She was a typical local girl in the university and her classmates made jest of everything about her including her tatty dressing and her fantasy of becoming an anchor for the broadcast giant, the Cable News Network (CNN).
A tall and lanky woman dressed in everyday church attire, she always had a pony-tail hair neatly tied with a flowery scarf; features what would make her to be easily spotted in a crowd of students.
Her eyebrows were often combed and painted with lip gloss in an upward pattern – a sight that usually threw the class into bursts of laughter.
Her attempt to speak with American accent against a bad dialectical interference was another sore point that pitched her against most of her classmates, who thought she was annoying, fake and unrefined.
None gave Cha-cha, as she was called by her classmates at the Department of Communication Arts, University of Uyo, the benefit of the doubt she could become anything serious in the future.
She never wore trousers or use make-up. I recall one day we had a class at the new education block. Cha-cha and I entered the class with shades and everyone busted out laughing.
It was a very uncomfortable situation for me but that did not bother Cha-cha a bit. She rocked her glasses and walked into the class with this I-don’t-care attitude.
In one of the classes, a lecturer, Mfon Itek had asked Cha-cha to pronounce the name of the first Premier of Western Nigeria, Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
Cha-cha stood up and struggled unsuccessfully to pronounce the name. The class had a good laugh and the lecturer thoroughly ridiculed her. But that did not break her spirit. She came to the next class and in fact, sat on the front row.
That young girl who was ridiculed and bullied some years ago is Charity Festus Ubia. She was and is still one of my closest friends.
We got admitted into the university when Blackberry became not only a reigning piece of phone but a status symbol in the society. Cha-cha didn’t have a Blackberry phone but she was popular in Uniuyo for all the odd reasons.
But it was our shared love for selfie, her determination to succeed and her calmness in the face of jeers and outright insults by most of our classmates that brought me closer to her. It was difficult to imagine what she went through on a daily basis in the class and in the hostel.
When we graduated from Uniuyo in 2010, it was difficult to think Charity would become a sensation. But that is the reality now.
On April 6, 2021, the social media went gaga with the news of a young Nigerian woman who recorded a landslide academic feat after she graduated with a first class degree from the University of East London in addition to getting two other certificates in two years.
For Charity, her story started changing when she won a Master degree scholarship from the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and left the country for United Kingdom in February, 2019.
But it is not known how she overstretched herself to study two additional courses and ended top in her master’s programme, thereby becoming a celebrated faculty at the East London University.
The journey from a rural girl to an excellent student
Raised by a single mother and grandmother in Ikot Osukpong, a remote village in Oruk Anam local government area of Akwa Ibom State in Nigeria’s oil-rich South-south region, all Charity wanted was to get quality education. She wanted to go to schools in the city where there are clean classrooms, electricity, qualified teachers and opportunity for rural girls to explore.
Though she was poor financially, Charity was so rich in faith and in character; two attributes she imbibed from her grandfather, Chief J. Ubia, one of the pioneer members of the Faith Tabernacle Congregation, Eka Uruk Eshiet in Oruk Anam local government area.
”My promise to God is always to be a practicing Christian and to do what pleases God all time because this is the legacy my grandfather left and the path my parents showed me,” Charity spoke of her Christian background.
With a dream at heart and God in mind, young Charity began to plot the map of her life and the trajectory of her career but with a strong conviction she would make headlines in the future.
Since life had thrown wild lemons on her right from childhood, he mother and grandmother taught her to make lemonades from them and she did that so perfectly. Right from childhood, Mother and grandmother taught her petty trading and palm oil processing; the two major trades in her village and she grew up to play the trades unashamedly.
That was how the enterprising spirit from her immediate family and her strict Christian upbringing put her in a place of discipline, hard work and clear focus.
She didn’t hesitate to fight for whatever she wanted and wasn’t ashamed doing even the most menial things to raise money to meet some of her needs and also support her family.
“I knew I had to struggle for whatever I wanted as a young Christian girl from a poor background. Life was so hard at a time I almost lost hope,” she said tearfully.
