Meet Ifeoma Okoli, first blind female PhD graduate of UI

Ifeoma Okoli, first blind female PhD graduate of UI

On November 17, 2021, Ifeoma Okoli became the first female student with visual impairment to earn a doctor of philosophy degree from the University of Ibadan (UI) at the institution’s 73rd convocation ceremony.

Similarly, Okoli became the first visually impaired PhD holder in her home state, Anambra.

Okoli got a special mention from the vice-chancellor Prof Kayode Adebowale during his speech at the ceremony.

The VC said, “Among the PhD graduands I specially recognise Dr Bibiana Ifeoma Okoli of the Department of Special Education who is the first female student with visual impairment to earn a Doctor of Philosophy degree from this University. She was supervised by Prof Ikechukwu Ambrose Nwazuoke.”

Born as the first child to the late Obiabusi Okoli and Ijeoma Okoli both from Ezihu village, Igboukwu, in Aguata Local Government Area of Anambra State, Okoli spent most of her years in Abakaliki, Ebonyi State capital where her parents lived and worked.

According to her younger sister Nneka, Okoli’s life took a strange twist in 1985 when she was forced to drop out of school at the commencement of her final examination in secondary school. 

She had been battling with failing eyesight due to a degenerative eye disease known as Retinitis Pigmentosa. Attempts to remedy the situation failed.

Okoli realised that she had almost lost her sight while writing her final papers.

“One can imagine how devastating this experience must have been for a young girl who not only loved education but had been promised by her parents to train her up to the university level. The loss of her eyesight seemed like the end of a dream,” Nneka wrote in a Facebook post.

Okoli had to enrol at St. Joseph Rehabilitation Center for the Blind, Obudu, Cross River State where she acquired the requisite skills that will enable her pursue her academic dreams.

“Her success validates the statement that nothing is impossible for those who dare to dream and believe,” Nneka said.