Ozioma Soludo graduated with first class honours from the Faculty of Law, Nile University of Nigeria. She tells TOLUWALOPE KAREEM about her journey to academic excellence
Did it come to you as a surprise that you graduated top of your class in the university?
Honestly, it did not come as a surprise to me. It was like an open secret that I would be the best in the faculty, so I was not surprised at all.
With a perfect score, were you the overall best student?
I would say “an almost perfect score.” I had hoped to graduate with a perfect score, but with two B’s in Land Law, I ended up with 4.96 CGPA. Impressive but not perfect. I was the best student in the Department of Public and International Law, and the Faculty of Law. The overall best student had a perfect score of 5.0.
Tell us about your childhood and the fond memories you have?
My childhood? I don’t know why the question makes me feel old (laughs). I still consider myself a child. The fond memories I have of my childhood come from my early days in Abuja. My parents lived in Ibadan, Oyo State when I was born, and then we moved to Abuja when I was about nine years old. The whole experience of moving to a new city, bonding with my cousins and making new friends was all so very interesting.
Was there anything about your growing up or previous experiences that informed your decision to work towards graduating with first class honours?
Oh, definitely! I come from a family that takes academic excellence very seriously. My parents were very intentional about encouraging us to do the very best we could in terms of making good grades and coming back home with excellent results. My uncle was also a good influence; I heard him speak often about how he took his academic work seriously, graduated with a first class and went on to do great things in the world.
As a university student, did you set academic targets for yourself?
My target was to graduate with a perfect score of 5.0, and I managed to achieve a perfect score for four years out of five. I aimed for the moon, and I landed among the stars, which is not bad at all.
Have you always had such brilliant performances in your previous schools?
Yes, I have. In primary school, I was usually among the top three pupils and I graduated from secondary school as the valedictorian.
Many students have personal study plans. Did you have any?
Not exactly. I did not have any strict reading timetable or anything like that. My reading pattern can best be described as “as the spirit leads.” I encourage people to have reading plans to promote discipline. Personally, I found that it did not work for me. When I felt the urge to read, I made out time and read until I was satisfied.
What were your most memorable moments in school as an undergraduate?
Wow, I had so many. Working with the Office of Student Affairs to establish the Model United Nations Club in the university was memorable for me because I had benefited immensely from Model United Nations in the past, so establishing the club was personal and important to me. I also participated in the Law Clinic Partnership for Kuje Prison, which was sponsored by the United States Government, and I represented my Law Clinic in the US on an exchange visit. As the Director for Moot and Mock of the Law Students’ Society, I also organised the first Moot Court Competition in the faculty. Other memorable moments include when I was appointed Attorney General of the Students’ Representative Council and the Head of the Pre-trial Detention Unit of the Law Clinic. My most memorable moment overall was walking up to the podium to receive my award for Best Graduating Student in the Faculty of Law.
Were there things you wouldn’t be found doing as an undergraduate?
What I wouldn’t be found doing were sports, that’s just on a lighter note. I was open to trying new things, extracurricular activities and what not.
Was there anything you would have loved to do as an undergraduate that you could not do?
I wanted to spend at least a semester in the hostel. That didn’t happen, but I’ve been told I didn’t miss much. Aside from that, I think I took full advantage of the university experience.
What was your most challenging experience in the university?
The pandemic, the lockdown, taking classes and tests from home. It was challenging at the beginning because it was this new and unforeseen experience that we had to navigate, both the students and lecturers.
Did studying hard cost you friendships?
I am the opposite of a conventional nerd and by nerd I mean “an intelligent but single-minded person obsessed with a nonsocial hobby or pursuit.” I am very sociable. As a member of the Law Students’ Society Executives and the Students’ Representative Council, I was fully involved in the planning and execution of social events and extracurricular activities for the students. I was also a social prefect in secondary school. Luckily for me, my friends understand the concept of working hard and playing hard, so my friendships did not suffer as a result of my pursuit of academic excellence. In fact, the second and third Best Graduating Students in the faculty – Lystra Omaka-Fred and Ahmad Rufai Bawa – are two of my closest friends.
Some people see relationships as a distraction while some feel otherwise. What do you think, were you in any relationship?
I do not consider relationships a distraction. Relationships beneath all the extra stuff we put on top are just friendships, and if you can maintain a friendship comfortably, then a relationship should not be any different. I was in a relationship for a time; I did not see it as a distraction.
How did your parents react when you broke the news to them that you had a first class?
My parents were ecstatic. They encouraged me and believed in me, so it was definitely a thing of joy for them to see our dreams come through.
Were your parents the type who would reward their children for excellent academic performance?
Yes, when I graduated from secondary school as the valedictorian, I got a phone that I really wanted at the time.
Do you plan to specialise in any particular area of Law?
Yes, International Humanitarian Law and Environmental Law. I am also looking closely at Fintech (Financial Technology) Law.
What do you do presently?
While waiting for the Law School to resume, I work as a Legal Assistant at Ora Egbunike & Associates, one of the top real estate companies in Nigeria.
Do you have a dream job?
I want to be a judge of the International Court of Justice.
What advice would you offer Nigerians in tertiary institutions who want to graduate with good results?
It is certainly not easy, but it is possible. My dad always tells my siblings and me: Dream great dreams, then plan and work towards them. There are those who belittle dreamers but I don’t, for I know that he, who never dreamt, never had a dream come true.
The reward for academic excellence is very poor and some first class graduates find it difficult to get good jobs. How do you feel about this?
My parents and older relatives always tell me about a time in Nigeria when good performance was rewarded but that is no longer the case and I feel very bad about it. This is why there is a lot of brain drain. There are many people in schools who have the potential to excel but because they do not see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, they relax and they do not put in the needed effort. It is important for the government to find ways to encourage academic excellence by providing incentives, such as good jobs.
What were the awards you received for graduating with first class honours?
I received plaques and a 50 per cent scholarship for my master’s.
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