By Mercy Hill
It is often said that some people are born great, while others work days and nights to achieve their greatness. For those who decide to climb the ladder of success, it is never an easy task. They have to conquer their fears, surmount many obstacles, pay deaf ears to negative voices around and work patiently for their set goals.
Today, we present to you a young talented journalist, a professional broadcaster and a first class product of Mass Communications, UNIZIK. She lays bare her struggles through school, the challenges that nearly distracted her from her goals, were it not for her faith in GOD, and how she has been climbing through the ladder of success. Today, she is a Senior Special Adviser to Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State on broadcasting. She is Ify Aronu!
May We Meet You?
I am Mrs Ify Aronu Okafor, a Senior Special Adviser to Anambra State Governor on broadcasting. I am primarily a broadcaster and I am the host of an audience participatory TV show, The Light TV Show which is stationed in Awka the capital of Anambra state. I also run a blog, BoldNaija.com. It comprises all my experiences in the broadcasting industry and I teach all that I have learnt all the while.
I was born into the Aronu family in Umueze Village, Amawbia, where I grew up. My mom is Ghanaian. I had my primary and secondary education there and had my tertiary education in Nnamdi Azikwe University, Awka. I am from a close-knit family. My Dad is late, I have a brother and two sisters. I just got married recently.
How was it like gaining admission to the University?
It was not that straight forward for me. For instance, when you are multi-talented, sometimes, you don't even know where you fall and if you decide to go a certain way, some people feel it's too easy. At the time I was in college, people felt the Art and Commercial were for the unserious ones. Naturally because I was doing well, I was made to be in the science class. So, I was happy, because I felt I was for the science. Infact I had my SSCE results with good grades in science subjects. But somehow, getting admission became an issue for me. I tried the first and the second time and I decided I was no longer doing that. And for all those periods I always passed my time with literatures, I wrote poems and then when I wrote SSCE again, I made the highest grade in literature.My Dad wanted to be a Journalist but couldn't achieve it, so, I saw myself in him.Thereafter, I took JAMB again, this time to study Law at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and then something funny happened and I was offered a 'lesser course'.
However, my brother advised that I apply to another University which would be closer to me,then I had to apply UNIZIK and this time, I applied for Mass Communications. When it was time to check the result, my husband presently, who was just a friend then, checked the result, guess what, I made 279. So it was as if God was speaking.We went for Post UTME, I made 85/100. Remember, this was someone who never had an Art orientation. When I went to check the list, I was number one on the list and it remained so, because in the whole of the Department, nobody had ever made a first class. So, getting admission when I finally got to the right place, became very simple.
So how were you able to graduate with a first class?
It's different things for different people. As for me, I knew from day one. If you ask my husband, even before I wrote my JAMB, I told him I would make First class. Everyone who knew me at a time knew I was saying it. Guess what, when I gained admission, the idea I got was that it was impossible to make a first class, because Art is not like Sciences which is objective but rather subjective. In Art, two plus two may not be four.
Another thing is that in Nigeria, where you encounter lots of challenges you hardly find a smooth route to doing anything ranging from financial constraints to other things. But guess what? Though I encountered these challenges, I was so lucky to be sponsored by one Rev. Fr. Jude Okoye from Nimo, who always motivated me. But for someone who already knew what she was going for, it was just a plus for me.
Another constrain was sickness. I remember I always took ill during exam periods, but I thank God for the grace to pray. I worked hard and then I expressed to God that I really wanted to be there. I wanted to break the jinx of no first class in the history of the Department.
Though, some of the lectures in class were sounding like French because, I never had such background before, but I still pushed on and believed in God.
There were so many challenges, my Dad died when I was in first year. Infact, when I got my first semester result, I made 4.85 and I wanted to show to my Dad, but he wasn't there.There was also a time I had some problems, call it spiritual or something, but it passed. But my lecturers encouraged me. Mr. Mgbemena of blessed memory, would always tell me, ''if you don't make a first class, it's your fault''. He so believed in me, even though I still had one semester left. The truth is that as an individual, you need to work so hard to a point where, everyone, even those who don't like you would themselves confess you have to be there. That was my case.
What was the feeling like when you finally made the first class?
I think because I had always known and seen it from afar, there was no special feeling to it, though there was a point that it was like it would never happen,especially towards the end. My Mom and I were in a Keke and we were involved in an accident. My Mom was terribly injured and it was a huge distraction for me. My friend and I were sleeping on a bed, and then there was a gunshot, she was shot and I was there, nothing happened to me.
But there was something that kept me moving ; my faith in God, myself and being good to others.
I most times spent my moments in the orphanage, because in life, you cannot be receiving, you just must give sometimes.
What were your aspirations after University?
Okay, the major thing I wanted was going for Masters by gaining a scholarship abroad, but you know when you are out there, you are faced with lots of options. You may have to make some adjustments. In disciplines like ours, which is not STEM, you must make all efforts to reach there. I wanted to set up my own TV show, work in an international TV Station like CNN, push broadcasting as far as I could and then teach, after I must have gathered a lot of experiences in the field,so I won't just go to the class to recite theories.
But I was able to explore broadcasting though not outside the country like I wanted.
Was it easy gaining a job after graduating, knowing you were top in your class?