“But despite all that happened, I never lost sight of the God-factor and His supremacy over everything here on earth.
“It was my struggle as an only child of a single mother and my unbending faith in God that opened doors for me where my mother and grandparents could not help.”
The hardship Charity faced didn’t affect her pursuit of her life’s goals and didn’t alter the course of her destiny. Rather, it polished her resolve to be the best in every single thing she does. Little wonder that she emerged the best graduating student from high school in 2008. But that was just the beginning of better things to come.
The road to the University of Uyo
Gaining admission to the university didn’t come quite easy. Charity was a bit unlucky with University Matriculation Examination (UME). After taking the examination twice without getting the required cutoff marks, she decided to enroll for a diploma programme in the University of Uyo.
“I settled for a diploma programme because JAMB (Joint Admission and Matriculation Board) was messing me up and I didn’t want any more delay in getting into the university,” she recalled.
“But life on campus wasn’t an easy ride. I found myself in new environment where life was viewed from different lenses by different people who came in with different backgrounds. You met people from the rich, middle class and poor backgrounds.”
Right from day one at the university’s hotel where she had secured an accommodation, feeding became a huge problem. Her mother couldn’t meet the cost of her meals after paying her fees and other academic needs and the hostel rules didn’t permit students to cook except to heat water for tea. Every student in the hostels bought their meals outside the campus and they didn’t come cheap for people like Charity.
After several weeks of eating malnourished food from cheap eateries around the campus, Cha-cha woke up one morning and decided to break the hostel rule.
She started selling boiled eggs to fellow students not only within her hostel but to others in other residences on campus. She would wake up very early and sneaked out to a poultry farm located along Faith Road to get eggs and boiled some quantity just before other students go out to get their breakfast.
Her new trade did not only bring her on a collision with the porters but also earned her a nickname from students.
Recalling girlishly, she said, “While the porters were chasing me about and warning me to stop selling my eggs in the hostels, students started calling me ‘Protein,’ but that didn’t bother me as long as I was making some money that helped me feed and take care of others bills in school.”
Her egg business flourished and things became so good until one day, some of the matrons in the hostel got to know about it. They literarily brought down the roof on Cha-cha for breaking the “No selling” rule of the university.
She was scolded openly and mercilessly and her mattress was seized by the no-nonsense matrons, leaving her to sleep on bare metal springs for weeks. She begged and begged to no avail. The matrons were adamant. She had to suffer the full measure of punishment for daring to sell eggs against the rule.
Charity was not only sleeping on the bare springs but did that on empty stomach as she could no longer afford the expensive food from the many restaurants around the campus.
Until she graduated, Cha-cha bore the nickname “Protein” even when she was not allowed to sell eggs ever again, thereby subjecting her to living sparse lifestyle, wearing clothes which were out of fashion, always packing her hairs and tying them in a ponytail.
The scholarship that changed her story
While taking a walk within the university community one evening, Charity came across a Total Oil scholarship advertisement on the all of the Community Centre and decided to give it a shot. This was at a time she has just resumed for the second year of her diploma programme. The scholarship was strictly for first-year degree students.
But a daring young woman, Charity would not accept that. With the help of a church member, she decided to register for the scholarship and sat for the examination which took place in Uyo in 2009.
When the results were released, she was the only successful candidate from the University of Uyo that year. The scholarship funds covered her tuition fees from 2009-2015 and could only be accessed with a cumulative grade point average (CGPA) of 3.0 every session.
Speaking about the scholarship, she reminisced, ”How I got the scholarship was entirely divine and has remained a mystery to me till date. I kept a low profile in school and studied hard because I didn’t want to disappoint my sponsor (Total Scholarship Board) and God paved the way for me because I didn’t merit it in the first place.”
With a new ray of hope in sight, Charity began began to build unprecedented confidence and faith in God. The library, lecture halls, night classes and church became the spaces she frequented. She was determined to meet the expectations of her new sponsors. Having tasted poverty, hunger and ridicule, she wasn’t ready to miss the opportunity that fate has brought to her.
