I may have been a fan of Greek mythology, but it didn’t make me any happier when my undergraduate studies became their own twisted version of Hercules’ 12 labors.

My first year, I flunked nearly all my courses, earning myself several extra years of school and an uphill battle to graduate. So I sank even further.

It took me a good three tries before I was able to complete a degree program. The first two rebootings resulted from system failures in the educational institutions I attended. First, my course of study, mass communication at the University of Benin, lost its accreditation. Then my papers mysteriously went missing in a mischievous law program at the University of Lagos in Nigeria notorious for admitting more students than it could accommodate and failing them irrespective of their actual performance.

Eventually, on my third attempt, through sheer stubbornness and persistence — what you need as a Nigerian to succeed in a system eager to chew you up and spit you out with nothing — I began studying law at the University of Lagos through a more reliable program. What’s that they say about the third time being the charm? If by “charm” you mean the kind that the wicked mother-in-law uses in Nollywood movies to poison the new wife she hates, then yes. It was “the charm.”

I should have been excited to get back to my schooling, especially because the law program was one of the most coveted and competitive courses in the country at the time. It was a chance to make up for the hiccups and delays of my previous half-starts.

But instead, I began the program thoroughly numb — because if I had allowed myself to feel anything, the entire frozen core of my being might have shattered from the recent tragedy that had just upended my world.

This was during the Goodluck Jonathan regime of 2011. Insecurity had been enthroned in Nigeria, and kidnapping oil company workers for ransom was the business of the day. As I was about to take my entrance exam for the law program, my father became the latest victim. We paid a sizable ransom after he was kidnapped, but all we got in return was his tortured body, dropped in a field for my mother to find.

Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki.Courtesy Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki

I was eager to get away from the chaos, tragedy and confusion of his death, which devastated my entire family. The University of Lagos, on the other side of the country, did that. But it was a tragedy I couldn’t run away from. Its darkness was something I carried inside me, and my grief almost drowned me in my subsequent years as a student.

My first year was a mess. Our heavily patriarchal society meant my extended family and my father’s relatives blamed my mom for mystically masterminding my father’s death to gain his property.

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