24 - year- old Egemole Obinna made first class in Chemistry from the Michael Okpara University of Agriculture , Umudike, Abia State , with 4 . 57 CGPA in the 2015 /2016 academic session . He tells TUNDE AJAJA in this interview his experiences in school
What was growing up like for you ?
I grew up in the northern part of the country and I still have fond memories . Most of my childhood memories are about growing up at Sabon Gari in Kano State and that ’ s where I had my primary education. I was always at the top of the class then and I received cash gifts from people whenever I went home with my report card .
I was also a fast runner and I represented my team several times in inter - house sports competitions . My parents moved to Rivers State when I was eleven and that was where I had my secondary education . I was also among the best science students in secondary school .
So , largely , my growing up was fun . Then , my dream was to become a medical practitioner , say a surgeon , or pharmacist , but I later settled for Chemistry.
Why did you switch to Chemistry ?
It was my most favourite subject in secondary school and I see it as one course that makes one versatile .
Since it was the course you wanted , would you say you had a smooth ride to first class?
Honestly, it wasn ’ t so easy but I was determined to achieve it and it took God ’ s grace . I can even say it was sheer providence .
I made it a goal to achieve in the university while I was in secondary school but after staying at home for two years before gaining admission , I lost that zeal . On getting to school , I had to ignore what I heard from other students in my first semester in school . I heard lots of stories about how difficult it could be to obtain a first class in my field and I heard that it had been quite long the department had one . That was really discouraging at first but I got over it by being determined to make a difference . I reminded myself that nothing significant had ever been accomplished without criticism or controversy . But once you are determined to excel, you don ’ t have to allow other people’ s words to stop you . So , I ignored such stories .
When did you start having first class ?
I started having first class as GPA in the second semester of my first year . That was after the six months strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities . In the first semester , I didn ’ t do so well; I had 3 . 91 GPA but by that second semester , I made 4 . 76 GPA. At that point when I started having first class GPA, I decided to work harder to graduate as a first class student and I was able to make 5 . 0 GPA twice . Really , teaching others compelled me to study more.
There wasn ’ t a semester I didn ’ t teach people. Being a teacher made it easy to remember what I studied . I also led tutorials in various fields ; Chemistry, Mathematics , Statistics and computer programming and that greatly enhanced my performance . Those things made a lot of difference because I was the only one who made first class in my class .
Some students do these things but still don ’t have your kind of result. In your view, what makes students fail ?
There are lots of factors contributing to that . First is skipping lectures . This makes them to miss continuous assessment scores and assignments from time to time .
That is not very good for a student , because it limits the student ’ s chances of passing the course . The second point I can think of is procrastination which may be due to lack of control over social media . Many students like to study only when it’ s time to do exams and this greatly affects their performance because they end up not getting a clear understanding of the courses at that moment . The third reason , in my view , is when students study what they don ’ t have passion for . With the present situation in the education sector in the country, getting admitted to study your choice course is tough . So , many students end up accepting what the school offers them, which is different from what they may have applied for . In some cases, students do find it difficult to cope with the new course , which could lead to poor performance .
I believe students need to be determined , attend lectures and learn to teach others. They also need to stay healthy, get enough sleep daily , do exercises regularly and eat well. Finally, they should be prayerful , study the bible , attend fellowships and seek for tutors in areas that seem difficult to them at an early stage.
No doubt , Chemistry has wide application , but some feel it is somehow abstract . Did you once see it that way ?
It’ s a very nice course to study and I don ’ t think it ’ s abstract .
It is as real as we can imagine and that is why it plays vital roles in our lives by meeting our basic needs , in terms of food , clothing , health , etc . Some people don ’ t know that there are always new trends in chemistry . Synthetic organic chemists are always developing new pathways for drug formulations , better and less feeds production routes etc. Also is Green chemistry which focuses on designing products and processes that minimise the use and generation of hazardous substances in the environment .
It’ s a broad field with various branches with promising job opportunities ; polymer chemistry deals with the plastic firms , foams etc. , analytical chemistry equips one to work in pharmaceutical companies, food and beverages firms , cosmetics , cement , NAFDAC , research institutes while under organic chemistry we have research and development departments, fertilizers , petrochemicals, etc. There is a lot more, even in the teaching service .
