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Professor Grace Otinwa: “Even as a professor, I still kneel down to greet my husband”

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Professor Grace Otinwa is a professor of Exercise Physiology and the immediate past Head of Department, Faculty of Education, University of Lagos. In a chat with Ademola Olonilua and Toluwalope Kareem, she talks about life within and outside the four walls of the university

How did you start your career?

I have been teaching for the past 27 years. I started from the Lagos State College of Education, (now Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education), Ijanikin before I moved to the University of Lagos where I have spent two decades. I started my career as a Lecturer Two and rose through the ranks to become a professor. I have served the university in various capacities; as a lecturer, head of department, housemistress and also I have been on the board of some committees in the university. I am a member of the Senate in the university. I am also the regional vice president of the International Council of Health, Physical Education, Recreation, Sports and Dance. At the international level, I am referred to as the regional vice president even though I am more like the African president.

Why did you choose human kinetics?

Initially, I didn’t choose human kinetics and health education; it was called physical education then. But one of my brothers who took interest in me felt that I was going to do well in physical education. I wanted to study Christian Religious Studies, but as God would have it, I was offered admission into the College of Education which was affiliated to Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. As time went on, I picked interest in the course and I was quite resolute and determined to excel and God granted me the grace, and I was able to do well. Upon the conclusion of my NCE, I decided to do my degree programme at the main campus of Ahmadu Bello University for two years before I attended the University of Ibadan for my Masters and PhD.

Have you always wanted to be a teacher in life?

I had expressed love to teach at the tertiary level. I remember when we were employed by the Oyo State government to teach in secondary schools, I turned it down because I was determined to teach at the tertiary level. But having said that, my first teaching experience was at a primary school in Bauchi State, I taught there when I completed my post-primary education at the Teachers’ Training College. Also, during my National Youth Service Corps year, I was posted to teach at the Nigerian Army School, Jos. So, I had taught before I bagged a job at the tertiary level and that has given me a balance in my career.

How would you describe your experience the first time you taught in a lecture room?

It was fun and exciting because I was young, vibrant, and single at that time. I had all it took to prepare myself to go into the lecture room and deliver lectures to my students. I was so confident of myself, I wasn’t naive and this made me to be able to interact with the students.

Do you do any other side jobs apart from lecturing?

I do not have any side job because the kind of work I do doesn’t allow me to do any side job. In this profession, we have three folds of assignment; teaching, research and community projects. So for me, the only thing I do apart from teaching is to write books. Of course, you cannot be promoted without conducting research and publication of your research reports. And also community projects, I serve on the board of different schools. I am really too preoccupied to have a side job.

Professor Grace Otinwa

Is your husband a professor?

No, he isn’t, he is a civil engineer.

So how does he feel with you being a professor?

My husband and I have come a long way in our relationship, and I can tell you that he is a wonderful husband. We met at our school fellowship at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. Till today, I do not know how he spotted me but his friend assisted him in approaching me. When we started talking, he was a bit reserved towards me because I resided in Lagos but with time, he saw that I was different from the typical Lagos girls. I had to pray about our relationship for a while and I did not accept his advances until I was convinced that it was ordained by God. I would say that God just made our path to be loving and peaceful and till date, I am still amazed at the way my husband professes his love for me. We still love ourselves like teenagers. We go out very often for dinner and lunch dates with or without our children. One thing I have discovered from the Bible is that as women, we need to submit to our husbands. When we started, it was not easy but I realised that he really loves me and that made our marriage easy. I do not find it difficult to go on my two knees to greet my husband even though I am a professor. It has nothing to do with being a professor but about my character as a person.

He is really supportive, he is not jealous of my progress; rather he encourages me to do more so that I can reach higher height in my career. He also picks interest in domestic chores, so when I am busy, he is there to assist me. Since my profession involves travelling for some time, he understands that it is part of my job. Some of my friends call him HOP which means head or husband of professor, so they also call him professor.

I give my husband the respect that he deserves. He believes in me and trusts with everything, including our finances. He reciprocates the respect I give him with deep understanding and career support. I would tell you it is not easy to be a professor. It takes a lot of work.

So it doesn’t feel awkward to relate with your husband who is not a professor?

I do not find it difficult to go on my knees to greet my husband, because he is worth it. I count myself lucky and blessed to have an understanding man like him. I respect him so much and he equally reciprocates. My husband is my head and I don’t deny it, I have been totally submissive to him. He has been a pillar of support when it was rough and when it was good.

