Lady, 26, emerges UNILAG's youngest PhD graduate

THE PUNCH Newspaper

Both Olabisi Adeyemi and Iziren Akhigbe share the same thing in common. They were born 26 years ago and are also brilliant. Last Thursday, the two shone like a million stars during the convocation of the University of Lagos. While Adeyemi emerged the best graduating PhD student, Akhigbe with a Cumulative Grade Point Average of 4.98 out of a possible 5.0 emerged the all-time best graduating first degree student of the institution.

Akhigbe read Mechanical Engineering while Adeyemi obtained PhD in Botany.

The Minister of Education, Prof. Ruqquayyat Ahmed-Rufái, the institution’s Pro-Chancellor, Mr. Gamaliel Onosode, and its Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Tokunbo Sofoluwe, and dignitaries at the event did not have a choice but to rise in applause when the brainy duo were called to the podium to receive their prizes.

The two did not just emerge the best in their respective classes, they also made history. Akhigbe created a new CPGA record with his 4.98 points while Adeyemi became the youngest PhD holder produced by the 50 year-old institution.

Speaking with our correspondent after they received their awards from the education minister, the two attributed their success to God, hard work and support from their parents, relatives, lecturers, friends and colleagues.

But bagging a PhD at 26 for Adeyemi was not a tea party. Born in Agarawu in Lagos Island Local Government Area of Lagos State, Adeyemi said it was not an easy road to walk.

The lady, who had graduated with a first class degree in Botany at UNILAG in 2006 after she completed her secondary school education at Girls’ Academy on Simpson Street, Lagos in 2001, said, “It was not easy but I thank God for His mercies. My mum is a retired civil servant while I lost my dad on May 8, 2009. So, raising fund for the programme was difficult, particularly at the beginning but I thank God for the support I received from my mother, the graduate fellowship award from UNILAG, the Lennox Boyd and Explorer’s grants that came later also helped me immensely.”

But in spite of the awards, Adeyemi had to take up a job at the Department of Botany of UNILAG in July 2010 to help herself.

Asked whether she had won similar award before, Adeyemi said, yes.

“I was the best student in my set because I made seven distinctions during our final West African Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination and though I was not the best graduating student when I graduated from UNILAG in 2006 for my first degree, I made a first class,” she said with a sense of fulfilment.

Her performance qualified her to enrol for the M.Phil programme. After the completion of the programme, she started the PhD programme in 2007/2008 session, which she completed in record time of three years.

“I did not do a Master’s programme. I did M.Phil for one academic session and converted to the PhD programme afterwards,” she said.

So, how does it feel breaking a record as the youngest PhD holder to be produced by UNILAG, Adeyemi said, “I feel highly privileged to have achieved such a feat and I am deeply grateful to God for being with me all through the way,” she said.

Speaking about the challenges facing postgraduate education in the country, Adeyemi, who completed her primary school education at Hope Primary school, Victoria Island in 1995, said that inadequate funding to drive research and provide academic facilities in most institutions were some of the factors militating against the sub-sector.

“But on a personal note, I will say that the main challenges were seen at the initial stages of my programme and were mainly due to difficulty in getting funds for the research aspect of my work,” she said.

Adeyemi, however, added that paucity of funds, grants, inadequate infrastructural facilities such as laboratory equipment, epileptic power supply and lack of access to relevant journals were some other problems facing postgraduate education in the country.

But does she believe that politics and some professors’ highhandedness are the reasons why the Nigerian university system has not been producing enough PhD holders? Adeyemi said, “I disagree with this because a lot of factors including the ones I have mentioned could contribute to this and not necessarily what you have just mentioned.”

The lady, who is still a spinster, said she was able to cope with men on campus by God’s grace and by defining the kind of relationship she wanted with them from the outset.

Now that she has completed her programme, Adeyemi said she would face her lecturing career properly while she waits on God to give her a husband.

