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Nneka Mefoh, creative, scholarly enterprising

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IF you call Nneka Mefoh, the Substantive Rector, Anambra State Polytechnic, Mgbakwu, ‘Madam Agriculture’, that means you know her not just because she headed the school in the days it was called College of Agriculture before its elevation into a polytechnic. But because she is someone, notwithstanding her educational qualifications, that is passionate about agriculture. To her, agriculture is rather passion than hobby.

   She is a farmer to the core, does lots of farm work – crop, livestock and so on. Some people call her ‘Madam Cassava’ because they have seen her carrying cassava cuttings, and sometimes, plantain suckers.

Dr. Mefoh, besides her career as a civil servant, lecturer, educationist and farmer, is an entrepreneur. She teaches people how to develop entrepreneurial mindset, and maintains that whatever is anyone’s educational qualification or discipline studied, that anyone living in the geo-political space called Nigeria requires an entrepreneurial mindset to succeed.

Dr Mefoh recalls a particular childhood experience that has stuck to her memory. It happened when she was between three and four years old. “My mother had just finished cooking. I pestered her to give me fish, and she refused. She took the pot of stew and fish inside the room.

I was crying and following her. She kept the pot of stew beside the cupboard and the fish on top. When she left, I climb the cupboard to take some fish and fell into the pot of stew.

My buttocks landed inside the pot of stew. My mother picked me, she was beating me and at the same time, pouring cold water on me and treating me. I don’t ever forget the experience.”

For her love for education, she resolved not to marry until she obtained her master’s degree. Suitors did come in their numbers but she maintained her stand. It got to a point that her mother asked if she didn’t want to get married. Her mother never knew her target, and often, she told the mother that it was not yet time.

The Ogidi, Idemili North Local Government Area born Mefoh, is the second in a family of six.  She grew up in a home that was accommodating. Her parents housed many people living with them before the advent of the Nigerian Civil War, and that imparted unto her that she resolved to accommodate people wherever she found herself.

At the outbreak of the war, her family relocated from Umuahia to their hometown, Ogidi, where she started her primary school at Oye Ogidi Central School. She did her secondary education at Girls High School, Umunya, and proceeded to University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where she earned her first degree in Vocational Education, majoring in Home Economics. She obtained Masters in Dietetics and PhD. in Human Nutrition from the same university.

From human angle, Dr. Mefoh had her parents as the greatest influence in her life. Her late father, Chief Christopher Onyechi, popularly known as ‘Hope in God’ was not well educated but loved education so much. He hadn’t the opportunity to attend secondary school.

But obtained Standard Six of old. He went into learning a job and became auto mechanic and driver par excellence. “He swore that he was going to sacrifice everything to make sure that he gave his children sound education.

Then my mother, on her part, didn’t have any opportunity of any formal education but loved education too. She told me that while she nursed her first baby, a man asked her rudely, “see how you are attending to a baby, can you write your name?”

“She was shocked and the next day, she went and registered under adult education. That was how she learnt how to read and write.

 She loved education and said all her children must be well educated. This background spurred me into what I’m doing today. They gave me that foundation; saw me through primary to my first degree. From that, I got the inspiration of going further.

When I was doing my first degree, I told myself that I won’t stop until I get my PhD. The inspiration that I got when I was young – how my parents valued education, instilling morals into me, was the best legacy that can come from any human being.”

She attributes other influences to such people as the late Ikemefuna Obizoba, a professor of Human Nutrition at the University of Nigeria (UNN), while doing her first degree, for imparting so much knowledge into her.

 “As a young girl, I saw this man as a model. He talked to students as brother, father and chaplain. I loved everything about this man’s way of life and I promised myself that I would treat people the way he treated others.

Incidentally, he became my supervisor for my Master’s and PhD. and that brought me closer to him. I valued every teaching he gave me, he inspired me so much.”

I also met another young lady while growing up- the wife of my first cousin, Mrs. Nkoli Onyechi, former Registrar, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, popularly known as ‘Moma Enkay’.

When I finished my secondary school education, I had the opportunity of spending my holiday with her family. I spent three months with her and saw how she handled her home, office, people in the neighbourhood, society, and church activities and I told myself that I would like to be like her when I get married. I learnt so much about family from her and until date, she is a mentor to me. “

The one year National Youth Service Scheme took her to Sokoto, with her place of primary assignment at Sokoto Hotels Limited in 1988. She didn’t get a job after her NYSC programme, so she had to enrol under National Directorate of Employment (NDE),

Special Public Works Programme, an NDE programme for graduates and was deployed to Anambra State Task Force on Food Processing and Preservation Storage, Government House, Enugu, in Old Anambra State. She was there for eight months, before being transferred to Water Corporation, Enugu.

