When I tell people what I first studied, they shudder and wonder how I came to be a writer and speaker. It has been a long period of training in the University of Hard Knocks.  How did I make the U-Turn and transform to follow my passion and talent? I will tell you. Frustration and other factors pushed me to do it.

Even before graduating from UNN, the teaching job stared me in the face. I never liked to be a School Teacher when my mates are Doctors, Engineers, Lawyers, Architects, Pharmacists and Quantity Surveyors. Then me, a science teacher tucked away in one obscure secondary school. No way.  On graduation, getting a job then as a teacher was easy. Science teachers were in hot demand then for secondary schools.

But I already had an exit strategy from teaching which I set in motion during the last months of my National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) period in Jos. Since I did not study a professional course in the university, I wanted to belong to one of the recognized and admirable professions. I never thought of my talent then, just the prestige of belonging, and of becoming a ‘big’ man who is respected. Tall dreams. I wanted badly to be a professional. What is the way out? Sit for professional exams while you work. Which profession? I settled for Marketing. With it, I can at least do business if I take a flight from teaching and I don’t get a good corporate job. Besides, the course would be an easy take for me; after all, I had an ‘A’ in School Certificate Economics subject.

From my monthly allowance as a Youth Corper in 1979, I quickly registered with the Chartered Institute of Marketing, (CIM) UK, as a student and enrolled for correspondence tuition with the International Correspondence Schools (ICS) based in the USA.  So when I started teaching in a secondary school, I used a good part of my salary to sponsor my study of Marketing. The Institute’s exams were taken twice a year, June and November.

Then I would buy British Postal Order with which I paid for my CIM exams. Then the body was not chartered. It was simply, Institute of Marketing, UK. The dream of getting the CIM Diploma, putting the membership initials, MInst.M, after my name and getting a good job in a company with it fascinated me.

I passed most of the courses at first attempt, but Statistics and Financial & Management Accounting gave me tough time. I failed Accounting two times which extended the period of completing the program for me to the June1982 exams. I was desperate to scale over this subject.

My father, now late, saw my desperation and connected me to a Chartered accountant for special tutorials. That professional, I can’t remember his name now, really helped me. I owe him gratitude. When the result got to me in Enugu by post three months later, my hands were trembling as I opened the envelope. My heart beat against my chest so hard I thought I would collapse. An agonizing thought raced through my mind as I was opening that envelope: ‘I hope I won’t take this course a third time.’

As I pulled out the result slip, my eyes flashed to the grade of performance column. I saw  ‘C’ for Management Accounting, a grade of pass which today in most schools in Nigeria is branded, “Let my people go.”

Armed with my Degree, CIM Diploma and Membership, I set my eyes on Lagos. By this time, I had spent two years plus as a science teacher. Not for me anymore. My flight to Lagos, just like the Biblical Moses, was imminent. But where would I work? The chance came when The Guardian went into circulation early 1983, and needed Reporters and Correspondents. I applied, passed through a rigorous interview process, and was employed as Senior Reporter and deployed to the Economy and Business Desk.

Being new to journalism, I had to learn on the job and fast too. The Editors at The Guardian then, were thorough and made us squeeze water out of stone. The job offered me the chance to go into corporate Nigeria and understand how it works. As a business reporter, I covered many company Annual General Meetings (AGMs), many press conferences, business lunches and dinners, and rose through the ranks to Finance Correspondent, and Acting Economy & Business Editor.

When the financial newspaper, Guardian Financial Weekly was floated in 1987, I was made the Deputy Editor.. That increased my profile. I was barely six months on the job when I left The Guardian stable in 1988 to become Editor of Financial Post (FP), Nigeria’s first business magazine.

It was at the Financial Post that I discovered the Rod in my hand. Years later I found my way into BUSINESSDAY (BDAY). BDAY was a pleasant place to work. There I met many young reporters full of promise. It was at BDAY that my junior colleagues branded me, Uncle Eric. The name quickly caught on. It was at this stable that I went beyond reporting and editing and began the gradual transformation into a storyteller, and later matured into the Brand Storyteller and Motivational Speaker. On the internet, I came in contact with a Malaysian storyteller, Aneeta Sundararaj, who veered off from practicing the Medico Law she studied at Master’s level in England and plunged into storytelling.

It was a chance meeting and I felt challenged. She had just started to publish an internet newsletter on storytelling and enlisted my support to repackage it. We did and came out with the Great Storytelling Network. I have been writing for this newsletter since 2005

(8 February 2012)

Eric Okeke is a storyteller, editor, business writer, motivational speaker and author of the best selling book: I Want a Husband. He is one of Nigeria’s most experienced financial journalists. He has published several articles in local and foreign publications and in websites such as http://www.ezinearticles.com, www.ezinearticles.com and www.writingcareer.com. He is currently running Infomedia Company, a media consulting and information marketing company. Visit his blog at http://sallywantsahusband.blogspot.com

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