Emelife Chinelo Stella, who recently won 20 medals for her outstanding performance in the University of Mysore, India, speaks about the poor attitude of Nigerians to academic excellence in an exclusive interview with PREMIUM TIMES.
Mrs Chinelo, who hails from Enugwu Ukwu in Njikoka local government of Anambra State, just completed her Master’s degree programme in the Indian university.
As the Best Graduating Student for a Master’s degree programme with a final grade point (FGP) of 9.263 per cent, Stella received 20 gold medals and five cash prizes at the convocation ceremony in the university.
This newspaper gathered that the 28-year old also graduated with a first class in Usman Dafodio University, Sokoto (UDUS), where she obtained her first degree in applied Chemistry.
She finished as the overall best graduating student with a 4.86 Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) in the 2012/2013 academic session.
In this interview, Mrs Chinelo expressed her thoughts on issues bordering on the reformation of the education sector and sexual harassment in Nigerian tertiary institutions.
PT: Aside being a first-class student at UDUS and bagging 20 awards in India that is all over, tell us more about yourself.
I come from a family of seven, with me as the first and I am a Nigerian. I’m married to Comrade John Oshiobode Amagbor.
I’m a highly focused lady with much love for science. I’m very interested in the research industry, hence look forward to getting an opportunity to make my own mark in the research department of chemical industries or in the academia.
PT: Most Nigerian students go for a Master’s degree abroad for a greener pasture. Was your admission to the university of Mysore borne out of the same?
I went to India to get a Master’s degree in chemistry because I wanted a competitive environment and an environment that is conducive for learning and of course I chose India because I got an Indian government scholarship via the Indian Council for Cultural Relations.
PT: You performed excellently in both institutions attended but the sterling performance in India is the most laudable. Can you point out to some factors responsible for that?
Both are supposed to be laudable. However, India celebrates academic excellence the way it should.
Getting a degree in India is not a child’s play however, hard work, resilience and the grace of God saw me through.
There is nothing to explain really. Every convocation ceremony in Nigeria, there is a best graduating student but no one ever talks about them except in really rare cases but that’s not same with India, as you have seen clearly.
My news is spreading everywhere because the Indian media carried it around. It was all over the news in India.
PT: True. But people only saw the gold medals and will like to know some of the additional opportunities winning them has given. Can you share that with us?
I am very optimistic about greater opportunities in the future. That’s all I will say about this (for now).
PT: You talked about how unlike India, Nigeria doesn’t celebrate academic excellence. What were you given after the first class feat in UDUS either from the school or the government?
I will like to keep that to myself. But you know this already. How many times has your media house engaged any ‘best graduating student of a Nigerian university’ in an interview?
Obviously because you didn’t even know about it. You only got to know about my academic excellence because almost all media houses in India carried this news and that was because the university celebrated me.
It has nothing to do with material benefits.
PT: What are your plans after school?
I am a Nigerian and in my experience from the past, I have learnt to keep an open mind about everything. So yeah, I’m open to both the academia and ‘the field’.
PT: A lot of people believe there’s need for reformation in the education sector. Do you believe that?
The education sector in Nigeria needs all the reformation it can get, starting from the basic to tertiary level.
PT: Can you cite past experiences to explain this?
This is not really about my very own past experiences.
Truth is, we all know this. Public schools in Nigeria are not well furnished starting from the buildings, to the meagre salaries the teachers receive, which in some states some teachers are still being owed, like my mother who has been working for almost a year now in a public school in Sokoto state without being paid.
Tertiary institutions lack the right structures and facilities to facilitate learning within the stipulated period of time.
Methods of admission to tertiary institutions are not very clear to the applicants, hence, you have people like me who spent three years and even more at home writing UTME countless times with no admission.
The list is endless.
PT: Do you think there is anything Nigeria can do to improve the education sector owing to your experience in both Nigeria and India?
I just said educational reformation in Nigeria should start from the scratch. I honestly can’t pick up anything that is working very fine in the education sector in Nigeria at the moment and to the best of my knowledge.
I think enough funds should be pushed into education and it should be intentional.
Academic excellence should be highly applauded so that everyone gets inspired and works towards achieving such heights.
PT: Away from that, I want us to discuss the rampant cases of sex-for-marks in Nigerian tertiary institutions. Have you ever been a victim of this?
PT: But do you know of friends, who in one way or the other, were victimised by lecturers for not yielding to their request for a sexual relationship?
As much as I can remember, I have not had any friend with such issues in my school or anywhere.
However, I see these things on blog posts, and I can’t imagine why it should be so. I totally kick against such and (it) should not be taken lightly.
PT: Okay. What are your recommendations to curb this menace?
I can’t say much about this. But all I will say is, the university, I believe, is very much aware of these things, appropriate punishments should be given to culprits and the student who goes through such a should be given that maximum support to ensure she doesn’t suffer for doing the right thing: reporting the culprit.
PT: And lastly, your words (of advice) to Nigerian youth in various tertiary institutions?
Keep at it. Let not the environment or fear of the future discourage you. Just stay focused, work hard and even harder and pray at all times.