Aishat Dauda emerged as the best graduating student in the Department of Economics at Elizade University, Ilara Mokin, Ondo State, after bagging a first class with a cumulative grade point average of 4.86 for the 2019/2020 academic session. The 22-year-old from Kaduna State shares her success story with ALEXANDER OKERE
Was studying Economics your original choice?
Actually, no, I wasn’t a fan of school at all. I didn’t plan on going ahead to have my first degree at all. My parents were just on my neck, insisting that I had to go to school. So, they asked me to choose a course of study. They said I had passion for politics and the current situation of the Nigerian economy. So, I decided to go for Economics.
Why weren’t you a fan of school; what else did you plan to do?
I wasn’t a fan of school because my educational journey had been very rocky. I had attended six primary schools and 14 secondary schools. I was moving around a whole lot, so I lost that drive for education. I was hardly ever able to complete a whole academic year in a school. My dad moved around a lot and is the type that likes having his family around. So, with every move, we had to change our schools. It was quite difficult and that was what made me lose interest in academic activities. I was really entrepreneurial and I still am. I just wanted to have my business. I was really passionate about cooking.
As a university student, did you set academic targets for yourself?
Yes; I wanted to be the valedictorian of my set. It was more about getting more A’s, since the benchmark was 70 per cent and above. I thought I should always get an A in a course and never think of getting anything less than an A. Anything less than an A was actually a disappointment.
Did you meet your target at the end of your first year?https://d-33771454972817693529.ampproject.net/2107092322000/nameframe.html
At the end of my first year, after two semesters, I had four B’s out of 22 courses and all the others were A’s. I was not too happy but I was comforted by the fact that it was a good start because I believe the foundation for one getting a first class starts in the first year. So, if you have a strong cumulative grade point average in the first year, then you are pretty much good to go.
Many students have personal study plans. Did you have any?
Yes; right from when the semesters started, I drew up a study timetable for a whole semester, right from day one. And I made sure I put in a minimum of two hours per course every day. If I was not studying, I was sleeping. If I was not sleeping, I was eating. If I was not eating, I was in the lecture hall. I didn’t have much of a social life. I was a frequent visitor at the university’s library. I went there every day, except Sunday.
Did your performance improve in subsequent sessions?
First of all, I started my first year at Pan-Atlantic University, Lagos, then I took a transfer to Elizade University. I rounded off my first year with a CGPA of 4.77. So, when I moved to Elizade, it was a new environment with new lecturers, so I needed to understand how everyone operated. It was a bit tough. In my first semester there, I had a CGPA of 4.65. It was really difficult but subsequently, my CGPA went higher because I understood what my lecturers wanted. I had a solid foundation for all the other courses. In my third year, I had only one B. In my final year, I rounded off with 4.86. We were using a four-point grading system but after reviewing the guidelines, it was converted to a five-point grading system.
You said you had a perfect score in your final year. What was your first reaction when you saw you had straight A’s?
I felt it was something I already expected because at the beginning of every semester, I had my study timetable. What I did was to take a look at every course content and whether I could work with it and predict the score I could get in the course and calculate a possible outcome per semester. So, for the first and second semesters of my final year, I predicted that I would be able to get a perfect score, I worked towards it and it happened.
Did studying hard cost you friends?
Personally, I’m not a very sociable person. So, I had just two friends who happened to be my course mates. We could play and study at the same time. We were pretty tight and comfortable with that.
Were there times people tried to discourage you from studying hard the way you did?
People didn’t really approach me that often because they felt I was too uptight. They called me a lion and that I looked like I was going to bite because if it was not about books, I wasn’t willing to have any discussion with you. I felt it (academic study) was just for four years, so why not put all you have into it and just get it out of the way? You could have all the fun in the world and be silly after that. When you come out strong after studying, every other thing will fall into place.
How did you balance academic work with other activities in school?
Some of my course mates and I established what we called Elizade University Community Service Project. We collected donations in cash and kind and we visited public schools within Ondo State and presented donations to them. We also participated in motivational talks and fielded a lot of questions from students that were curious about what university life was like and how to make decisions on their course or the paths to take. That was something that was quite adventurous and we were able to appreciate what we had because we discovered that right from primary school level, the children were already struggling because they didn’t have an enabling environment.
It was quite difficult balancing that activity with academic work because after every outing, we were exhausted and we had a backlog of schoolwork to do. So, what we did was we had a meeting and decided to have two groups, so that some of us could stay back in school on a particular week, while others went out for the project. So, those who stayed back would brief us about academic assignments when we returned. That made the work a whole lot easier. Teamwork was really important for our success.
How did your parents react when you broke the news to them that you had a first class?
My parents at some point weren’t really excited anymore because, every semester, I came home and told them I had a high CGPA. They said they already knew where I was headed and encouraged me to keep the momentum.
Does that mean you didn’t get any reward from them in the end?