After graduation, I went for National Youth Service. I was posted to Adamawa and later I redeployed to Oyo,and I got a job in one of the biggest Media houses in Ibadan, even as a Corp member. Then, there was an opportunity I encountered to do a vote of thanks at the Camp then, when the Director General of NYSC was present and other dignitaries, I did it well and that was how the State Coordinator became interested in me.I started representing Corp members in the state and Nigeria. As a Corp Member I started climbing the ladder. So, I continued the job until I was ready to settle down.
How was life after graduation?
I never knew about the struggles after graduation until I came back to the east. I think it's easier for people out there, but for the East it was not easy at all.
When I got back to Awka, it took a long time before I could secure a job and I didn't have what to bridge it with. Life after graduation wasn't that easy because we didn't even have that much options and mentors to guide.
Sincerely, a lot needs to be done in the East with regards to job opportunities and skills acquisition. Young people need to network some more.
Between writing and speaking, which do you prefer?
I prefer speaking because, I think it has made me a better writer, different from other people. I tend to write the way I speak. And it helps me to still be frank and myself. If you see most of my write - ups, especially on Boldnaija.com, it still comes out the way I speak.
So, probably because I am a broadcaster, I was trained to speak, naturally, I prefer speaking.
You were recently appointed SSA to the Governor on Broadcasting, how have you been handling it?
I was supposed to have resumed in 2018, but I was already in a new job in Lagos, so it took a lot of time to leave my former job be back to Anambra State.
I resumed in February 2019, so I am back to broadcasting fully with the Anambra State Broadcasting Service, ABS. But then, I had to go beyond that, I came up with a vision to impact the youths. I had this dream to start up a live show, where I directly interact with the youth, talk about topical issues like drug abuse, suicide and lots more. Hear from them and through them have solutions to those problems. Because many a time, the youths are relegated to the background, the elderly ones condemn them without listening to them directly. There are always two sides to the story, so I have decided to be a link between the youth and the government. I have decided, with the Light TV show, to give the youth a voice in the society. Instead of going to the government for funds, I decided to use my salary to set up the program. And it's going well.
What do you regard as your greatest achievement in life?
The greatest achievement that I have made in life, I would say it is the fact that I have a conscience of flesh. Not my children, family or heights I have attained, because they are ephemeral. I have a conscience that chastises me and drives me to do the right things and allows me live a life that makes me humble myself to apologise to God and man when I am wrong. I feel that is the greatest achievement I have been able to nurture.
Have failed in any venture, that you felt like giving up?
Yes, many times, especially when I am overwhelmed with work. My present project in the Light TV show, due to financial constraints and other stuffs, I felt like giving up. But at the end I keep pushing, because I plan to own my own studio, but if I give up now with the Light TV show that dream would never come to light.
Do you have any mentor?
The Commissioner of Information and Public Enlightenment, Mr. CDon Adinuba is my great mentor. I get inspired each time he talks, he may not know. He is a truck load of ideas. Prof. Stella Okunna is another personality that inspires me, another is the Commissioner for Basic Education, Kate Omenugha.
Internationally, I look up to Oprah Winfrey, because she is black and has been through a lot and the fact that she never gave up. I can easily associate with that, because we have same skin colour even though we live in different continents. I don't have mentors who are fair skinned. I want that person, I can easily identify with, though not perfect but surmount all odds to be the best.
Mentorship for me, doesn't mean that the person is infallible. I have happiness knowing that my mentor was there and conquered, blazing the trail. So, I have mentors who have failed, succeeded, and inspired me to know that in spite my feelings that one day somebody can count me worthy to be a mentor and still say 'oh yes, she is not perfect, but I love her'.
What do you have to say to young girls about setting their life goals?
Okay, it can be challenging to set life goals. For many girls, it's all about getting married, since they believe the burden should be on men. I have to use my life story, but I don't regret it, I got married to someone who is actually part of my success story, but initially I refused to accept him. Do you know why, I like to be focused in what I do. If what we do is to share ideas, let it be that. For him, he was my personal development partner. The premium you place on yourself in the beginning matters a lot. And this starts from the family, my family instilled this attitude of self-reliance in me, I was told that I was the best and then I grew up to be self-dependent. So, a young girl should aspire not be dampened to the level our customs and tradition has placed us. Ladies should try to develop themselves from the beginning, to have a sense of who I am. Try as much as possible to have people you look up to.
Following your social media platforms, you follow trends in Nigeria, what do you have to say about Nigeria situation?
I follow trends but not bumper to bumper. I follow trends and try to place my own voice trying not to be bias. To Nigerians, I think we should try not to paint our country bad with the negative stories we amplify through social media platforms. Most people want to come to invest in our country but when they surf the net, they encounter evil stories of Nigeria, these scares them away.
What is your message to young people?
I understand the challenges we face daily in Nigeria because the opportunities are limited. I have interfaced with other people in other countries and I know how far they have gone with opportunities availed to them. So, young people should be aware that if they want to be saved, they should also know that they have a duty to protect society. They should do that by not involving themselves in vices that could harm the lives of others.
They should learn skills, be it digital or technical. Reappraise your crowd, network with those that can help you. Be that solution Nigeria is waiting for and not a problem to the society.
Thank you for your time
You are welcome