24-year-old Ebonyi-based butcher, Michael Ebe, alias Demo, who recently graduated from the Ebonyi State University with a degree in Political Science, tells GODFREY GEORGE how he used proceeds from his meat business to see himself through university
Tell us a bit about your background.
My name is Michael Ebe. I am from Ishielu Local Government Area, Ebonyi State. I am 24 years old. I am from a polygamous family. This means I had to be with a lot of people in one space. It was difficult for my parents to see me through school. After I finished secondary school in 2014, it was like I was stunted. There was no help coming my way and my father was getting old. My older siblings were lucky. Most of them were done with the university at the time but were not financially stable to assist me. My dad became sick that 2014, and along the line, he died in January 2015. The day he died, I lost all hope that I was not going to go to school again. It really broke my heart. He had told me that I would go to school, no matter what, as long as he was alive. So, when he passed away, I felt my world had ended. I tried to speak to my brothers, but I knew they were struggling to get their lives together, too. On my dad’s dying bed, he told me something that inspired me to keep pushing to get a university education. He said, “Even if I die and cannot train you as I trained your brothers, God will raise people who will train you.” That encouraged me a lot.
What moves did you make after your dad’s death?
The day he died was the day I went to purchase my first Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination form. I applied to study Law at the Ebonyi State University but I was not admitted. I scored 205 and that was too low for the department I applied for. It was on my second trial in 2017 when I applied to study Political Science that I was offered admission.
When did you become a butcher?
I started when my father died. My brother-in-law, who is a butcher, had called me and told me to come and spend some time with him. One morning, when he woke up to go to work and saw me on his parlour’s sofa sleeping, he asked me to join him at the abattoir. He said if I could join his workers to slaughter cows that I would be getting some daily pay. It was a relief for me. Sitting at home was doing me no good, after all. I joined his boys and was learning the ropes slowly. Sometimes, he (my boss) would pay me between N1,000 and N1,500 daily. I also joined a daily contribution group where I saved the money I got on a daily basis. If I got N1,500, I would contribute N1,000 to the group and spend N500. I was doing that for two years before I applied in 2017 to study Political Science. When I got admission at EBSU, I used the money from my savings to process it and began to study.
How did you combine schooling and being a butcher?
It was not easy at all. To be frank with you, I never attended any 8am lecture. I would go to the abattoir in the morning, do the butchering and supplied my customers before having a bath and rushing to meet up lectures from wherever. It was really tough. After school, I would not even get home; I would go back to the shop to make sure I attend to the evening customers.
Didn’t this shuffling strain the business?
It did. At some point, some customers were complaining that I was not stable in the abattoir and they did not see me when they needed me. It was then that I opened up to them that I was in school. Most of them were so pleased and were very supportive. Some of them even had to adjust the time of the supplies to suit me. I really appreciate their understanding, though some of them still went to other meat sellers, the ones who stayed did.
During the times for examinations, to be honest, I found it very hard to cope. I would have to forget about business and focus more on my studies. At this time, I would make sure I put things in place before then. It was not easy at all. I slept late most of the nights because I had to study. Some nights, I didn’t even sleep at all. I had to make sure I made good grades and not make an excuse that my business affected my academic work.
How did your fellow students react when they found out you were a butcher?
Hmmn… So many of them were happy for me but some of them mocked me. Some even said I was not a serious student. The students who were mature enough always encouraged me to be strong and not let anything I hear and/or see deter me from achieving my dreams and being focused. For the students who got close to me, I told them that it was the business I was seeing myself through school with. Most of them didn’t believe it. How can selling meat be that lucrative? Some of my lecturers who found out about my situation were shocked and really expressed their readiness to assist me to make the studies easier for me. It was not an easy ride at all, but I am grateful to God for the outcome.
Even one of the girls I met during my time at the pre-degree school and we started dating was not proud to show me off to her friends. She always made me feel some kind of way. When I entered Year One, she broke up with me. She said I didn’t give her enough time and needed some distance, but I knew that was not the truth. In my life, I know what I want and I have always been a focused person right from when I was a child. I had to give her the ‘distance’ she said she needed and spent more time on my studies.
What were some of the challenges you encountered in your journey through school?
In my first year, I almost gave up because one of my friends from secondary school was aspiring for Students’ Union President of EBSU then. He approached me and I pledged my support. Later on, I got to find out that some people in my department had interest in that same position. I started getting phone threats, telling me to withdraw my support, but I refused. It really affected my studies because some ‘big people’ had some interest in the matter. It caused a lot of problems. I had a lot of issues with my results but I told myself that nothing would make me give up the journey as I knew how much time, money and effort I had put into this.
When you finished your exams, how did you feel?
(Sighs) I don’t know how to explain it. I had told myself before now that I wasn’t to make history for myself, and I want to succeed so that my unborn children would not have to suffer any of the things I went through on my road to success. It was not easy for me, but I felt excited. I never believed I would make it at that point in time without the help of anybody. Some of the young people who come around me, I tell them that they don’t need to always depend on their parents for everything. That is one thing we should teach the younger generation – to be independent.
What class of degree did you graduate with?
From my calculations, I will graduate with a second class. By God’s grace, I know it would be a reasonable result when it is posted. When I told some of my customers that I had graduated, some of them gave me a gift. Some cannot even believe it till now. When I posted it on Facebook, many people could not believe I coped with meat selling and school