistry lecturer then. And afterwards, I became the coordinator of the remedial program. It was there I wrote my second book on Calculations in Modern Chemistry. When the polytechnic metamorphosed to a university in year 2000, we were all absorbed, Chemistry became the service unit to other courses.
I then became the coordinator of pre-science program, which was the only program of the university at the Igbariam campus, and two years later I became Head of Department of Pure and Industrial Chemistry. After one year, I was appointed the Dean of Student Affairs, and became the longest serving Dean in the campus, which was very challenging. I also became the secretary Academic Staff Union of Universities, zonal coordinator; Director Academic Planning, Dean of Postgraduate Studies. I also served as the pioneer Vice Chancellor in Legacy University, Okija.
I am where I am today because I believe in hardwork, dignity of labour, moderation, freedom and I cherish my family name so much. My father would always say 'do whatever you know you can defend'. That became my guiding principle wherever I found myself, I always ponder on things before I do them.
I do advise the younger ones that hardwork matters in life and that the rungs of a ladder are not meant for one to rest upon but to put one higher. Wherever you are, do not feel relaxed, thinking you have arrived. Just keep trying, avoid excuses and put God first. Don't ever bury your head and submit to failure.
What Do You Consider Your Greatest Achievements In Life?
That I am a qualified teacher, because I have been able to prove myself in the teaching field. I am happy, considering the number of students I have impacted on, numbers of people I have been able to mentor, those that can still look at me and say that I helped them grow. My greatest level of achievement is anchored on the products I have been able to make. And this has been able to give me popularity. Teaching has placed me in positions that have given me the opportunity to travel wide. Though life was challenging when the expectations were not met then, but now, I am happy and fulfilled.
How Many Books/Journals Have You Been Able to Publish?
Hmmmm…for one to be a Professor, you must have been able to attain a certain level especially in terms of journal publication. I became a professor at 52 and I would say, I was duly assessed.
Students These Days Are Beginning to Lose Interest in Science Based Subjects, What Do You Think Can Be Done to Correct This?
Well, thanks for that question. The fact is that, science is not more difficult than Arts. It only depends on passion, learning environment, teachers' ability to impart knowledge and dedication on the part of students. In my secondary days, I didn't like Further Mathematics because of the teacher who taught us then. Meanwhile, I liked science because it's a life course; you are taught and shown. But when you don't teach it that way, students lose interest.
Generally, lack of dedication and distractions make students lose interest in sciences. Another thing is the reality of our today's decadent society, which has little or no regard for certificates, over hypes money, not considering the means it is gotten. Before it was not like that, we were endeared by the series of achievements a person has made. Presently, such do not motivate young ones, they are only motivated by easy ways of getting money.
The government also has to look inwards, establish model schools in every local government in all states. Post well-trained and qualified teachers to these schools and then furnish those schools with equipment, laboratories and then challenge the teachers to improve in their methods of teachings.
What Words Do You Have for Youths Out There?
Embrace diligence, hardwork and then, lend themselves to mentorship. I do tell my students that it is not easy to work up to the greasy pole of success. That means getting to the top is good, but then it is not easy, but when you strive to get there, look at others.