Chinua Achebe started school at St Philips Central School, Apkakaogwe Ogidi in 1936. He was asked to proceed to the religious class where pupils engaged in singing and sometimes dancing of the catechism, chanting of English rhymes, and general entertainment. After he had spent a week in the religious class, his teacher, Rev. Nelson Ezekwesili sent him to the higher infant school because the child exhibited signs of intelligence. Achebe became the finest English reader and during dictations lessons, he would normally get excellent marks. He possessed the best handwriting in the class and performed well in recitations, especially when reciting either poem or essay on stage. In these years, his academic work in primary school was consistently excellent.
In late 1942, Chinua Achebe proceeded to Nekede Central School because his elder brother John took Chinua to stay with him in Nekede, Owerri. Before his departure, the headmaster of St Phillips Central School opposed Achebe’s exit from his school. He objected because Achebe was the kind of student who made him proud of the school.
In 1944, Achebe was admitted into Government College, Umuahia. About 3,000 boys usually applied for the 30 places available. And all the candidates sat for the entrance examination at centres throughout Nigeria and Western Cameroon. Only the best candidates are admitted.
It was not long before William Simpson, the school headmaster singled out Chinua Achebe as one of the most promising students. Achebe was promoted from Class One to Class Two in his first year at Government College, Umuahia. That same year he was awarded a scholarship because of his learning and character. Achebe wrote the best English in his class and was the editor of the school magazine. He won a poetry prize because his brilliant academic performance was unthinkable. The final examination taken by Achebe’s class at Government College became the apex of his outstanding secondary school career. His results were impressive. ‘As’ In History, Physics/Chemistry, Biology, Geography, Bible Knowledge, and Mathematics; high ‘Cs’ In English Language and English Literature.
Achebe wrote an examination for entry into the new University College, Ibadan. In those days, the fashionable courses at the university were engineering and medicine and John Achebe, his official guardian and sponsor, took the decision that Chinua was to study medicine. Achebe accepted his elder brother’s decision and was admitted as one of the recipients of a major scholarship to study medicine.
Achebe’s first-year academic work in the university was not commendable. He could not handle the rigorous demands of the department of medicine. The workload was intense, and it became clear to him in that first-year that the grinding work in physics and ultimately in medicine necessitated a different interest unlike the one he had brought from secondary school. For the first time in life, Achebe passed without performing very well. It became very obvious that he would never do well as a medical student. At this point, he lost interest in science and medicine.
Achebe now took a decisive decision for the first time concerning his career and academic interest. He went to the Dean of Science towards the end of that first year and informed him of his intention to change his course of study. His interest was now in Arts. Fortunately, he was accepted into the faculty of Arts. Unfortunately, he lost his scholarship, since the basis on which it had been granted no longer existed. Losing his scholarship was a great setback but he was determined to pursue his passion.
Achebe became a member of the Faculty of Arts and selected English, Geography and History as his subjects. Thus, his studies at the University College, Ibadan, commenced in earnest in the faculty of Arts. Achebe soon became one of the best in his faculty.
He was scoring alphas in most of his subjects. By 1950, Chinua Achebe settled down sufficiently as a student in the Faculty of Arts to express himself as a writer. He began to write many essays and stories which Includes; ‘Polar Undergraduate’, ‘In A Village Church’, ‘ The Old Order In Conflict With New Year’, ‘ Mr. Okafor Versus Arts Students’, ‘ Dead Man’s Path’ and so on. It was in this faculty that some of the seeds of creative and critical work were planted in Chinua Achebe.
His book ‘Things Fall Apart’ published on 17 June 1958 went on to become one of the most important books in African literature. Selling over 8 million copies around the world, it was translated into 50 languages, making Achebe the most translated African writer of all time.
Fondly called the “grandfather of Nigerian Literature, Achebe is a recipient of over 30 honorary degrees from universities in England, Scotland, Canada, South Africa, Nigeria and the United States, including Dartmouth College, Harvard and Brown University.
Put a lizard in a river it will struggle to survive. A fish will not survive for a long time on land. The Creator of all things has designed every man for a particular discipline. Put differently, we were created to solve a specific problem or to satisfy a particular need. The problem you are programmed to solve is not the problem I am fashioned to solve because God has put in us all we need to solve our assigned problems. Therefore, you cannot solve my own problem, and I cannot solve yours. Our brains are designed to fit the problem we are destined to solve. Bill Gate is known for Software, Michael Faraday for electricity, Wright Brothers for aeroplane, Henry Ford for motor vehicle, Tiger Wood for golf, Chinua Achebe for writing and so on.
Therefore, everybody must not be a doctor, lawyer, or an engineer because these are not the only problem we have on earth. It is unreasonable to choose to become a solicitor because your father or uncle is successful in the legal field, or because you like the legal profession. A father told his son that he must be a solicitor because the former has spent a fortune paying lawyers for loads of court cases he had.
Nobody should force you to study any course you don’t have an interest in. People are not following their passion because they want to pursue name and money. That is why there are quack building engineers, killing thousands every year because their buildings are not solid. We have doctors who carelessly kill their patients because they are not called into the medical profession. We see lawyers sending innocent clients to prison because their brains are not tailored to suit the discipline. Your wealth and fame is in your purpose.
I hear some student say: “I am studying a professional course.” We have been deceived that there are specific courses that are professional. There is no professional course or major course anywhere. The day you become very skilful in your area you have become a professional and made you field a professional field. Every field is a professional one. Anything you are a master in is your profession; therefore, any occupation can be professional field.
That is why we have professional footballers. Football is a professional career. Therefore, shoemaking is a professional course, a horticulturist is professional, and sport is a professional field. You must not be a doctor, engineer or solicitor to be a professional; every field is a professional one.
The day you know your purpose or area of interest is the day your study commences in earnest, that is the day you become a student. Until you have passion for a course not ambition, you will never be successful. Nobody should force you to study any course that you don’t have an interest in. Pursue your passion and possess your vision.
Neglect your passion and suffer malfunction. If you locate your area of interest, you will become a master overnight. Allowing somebody to choose a field for you is suicidal; you can seek counsel from professionals. Learning becomes cheap and interesting when you are in your place of interest. Ben Carson said “If we recognize our talents and use them appropriately, and choose a field that uses those talents, we will rise to the top of our field.”
How can I know my area of interest?
Ask God: It is the producer that knows the functions and capacity of His product.
Read wide: There are some fields or courses of study you don’t know. Read biographies, autobiographies, professional journals, in fact, read every good book or publication.
Know your passion: There is something you do with joy, without stress and without payment.
Seek advice from a professional or an experienced person.
Be original: Don’t wish to be like anybody. You are unique; there can never be another you. You can have a mentor in your field when you have located the field but be yourself.
Resist every pressure from any angle to force you into any area you have no interest in, because it is only you that will suffer or regret later.
Take every subject in school seriously. You may not know the area you have passion for.
Achebe would have failed as a medical doctor.