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Meet Student Who Combined Plumbing and School, Yet Graduated With First Class

CURSORY : The graduate plumber Gabriel Eze, talks about his days at the federal university of technology Owerri ( FUTO) and his plumbing job.

Meet Gabriel Eze, the plumber who graduated from the Federal University of Technology, Owerri, with a first class degree in petroleum engineering as talks about his academic journey in an interview with TEMITOPE ADETUNJI


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My name is Gabriel Eze. I am from Okposi, Ebonyi State. I gained admission into the Federal University of Technology Owerri in 2017. I am currently 23 years old. I studied Petroleum engineering and I am also a plumber. I graduated in August 2023 and my convocation was held in December.

Q. When did your interest in plumbing begin?

I was in Secondary School, in SS1, when I began to develop an interest in plumbing vocation. I enrolled into a plumbing apprenticeship which lasted for approximately four years or a little bit more than that.

I finished secondary school in 2017 and got admission into a higher institution the same 2017. So, I completed my apprenticeship after my first year in a higher institution which was in 2019.

After my apprenticeship training, I founded a plumbing enterprise, which I later registered in 2020.

What prompted me to learn plumbing when I was 14 years old and in SS1 was financial constraints. Also, when the plumber, who later became my boss) came for a plumbing job in my school, I got interested in what he was doing.

The job he came for lasted for about three days. So while he was doing the job, during my break period, I went to where he was and joined him.

Q. What did you do for him?

I did not do anything serious. Most of the things I did then was helping them out to pick up the tools he used and that was how I got interested in the job.

Q. How did you become his apprentice?

I made it known to the man that I would like to enrol for an apprenticeship and he agreed. He told me to come and enrol at the end of that term in school, which was after my first term in SS1.

He gave me his contact number and I contacted him. When I contacted him, I introduced myself by reminding him that I was the boy he met in my school. He directed me to his house.

When I went there, he told me about some things that I needed to bring and how to register for the apprenticeship.

When I started the apprenticeship, I was very young and I think that helped me so much because I was really focused and there were not as many distractions then, being a young boy.

Whenever we went to work for clients, they were always amazed to see a small boy like me learning a skill, so people were interested in me.

Q. How many years did you spend learning the skill?

I spent over four years learning plumbing and it helped in getting a lot of experience. When I left my boss to establish my own business, I was already proficient.

Q. What was the reaction of your parents when you started learning the skill?

My dad died when I was seven years old, so I only have one parent, which is my mother. I didn’t get approval from her from the onset; it was my elder brother who persuaded her to allow me because she complained that I was just too young for the job.

Plumbing is a very stressful job; it is a very strenuous job. Most often when I came back from work, my hands were covered with bruises so much that my mother had to use hot water to massage my hands.

When she complained at one point that the job was too much for my age, my elder brother made her understand that I had a passion for the job and persuaded her to allow me.

At the end of the day, she agreed. So when I started making little earnings from the job, she became happy.

When I started making money from it, I started helping in the house with foodstuffs and important expenses.

Even for my education. I didn’t disturb anyone. I took care of my bills.

Q. Are you the youngest child of your parents?

I am the third child, and I have four brothers.

Q. How much did you make from your first plumbing job?

I made N17,000 from my first plumbing job.

Q. What motivated you to pursue a degree in Petroleum Engineering?

When I was in primary school, I was good at mathematics. I grew up in a small town. I had older siblings who were in the university and some were graduates as of that time.

So most often, in December, most of them came back for Christmas and made us understand that for one to be successful in engineering, one had to be good at maths.

So being good at maths made me interested in engineering, it was my passion. I made enquiries about engineering and discovered that there were different branches of engineering, like mechanical, electrical, chemical, and aeronautics engineering.

Nobody even mentioned petroleum to me at that time. I found interest in Aeronautics (Engineering); I did my research about which schools offered Aeronautics Engineering and I found out that it was just one school which was Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, Kaduna State, so that discouraged me from pursuing the course.

When I was in Primary five, there was a discussion in my class and we were told that Nigeria’s economy depended on petroleum but I can’t remember the particular subject.

The teacher who said that further explained that most people who are involved in petroleum exploration and production were petroleum engineers, so that was how I gained interest in petroleum (engineering) knowing that Nigeria is a crude oil producer and exporter, which means there will be enormous job opportunities in the petroleum (industry).

That was the first excitement I got about studying Petroleum Engineering. So when I entered secondary school, I became good at Organic Chemistry and that was how I chose Petroleum Engineering.

Q. Do you think your background as a plumber also influenced your choice of a course of study at the university?

Maybe the plumbing vocation helped too because Petroleum Engineering involves the movement of fluids, natural gas, and pipelines. I was already familiar with the movement of water in pipes, and the movement of waste products which are largely liquid and semi-solid.