While at Water Corporation, still under the NDE  programme, she started her Master’s degree, a programme she was doing when she got a job at UNN, as Master grade II, at University Secondary School, Nsukka, teaching Home Economics in 1990.

She left the school in 1992 to start work at College of Education Ehamufu, now Federal College of Education, Ehamufu, as Lecturer II, teaching Home Economics. Due to the crisis of indigenisation after the splitting of old Anambra State, she was redeployed to Anambra State and was posted to Anambra College of Agriculture, Igbariam, in 1992, where she was until date.

In 2007, the College was relocated to Mgbakwu. At relocation of the College from Igbariam to Mgbakwu, she became the acting provost and acted in that capacity until 2017, when Gov Obiano upgraded the school to a Polytechnic and she became the acting Rector, until 2018, when she was made Substantive Rector.

“Before we relocated to Mgbakwu, we had just a department and that is Agricultural Technology in National Diploma that wasn’t accredited and a Pre-ND programme. In fact, when we relocated, we had just a population of 11 students, four ND I, five ND II and three Pre-ND students. It was as bad as that because, the college was close to closure for it to give way to Anambra State University.

 The pendulum swung between closing the college or not. But the people at the Ministry of Agriculture, kicked against the idea, they argued that the state needed middle level manpower produced by the College. It was approved that the college relocates while the university takes off.”

In 2011, the school introduced four other departments and had its first accreditation with two programmes accredited, the first time the name of the school appeared in JAMB brochure. In 2012, two more programmes were accredited making it four. As a Polytechnic, the institution has 12 National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) accredited programmes with four schools as at 2019.

Dr. Mefoh draws inspiration from success. She is of the school of thought that believes that success in view is a tonic for inspiration. “For instance, when we got to Mgbakwu in 2017, there was no building, classroom block, no staff offices, so we started dreaming of how to come out of the situation.

We made enquiries and visited several schools. It gave me idea, and I started working with the hope that one day, we will succeed. I always believe in putting in my best to any assignment. I believe that when I put in my best with God on my side, it will birth success that others will benefit from, though it may delay. Like every other thing, we suffered for the 12 years, but look at where we are today, we have a polytechnic.

The indefatigable Rector is a firm believer in hard work. “Put in your best at every moment and leave the rest to God. Just as the Bible says, the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong but God that shows mercy. You can put in much effort and at the end of the day, you have nothing to show for it.”

Her projection for the school is that in the next three years, that the polytechnic should have three more schools making it seven schools, with more student population and international assistance.

The Rector commended Gov Obiano for being supportive and for upgrading the school’s status to a polytechnic. “We wrote a memo to him explaining the benefit of upgrading the school to a polytechnic. He read it and accepted it and here we are today. Since then, he has been supporting us.

He has just given birth to a new baby (Anambra State Polytechnic). When you give birth to a baby, you have to nurture the baby. He should continue the good works. He inspires us. He said, he wanted to get the first graduates from the school before he leaves office. He said he wanted to attend their convocation.”

For the backbiters, arrogant and lazy people, they have no idea how Dr. Mefoh detest such attitude. “You show love to somebody, you help somebody, he or she stabs you on the back. I keep praying that once I experience that, I push it aside that it doesn’t affect my relationship with others. Another thing that puts her  off is laziness.

“I see lazy people as dangerous elements. I don’t encourage laziness.  Get busy; when you are working, your mind works. When you are busy, there is every tendency you won’t have time for things that don’t matter.”

For Dr. Mefoh, life is a passage, a platform to play your part, “treat everyone you meet with love and care. Do the best for people even for those who don’t understand or appreciate it. Sow the seed of love, faithfulness, anywhere you find yourself. Be the sower, because as you sow, God will make one or two to fall on fertile ground.”

She is married to Emeka Mefoh, a retired civil servant, who she described as a lovable, supportive and understanding husband; always encouraging her in her works, especially trying to make the polytechnic work. “If not for his kind of person, I don’t know how the domestic angle would have been.” She is married with four children.

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