Tobi Oladiran, 22, was the best graduating student at Landmark University in the 2016/2017 academic session. He made 4.88 CGPA from the Department of Accounting. In this interview with TUNDE AJAJA, he speaks about his achievement and the things that helped him.
From your first day in school till now, what would you describe as your most memorable moment?
My happiest moment was the day I graduated from Landmark University. I was so happy because I was able to finish not only as the best graduating student, but also with five top-rated qualifications, including that of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria and Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, which is the global professional accounting body offering ACCA qualification.
Did any form of counsel or reward from your parents encourage you to take on those additional tasks?
I believe my parents understood the fact that I’m not motivated by material things but that I’m motivated by more challenging tasks to perform. It was immediately I finished my secondary school education that I started the ICAN programme, which made it possible for me to become a qualified member of ICAN in my third year. After that, my dad asked me what was the next thing and I told him that I needed to get an international qualification and so I went ahead to apply for ACCA. That served as a means of motivation for me. So, that has always been the way they motivate me.
How easy was it combining those professional exams with your undergraduate programme?
I can’t say it was easy but it was more of smart work than hard work. Like my mentor would always say, ‘It’s better to learn how to work smart than how to work hard.’ For example, a student who is not knowledgeable in the use of Microsoft Excel could spend a lot of hours trying to sort documents and the person could claim to have worked the whole day. That is hard work. However, another student who is knowledgeable in the use of Excel can just input one or two formulae and get the same result with lesser human error, and that is what I call smart work. So, it’s about being able to combine the professional exam with my undergraduate course. For me, the most difficult part was maintaining the first class. Right from my first year, I planned to make first class and I believed strongly that it would not have been possible without God’s guidance and adequate preparation. So, I knew what I wanted and I was ready to work for it, regardless of the other things I was doing.
One would assume that something must have influenced that decision in your first year. Do you remember what it was?
I can never forget the experience I had on the day I resumed school. On that day, there was a programme at the university’s multipurpose hall. I sat at the back of the hall and I watched the dance crew, the choir, and the ‘word casters’ perform. I then looked inward and asked God how I would cope in that type of institution. That was because that would be the first time I would see an auditorium filled with students with great skills, talents and abilities. Right there and then, I made a decision that though I might not know how to sing or dance like those students I saw that day, I would do my best in my academics. So, I can say that influenced my decision. That is one of the reasons why I believe it is good when students have a goal, because it guides their actions and they have something they are working towards. I started having first class right from my 100 level first semester; I started with 4.95 Grade Point Average. In my second year, I realised that I could actually emerge the best graduating student and from that moment, I started working towards it.
Could you capture how happy your parents were when you gave them the news?
On the day I was told that I would be the valedictorian for my set, immediately, I called my parents to inform them and they were very happy. My father in particular was very happy because three months before that day, I had just informed them that I emerged as one of the ACCA top affiliates in Nigeria.
Would you say there were things you did that other students didn’t pay attention to?
Well, I believe this quote from William A. Adam will enable people to understand what I think one could do to be different from others. He said, “Study while others are sleeping; work while others are loafing; prepare while others are playing and dream while others are wishing.” That captures it. Let me tell you how my schedule also had some impact on my work; I used to wake up early, say at 4am, to read and plan my day. After that, I would do my devotion and then I would prepare for lectures. During free periods, I could revise my notes, go to the library or attend to other things as part of the executive of the Students Representative Council. From 8pm to 11pm, I made it a duty to study and I ensured that I learnt at least one new thing each day. I usually slept from 11pm to 4am. As much as possible, I kept to that schedule and it helped. Also, I tried to teach at least two other students what I had read to ensure that I really understood what I had read.
What interests you most about accounting?
Everything about accounting is quite interesting. Some people believe that accounting is all about calculation but it is more than mere computations. The two subdivisions that I found most interesting were Performance Management, formerly known as Management Accounting, and Financial Management. This is because both divisions involve a lot of logical reasoning and they do not have prescribed standards or format, unlike Financial Reporting or Corporate Reporting. Actually, I have always wanted to be an accountant, based on the orientation I had as a teenager, and that was the fact that accounting is the language of business and having knowledge in that field would enhance my competence in knowing how to run and finance my company.
The unemployment challenge in Nigeria is rising at an alarming rate. Does this bother you?
Yes, it does. The persistent increase in the rate of unemployment in Nigeria is something an average Nigerian undergraduate should be bothered about. I believe my school has a well-structured curriculum that is tailored towards making students job creators and not job seekers. The curriculum also covers entrepreneurship which equips students with the skills required in starting up their own businesses.
Would you like to practise the profession or you have interest in other things?
I would like to work in any of the big accounting firms, particularly the big four, namely: PricewaterhouseCoopers, KPMG, Deloitte and Ernst & Young or top management consulting Firms like Mckinsey, Boston Consulting Group and Bain. I would like to practise my profession for about five to ten years in order to develop capacity in my field and gain a deeper understanding of how business works, because my goal is to become a global business leader and to be a voice in the accounting profession.
What should students do to have excellent result like yours?
The first thing I will advise students to do is to have well-defined goals. This would serve as a blueprint for them and it is equally important to follow through with those goals. I must mention that it is also important for students to be flexible with their goals; there is no point being rigid if it’s clear that the original design needs a review. I also believe that students should not be shy to do what they feel is right, regardless of what friends or colleagues would say. For me, library was like my second home because of the numerous materials available there and using those materials was very helpful.
Were you able to create time for social activities?
My social life was not so boring, even though I wasn’t the most social person on campus. On the scale of 1 to 10, I would rate myself five, because I was involved in other activities.
Did you enjoy any scholarship?
I have not enjoyed any scholarship, but I hope to get one to pursue my Master’s degree. However, I have won several awards, such as the best student in commerce and account, in my secondary school. During my undergraduate days, some awards I bagged included: The most influential student in accounting, the student ambassadors award, which I won for two consecutive academic sessions, the ACCA Top Affiliate in Nigeria, and many others.
Is there anything you loved to do as a student that you could not do?
I would have loved to create an International Financial Reporting Standards Club in my department but I couldn’t, due to the opposition I faced from people who saw the IFRS club as a threat. It was painful because I had already designed the scheme, how it would run and the succession plan. I had also mapped out strategies to establish relationship with the big four audit firms in order to tap from the wealth of their human resources. But it’s okay.
Were there times people tried to take advantage of your small stature?
Yes, the first challenge I had in school was as a result of my small stature and I felt strongly that a lot of students looked down on me because of that. However, it wasn’t an issue of concern.
Could you tell us about your best lecturer?
My best lecturer was Dr. Tony Nwanji. He taught me corporate governance and ethics. I can never forget the day he explained the deontological and teleological view of business ethics. This indeed spurred a kind of constructive and logical argument amongst students in relation to making ethical decisions.
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