While struggling to finish her diploma programme which would enable her get a direct entry into the university, Cha-cha recounted how her diploma project supervisor made her feel worthless.
“That lecturer, I don’t want to mention his name, told me to my face, ‘I thought you should have known everything before coming to the university? Why are you this stupid?’ Those words pierced through my heart because as a student, I was in the university to learn. Unable to hold myself, I calmly asked her, ‘I thought the university is a learning ground for someone eager and ready to learn?’”
In spite of the hardship she faced and the frustration from her project supervisor, Charity graduated at the last minute alongside two other students in a class of over 50 students.
Without waiting for the result of her diploma programme to be released, she bought the Direct Entry form and applied for a Bachelor of Arts programme with the Department of Communication Arts, University of Uyo. Luckily for her, she sat for the exams and emerged successful. This further boosted her morale and challenged her to dare more odds.
The journey to building a career
When in 2010, Charity was offered admission to study Communication Arts; she was met by this reporter and 50 other students. Cha-cha and our reporter became friends and reading mates when they discovered they came from the same local government area and that decision paid off handsomely.
In 2013, Charity just like every other student of the department went in search for a place to do internship which was a mandatory academic exercise for third year students. It was at the time she got united with her father in Lagos.
While her father wanted her to serve her internship with Cool FM, Charity would rather choose Silverbird Television, a decision that didn’t go down well with the dad.
“When I shared the dream of doing my internship with Silverbird TV in Lagos, my mum didn’t support me. She said it was too big,” Charity began
“For me to be accepted to do my internship in Silverbird Television was a mystery because my father too, didn’t believe I could be accepted. He said to me, ‘why go to Silverbird when everyone is doing theirs at Cool FM?. Why Silverbird of all places?
“I told my father that those who are doing their internship in Silverbird TV do not have two heads and it was a woman who gave birth to them. So, if they can do it, then I can do it too.
“When I got to Silverbird and was rejected, my father left me to carry my cross. No one supported me at that point except that I believed in God and in myself. Deep down, I knew what I wanted. My plan was to work with Silverbird and from there work my way to Channels and then to AIT and then to Aljazeera.
“With God on my side, I was accepted at Silverbird TV after another attempt and at the end, I left as the best Intern in the organisation. I was highly appreciated and lavished with gifts including bags of rice and other goodies.”
In 2014, Charity graduated and left for the one year National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme
During the NYSC, God again showed up for her as she was not only posted to the office of the Deputy Governor of Cross River State, she also got appointed Special Assistant to the Deputy Governor on Social Media.
But indigenes of the state at the Government House fought fiercely against the appointment because she was from Akwa Ibom State.
In spite of the humiliating situations she faced, Charity never allowed the experiences to get in the way of her job. In fact, she initiated a documentary to showcase the activities of the government and the project became an instant hit. At the time she was done with her service year, Charity had raked up several laurels including the Best Serving Corps Member, Cross River State in 2016.
Back in Uyo after the NYSC, she started a media firm, Unique Communication Studios and later got a job with the Deputy Governor of Akwa Ibom State.
The struggle for visibility and more opportunities
While classmates and friends mocked her dream of working with the CNN, Charity said she was unbothered but strategically working out a plan that could possibly land her a job with the US-based broadcast giant.
“I wanted a job in a reputable broadcast organisation in Nigeria and then use that as a stepping stone to get a job at the CNN and the other option was to study abroad and get an exposure that could make my dream a reality,” she recalled.
Knowing that her parent can’t possibly fund her graduate programme abroad, Charity said she made attempts to get support from the Akwa Ibom State Government.
“I was close to persons in the Press Unit of the Government House at the time and I decided to document the state’s achievements ahead of the 30th anniversary of its creation in 2017,” she said.
I spent time and resources to produce documentaries, a photobook, and anniversary branded gifts with the hope the governor will be happy with the effort, seek audience with me and possibly ask me what I wanted as reward for the things I did. All I wanted was an opportunity to study abroad but I was disappointed. I don’t know if the governor saw all the things I did at all.”
