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Though I laugh now, pressure made me cry in school– Akpan, ABUAD best graduate

With 4.96 Cumulative Grade Point Average from the Department of Law, 20-year-old Unyime Akpan emerged as the best graduating student at Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti in the 2018/2019 academic session. In this interview with TUNDE AJAJA, she shares the secret of her success.

it’s a great feat being the overall best student in your set, were you surprised when you were told you were the best?

Honestly, it all still seems surreal to me. During my first to third year, I didn’t think I would end up as the overall  best student. It was in my fourth year that I began to see the possibility because as of then my Cumulative Grade Point Average was 4.95 and that motivated me to work even harder. It was during the summer holidays just before the graduation ceremony that I was informed that I was the best so I could start preparing my valedictory speech. I was overjoyed and overwhelmed. It felt really amazing (smiles).

And how did your parents react when you told them?

My mum was the first person I told and I can remember she started singing and dancing with so much joy. I told my dad over the phone and I could tell how happy he was from his tone. Being able to make my family so happy and proud meant a lot to me and I’m glad for everything. Nothing good comes easy. It wasn’t easy but with faith, dedication and hard work, anything is possible and that was my approach to my studies.

You once described your passion for law as unmatched, what attracted you to law?

When I was much younger, my answer to this question would be that I wanted to defend the defenceless but it has gone beyond that now. I have come to understand that law is diverse and its presence and impact pervade all areas of life. It is this interaction between law and other disciplines that attracts me to it. I have an insatiable thirst to keep learning in that diversity, despite my area of specialisation.

Does it mean you wouldn’t have considered another course outside law?

Actually, economics was my second choice and I’m still very much interested in developing myself in that regard. However, for me, law is generally a unique discipline and what interests me the most about it is its quest to ensure that justice prevails always.

To have graduated with 4.96 CGPA meant that you only had one or two ‘B’s, did you feel bad at those times?

I had two ‘B’s and to be honest, I was devastated but I decided to see them as reasons to put in more efforts.

What were the things that made your success possible?

With all the confidence in the world, I attribute my success to God. I equally put in efforts and I had optimum support from my family and friends. I believe your environment has an effect on your performance as well and Afe Babalola University provided the most conducive environment for learning and excelling.

You described yourself as a team player, did that influence your performance in anyway?

Yes, I believe that no man knows it all and no one should live in isolation. We all need one another and oftentimes, results from team work are better than what we could have done as individuals. With this in mind, I loved when we were split into groups for research purposes because we all had to work together and complement one another’s strengths and weaknesses. Intrestingly, the outcome of the group work affected our grades collectively. So yes, being a team player definitely influenced my performance.

Beyond the team work, what reading schedule worked for you?

I didn’t have a precise reading schedule, even though law is voluminous. Instead, I gave myself study goals daily, which involved choosing some topics I had to cover for a particular day. Meanwhile, I didn’t restrict myself to a study schedule. What mattered to me was meeting my goal for the day, even if I had to deprive myself of sleep. And I actually did that countless times. Also, I paid attention in class so I didn’t have to spend the whole day going through my notes. Definitely, my reading hours increased significantly when I was preparing for tests and examinations. However, I tried to get at least eight hours of sleep a day because rest is very important. Also, I used the library often. Overall, I thank God for making it happen. Honestly, I commend all my colleagues; they did exceptionally well. I know how much effort most of them put into their studies and it was really motivating for me. I don’t like to see myself as better than anyone; we are all uniquely blessed and gifted.

Despite your plan to graduate with a first-class degree, were there times you almost gave up due to the pressure?

Yes, I wanted to graduate with a first-class degree from the beginning but there were times I got frustrated because there was too much to do. There was even a time I cried for about five minutes because I had so many deadlines to meet and it seemed impossible (laughs). Now I can laugh about it because I pulled through, and that’s what matters.  The outcome is what really matters.

You had a publication on ‘Death penalty in Nigeria: should it be abolished or sustained?’ Could you briefly share the outcome of your work?

The outcome of the research was basically that it is impossible to pick a side in this kind of case because numerous factors come to play. Most importantly, it is not a question of whether or not the death penalty should be abolished but a question of how effective is the process of sentencing and implementation of such a sentence.

I saw that you co-authored the work with someone else, what inspired you to write as an undergraduate?

I love writing articles and conducting research. That was what inspired me.

Since you served as an intern in law firms, how was your first day in court?

My first time in court was not during my internship. My school took some of us to the High Court in Ekiti State to witness an inter-school moot and mock competition. It was really amazing and a great experience for me.

What part of law are you interested in?

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I’m interested in corporate/commercial law and transactions.

Why not litigation since you enjoyed your first time in court?

(Laughs) I believe there is more to law than litigation. However, I’m interested in litigation but owing to the diverse nature of law, my interests are not limited.

Were you involved in other school activities apart from your studies?

Yes, I was a member of the school choir, a judge in the Law Students’ Society Judiciary, and before I was appointed a judge, I was a member of the Attorney General’s Chamber in the Law Students’ Society. I was also a member of the editorial committee of the ABUAD Law Students’ Society Journal.

Having served as a judge in the Judicial Council of the Law Students’ Society, would you like to be a judge someday?

Honestly, I commend all the judges and justices in Nigeria. It’s not an easy task at all. My position as a judge in school actually appealed to me; it was a great experience for me. So, it’s an option I would keep open. I won’t rule it out completely.

Would you say your excellent performance was a continuation of what you had in your previous schools?

Yes, I had similar performances but none beats my most recent achievement. I took the West African Senior School Certificate Examination and Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination once and passed, but I knew I could do better. I’m happy that it keeps getting better and I have to thank my parents for contributing immensely to my success through their support morally, financially, spiritually and other means.

For many young people, being in the university is the first time they’re having such freedom, did you have any challenge when you resumed as a first-year student?

Yes, it was a bit difficult trying to adjust to a new environment and system but I eventually got used to it.

What are your plans and aspirations?

The next thing for me is law school after which I would serve my country through the National Youth Service Corps scheme. After that, I look forward to scholarship opportunities to further my education and develop myself, by pursuing a master’s degree and other certifications as I deem fit. I want to keep improving myself.

Some people see being in relationship as a distraction while some believe otherwise, what’s your thought on it?

When it comes to relationships, there is no one way to it. What I mean is that some relationships can be a distraction while some can actually motivate you to do better. That’s why people are advised to go into a relationship with a purpose and to be with people who have goals and aspirations, so it won’t be a parasitic relationship where one person is feeding off another. But where they both complement each other, they would make each other better.

What was your most memorable moment in school?

My happiest moment had to be when I checked my results and saw I had ‘A’ in all my courses.

How many of you graduated with a first-class degree in your class?

From the College of Law, 25 of us graduated with a first-class degree.

What’s your advice to students who want to have outstanding results like yours?

To succeed, you must first believe in yourself. You have to be intentional and work hard. Even when you get to the top, you still have to be consistent and that’s the time to work even harder because getting to the top is easier than staying at the top. Meanwhile, I would like to encourage everyone in school not to give up even when it seems to be the easiest option.

It is important to strive to make good grades as they will open doors for you. Developing yourself outside the school system is equally important but the value of good grades cannot be undermined.


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