Part of our mandate in Afroscandic is to celebrate the accomplishments of Africans and Scandinavians whose success stories inspire and remind us of the greatness we all have trapped inside of us.
The story of a Nigerian and African Professor, Augustine Arukwe, in Norway is one accomplishment that throws down the gauntlet to young Africans who aspire to dream that if they walk in the direction of their dreams, there’s a great possibility they could achieve them. Here is his story:
Afroscandic: May we meet you Professor Augustine Arukwe?
Thank you for reaching out to me for this interview. I’m just a normal guy who came to Norway 23 years ago to pursue my academic career.
Afroscandic: How has the journey been for you?
The journey’s been interesting and of course challenging. My observation is that there is a lot in us as human beings, and if you believe you can do something, the basis is there for you to do it. There is more to us as human beings that we know; when we are made to see it, we won’t be willing to settle for less. I came to Norway as a student and that was my driving force. I’m grateful that I succeeded and that’s how the journey has been.
Afroscandic: What were the challenges you faced in this journey?
Coming from a country like Nigeria to a foreign country where your family isn’t there for you, you’re more on your own. You then have to develop your own network knowing that you no longer have the social network you’ve been used to. So, you have to be your man or woman to survive. And then being a black man in a white man’s country didn’t make it any easy. But I must confess that if you believe in the possibilities that Norway provides, you can survive. Apart from the social network challenges, there was this issue of language differences which cannot be underestimated.
Nowadays in my university, we have international programmes for international students that are taught in English because of the globalisation of the world. But when I came here, there was nothing like that. I had to follow lectures in the Norwegian language, which sometimes then, I sit down there in class and hope to make something out of what was being said. However, I had to enrol in a language school which helped me a lot because having the ability to communicate in the local language can take one further as it makes it easier for one to form his/her own social network, communicate fruitfully with people and it could even enhance one’s chances at employment.
Afroscandic: How were you able to survive?
In Norway, you can get study loan. I had to get a study loan to study for three years. However, after I finished my programme at the District University, I didn’t get a study loan again when I moved to the University of Bergen. It was very challenging for me then because I had to study and then still go out to look for menial jobs. But that experience made me strong.
Afroscandic: Did you ever dream to become an academic?
Honestly, I don’t think it is possible to come this far by accident because this is a journey and when the journey gets tough, the only thing that moves you forward is your desire to make it. So for me, I didn’t plan to get this far but I had a personal desire to be somebody. So being a professor happened because I was taking my hurdles one step at a time.
Afroscandic: How has been a black man affected your work and relationship with your white colleagues?
Honestly, I do not think my colleagues look at me as a black man because we have a good working environment in Norway but of course, it’s always a situation that you see in the whole populace. What I mean is this, regardless of how people want to be colourblind, they can’t help but notice that one is different. But sometimes it is important to decide whether you’re going to use your being different to your advantage or disadvantage. But again I have to emphasise the fact that coming far in this country tells a lot of good about Norway. I do not think there’s a better place to succeed than in this country if you really want to succeed. Firstly, in Norway, education is free and it is like that in most Scandinavian countries with a few exception where very modest fees are introduced.
Afroscandic: What advice do you have for young Africans who desire to come to this country?
When I came to Norway, I went to a language school and I attended a District University in a remote area in Western Norway. It took me another one year to see a black man in that community. The closest I came to a black man was a Moroccan guy who later became my roommate. The District University was 10 hours’ drive from Oslo. But I was not discouraged because I reminded myself that I came to Norway to study and that was my personal drive. My advice to young Africans is that they should reject the myth that older Africans have created that there is a glass ceiling somewhere. I believe that the younger generation of Africans can do well if they try. There’s no better place to survive in my opinion because here education is like a human right.
But it will be foolhardy to think that prejudice will disappear in Norway or in any society for that matter. If it is not prejudice against colour, it could be prejudice against gender. I have experiences but why they don’t affect me is that I consider them to be the offenders’ ignorance at work. Wherever people experience prejudice, the modus operandi is always the same: it tries to tell someone that he/she is worth nothing and this systematically makes people unable to prove otherwise. But in Norway, there is no systematic process to prove that people are not worth anything. It doesn’t exist. So, while there might never be a Norwegian society without prejudice, it is not a prejudice that comes from the top level of the system, it’s just individual prejudice. And because of that, it shouldn’t stop anybody from reaching their objectives. And I just hope that the younger generation will look at someone like me and say, “If he could it, I can do it too.”
Afroscandic: If you were to advise businesses and investors in Africa to invest in the Scandinavia, which sectors or industries would you advise them to invest in?
Well, among others, the area I think that they can invest is in green technology. We have a lot of natural, mineral and human resources that we are yet to take advantage of in Africa. Here in the Scandinavia, they have the expertise and are open to giving out this expertise. A symbiotic relationship should develop on this premise.
Afroscandic: What future do you see for the Nigerian nation as it strives to make a mark on the global market?
I will direct my question to the Nigerian nation. I have been to different countries of the world, and my observation is that there’s no place you get to or visit, if there are two African intellectuals there, one must be a Nigerian. Personally, the strongest future I see for Nigeria is when it tries to harness the intellectual resources of its people. There are too many Nigerians who are so good with what they are doing outside the shores of the country, and these people have a lot to offer the country only and only if the environment is made conducive for them. That is a future that Nigeria has not been able to take advantage of and I hope it happens sooner than later.
Afroscandic: What do you love about your job and do you hope to return to Nigerian soon?
My job gives me the opportunity to impart knowledge because knowledge not shared is in reality worth nothing. I love the idea of teaching and research. I’m in Biology but I do my research mostly in environmental sciences. And I love that a lot. Also, I’ve been involved in several capacity building projects in South Africa, Vietnam and some in Nigeria where I basically teach, set up labs and teach people to take environmental issues seriously. These activities give me a lot of satisfaction. Well, I will love to return to Nigeria someday to contribute in a capacity that will be strong enough to develop academic capabilities in Nigeria and anytime I have the opportunity, I will like to do it, whether in the educational sector or environmental science sector so that I can give back to the system.
Afroscandic: What is personal life to you and how do you relax after a hard day’s job?
Well, I am a father of two young children and I relax by dragging my kids to the same activities every day. I also love cooking because it helps me to refocus particularly when the family loves my food. That gives me a lot of satisfaction. But all in all, my job and my family are two faces of the same coin. I need my job to keep my family and I need my family to keep my job because I don’t think if I don’t have my job that I will be comfortable to be with. They are dependent on each other. By the way, I love cooking Nigerian and Norwegian dishes. May be it’s because they say research scientists are good cooks because it has to do with recipes.
Afroscandic: Thank you Professor for sharing your time and experiences with us.
Professor, Augustine Arukwe: Thank you for giving me the opportunity.
By Mr. Samuel O. Alli, Publisher, Afroscandic.
Afroscandic – Celebrating and Connecting Africa and Scandinavia.