I never knew how similar my experience was to other winners of the Mike Okonkwo Essay Competition for Secondary Schools until I had the opportunity of meeting some past winners for the first time recently in Lagos. As each past winner narrated his experience, I could see myself in their shoes, much more for me being the only winner of a scholarship through the competition so far.
It all began sometime in early 2005 when I was going through some newspapers in the library after a Press Club meeting. Being the president of the club in my school then, I would normally stay behind after meetings and read newspapers to keep myself informed of the latest happenings around the world.
In the process of reading the papers, I came across an advert about the essay competition. I had never heard about it before then but I decided to give it a trial since I was used to writing topical news commentaries for our biweekly newscasts in the school. I sent my entry by post and forgot about it.
I was surprised to be invited for a written interview on July 22, 2005 at the The Redeemed Evangelical Mission (TREM) Headquarters in Lagos. We wrote a second essay and left though I wasn’t too expectant especially given that the essays would be marked by a professor of English from the University of Lagos. How on earth can one ever impress a professor of English?
To make matters worse, I’m not a member of TREM, the church whose bishop was organising the essay. Even my family members and friends advised me not to expect too much because no church would organise a competition and allow a non-member to win it.
Then it happened. My school principal summoned me to his office one day in August and asked if I entered for any essay competition. The result was out in the newspapers and I was the first prize winner. I could not believe it. It was like a midday dream. Well, it was real and the prize giving day was fixed for September 1, 2005.
Meanwhile, another set of deception theorists came up. According to their submissions, I would be asked to agree joining TREM before receiving the award. Of course, I made up my mind not to agree to any such demand. If I wanted to join any church, it cannot be because of any financial considerations. Anyway, the theorists had a point. After all, in most other denominations in the country, a competition like that can only be participated in by registered members of the church.
Well, Bishop Mike Okonkwo has a vision that extends beyond the confines of his church. Nobody ever asked me about my denomination. The greatest shocker came during the Lecture/Award ceremony when Bishop Okonkwo announced that he was going to give a birthday gift of a scholarship to me throughout my university education. Again, it sounded too good to be true.
I’m now in my final year in the university and have collected the final grant without any hitches, delays or questions about my denomination. A truly Christian approach to doing things, one may say.
Besides the financial benefits, the essay provided me the opportunity of knowing some wonderful persons that have affected my life positively. For me, that is worth more than any financial benefits attached to the essay competition.
As I look back at the past four years, I cannot but thank God and Bishop Okonkwo for the opportunity to participate in this incredibly wonderful essay competition.