“How Palm Wine and Poverty Caused My Blindness”

Cross River State’s First Visually Impaired Ph.D Holder in Mass Communication Opens Up

 – PART ONE –

Aged 55, Dr Jacob Ulayi Agba is Cross River State’s only visually impaired Ph.D holder in Mass Communication. He is from Utugwang, in Obudu Local Government Area of Cross River State, Nigeria.

Although some of Nigeria’s universities may parade visually handicapped lecturers in Mass Communication, none of such lecturers possess doctorate degrees in the discipline. Professor Bitrus Gwomna, formerly of Radio Nigeria Kaduna, is Nigeria’s first visually impaired Ph.D holder in this field. He now lives and works in the United States of America.

Thus, Dr Agba can rightly be described as a pacesetter. Also, he is a Knight of the Catholic church in the order of Saint Mulumba. He is a Senior Lecturer in the department of Mass Communication, Cross River University of Technology (CRUTECH), Calabar, and currently on sabbatical leave in the department of Theatre and Media Studies, University of Calabar (UNICAL).

His brisk and sure-footed steps belie his visual disability. While walking in surroundings that are familiar to him, he walks unaided. Those who stare at him seem to gaze more in admiration of his designer outfits than at his dark goggle eyeglasses and walking stick. His students regard him as an Icon and father-figure. His colleagues respect him.

A visit to his home located at CRUTECH staff quarters reveals peace and love. His children cling to him like chewing gum to a shoe sole. His tall and pretty looking wife wears a smiling face all the time. She seems ever willing to play the role of an amiable host to guests. Understandably, their home always bubbles with guests.

Nobody admires blindness, but Dr Agba’s personality attracts admiration. The story below is a story of determination in the face of adversity. His story shows that however tough things may be in one’s life today, there is always hope for a better tomorrow.

Anyone who has grown up in Nigeria and other parts of West and Central Africa must have come across palm wine or heard of it. Some school of thought argue that pure and unadulterated palm wine help in maintaining good eyesight.

Well, Dr Jacob Ulayi Agba lost his eyesight 49 years ago. Unknown to many of his admirers, friends and associates, palm wine contributed to what he describes as “my fortune or misfortune”.
How did this happen? Read it all, in the story that follows.

Below is a full transcription of Dr Jacob Agba’s words during a recent interview conducted by LinCornellah’s blog.

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Dr Jacob Agba and Cornel Ellah during this interview

The Secret behind His Achievements

I would say that the secret behind my success so far is number one, my faith in God. My faith in God makes me believe that there is nothing impossible for God; that where there is hope, there is life. I always think positively and whatever my mind tells me that God can help me to achieve, I go for it and I struggle hard to make it; to achieve it, to grab it.

Background/Family/Schools Attended

Well, I was born to a family of 17 children. My father had two wives. He is still alive. My mother was the first wife and she had six of us for my dad. The other woman had 10 children, then one extra one before she even got married to my dad. So, it wasn’t easy for us. My father was not an educated man. He managed to get a job in the local government as a sanitation staff, which means the money available for us was very meager and the two women had to do a lot of petty trading for us to survive. That laid a foundation for my fortune or misfortune.

hardship

I developed measles at the age of about six. Instead of taking me to hospital as it was for many people who had resources, they only took to what they knew best; pouring palm wine on my face every morning and evening. With that, I gradually lost my sight. When I lost my sight, I was the second child of the family to suffer that fate.

Due to the same ignorance, my immediate elder sister lost her sight at the age of two. So, it was a very sad scene in the family. My mother used to cry every afternoon and evening. Each time visitors came visiting, she must cry. We grew up to be part of that sorrow. There was no hope. Thank God, the reverend sisters of the Medical Missionaries of Mary (MMM) in Obudu had contact with another person who lost his sight after standard six and he was sent for training in Ikeja, Lagos. He also studied braille.

When he came back, he started a small school at the instance of those missionaries –  the reverend sisters of the medical missions. I was one of the seven pupils to enroll in that small school known as Saint Joseph’s Center for the Blind. It was established in 1970. That was when my life turned around.

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I was the first student in that school that was integrated into Saint Charles Primary School because the number of teachers was insufficient at Saint Joseph’s Center. I started primary three at Saint Charles Primary School. After completion of my primary education, I went straight to Government Secondary School, Obudu for my secondary education. I was always top of my class. In fact, I never took second position throughout my stay in primary school. I ended up with merit. I left in primary five in 1977 to secondary school where I finished in 1982. I worked briefly with the missionaries as an auxiliary teacher for two years and then left for the Polytechnic in Calabar in 1984.

I obtained a diploma in Mass Communication in 1986. In 1987, I was given direct entry admission into the then University of Cross River State (now University of Uyo) and I graduated in 1990 with a second class upper division. I missed first class narrowly. After my Ordinary National Diploma (OND), I took appointment with the Cross River Broadcasting Corporation (CRBC) as an Assistant Producer on level six. When I left for the university, I did not abandon my job. I was combining the two because it was very difficult for me to secure that job and I didn’t want to joke with it. I was shuttling between Uyo and Ogoja where the station was sited.

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Before I got my degree, I was promoted to level eight and I grew on the job. I worked in CRBC for 16 years. In 2003, I left for the university to teach. Before I left, I had enrolled at the University of Calabar for my masters degree in 2001. I was also combining it with my job. I took appointment with CRUTECH in 2003. That is where I have been since then. I completed my masters degree in 2006. After that, I started a Ph.D programme which I completed in 2010. That is a summary of my background.

How Deprivations Motivated Him

I think deprivations served as a kind of stimulation. I was determined that I was going to make a difference, especially when I started attending some conferences. My first contact with an educated blind person was in Zaria where I went to attend a conference organized by Hope for the Blind, one late professor Bitrus Gani. He was a blind physiotherapist who rose to the position of a Professor in Ahmadu Bello University, before he died. I met him, and I met some other blind persons.

When I met these people, it became clear to me that it was possible I could put my sorrows behind me and make a difference for myself and my family. God was on my side. I actually became the first graduate in my extended family because of my determination.

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When I was given admission to Uyo, my elder brother said Uyo was a difficult place for even the so called normal people. I told him it would be more honorable for my corpse to be carried home from Uyo, and I left.

Reasons for Leaving Broadcasting for Academics

I loved broadcasting but it got to a point where I felt I was not fully challenged because as a Producer, I could get up one weekend and produce programmes for the entire week, meaning that from Monday to Friday, I would just loiter about in the office. I was given about three programmes to produce; making contacts, producing those programmes could be done within 24 hours. So, I was looking for something that would keep me busier. That was the first thing that made me think of venturing into academia. So I prayed about it.

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Even when I left, I still produced the same programme for about five years. This means I was proved right that I could work. The truth of the matter is that when you go to some government ministries, you see, some people are idle. This is because they may not have enough work to do. There are many people who are very busy but the positions that keep people very busy are very few. There are some jobs that you can even do from your house; you can get up in the night and do and in the day time you quit. Broadcasting is one of those jobs, particularly being a Producer. That was what made me to think of coming into academics. I wanted to be busier.

Watch out for Part Two…

Twitter: #DrJacobUlayiAgba

7 Comments

  1. Liz Egbe September 2, 2016
  2. G M E September 2, 2016
  3. josephine Ani September 2, 2016
  4. Kingsley Agim September 2, 2016
  5. Odok, J.k. September 2, 2016
  6. Blessing walter March 26, 2017
  7. Ugbem Rose Agba April 8, 2017

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