“I really thought they would support me to travel abroad but it didn’t work out. I believe it wasn’t the will of God although lot of my personal money went down the drain.”
Not willing to give up, Charity approached the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) with a project proposal. Nsima Ekere was the managing director at the time.
“The project idea I presented to NDDC was geared towards promoting secondary education in the entire region. The plan was to create a platform where secondary school students benefit from the numerous educational grants of the commission.
“I did samples of what the project was all about and how it can be implemented to cover all secondary schools in the region. Luckily, I was privileged to meet the then MD who asked me if I wanted the project or wanted a scholarship abroad.
“I told him I wanted to study abroad and that’s how I ended up in UK. But before now, I had worked tirelessly behind the scene to ensure I had my admission in a foreign university ready. So, the offer from NDDC was an opportunity meeting opportunity. ”
A season of failure and of breakthrough
Getting admission to study in the UK and getting a scholarship didn’t come cheap for the young Miss Ubia.
“It was hard to get offers from foreign universities because I graduated with a 2.2 grade point in my first degree. I had lot of rejections from foreign universities and failed IELTS more than four times,” she recalled.
“While I was working and spending money to write IELTS, I didn’t know who my sponsor will be. Everything I did was only a step of faith.
“I spent nights looking online for foreign universities. I was working in silence all the while but later share my disappointments with my mom and the pastor who kept praying for me. When the story of my scholarship to study abroad broke out in church, it was amazing news to a lot of people.”
It was nothing but sheer grace that she passed the IELTS, got an offer from a university and also got a scholarship to sustain her. Doesn’t it sound like a fairy tale?
While she was happy the lines were falling in pleasant places for her, she found herself facing a familiar dilemma – her spoken English. As a young African student going to a country where English is the first language and Queen’s English at that, it was a bit scary for Charity, who was battling severe dialectical interference to communicate effectively in her new environment. If people were laughing when she spoke English back at home, one can only imagine what would happen to her in UK.
According to her, the first three months in school in the UK was useless as she couldn’t pick out what the lecturers taught and they could not understand what she was saying. .
“After three months I was able to blend and speak a little like them. Gradually, I made improvement and I really got better when I held a leadership position which required me to speak to students across different African countries and Europe,” she said.
Aside, the problem of integrating properly into her new environment, Charity had difficulty meeting the acceptable academic writing standard in the UK.
Not one to give in to defeat, she spent the first six months in the university shuttling between the classroom, the library and hall of residence.
Before long, she had conquered her fears, developed the capacity not only to speak fluently but also to meet the required standard modules in all her academic works.
Apart from immersing herself deeply into academics, Charity said she also found time to be involved in the social side of the university.
She was, however, elected the only black female NUS Delegate of the University in 2010, a position that opened new vista of opportunities for her to explore and build her capacity for learning and leadership.
Miss Ubia attributed some of her successes to her mentors and particularly appreciated a renowned leadership and professional trainer, Roger McCartna, Peter Horncastle, the CEO of DeepC Company and the Advertising Manager, Microsoft, Germany, Simon Formouwnski. While Mr Horncastle sharpened her employability skill, she said her mentor from CMI encouraged her to start her own company.
On why she abandoned a media related field to study digital marketing and also take on a teaching job, Charity said she needed a holistic business skill that would help her operate her media firm successfully when she returns to Nigeria.
Despite her the success in academics, Charity insists that her dream of working with the CNN was closer to reality than ever.
Currently, Charity has obtained a Post Graduate Certificate in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (with Worldwide Recognised Tutor Status), University of East London, and Advanced Diploma in Digital Marketing from Inspire London College as well as a Certificate as a CMI Tutor/Assessor.
However, she will soon join the community of researchers as a Doctoral Researcher at the University of East London School of Business and Law following a PhD offer she has just received.
“I wish that my story will serve as a motivation for young girls who wish to become successful in life. I advise every young woman to have God, work hard and take their jobs seriously and with love, pride and joy. These are what will announce and speak for them,” she advised.
This report was supported by the Journalism Retool House Mentorship Project of the NEXT EDITION Newspaper.