Alex Iyaji, 24, made first class at the Department of Biological Science, Benue State University, with 4.53 CGPA in the 2014/2015 academic session. In this interview with TUNDE AJAJA, he speaks on life after school.
I grew up in a home where being the best wasn’t an option; it was a necessity. In fact, I can recall my dad telling us that anyone who didn’t top their class would be taken to the mechanic workshop to start learning how to fix vehicles and that whatever we become in life is first and foremost for our satisfaction. He implored us to learn to make ourselves proud first, and that they would share in our glory as parents. I think that formed the basic framework of my being serious and it helped me till date.
It wasn’t easy at all, considering the enormous responsibility that comes with being the best in your class; the sleepless nights to get things done, the moments of tears for fear of uncertainty, the extreme reading measures adopted, the indirect burden for you not to fail and the effects of hatred and jealousy that sometimes come from sources unknown made graduating with a first class very difficult. Stories of how first class doesn’t come to those who deserve it but those who find favour in the sight of their lecturers was another challenge to overcome. I was even told how impossible it was for a student that wasn’t a native to make a first class in the school, but I didn’t let the stories deter me because I believed there is always a first time for every impossible situation and I proved it to the Glory of God at the end. The moment I saw my admission letter, I proposed in my heart to graduate with a first class.
Yes, and that was because I was offered a course I felt was inferior to the original course I applied for, and graduating with a class of degree other than a first class would imply that I wasn’t truly qualified to study the course I considered superior. That was my belief. Therefore, I ensured I did everything I could to make excellent grades and not just leave things to fate. Graduating with a first class was therefore something I planned for beforehand and not one that happened by providence.
I had serious difficulty in securing admission into the university as success in UTME wasn’t a guarantee for admission as at the time I applied for admission or in the school I applied for admission. I therefore sat UTMB twice before finally securing admission into the university.
I had applied for Medicine in 2010 and I scored 278 in UTME and 265 in post-UTME but I was not offered admission. I wasn’t even offered another course as an alternative. Those times, success in UTME wasn’t a guarantee for admission. My dream as a child was to become a professor of medicine; one charged with the responsibility of ensuring safety of lives and wellbeing of the people as well as ensuring transfer of quality knowledge to several generations. So, again, I sat the UTME and applied for Medicine at Benue State University where I was offered Biology because Medicine lost accreditation that year. So, I accepted to study Biology. Since it was where I found myself, I was committed to making the best of it and I thank God I made a good grade. Biological Science is an interesting course; it deals with the study of life and surrounding factors. It basically covers plants and animal studies and their application in industries, medicine and the society. The course deals with the interaction between living things, modification of life forms, discovery of new techniques for solving pressing economic issues using natural or modified methodology and regulation of the effects of impeding gases on climate, nature and humans. There are many interesting parts to the course.
The part I enjoyed most as a student was the aspect of field work, which required leaving the school environment for strange places in search of specimens for laboratory analysis, knowledge from specialists and for scientific expeditions. But, beyond that, Biology encompasses a host of courses which provide baseline knowledge for specialised upgrade in science and research, which is the missing link in Nigeria today and the major reason why we remain dependent on the outside world for solutions to science-based puzzles and major disease outbreaks in our society. The course also provides an array of options one could specialise in. Graduates of biological science can become professional research scientists who engage in specialised aspects like virology, immunology, microbiology, plant pathology, biomedicine, zoology, parasitology and of course the recent boom, which is biotechnology. A study of Biology makes one relevant in industries as laboratory experts, food scientists and quality survey officers. They also find relevance in aspects of climatology, genetics, breeding and ecology which characterises the living world.
I was the only one who graduated with a first class in my class. So, I was best graduating student of the Department of Biological Science and Faculty of Sciences in my set.
They were not things that were beyond what any other person could have done. For instance, I tried to resume early so I could start studying; I read for longer periods and I spent most of my break periods studying. There were times I read till the 24th of December before I would think of giving myself Christmas break unlike most students. One other thing was that I made sure I started strong; I started having first class from my first year. I remember my movement revolved around the classroom, hostel and church. On the average, I was sleeping for less than four hours daily and I read for about six hours every day. During, test or exam period, I could read for as long as 10 to 14 hours, and I wasn’t the type that used the library, unless I needed to borrow some books and then go back to my room to use them. The usual silence in the library was like a sleeping tablet for me, but interestingly, it worked for some people. That shows that people should know what works for them. Even though life doesn’t start and end with academic excellence, I put in whatever it takes to attain the goals I set for myself.
Wow! They had waited for the news for long. They received the news with gladness of heart, rejoicing and thanking God who made it possible. I had admission when my family was not financially stable, but God saw me through and I give Him the glory.
As interesting as practical classes might seem, it gets tiring sometimes. I could recall the times I had to stay in the laboratory from between 9am and 4pm so as to finish analysing stool samples for parasitic helminthes. The fact that I had to stay hungry so as to avoid becoming infected with the parasitic infections I was researching on made the lab tiring for me (laughs). Eye pains that sometimes result from constant staring at the microscope was also tiring, but it was a phase we had to go through.
People never saw me as the serious type. In fact, I never looked like one, but they were fully aware of my academic records and marvelled most times at how an ‘unserious-looking’ student would do so well academically.
Yes, I was involved in organising campaigns, educating the junior ones, taking ICT-based tutorials, counselling people when necessary, going for choir rehearsals and doing a bit of social activities, cautiously though. At my leisure, I played football, played my guitar and sang. Sometimes, I took pleasure in having casual, but productive conversations with friends. Based on Ecclesiastics 3:1, which says there is time and season for everything, I understood time management and maximised my time efficiently for maximum output.
The joy of seeing foreign scientists work in the lab with so much enthusiasm and zeal to discover new things also influenced me. My parents also encouraged me to do my best, emphasising that any course that finds relevance in the society especially that which relates to industrial and life sciences is good.
My happiest moment was when my CGPA entered first class again after I dropped in my second year. The joy of being ‘there’ again after so much hope and prayer made it worthwhile for me. My most embarrassing moment was when I was slapped on my back by a lecturer in school for walking into the lab before he asked me to. The thought of it still annoys me till date anyway.
I hope to become a research professional and academic in the field of biomedicine or biotechnology; one who would raise the standards for selective innovations unfamiliar in the Nigerian context. Specifically, I would like to work as a researcher in a research institute and a lecturer in any educational institution so I could pass the knowledge I had acquired to those coming behind. I also like to work in a business environment as one in charge of mind-taxing duties.
Yes! Sleep for longer hours without any fear of failing or having poor results (laughs). However, I like to advise students to be focused, set their priorities right and put their minds in their studies. It’s also helpful if they don’t allow temporary pleasure to distract them. Above all, they should remember their God in the days of their youth and serve him diligently.
Even though a first-class graduate, I’m still unemployed; I’ve been searching for a job. I’m hoping to find one so as to make ends meet. The value attached to excellence is dropping by the day, gradually and it wasn’t this bad in the past. I didn’t know how bad it was until I experienced it, and this shouldn’t be so. The government should try to incorporate into their budgets for each year grants for academic excellence and national appointments for excellent students. This would encourage those who made good grades and those aiming for excellence. This will also in turn make our nation a better place since the best of minds will be fully incorporated into different parts of the economy.