There is a general belief that women choose to be in the education field so they can cater for the family; was this the case with you?

My choice of study was triggered by my brother. Becoming a professor wasn’t an easy task because I had a family to cater for but with God, I was able to strike a balance in all aspects of my life which includes my occupation and family. With the help of my husband, we have been able to raise our kids properly. I am very conscious of time management and that is why I have my to-do list which is daily, monthly and yearly which I usually pen down.

How would you describe your family?

We are a very close knit family. I enjoy being with my family. I must spend time with my family in the morning before leaving for work and late in the evening; we go out on dates and hang out to have fun. We always inform ourselves about our daily activities. I do not have a social club, so my family is my social club. We share a really close bond.

Are you a fashionable person?

Honestly, there was a point in my career when I found it difficult to socialise. However, I still find time to socialise; I attend social events especially weddings, and if there are funerals or any other event, I also attend. I am not a big fan of applying make-up on my face and my definition of make-up is to do my hair and rub white powder on my face, not this generation’s definition of make-up. It is too late for me to start applying make-up on my face and this is a choice that I have made. Even if I want to do it, I would look too strange and different. There was an occasion whereby my children called a make-up artist for me and when I saw myself in the mirror, I saw a different person and as soon as I saw my husband, he said, ‘this is not you.’ I went to wipe everything off. It gave me a facelift that made me feel as if I had betrayed myself. I don’t condemn those who do make-up because as a Christian, it is not a sin. I just believe that it is not a part of me probably because I did not grow up with it. Also, because of my time management skill, I consider it a waste of time. I cannot invest an hour in painting my face. I know some friends and family members that spend as much as two hours applying make-up on their face. I cannot imagine myself committing 30 minutes to apply make-up on my face alone. I can spend that time learning the word of God or do something more valuable. I do a lot of exercises and I consider it more important than make-up. I am not saying that applying make-up is bad but it is temporary while exercises leave a permanent impression on the body.

Professor Grace Otinwa

What were some of the challenges you faced with co-workers while you were the head of department, especially being a woman?

Being a professor is a leadership position where you are saddled with the responsibility of mentoring younger academics. There are challenges you will face especially being a woman, there are interpersonal challenges that occur on a daily basis, people would envy you. But I have been able to overcome them by the word of God, and I have been able to manage the excesses of people. I just try and accommodate and help them to mature to the point of understanding when they display all manner of jealousy and falsehood.

What do you have to say about the issue of sexual harassment, especially on the recent sex for mark case in OAU, Ife?

I was a victim of sexual harassment as a student at my NCE level, sadly, I least expected it from the lecturer. I don’t know how God gave me the boldness to deal with him because he was so ashamed of himself. Sexual harassment is as old as man, it has been in existence and I don’t think it has stopped, but what happened in Ife would teach many people that they will learn their lesson the hard way. However, our young ladies should not also expose themselves and be a sneer for men, by their style of dressing, poor attendance in lectures and their mannerism.

If not teaching, what other jobs would you have opted for?

I have worked for over 20 years and I am passionate about teaching. I believe that God has deposited so much in me to offer this generation. Maybe as one grows older, I may think of a change in career, but not right now. I am enjoying my teaching career, even though it has its challenges like sleepless nights, reading publications, doing researches, etc. At a point in time, the thought of relocating to another country came to me but for now, that is not possible, maybe later.

Can you remember the first time you introduced your husband to your family?

I was scared. The fear of what they would say was constantly ringing in my head. I came from a well-disciplined home and I am the last child. At a point, I moved in with my elder brother because they felt my parents over pampered me and they didn’t want that to continue. I shared my plans for marriage with my brothers, then I was put on the hot seat. We had a question and answer session before they agreed to meet with my husband. I took my husband home to introduce him to the family and also he did the same to me.

While you were in school, were you a bookworm or you had a social life as well?

I would say I had two lifestyles; I was committed to my studies and my faith. For me, once I am committed, I don’t easily get distracted and because I had a target of becoming the best, it was more of reading, lectures and attending church services. I didn’t socialise at all. I am not the outgoing type of person. I prefer to be indoors while working behind the scene.

What is the hardest thing about being a lecturer?

The hardest thing is the act of conducting research and publications, maybe meeting up with deadlines.

What do you do in your free time?

I actually do not have a free time, except that I love to do my exercise, singing, reading books, praying as my hobbies.

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