23-year-old Akan Archibong graduated with a first class from the Department of Chemistry, University of Lagos, having scored 4.84 CGPA in the 2015/2016 academic session. In this interview with TUNDE AJAJA, he talks about the journey through school
How did your parents receive the news when they heard that you had first class?
My parents are late, but my guardian, lecturers, professors and individuals that God used to finance my education were all very excited. I lost my mum in 2002 while I lost my dad last year. I didn’t live with him before he died, and even for many years back; we lived separately. I was staying with my mum until she died and when there was no means of survival, I had to leave the village for Lagos to serve as a houseboy. The woman I lived with then had a restaurant, so I helped out working there and sometimes I had to hawk sachet water on the street. But I thank God for raising people to help me, such that throughout my education, from secondary to A level and my university education, I enjoyed scholarship.
How did that happen?
Initially, I was in Eric Moore Junior High School, Surulere. Then, I heard that a private school, Grace High School, gives scholarship to students in SS1 till they graduate. So, I obtained the school form, sat the exam and passed. That was how I started enjoying the scholarship. The school would also register you for the West African Senior School Certificate Examination and the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination and there are other opportunities. From there, the school and the administrator, Mrs. Iyiola Edun, took interest in me, such that even when I got into UNILAG, the school still stood by me. When I was taking my A-level Cambridge exams, one of the teachers in Grace High School also helped me. I also thank God that my O’level result was impressive. In WASSCE, I had two As, five Bs and two Cs while in UTME, I had 233. If not for those scholarships, I don’t know what would have become of my education. I graduated from Grace Schools in 2010. I did my A-Level Cambridge in 2010/2011 and I gained admission to UNILAG in 2012. So there was no delay in securing my admission. I thank God for everything.
What form of scholarship did you enjoy in UNILAG?
In UNILAG, if you are a first-class student, the school pays you N50,000 for that session. So, if you can sustain it, you get N50,000 every year. I enjoyed that because I started having first class since my first year. Apart from that, I was awarded a scholarship (monetary) by an organisation in China. It was to support the student’s (the beneficiary) stay in school. The money was paid once. Also, I benefitted from the Gani Fawehinmi’s annual scholarship scheme and I was given N100,000. You benefit once, so it can spread to others. Like I said, during my Cambridge course, a man in that school funded a scholarship scheme and I benefited from that as well. I enjoyed support from some other persons, including UNILAG’s former Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Oye Ibidapo-Obe, the former Dean of Students Affairs and others. I remain grateful to everyone of them. With God, they made my education possible.
One could imagine that the contributions from these individuals would spur you to work harder. Was that the case?
True. I made up my mind to have a first class in chemistry. Many people God used to finance my education would expect good result from me and I didn’t want to disappoint them. Since determination and hard work are the key to outstanding academic success, I was determined and I worked hard. So, having a first class was my only way to pay them back for their support and for believing in me. I’m happy I made it. Each time I look at my certificate, I feel happy and give glory to God. As a student, first class is one of the greatest achievements. So, it’s a thing of joy for me. It wasn’t easy, but I let go of everything that could be inimical to my progress and I remained focused. God’s grace was also sufficient for me.
Did you encounter any challenge as a first year student?
Yes, there were some challenges. Sometimes, I had financial challenges, particularly, before I got those scholarships. But over time, I overcame them. More so that I took up teaching job for pupils, through home service; that fetched me some money. What I did was that anytime I finished lectures early, I would leave immediately to teach. However, I didn’t lose touch of my academics. When you pay the price, definitely, you will see the prize.
Despite combining that with your academics, what did you do differently from others that helped you?
I was just like every other student. I tried to teach many people. I didn’t limit my knowledge to what was taught in the class. To have a better understanding, I did lots of findings on my own, I read related works and compared them. I also watched YouTube for further understanding of the course. My reading pattern was not fixed but I made sure I covered the course outline before my examination. And by the grace of God, I was one of the ten who had first class in my department.
What was your schedule like during exams?
