Some Nigerian governors are beginning to do things differently in the way they reward academic excellence. And this is commendable. Hopefully, others will catch the bug, and begin to place appropriate value on academic exploits. Who knows, this could help in re-directing the minds of some youths that have erroneously concluded that education in Nigeria is a scam. It may also usher in a new order of healthy competition among students in the country.
I remember writing a column titled, “Of Governor Abiodun’s largess and tuber of yam for best graduating students” in October 2020. In that article, I chronicled some bizarre prizes awarded for academic excellence in Nigeria. These prizes included a tuber of yam and fowl. Cash prizes ranged from N200 to N2,000. Yet, in the midst of this, Ogun State governor, Dapo Abiodun, gave the winner of BBNaija 2020, Olamilekan ‘Laycon’ Agbeleshe, a house and a cash sum of N5m for representing the state well and coming top in a purely entertainment competition that some people thought had no relevance to either the state or its people.
I did emphasise then that while entertainment was part of life, the likes of Abiodun ought to have encouraged academic excellence which is of greater value to both the state and the society in general. I said government should be seen to be focusing more on education and encouraging the youth to aspire to greater heights by developing their intellectual capacity.
Again in June, 2021, I wrote an article titled, “Still on UNN N500 cash prize for best graduating students.’’ The article dwelt on the cash award of N1,500 shared among the three best graduating students of the prestigious University of Nigeria, Nsukka and how this was a reflection of the value we placed on intellectualism and academic excellence. I later got to know that the university had written several times to the family of Sir Odumegwu to increase the cash sum instituted as a Memorial Prize in the institution but got no response from the family. Perhaps, the university should have dropped the award to avoid the kind of embarrassment it suffered when the cash prize went viral. Going forward, it may not be out of place for an institution to state the minimum cash prize that can be instituted for an award since their image is also involved. It’s all about placing appropriate value on academic exploits.
Fast forward to 2021, Governor Dapo Abiodun has done some of the things we have long advocated for. In November this year, the governor gave the Best Graduating Student from the Faculty of Clinical Sciences, Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile Ife, Joy Oyinlola Adesina, a house, N5 million and a scholarship for further studies.
Abiodun, while announcing the rewards at the reception organised in honour of Adesina, said that the medical scholarship would be for her residency at the Olabisi Onabanjo University Teaching Hospital (OOUTH), Sagamu. The governor also explained that the awardee by being the best medical graduate to have come out of the OAU is “an accomplishment, a rare feat that most of her peers can only dream of.” He then urged Adesina to put her intellectual prowess into research and scholarship, noting that she might be Africa’s first Nobel Laureate in Medicine. This is fantastic. It is the kind of encouragement that we should be giving to our brilliant students.
I know some people can argue that the Ogun State governor’s gesture is a mere political strategy to erase the memory of the criticism he got when he gave a house and the sum of N5m to the BBNaija winner last year. I won’t be surprised if that is the case either. However, this does not negate the fact that the governor did something that is commendable. After all, there is nothing wrong in learning from one’s past mistake. Imagine the results we would be getting as a country if everyone in power is truly responsive to constructive criticism!
Back to the issue of discourse, just a few days back, Hope Uzodinma, Imo State governor also offered scholarship to a student who scored nine A’s in the 2020 West African Senior Secondary Certificate Examination (WASSCE), Confidence Nwozuzu. Confidence is from Isiala Mbano Local Government Area of the state. Apart from the reception at the state house, the governor said that the state would continue to recognise outstanding indigenes. Uzodinma was quoted to have said, “We shall continue to recognize and encourage Imolites that bring honour to the State by distinguishing themselves in most remarkable ways. Confidence Chinaza Nwozuzu has indeed brought honour to the state with her outstanding performance of 9As from the 2020 Senior Secondary Certificate Examination.
“In acknowledgement of this meritorious performance, I have directed the Honourable Commissioner for Education to forthwith ensure Imo State sponsorship of Miss Chinaza through her educational career to the desired level.” That’s also a positive move. Interestingly, the governor’s gesture was well received even by his detractors. This only shows that people rate positive impacts above unhealthy politicking.
Also, this same November, Lagos State government awarded a scholarship of N200,000 each per year to two students in the state for achieving the best results in the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) conducted in 2020. The two beneficiaries, Abiodun Anuoluwapo Favor, and Sholana Taiwo Mohammed are from the same school, Vetland Senior Grammar School, Agege, Lagos State. Both students are now 100-level students at the University of Lagos (Akoka), studying medicine and surgery and chemical engineering respectively. They will both get N200,000 every year until they graduate five or six years from UNILAG according to the state Education Commissioner, Mrs. Folasade Adefisayo.
These three major events in the month of November desire attention especially at a time when all we hear from our educational sector are rarely things to write home about. Of course, I know these examples seem infinitesimal when compared with what is happening in the rest of the country. After all, these are mere three states in a country of 36 states. But for those of us desperate to see positive changes in our educational sector, any little improvement is worth celebrating. It is just unfortunate that we still have the likes of Aarinola Olaiya who despite being the first Student in 28 years to have a Distinction in Surgery at the Faculty of Clinical Sciences, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife, Osun State, who has nothing to show for her academic feats than a bundle of plaques. Though she graduated in 2017 with distinctions in Medicine and Community Health, her story resurfaced online recently probably because of the case of her fellow female medical doctor that got a house and N5m cash from the Ogun State governor. I hope her state governor will still do something to reward her. It is not too late.
The truth is, rewarding students for achievements goes a long way in building their morale and motivation. It also helps other students to strive even harder to reach their academic potential. So, we should inculcate a culture of rewarding academic excellence at all levels-individual, corporate and at governmental level. Doing this will entail putting in place a reward system for academic feats as part of our culture. For instance, as laudable as the actions of these states are, there is no guarantee that they will be sustained.
How do we institutionalise these awards such that they won’t just be at the whim or caprice of an individual? In other words, how can we remove political motives and standardise these awards such that politics or political party or a governor will not be able to determine what happens at any point in time?
Perhaps a good starting point could be for the governors that are convinced of the importance of rewarding academic excellence to make a formal policy backed by law in their states to institute specific scholarships and award prizes for students from their states that do well in specific examinations, courses or institutions across the country. They can start from the secondary school level by looking at the best performing candidates from their states in the National Examination Council (NECO) or the West African Examination Certificate Examination (WASSCE). They can also consider the best candidate from their states in the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) for scholarships. Some may decline the offer as they may not want to study in a public institution or in the country, the next qualified candidates could be considered in such cases.
Personally, I would love to see all the states of the federation competing with one another on who offers the best rewards for academic feats for their indigenes. This is likely to rekindle the interest of Nigerian youths in academics and bring positive changes to our educational sector.
Olabisi Deji-Folutile (PhD) is the editor in chief of franktalknow.com and member, Nigerian Guild of Editors. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org