Ruona Agbroko Meyer: Don’t blame family witchcraft: It’s your call (30 Days, 30 Voices)

by Ruona Agbroko Meyer

Ruonah Agbroko Meyer

It is 2008. I am in the Microbiology department of the University of Lagos, Nigeria shaking a blackened test tube over a Bunsen burner. A classmate waves. I shift the wooden tongs to my less-used right hand, and hug her. We make small talk.

It turns out Damilare is here to write an entry exam into a postgraduate degree programme after a year of national service. She sounds sympathetic towards me, telling me ‘God will do it.’ You see, I am still doing the undergraduate degree we both started in 2000.

I spent years in MAULAG-Unilag because I was in a course I never liked.

My father was a journalist but insisted I would not be one. Aged 13, I told him I wanted to choose art-based subjects for my senior years in high school. He refused, telling me journalists were poor. We were indeed poor in material terms. After Father paid tuition for good schools, we often had no money left for frivolities. I won’t say ‘I had no shoes’ (all pun intended) but they mainly came second-hand from Aswani market or were a hand-me-down.

Worse, my father was arrested under the Abacha regime so safety was an issue.

And so I tried to be a doctor, did biology, chemistry…and ended up in the Department of Microbiology.  But journalism was what I wanted. There were students like me who didn’t want to be there. They turned to drugs, drink, paying or sleeping with lecturers. Since I did not have the liver, kidneys or other body parts to sacrifice, I decided that was not the way for me.

I made a conscious decision to pursue my dream. And so, I started writing  my thoughts on the country in a notebook.

They ended up as the column “The Way the Cookie Crumbles” in THISDAY after my father stumbled on the notebook and his colleague Simon Kolawole assured him they were worth publishing. My father insisted I maintain my studies; I lied that I was. I would go off to conduct interviews, write stories and was freelancing, often for free or crap pay. My studies began to suffer. Lecturers saw my feisty spirit as promiscuity. One offered me sex to pass his courses. I told him I would gladly fail honourably. Another told me to my face I was unserious and would never amount to anything. I agreed he was right about the first part; I was not as serious with Microbiology, but I cried all the way home about the rest of his statement.

After a counsellor never showed up at the Student Affairs office, I decided to drop-out. I just didn’t show up at university, but continued to write. By then my career had kicked off.

My mother discovered I was a drop-out when her husband died. Mostly due to emotional blackmail from the woman, I agreed to be bundled into Unilag, made to re-register and finish the course. Because my goal to be a journalist was underway I got on with it, but paid for the tardiness by graduating with a third-class degree.

As soon as I finished, I started working for NEXT newspapers, and shortly after got a Reuters scholarship solely based on my work. Studying for a journalism degree in South

Africa was pure joy. I graduated with a distinction, which had a serendipitous effect; my mother now tells her friends strongly not to pressurize their children into careers.

After a short stint working at Reuters’ Africa headquarters, I moved to London and now…I am an intern with the Financial Times.

Yes… I—the failed Microbiology student—have had the privilege to seat in the same room as Lionel Barber as he chaired an editorial meeting and then practiced subbing on a production desk in the FT newsroom.

Why this long-winded story? Because there were many more confused kids like me back then. They chose self-destruction, blamed Nigeria and family witchcraft. I didn’t.

It’s your call, people. Anything’s possible.

About the author:

Ruona Agbroko Meyer is a journalist, freelance writer and trainer. Her work has been published in THISDAY, NEXT newspapers and news agency Reuters.

She is currently an intern with the Financial Times. And working on removing the 3rd, 4th and 5th words of the previous sentence.

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Comments (15)

  1. very inspiring Rouna……thanks for putting it up.

  2. Read through the story I know a part of already. Was opportuned to study microbiology at almost the same time as Ruona(a year my senior). She always had a mind of her own and am happy that God is granting all her desires. Have also left the microbiology line and am pursuing a career in travel and tourism..following ur dreams is the best thing to do against all odds no matter what anybody says to you…

  3. It takes self examination, courage, determination, discipline n perseverance to conquer n actualise one's dreams.Dis pieceis a good indicator of these attributes n was written from a sincere heart cos am a witness. As d sayin goes "as u make ur bed so u lie on it",our lives reflects ourinputs.Great piece Ruonah well done.

  4. I wish my father could read this piece. I'm a second year student doing something that I was not my choice, this just shows our parents saying they want the best for us, sometimes looks like a statement that's full of contradictions. Big ups 2 the author for doing what she felt was right for her! I respect that.

  5. I wish my father could read this piece. I'm a second year student doing something that I was not my choice, this just shows our parents saying they want the best for us, sometimes looks like a statement that's full of contradictions. Bigs ups 2 the author for doing what she felt was right for her! I respect that.

  6. Hi Ruona, this is a great piece. I would like you to get in touch. we last saw at the Henry Okah Bail application hearing in J'Burg Margistrate Court. I can be reached on [email protected]. Cheers.

  7. Profound and fascinating story you got there, Ruonah. You're still a project in process. The world ain't seen nothing yet. Congrats!!!!!!!

  8. once a failed microbiologist bt now a successful journalist.dis is just an indication dat parents shld allow dere children decide on wotever dey want to do.

  9. Inspirational. Lucky you. The kindred witchcraft were on a long break while you soared. There is a saying in Bini which I will just translate thus: It is in the presence of the chief witch that the Oba is born, nurtured and eventually ascends the throne. Kudos, Ru

  10. It's a remarkable story. Shows that the show is not yet over, and nobody deserves to be written off. Kudos for your courage, it's sorely lacking among our young people.

    1. I can very well relate to her story. I wish many people can read this.

    2. When I read stuff like this, Ayo, I say 'Thank God for recession in Naija!'. It has forced many of us to look deep inside ourselves.

  11. dreams, I meant.

  12. Now, that's some story you have there. Straight from the heart and written with a racy mien. Another evidence that drams come true. Congrats Ruona.

cool good eh love2 cute confused notgood numb disgusting fail