How did your parents receive the news ?
They were really happy when I called to tell them I made it, after seeing my final results . It’ s something they really prayed for because I started receiving recommendation letters from the school ’ s senate from my first year .
I ’ m happy I made them proud.
Were there challenges you had to contend with as an undergraduate ?
Sure . I think mine was mainly criticism and also when I had to do exams very sick and that really resulted in my bad performance in such semesters . However , I thank God for His wisdom and strength that saw me through . In my first year , attending lectures of several general courses was really hectic and I didn ’ t stay close to school , so I was always tired anytime I got home, thus I would be unable to study .
To ensure I met my target , I had to drive myself and I did meet my senior colleagues to tutor me on some topics I found tough . I would tie it to determination and , mainly , God ’ s grace .
Given that you put in so much hard work into your studies , what was your schedule like ?
After lectures, sometimes , I used to go and play table tennis or chess in the evenings . I normally went to the library on Wednesday because lectures usually ended by midday.
After that , I would study for about two to four hours as the case may be and I would hold tutorials for students in courses they found challenging in my lecture free period . I must say that I learn better when I teach others. So all I had to do was to make sure I taught people. As regards reading , I only read for two hours daily and it really helped me . Although there were times I was too tired to do so . On the other hand, I slept well, usually between six and nine hours daily .
I used to go to the library to study , at least once weekly, due to the availability of materials and the quietness . Also , there were times I went for night class . Meanwhile , during exams , I did my best to cover all the courses I offered two weeks before exams . During exams , I woke up daily by 2 am to revise the courses I had for the day till 6 am . I studied past questions and I did tutorials with other students on weekends .
That really helped a lot . So , having first class is not about reading throughout the night every day , it ’ s about knowing what works for you and being consistent .
Did some of your colleagues see you as too serious?
Being at the top of the class made my colleagues to call me a “ Hyper ” . It’ s a common name in my school for students that others see to be too serious . When you sit at the front of the class during lectures , you will be called a “ Hyper ” by other students .
Studying is enough work on its own, however, were you involved in other school activities ?
Yes , I played football and I was among the team in my class . I played chess and table tennis very well too . Actually , one of the things I wish I was able to do as an undergraduate was to play chess very well and represent my school at NUGA . Chess is a game that takes a lot of time when playing with someone that is good . So when I realised I wasn ’ t performing so well academically, I stopped going to play chess.
Have you ever been disturbed by the rate of unemployment challenge in Nigeria ?
Well , it’ s quite discouraging but I am optimistic and I always pray for God ’ s grace on that . Students even find it difficult to secure a place for internship ( Industrial Training ) in the country and some get discouraged after searching for long and yet unable to get a place which results in not getting the practical experience the programme was meant to provide.
And that is little , compared to getting a job .
Many students rarely get all the financial aid they need while in school . Did you also have any challenge in that regard?
The money I was getting from my parents wasn ’ t really enough for my daily expenses in school , so I did typing jobs and that helped a lot . However , my parents did their best to encourage me , sometimes with cash but mostly with their words and prayers.
What about scholarships ?
No , I didn ’ t benefit from any. Most of the scholarships were restricted to few courses and I applied only for a few , but I wasn ’ t shortlisted for any.
What was your disposition to being in a relationship as an undergraduate ?
I wasn ’ t in any, but I had good , close friends . I thought it was better to achieve my goals in school before getting involved in that .
What were your most memorable moments in school ?
My happiest moment was when I saw my final result and I made a 5 . 00 GPA, which was really what I prayed for . My embarrassing moment was being sick when I had to do my exams and I got a ‘ D’ in a three- unit course in the first semester of my first year , and that was my worst semester in school .
I felt it would be difficult making a first class after that experience because my GPA dropped from 4 . 76 to 4 . 09 , but by God ’ s grace , I made it.
When you were in school , was there an opportunity to apply what you were taught ?
Yes , I worked with Emzor Pharmaceuticals and Mopson Pharmaceuticals during my IT . So I was able to apply what I was taught in school in the laboratory and in my research project.
What are your aspirations in life ?
I would love to be a lecturer and become a professor in my field someday. That would broaden my horizons in the field . I ’ m highly motivated to work with academic institutions, pharmaceuticals, petrochemicals, breweries and food processing industries .