JUMOKE Okoya is a proactive Nigerian in the diaspora, based in the United Kingdom, the university lecturer has deployed her success and wherewithal in helping Nigerians studying in the United Kingdom, especially in the University of East London and Birkbeck College, London. In this interview, the academia told ENCOMIUM Weekly what living in London as a scholar had been and how she is willing to help Nigeria build an enviable education sector and much more.
Tell us about your academic qualification.
I am a senior lecturer at the University of East London and Birkbeck College of London. I lecture Human Resources, Personal Development Planning and Information Technology. I am also a Ph.D research student at the University of East London.
How did it start for you?
I am currently a senior lecturer but I started as an hourly paid lecturer and rose to my present position after 9 years. My background was initially Information Technology, I have a Master’s in Business Information Systems. This is a blend of IT and Business. After lecturing for about five years in the school of computing, I took some professional courses in HR and I moved to the Royal Docks Business School. All these helped me strengthen my career as a lecturer.
Put pari passu with your educational background, was lecturing what you wanted?
Lecturing wasn’t what I wanted to do. I found myself in teaching. I wanted to be an ambassador, I read International Relations for my first degree. I love travelling and consider myself a good negotiator with good influencing skills. I finished my Master’s in good grades and was offered teaching appointment immediately which I turned down because I had my eyes on making mega bucks in the booming IT industry then. I came back to teaching through a chance meeting with one of my university lecturers. She encouraged me to reconsider the offer I turned down a year before, I agreed and decided that I will teach for a while, but I have been doing it for over 10 years and I am loving it.
How has the acceptance been, you as a Nigerian lecturing in the UK?
There haven’t been any problems, I think the key thing is to have an excellent grasp of your subject area and a good level of confidence. People sometimes hide behind discrimination when they are mediocre, incompetent in what they do. I will not say that there isn’t institutionalized racism, but I am yet to experience it.
Have you taken up any lecturing appointment, maybe back home or anywhere apart from those two institutions you mentioned?
Yes! I have taught at different colleges in the UK at different times and also consulting for different organizations. Back home, I haven’t done anything with any university yet, maybe that might happen later. A lot of my colleagues come home on sabbatical and lecture with federal/private universities, but I think we should start thinking of home in order to implement some of the education policies or ideas in our state schools. These things don’t cost much, we just need commitment and financial support from the government and our education system can be revamped.
What do you enjoy most and don’t enjoy as lecturer in the United Kingdom?
What I enjoy most is seeing Nigerian students as international students. I almost always automatically become their mentor (if they are the serious type). I also enjoy the fact that I am impacting the lives of so many people and being in a position of service.
What I don’t enjoy is the occasional cases of confrontation from students, which I must say only very rarely happens.
As a stakeholder, can you give a vivid example of what UK got right that can be taken back home?
I already mentioned it earlier, equal opportunity, people should be treated equally and fairly. Government should be interested in providing care for old people. In the UK, there are several initiatives to support and provide care for pensioners and aged people. When people retire, you don’t just leave them to wither, they should be nurtured and cared for and have recreational facilities in their local communities. Also, government should invest in employment generating initiatives for school leavers. For example, in the UK, there is the apprenticeship programme, work based learning programme, etc. These programmes are geared towards school leavers to keep them engaged and earn some income. There are so many programmes like these, which the Nigerian government should emulate.
If you are called to serve in any capacity back home, are you likely to take up the appointment?
Yes, but it will have to be in the education sector. I visit home frequently and I see the condition of Lagos State education and what crosses my mind is how some of the things we do over here can be replicated in Nigeria.
How long have you been in the United Kingdom?
I have been here for 14 years.
In all these years, how can you describe your experience?
I have had very positive and wonderful experiences, both on a personal level and academically.
What are those things that stand United Kingdom out for you?
For me, it will be equal opportunities. Everyone is treated equally, irrespective of family background, religion and political affiliation. Also, the limitless opportunities for self development and availability of basic social amenities that make life worth living.
Considering the large presence of Nigerians in the UK, how has the mix up affected the perspective of others about us?
I can emphatically say that Nigerians in the diaspora have made progress in leaps and bounds in terms of representing our country in positive light. You will find Nigerians in all walks of life here in the UK and at management level for that matter. We have Nigerians in academic, entertainment, business and even British politics.
Are you married?
Tell us about your husband.
I met my husband through a friend of his in 1990, during holiday to the UK. I was in another relationship so I wasn’t too keen to listen to him. But he is a very funny and caring guy, he jokes about everything. So, he said to me on our very first meeting, “I would like to marry you.” I simply replied, no and he asked why? I said, it is unthinkable that you meet someone for the first time and you are proposing to marry her. He said the minute he walked into the room, something told him I am going to be his wife. He is a very shrewd businessman, very committed to anything he sets his mind to do, very honest. He will rather keep quiet than lie and I am yet to meet any individual who is as fair as my husband. If you are reporting someone to him, he will always wait before making up his mind and also not comment negatively about someone, unless he supports such comments.
What will you say should be the driving force for any woman?
The driving force for any woman should be to seek knowledge and information. Without knowledge people perish. Second, I believe every woman should be a project manager of her home and personal life, constantly planning, managing and deploying resources to address any emergency that may come up in the family or her personal life.
Tell us about your beauty routine.
My beauty routine is quite simple. I wash my face with organic liquid soap, cleanse my face and make sure I exfoliate by using a gentle facial scrub every other day. I use Oil of Olay beauty fluid. I am a firm believer in nurturing myself from within. I take flaxseed oil, pumpkin and almond seed, goji berries and all these contributes to beauty within.
What are those things you do for fun?
I love reading. Reading does to the brain what exercise does to the body. I also enjoy walking, I walk 7 km four days a week, because it is often said that one of the secrets of being mentally sound is to be physically fit. I am not slim by the way, I am a good size 14, but fit as a fiddle. And finally I am a music fanatic. I listen to all types of music, R&B, jazz, garage, funky house, gospel and Nigerian music. And I love to dance. On a lighter mood, if I miss my walking on a particular day, I make sure I dance vigorously at any party I am invited to, just to burn some calories.
On a final note, my words of advice to the younger generation is to make sure you have a good role model/mentor, someone you feel comfortable to discuss your life goals and future plans with and to remember that life is a book, make yours a best seller. Have a great life!
- February 21, 2012