For Florence Didigu, where there’s a will, there is always a way. The Nigerian woman has always considered her father’s ambition of ensuring she bags a doctor of philosophy (PhD) as a fight to finish.
Against all odds, Didigu made history on April 26, after she earned her PhD in communication, culture and media studies, from Howard University in the US, at the age of 73.
The septuagenarian also successfully defended her dissertation and future book titled “Igbo Collective Memory of the Nigeria – Biafra War (1967-1970): Reclaiming Forgotten Women’s Voices and Building Peace through a Gendered Lens.”
Her work reflects on the experiences of Igbo women, who, like herself, survived the Nigeria-Biafra war. The feat, however, came against the backdrop of several challenges.
Didigu, who is the oldest of five sisters, recounted how she lost her parents when she was barely in her second year at the institution — a development, she said left her “deflated.”
“In my second year at Howard, and very close to my screening test, I lost my mother and my father within months,” she told the institution.
“I had to return to Nigeria each time to perform the demanding burial ceremonies for each. I was completely deflated, both physically and emotionally, but I persevered because my father always wanted me to be a ‘Doctor.’”
She also narrated her struggles with shingles — a skin disorder — which affected her face while she also lost her voice at a point.
“I was unable to speak clearly; this was the greatest tragedy of all, since I was teaching a sophomore research course! The day I started speaking again and was discharged from the hospital was a special life moment,” she added.
Didigu, who was once a producer and writer at the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) and a broadcast regulator at the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), went on to recount how her experience of surviving the Nigeria-Biafra war inspired her to surmount the challenges that came her way while pursuing her PhD programme.
“The day the Nigeria-Biafra War ended, I, like everyone was wallowing in anxiety and fear about what would happen to us as the vanquished. A very optimistic gentleman came over to me and asked: ‘Why are you so sad; can’t you see you have survived this terrible war?,’” she said.
“I stood up, even though the Nigerian Airforce was on its last bombing raid, and leaped up in the air in mad glee, repeating to myself and others: ‘Yes, I have survived, I am a survivor!’
“This powerful survival instinct in me, which I call daring, and God’s help, are what made me overcome all personal challenges during my doctoral program and get to where I am today!”
With her PhD under her belt, Didigu appears not to be resting on her laurels as she now plans to become a professor and continue doing research and scholarly writings.
The septuagenarian’s accomplishment comes nearly a month after Austin Chibuike Ikpeama, a young US-based Nigerian, bagged a PhD from the University of the Sciences, Philadelphia, at the age of 24.
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