I got a car from my dad. I didn’t expect it. Actually, the car came because I got a scholarship to study in the United States for a dual master’s degree programme but because of the pandemic, I had to forfeit the scholarship and defer my admission to next year. So, my dad saw how disappointed I was and got me a gift. He told me to take a small envelope. I opened it and saw some documents and realised he got me a car. I was so excited that I called my mum and siblings. Everyone was surprised and said they needed to work hard so they could also get a car from my dad.
What do you make of the argument that Nigerians who have first-class degrees in private universities could not have done so in public universities?
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Honestly, people are not being factual when it comes to that because just like how I have attended so many schools at the primary and secondary levels, Elizade (University) is the third university I attended. I started off my degree programme at Kaduna State University and did have a first class in my first year. Then when I moved to Pan-Atlantic (University) because of the strike, my performance was consistent. It’s just that the learning environment (in public universities) is a little more difficult. I believe three things make a student successful. The first is the student, the second is the sponsor and the third is an enabling environment. It’s a triangle. You need all three to be able to stand tall and as long as you have them, you should be able to excel.
What was your most challenging experience in the university?
It has to be the religious and cultural differences. I am a Hausa Muslim lady who had to move to Ondo and Lagos states and mixed with people from different cultures. In fact, my two best friends are from the southern part of the country. So, it was difficult for me to really fit in but at the end of the day, I found out that the differences were necessary to be able to have different perspectives on things. At school, I was always prejudged. Northern women are not really prominent when it comes to academics. So, people used to look at me and wonder what I was doing in the southern part of the country. So, it made me feel bad but, at the same time, it motivated me. I felt I needed to change that narrative. People need to stop thinking that we (northern women) are nothing but housewives or something.
What were the awards you received for graduating with a first class?
My school hasn’t really released any of that yet because COVID-19 put everything on hold. We were supposed to have our graduation. But we just had our notification of result and were told every other thing would be sorted out. The last information I got from the dean of my faculty, who happened to be my project supervisor, was that I was the best in the department. But he didn’t tell me about any other thing.
Are you interested in specialising in any particular area of Economics?
Yes; I’m a data freak. I used to hate mathematics a lot but when I got introduced to econometrics and advanced applied statistics during my degree, I developed an interest in business and financial analytics – basically using financial data to make future forecasts and make informed decisions when it comes to investments so that you are successful in your businesses. When you look at numbers, it’s really interesting how much you can get from those numbers that may seem a little bit not meaningful at first.
How can that help the Nigerian economy?
It’s very simple. If we look at what we have been able to achieve with public policies from independence, if we look at the trends, then we will be able to paint a large picture that tells you that something is wrong somewhere, some policies are not implemented appropriately or they are not working. So, you make the necessary changes and fine-tune things to the unique situation we have in the country.
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Can you cite an example with that?
You can look at the National Economic Recovery Growth Plan that was introduced a few years ago. It was supposed to be for just three years but if you look at all the trends over the past two years, I don’t think any of the objectives has been achieved. So, the key problem I noticed when I did a little bit of research on it was implementation and lack of synergy among government parastatals. You could have a level of government having a certain goal, for example, trying to alleviate poverty, but another part of the government says it’s trying to create more jobs and reduce the level of inflation in the economy. So, there is no synergy between goals and everybody is working towards different things and at the end of the day, it looks like you lack efficiency and you are not able to achieve anything at all. So, we need to be able to put our heads together to be able to achieve a common goal.
Do you think attending many primary and secondary schools in different locations paid off for you in the university?
If I am to look at the positive side about changing schools every year, personally, I would say the fact that I was able to meet different people helped me to see individual differences. I was able to fine-tune my mind when I started at Elizade (University). I was able to know that people would always be different; without that, I don’t think I would have been able to make any friends at all, communicate or express myself.
What do you do presently?
I started a little graduate training programme at the Budget and Planning Commission in Kaduna State. But I had to resign because a better opportunity came up. Other opportunities are coming and I thank God. 2020 has been somewhat good to me.
Do you have a dream job?
Yes, I do. Someone described me as a future finance minister on social media and I wondered how the person knew. I really want to make an impact in the public sector. And I feel for me to be able to do that, I need to find a way to penetrate that side in Nigeria.
Do you also intend to lecture in a tertiary institution?
Oh, yes. It’s something I really love. I plan to go for my PhD in something along the lines of development and public economics. It (lecturing) is part of my early retirement plans.
What advice would you offer Nigerians in tertiary institutions who want to graduate with good results?
It’s all about perseverance. You need to constantly engage with people that are on the track of getting a first class or have already graduated with a first class, if that’s the aim. You need to be able to know what they did, though it might be unique to them because everyone has a system that works for them. So, you might not want to replicate what they did because it might not work for you. But as long as you persevere and ask questions, you are constantly learning.https://d-33771454972817693529.ampproject.net/2107092322000/nameframe.html
Everyone has their own learning method. For some people, it’s more of an auditory thing. I explored all before I found what really worked for me. Sometimes, I recorded my lectures or myself reading out some parts of a textbook and played it over and over again. Sometimes, I drew my maps with different colours. So, you just need to find out what works for you and focus on it.
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