Monday, 18 April 2016


Mrs. Joan Oji is one of the most inspiring persons I have ever encountered. There is so much to drink from her fountain of knowledge. She is someone you want to spend a minimum of one hour every day with because she has so much to offer you intellectually and spiritually. From a lowly background, she has risen to become a PHD student with 8 daughters who are all professionals.

Enjoy her interview and be inspired.

My name is Joanah Iheomakanihu Oji (nee Amaechi Okparaeze). My popular name is Joan Oji (a.k.a Grandma International). I am a Knight of St. Mary the Mother of Jesus (KSM) in the Anglican Diocese of Isuikwuato-Umunneochi, Aba Ecclesiastical Province, Church of Nigeria.

Congratulations for being made a knight in the Anglican Church however some people feel that these positions are reserved for rich people and only a few people get it by merit. What is your reaction?
Prior to my investiture I also thought people applied or lobbied for knighthood or rich people alone were so recognised. My case proved everything I held to be true all wrong. I was nominated by my local parish priest, Rev Canon Stanley Anyanwu and the Bishop approved it.

I once read from you when you said you served as a maid but here you are with a first class, done your masters and currently ding your PHD. How did these come about?
I was a maid after the Civil War but I ran away each time due to maltreatment. After three attempts with 3 mistresses, I was left with no option than to marry which I did at age 16.

After my first baby I threatened to run away if I was not sent to school. Before my husband could start an argument I ran to hide in a neighbour's house leaving our daughter with him until evening. We later struck a deal: that he would enrol me in RRC and teach me other subjects to prepare for the TC II as an external candidate. I passed the exam in 2 years and got a job at age 19 with the qualification! By age 20 I was appointed a headmistress!

Encouraged by my success Mazi persuaded me to pursue my NCE by Correspondence Course. For the next 5 long vacations I attended ATC Zaria 1979 -1983 and obtained NCE (English/Primary Education) with Distinction in English and Practical Teaching, B in the other 2 papers. I did NYSC in my school in Domain (Nasarawa State) but discrimination against non-indigenes forced me to resign. I applied for Direct Entry to ABU and was taken for BEd Language Arts (2-yr course). I graduated in 1987 with First Class and Dean's Prize for the Best All-Round Student in the Faculty. By then my children had increased to six.

I declined their offer to retain me because my children were suffering at Keffi and #1 was already in Junior Secondary School. That's why I also didn't pursue higher qualifications either; my girls needed me in their puberty. I sacrificed my teens and twenties so that they could enjoy theirs!

You had 8 girls during the time having only girls in Igboland was not favourably viewed, how did you feel during that time? Were you under pressure to have a boy?
Between age 17 and age 36 I conceived 8 times, had normal delivery 8 times, and all 8 babies turned out one gender. I felt God was saying something and I needed to hear it. It didn't bother my husband to the point of second wife nor did we listen to suggestions to adopt a son.

You have 8 girls who are all professionals; doctor, lawyer etc. How did that happen?
So we focused on giving them the much education we could afford which was LEA and GSS. I have a book coming out on or before my 60th birthday on how we raised them. Suffice it to say that they inherited above average IQ. That explains the courses they pursued and their excellence in them. The last born grabbed a First Class in Accounting at age 21, deleting my much flaunted First Class at age 30.

Almost all your girls are married. I attended two of them. What is the secret?

On marriage, I think it's God that takes the credit. But then we brought them up as wife-materials; so they knew we looked forward to their espousals. God be praised, 6 are married, 2 on the rack awaiting buyers! Lol

You were married for many years before your husband unfortunately died, having never remarried, what are the things militating against widows?
I was married for 34 years to a family betrothed man (We are distantly related). He trained me to earn a living from teen age. I was 50 when he died, after a protracted illness that lasted 10 years. I was already living like a widow before I became one, so it felt normal. But it's not the same with the typical Igbo widow; some widowhood practices are horrible! My people are different and I bless God for my in-laws.

Young widows should be encouraged to remarry. That's my take.

Recently feminism has been on the front burner, what is your reaction to it?
Feminism is a term I've encountered in the course of studying and teaching. I believe children irrespective of gender deserve love and care. Treating boys as superior to girls is what has brought on this gender activism. Having said that, I don't believe that everything a man can do a woman can do too! It's not true. Let men play their role as heads and let women play theirs as necks! Datsall.

You have worked as a civil servant for years. What advice will you give to anybody who wants to join the civil service?
I have been in active public service since 1976 (40 years and counting), but it was all as junior, intermediate, level. When we left the services of Old Plateau State to join the FCDA in 1991 all my previous years were thrown away and I was employed as a 'fresh graduate' at age 34. Civil Service can mess you up if you don't have a personal vision for yourself. I am junior in rank to those who were still in primary/secondary school when I left college. But I thank God that I've never doctored my date of birth, so I'm looking forward to retirement next year. Then my plan B will kick off, God being my Helper.

You are an enigma, an editor, an author, have good grasp of French and Spanish and now started what you call a language clinic. My question is how did you find the energy to do all these? What gives for you to achieve all these?  
In the course of raising these girls I participated in the Technical Aid Corps (TAC) Volunteer scheme. For two years I lived and worked in Equatorial Guinea teaching English as a Foreign Language to Pre-University students. With little to do after work I enrolled for French and Spanish at two different centres. Then I added Computer applications course Saturdays. By the time my two years were over I had diploma in Spanish and Level 2 certificate in French. Of course I type all my books, documents, projects by myself. I am an indoors person, except for Church programmes. That's why I can teach, edit, proofread loads of materials. I don't go visiting friends, don't like shopping, not into foods and drinks,... I am comfortable in my own skin, love my company of books, magazines, documentaries, biographies, etc. I hate movies.

If young unmarried women want your advice, what most crucial advice will you give them?
My advice to young unmarried ladies is: get educated and skilled too. Go for the sterner stuff; I told my girls, no 'feminine' subjects! When you are a graduate of a discipline in high demand you cannot be unemployable.

What does Dame Joan Oji want to be remembered for and when is her autobiography coming out?
I want to be remembered as the orphan who fought stereotypes and prejudices and won! I am a radical with reason.

As for my autobiography? I shall live long, by God's grace. I'm scribbling something on early marriage, which I hope to release on my 60th next year. But I know that my children and grandchildren will also write about me at the appropriate time. Suffice it the say that I am a work in progress, a story waiting to be told.

Thank you. You have done well

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