Asked whether there was any time she felt like quitting the programme as a result of challenges, she said no, adding that she believed that quitting was a sign of defeat. “Yes, there were challenges but I did not contemplate dumping the programme because I believe quitting shows defeat and I could not quit because I also had a very great mentor and supporter in my supervisor, Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe,” she said.

But while Adeyemi is a bookworm, Akhigbe, who emerged the best graduating student at the first degree level is a man of many parts. “I socialise very well, I did everything that a normal student would do. I had girlfriends like others. I played around like others. But as a matter of duty, I woke up by 4am everyday and whether there was examination or not, I won’t go out until 6am and when I got to class I read. I also made it a point of duty never to miss lecture. I also made sure that all my friends were serious-minded students. That is why most of my friends, including Christopher Ogbunozor and Hastrup Adebusuyi made first class or at worst a second class upper degree,” he said. Ogbunozor made a first class while Adebusuyi graduated with a second class upper in Mechanical Engineering like Akhigbe.

The 26-year-old man, who hails from Ovbioniem in Owan East Local Government Area of Edo State, however, said the Higher National Diploma in mechanical engineering he obtained at Yaba College of Technology, Lagos in 2007 contributed to his success at the university.

But would he advise the Federal Government to make the possession of advance level certificate or National Diploma certificate a compulsory admission requirement to universities, Akhigbe, whose mother teaches Home Economics at Ikeja High School, Lagos said no. “We are created differently. I’ve seen students who come to the university directly from secondary school doing very well. There are also some of us who had the opportunity of polytechnic education or A/Level education and who are not doing well. I will not advise government to legalise that,” he said.

Though Akhigbe had left YABATECH in 2007 as the best graduating student, he played the feat down, saying the grace of God and the support he received from his parents and lecturers coupled with the healthy competition among his course-mates, propelled him to emerge the best.

Akhigbe, who completed his secondary school education at Federal Government College, Ibilo, Edo State, said he would come back to the university for his postgraduate degree after the completion of his National Youth Service Corps scheme.

“I want to impart the society positively but before I do that I should impart myself first. That is why I will first work for two or three years before I come back to the university to lecture,” he said.

Akhigbe encouraged students who had failed one examination or the other not to give up on themselves. “I have failed an examination before, funny enough it’s in mathematics that I consider my best subject in secondary school. I knew why I failed, so that is why I will advise students at whatever level never to give up when they fail. It is not the end of the world,” he said.

For his efforts, Akhigbe who won three other awards went home with cash prizes including the N100,000 donated to the best graduating student by the alumni association of the university.

However, the convocation is not about the two alone, the vice-chancellor, Sofoluwe, had while presenting his address, said that 118 of the 3,224 graduating students passed out with first class degrees in various disciplines.

Sofoluwe lauded Akhigbe for creating the record of the highest CGPA of 4.98, which he described as the highest in the history of graduates at the institution.

He said that the second best graduating student, Damilare Akanni, who bagged first class degree in accounting scored a CGPA of 4.93.

Giving a breakdown of the number of graduates per faculty, Sofoluwe said 370 students graduated from arts, 370; 514 from education; 313 environmental sciences, 583 sciences; 504 from social science while 985 students were awarded various degrees and diplomas from the distance learning institute.

Sofoluwe attributed the huge number of first class students produced by the university to the conducive academic environment on the grounds in the institution. “This academic feat was due to the conducive and enabling environment which paved the way for our students to excel,” he explained.

Among the achievements, he said, were the 300 level Mass Communication students of the institution, who won the 2011 Roger Hatchel Academy Award, which was competed for by students from 20 tertiary institutions across the country.

He said 10 outstanding students of 400 and 500 levels students of the Faculty of Engineering with cumulative point average ranging from 4.0 to 4.9 received scholarship worth $15,000 from LG Electronics Nigeria Limited.

To mark the 50thanniversary of the institution, the university also rewarded some lecturers who had contributed to the academic development of the institution with various awards.


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