I teach macroeconomics in a college during the day, sell flame-grilled fish at night

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Where I come from – Creek Town, Cross River State, Nigeria – the first son of the family bears the father’s name. That is why my name is Esiet Esien Esiet. My father’s name is Ita Esien Esiet. Most people from Cross River State would spell their Esiet and Esien with single ‘s’ while the ones from Akwa Ibom State add another ‘s’ – Essiet and Essien. I was not just the first son; I was also the first of six children – four males and two females.

I was born (in 1965) and bred in Ibadan.

My father worked as a secretary at the Institute of Agriculture Research and Training (IAR&T), Moor Plantation, Apata, Ibadan, affiliated to the University of Ife (later renamed Obafemi Awolowo University), Ile-Ife; so, my early life revolved around Apata and Odo Ona (a contiguous area).

I first attended St Paul’s Anglican Primary School, at Odo Ona, then finished at ICC (Ibadan City Council) Primary School, which shares boundary with Queen’s School, Apata. Initially, I was to go to ICC, because my father felt it was a better school, but in those days if the fingers of your right (left) hand did not touch your left (right) ear, then you are not qualified to start primary school. I was rejected at ICC because of that, and I was just five years old anyway, but got admitted to St Paul’s. Oh well. (Might be) because we were members of the St Paul’s Anglican Church. By the way, I was, for many years, the church’s cross bearer.

I speak Yoruba fluently, and also Efik, because both my father – now late – and mother – who was a full time housewife before she went into petty trading, and from Calabar Main Town – spoke Efik to us at home.

To attend secondary school, I tried several schools, including Federal Government College Odogbolu, where I got up to being interviewed, but was not selected. I also tried Loyola College. I was successful with Olivet Baptist High School, Oyo (founded on 29 January 1945 by Oyo and American Baptist missions) and was admitted there in 1976.

Interestingly, my father took me there on his motorcycle. Well, I was used to riding behind him on the bike in Ibadan, but that was the first time, we would go on such a long distance – fifty-eight kilometres.

I remember that the Yoruba Leader Chief Reuben Fasoranti was the principal, the year before my admission. During our first two years, the principal was Chief S. O. Omitade and he was succeeded by Chief. J. I. Popoola.

I also remember that we would go to a town called Ilora to drink palm wine and return to school.

I was really an average student.

I remember that in my fourth year, I had to switch from Class 4A to 4B, because in 4A which was for science students, agriculture – which I wanted to take during the school certificate examination – was not (one of the subjects being taught).

From Olivet, I got admitted in 1981 to study for a national diploma (ND) in agriculture at the College of Agriculture, Akure (now managed by the Agriculture Research Council of Nigeria).

Along the line, there were vacancies for assistant-agricultural superintendent-in-training, I applied, and was successful. (That is how my career in the College of Agriculture started till date).

After bagging the ND in 1983, I had to work for three years. I got admission to go for the higher national diploma (HND), which then was being offered at Moor Plantation, Ibadan. I wanted to go with ‘Study Leave With Pay’ but it was not approved. I applied in 1986 to go without pay, and it was also turned down, as they said, ‘based on recommendation.’

I had the option of resigning or continuing with my job (of agriculture superintendent) but I was also the family’s breadwinner. Remember that I was the first child. I had my siblings’ (welfare to take care of).

I decided that (instead of pursuing the HND, I could as well repackage myself and go for a degree, while still working). I had had four credits in the West African School Certificate Examination(WASCE), so I decided to go for extra-mural studies (which was being run by the Ondo State Government in Oke-Aro, Akure, here) and I enrolled for JAMB (Joint Admission Matriculation Board) and chose economics at Ondo State University. I decided on this course because if I had chosen, say agriculture, or a science course, it would have demanded me going for a lot of practical sessions, which would have come in the way of my job.

Mind you, Ondo State University was in Ado Ekiti, so I had to apply and got approval for ‘Day Release’ and combined schooling with work.

Fortunately for me, I had a vehicle, and this is how that happened. In 1989, I had attended a six-month British Council-sponsored teachers’ training at the Staffordshire campus of the University of Wolverhampton, United Kingdom, and was able to save up some money to buy a Volkswagen Transporter bus (also known as FEDECO, because the then Federal Electoral Commission had a fleet of the model used in transporting election materials and their personnel) which I shipped in from Utrecht, Netherlands. I consider myself lucky, because just before I was nominated for that training, I had got admission to study crop production at the University of Ibadan, and I was contemplating resigning my job to take up the offer, but my two mentors – now late Mr Biodun Akeju and Dr Mary Ogunkoya (my dad was her dad’s secretary at IAR&T) helped in my decision-making: to not resign. Akeju was then undergoing the same British-Council programme and he knew that I (had already been nominated for it). He advised that before anything else, I must take advantage of the opportunity offered by the training.