Before examination, I made sure I covered my course outline; solved enough past questions; set questions for myself and answered them based on what I had studied. I also did proper revision with my friends. I was mindful of my friends.
Did some people see you as being too serious?
Some people saw me as being too serious with my academics, but my roommate understood my lifestyle better. I didn’t read all the time. In fact, there were times I spent all the night watching videos and listening to music. But on the average, on week days, I used to study for a minimum of four hours and on weekends, I studied for about 10 hours, preferably in a quiet place. And I didn’t deprive myself of sleep. I slept for about seven hours daily. Most of the time, I read during the night, from 1am to 5.30am, to avoid distraction. My internet was always on, in case I needed to make clarifications. Also, I preferred to read in my hostel; I didn’t make use of the library often. I used the library in my first year, but from second year to my final year, I read in my hostel and I enjoyed it. People should adopt what works for them.
For the benefit of students who want to know more, could you tell us about your course?
Chemistry is a branch of physical science that studies the composition, structure, properties and change of matter. It is the central science that bridges other natural sciences including physics, geology and biology. Chemistry has many branches, including organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, analytical chemistry, physical chemistry and biochemistry. Each of the branches has useful applications in various industries. It’s an interesting course, but particularly, I enjoyed petroleum refining and brewing science and technology respectively.
At the early stage of studying Chemistry, students used to be scared of the complex compounds and reactions. What was the experience for you?
I was not scared of those. As a chemistry student, there is no way you can avoid complex structures especially in organic chemistry. The best way to learn them is constant reading and practising. And if you really want to study Chemistry, you must find a way to like them because in organic chemistry, there are many structures and you have to know how to draw them. It is a very good course but it can equally be challenging, as we have to know many structures of drugs and their reaction mechanism. In terms of job opportunities, a chemist can work in various companies including pharmaceuticals, polymers, food, cosmetics, petrochemicals, mineral and materials, etc. The role of chemists is very important in food processing industry. We have research and development chemist, production chemist, quality control chemist, food chemist etc. These chemists function effectively in their respective areas of specialisation in order to maximise profit and reduce costs of production. Chemistry is a broad course and research is going on every day for new discoveries.
These days, there are a number of first class graduates looking for job. Does that bother you?
The rate of unemployment in Nigeria has discouraged many students, but I’m optimistic and I believe that I would have good job offers after my National Youth Service Corps programme.
Since Chemistry is a very broad course, where would you like to work?
I would like to work in companies where my theoretical understanding and reasoning skills would be thoroughly utilised. I have preference for oil and gas companies, pharmaceuticals, breweries, food processing companies, etc. On the other hand, however, I like to further my education and get to the peak as a professor. Regardless, I believe in God’s direction. As a child, my dream was to become a medical doctor or a professor in my discipline. So, now that I didn’t study medicine, by the grace of God, I would get to the peak if I eventually go into academics. I aspire to be the best in everything I do, and whatever I touch I aspire to be successful. I want to give scholarship opportunities to the underprivileged persons that are academically sound.
How would you describe your social life in school?
I was very social in school. I attended many birthday parties. I participated in my departmental and faculty weeks’ celebrations and I went to beaches; I loved hanging out with my friends.
Till date, what was your happiest moment?
My happiest moment was the day of my convocation. People called me and some sent text messages to congratulate me. I had handshakes with the Vice Chancellor and many other professors. It was a day to remember. I wish my parents were alive, and that is the painful part. I wish they were alive so they would see how God has helped me and be happy. However, I take people who have been helping me as my parents, like my guardian. They were all very happy and satisfied with my performance.
What have you been doing since you graduated last year?
I would go for NYSC programme in June. Since I already have experience in teaching, I thought I should get busy with teaching, instead of staying at home, doing nothing. That’s what I’m doing at the moment; I’m teaching Chemistry now and it is fun. Students need to know that nothing good comes easy. I would advise them to keep working hard and look up to God. They should avoid wrong association and peer influence.
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