So, I already understood fluid dynamics, and that helped me. There is a connection between Petroleum Engineering and what I know about plumbing.

Q. What were some of the obstacles you faced on your journey to receiving an excellent result, and how did you overcome them?

I didn’t face many academic challenges. The major challenge I faced was financial constraints. I didn’t have an external sponsor, and my academic work was self-sponsored, other sources of sponsorship were through scholarships.

So, sometimes, I encountered financial difficulties. I think that was the only challenge I had. I was able to overcome it by trying to get contracts, making my enterprise more visible, and making sure my enterprise’s reputation was high enough for people to patronise me, with that, I got more jobs, and with more jobs, I got more money to cater for my needs and pay my bills.

Q. What types of scholarships did you get?

In Nigerian universities, there are scholarship opportunities that a student can register for. Most of them require written examinations, and then when you pass the examinations, they (organisers) offer you a scholarship.

They give you money to cover your tuition and some other expenses while in school; they also provide gadgets like laptops. I got some scholarships like the Petroleum Technology Development Fund undergraduate scholarship, Agbami Medical and Engineering Professionals’ Scholarship, the Nigerian Agip Oil Company scholarship, and the NNPC/Total scholarship.

Those scholarships helped me a lot. Some helped me in expanding my business a little bit.

Q. When did you get the scholarships?

They started coming in from my 200 level.

Q. What kept you motivated during challenging times? Were there specific goals or aspirations that fueled your determination?

One of the major motivations I had was my dad. Despite losing my dad when I was very young. He still played an important role in my life because when I was younger, around four to five years old, he made it known to me that I was smart, brilliant, and intelligent.

Sometimes, it is important that if you have a child, you let that child know that they have some potential, and with that, the child will work hard to be able to maximise that potential.

My dad should be proud of me wherever he is; I didn’t relent. l also had numerous mentors during my academic journey. I had professors as mentors and they played a key role.

Some of them are Prof S. I. Onwukwe, Okeifufe Nnamdi, Uduma Idika, Obasi Emmanuel, and Gerald Ihedilionye.

Q. What role did your mum play in your dad’s absence?

The roles my mum played are numerous. She has been a good mother. If she didn’t stand up as a mother. I wouldn’t be where I am today.

She helped guide us even though we didn’t have a father anymore. She provided for us at least till we started doing things on our own. She made sure we were not hungry.

Q. What does she do for a living?

She is a civil servant.

Q. Can you share any memorable moments that significantly impacted your academic and personal growth during your time at FUTO?

When I was in the first semester of my second year at the university, there was a course I took called Engineering Thermodynamics.

Many people who took the course scored four out of 30 points in the test. However, some who scored seven points were very happy for scoring higher than the rest. It was a tough course, and today, it is still a very tough course in that school.

Q. What did you score?

I scored 23 points in the test and I think that was the second-highest score in that test because the first person from the Mechanical Engineering department scored 24 points. It was a general engineering course.

That was a memorable experience that motivated me and reassured me that I am intelligent.

Q. Did you find some of the courses in your department difficult?

I didn’t find any course challenging while I was in school. I enjoyed all the courses, and they all turned out to be fascinating.

One of my best pieces of advice for students is for them to trust God, and make their prayer life very important. Prayer without work is vanity and work without prayer is vanity.

Let them understand themselves and be consistent too. They should know what works best for them, know what time is best for them to study, and not copy people.

For example, reading at night doesn’t work for me. I prefer to read in the afternoon or early in the morning; it is about understanding myself.

Q. What was your cumulative grade point average?

My cumulative grade point average was 4.65.

Q. How did you feel graduating with first-class honours?

On the day of the convocation, I felt fulfilled. I was excited, and my stories were shared across different platforms and social media.

People from my locality were all calling me, including the elite.

Q. Having achieved this remarkable feat, what are your future goals and aspirations, in the field of Petroleum Engineering and beyond?

I am planning to further my education, probably outside Nigeria, enrolling for a PhD or master’s but before doing that, I need to take part in the National Youth Service Corps programme next year.

So currently, I am searching for an established organisation to collaborate with.

Q. Would you have become a full-time plumber if you did not bag a first-class degree?

No. Not graduating with a first-class (degree) doesn’t mean failure. Even people with third-class degrees are still working with it, provided they’re focused, diligent, and can prove their worth, though I will always be a plumber.

The story of Gabriel Eze is an inspiring one, urging student not to depend only on school, but to also expand their horizon, like learning a skill or going into something sustainable.

Thanks for reading!

READ ALSO: Meet Gabriel, a Nigerian Plumber Who Graduated With First Class Against All Odds



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