I have always been entrepreneurial: with whatever limited resources I have, I can (do a few exploits). Even before I left for my UK training, I was involved in landscaping jobs in Ondo State. For instance, I landscaped the offices of the Water Corporation in Akure. I used to go to Badagry to buy dwarf coconut, raise them here in Akure and sell. Most of the oil palm plantations in southern Ondo State bought from me. I used to live in the staff quarters and did everything there but when the issue of paying commercial rates arose, I moved to the building owned by (now late) Rev (Johnson Olajide) Fagboyegun, now used as a political party office, and used the backyard for my (various cultivations).

Much later though I had ponds in my residence where I was raising fish.

So…I used the vehicle to shuttle between Ado Ekiti and Akure and completed the degree course in economics in 1997. Of course, I was exempted from the one-year National Youth Service Corps scheme.

I got married in 1992, to a Calabar lady, and we started raising a family in 1997.

It so happened that my parents relocated from Ibadan to Cross River State, and occasionally I used to visit them and, at some point, met my wife, who was then working as a nurse in Calabar. It took a while before she moved to Akure because she had to have a job. Fortunately, she got one at the Federal Medical Centre in Owo (an hour’s drive from Akure).

After obtaining my degree, I was converted from a technical staff to the lecturer cadre. I realised that, for me to be relevant, it was necessary that I had a post-graduate qualification. So, I went for a masters (M Tech) in economics at the Federal University of Technology. I obtained that in 2005.

I used to run the business of selling frozen fish; and I had two outlets where I had cold rooms.

But it was too challenging.

I used to travel to Benin, Warri, Lagos, Port Harcourt, to source the fish. That was stressful.

Then there was the issue of epileptic power supply which meant that I suffered many spoilages.

What finally did it for me was one day while returning from Lagos to source for fish, my Ford bus ran into a ditch and it took us over an hour to fix the damage. By then, it had gone far into the night. This was I think in Ore. As we moved on, myself and my assistant were being flagged down by people who said there was some armed robbery in front. We moved on after a while, and the police at the check point told us they dislodged the robbers.

That was when I decided that it was time to discontinue the business.

I then decided to have fishponds in my residence.

And, thus, began another business: fish culture.

The returns were not encouraging. You know I was doing it from my house, and that meant a lot of ‘encroachment’ – giving away to people who came on visits, cooking and all that.

I wanted to convert the leased building where I ran my cold room business into a joint where people could come for grilled fish and drinks. But nearby was an old man already running a beer parlour, and I did not want to have any conflict with him.

So, I hoped and prayed that I would get a good location to make barbecue fish.

My prayer was answered: a friend linked me with an assistant commissioner of police, Mr Sanni Magaji. That was around 2010.

I got an invitation from this police officer to bring samples of barbecue fish.

Fortunately, I had some fish at home, I prepared ten pieces. I did not even know that there were going to be many ‘testers’ involved. He asked all the questions including how much each one would cost. That time, it was around one thousand, five hundred naira.

Anyway, I passed the test.

I was to start selling barbecue fish here at the Police Officer’s Mess (on Igbatoro Road). I started from one spot there (pointing southwards) and later moved to this (present location). The condition was that I would not sell drinks (in competition with the Mess).

Besides selling here at the Mess, we also go to parties (around Nigeria) to prepare barbecue fish. Here is the number I can be reached on; in case anyone wants to experience what delights our customers in Akure: 08035701062.

I tell my students that if they have salaried jobs, then they must identify other vocations which can sustainably support their income. Once they can do that, then they would have succeeded in alienating themselves from poverty. By sustainably, I mean that if the vocation must not only bring in extra income, big or small, it must regular.

They should not also consider any vocation is beneath their status.

I know how this business helps me in regularly supporting my income. So, I speak from experience.

Now, I decided that, instead of going for a PhD, which could take me like five years to obtain, and I would not really have more than five years to practise before retiring, I should set up a primary/secondary school. By the grace of God, we have accomplished that with the establishment of a school which started in October, and we have ten pupils; my being a teacher and once on the Board of our school at The Chapel of Annunciation, in Akure, has helped.

Update: Mr Esiet obtained his bachelor’s degree in 1997 and not 2005 as was erroneously published.

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