In a world where adversity often tests one’s resilience and determination, 27-year-old Esther Adejumoke Oyenuga’s story stands as a testament to the power of perseverance. Despite facing numerous challenges and financial difficulties, Oyenuga managed to rise above her circumstances and pursue her dreams in the field of petroleum and aeronautical engineering.
Today, the role of education in shaping individual lives and society as a whole is critical. Oyenuga speaks with Edugist on her remarkable journey from humble beginnings to becoming a beacon of hope for aspiring students facing similar hurdles.
Born and raised in Lagos, Oyenuga’s life took a dramatic turn when she was in JSS 2 and her family relocated to Ijebu-ode due to her grandfather’s illness. During this period, her family faced financial hardships as her mother lost her job and was forced to put Oyenuga’s education on hold. “I stayed at home for about a year before re-enrollment,” Oyenuga told Edugist.
Oyenuga’s hope awakened when a family friend proposed to take her to Lagos to return her to secondary education. “Shockingly, I was there to work for her,” said Oyenuga. She found herself working as a salesgirl and house help, enduring gruelling tasks while her dreams of higher education seemed to fade away.
Determined to overcome the odds stacked against her, Oyenuga saved money diligently and eventually wrote the JAMB UTME exam, hoping to gain admission into a university. However, the family friend who had brought her to Lagos insisted she hadn’t worked enough and delayed her release. Disheartened but undeterred, Oyenuga returned to Ijebu-ode, where she faced another setback as her exam results fell short of expectations, shattering her hopes of immediate admission.
In 2013, Oyenuga turned to nursing as an alternative path to higher education. She enrolled in POGIL College of Health Technology in Ijebu-ode. It ran for three years and she successfully completed the programme in 2016. Unfortunately, financial constraints prevented her from attending the induction ceremony, leaving her unable to acquire her certificate.
“After the death of my grandfather, things became tough. So although I finished the programme, I could not attend the induction where certificates would be presented since I couldn’t pay for my certificate which was sixty thousand naira at the time,” said Oyenuga.
Challenges at UNICAL
Undeterred by her previous setbacks, Oyenuga continued to persevere. Despite witnessing her friends secure jobs, she decided to apply for a direct entry admission into dentistry at the University of Ibadan, but her application was unsuccessful. “It was challenging because some of my friends were already getting jobs. But I braced myself,” she said.
Nevertheless, she persisted and was finally admitted to the petroleum engineering department at the University of Calabar (UNICAL) in 2018.
Oyenuga’s experience at UNICAL was both adventurous and challenging. She joined professional bodies such as the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) and the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE) as a student member, enhancing her knowledge and networking opportunities. However, the university faced accreditation issues from the National Universities Commission (NUC), the supervisory body concerned with the development of university education in Nigeria, leading to some engineering programmes being suspended. Many students had to drop out and the educational landscape became uncertain for those affected.
“UNICAL lost accreditation for some programmes. As a result, students in levels above 200 level were stepped down to 200 level. Computer and Electrical and Electronics Engineering were scrapped completely,” Oyenuga told Edugist. “It was because they (UNICAL management) didn’t inform the NUC before commencing the programmes. It affected other departments too like pharmacy, theatre arts and mass communication.”
The main reason, she said, was lack of proper facilities for the administration of the programmes. “By the time the NUC came, the tenure of the VC who started the programme had ended. The new VC claimed to not be the one who started it.”
She recalled in a LinkedIn post that the disaster occurred when the NUC came to UNICAL in 2020. “I was still in the University of Calabar attending lectures in a course that is yet to be accredited. Writing exams and still coming out with my parallel A’s as usual. But I was so scared because there were no improvements, no equipment, no new lecturers.”
Route to India
Oyenuga was overwhelmed with joy when she found out in September 2022 that she had been offered a state government scholarship to study towards a Bachelor of Technology (BTech) degree in Aeronautical engineering in Jain University, a private university located in Bangalore, India. “I wrote plenty of scholarship exams but one finally did put a smile on my face,” she wrote in her LinkedIn post. The 27-year-old said she wasn’t “scared of starting afresh”, leaving her “good results” at UNICAL behind.
Although the notification of scholarship was great news, getting the funds to relocate was another challenge for Oyenuga. She said that most of the funds were offset by some heads of the professional bodies she joined and other good samaritans. “Getting my passport, visa application fee and the visa fee itself were hard. Then came other funds like medical. I received a significant amount of help and I am so grateful,” she told Edugist. “I’m a survivor of emotional, academic and environmental scars.”
Oyenuga encourages students to combine academics with other activities and to join clubs and professional bodies while on campus, emphasising the importance of effective time management. Additionally, she offers advice to students facing financial difficulties, urging them not to allow their backgrounds to hinder their progress.
“My advice is a popular saying: don’t allow your background to put your back on the ground. I worked my ass out, tutored, did menial jobs, made hair, washed clothes and plates just to feed, I even slept in shops due to lack of accommodation. But in the end, hardwork pays,” she told Edugist. Drawing from her own experience, Oyenuga emphasises the value of hard work and determination, reminding students that success is attainable with the right mindset.
When asked about her motivation for studying petroleum engineering at UNICAL, Oyenuga revealed her passion for politics. She believed that pursuing this field would provide her with a pathway to influence policies, particularly regarding the importation of products that could be produced locally. Her love for mathematics and physics also played a significant role in her decision.
With her bachelor’s degree in sight, Oyenuga has set her sights on pursuing a master’s degree abroad. She plans to apply for a Canadian visa within the next four years, furthering her education and expanding her horizons.