15-year-old Esther Enwereuz of His Grace High School, Enugu, Enugu State, who was recently announced the golden prize winner of the 16th edition of the annual essay competition organised by the United Bank for Africa (UBA) Foundation, never saw the feat coming.
Her entries were ranked best among more than 7,000 others by a panel of judges which was led by a professor of English Language at the University of Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, Ini Uko.
But the topic of the first round of the competition, “What is the Role of Technology in Educating African Youth?” was not only new to Ms Enwereuz, she also anticipated the challenge access to the internet might pose to her, as entries were expected to be submitted online.
But her classmates, who had concluded plans to take part in the competition, insisted she had what it takes to do well, “and they encouraged me to try my luck.”
“I do not know much about technology, so I started to brainstorm and I read many things before I decided to write,” she said.
Crowded cyber cafe
Having prepared her essay, the senior school 3 student, who did not inform her parents about the competition, said on the deadline day for the entry submission, on her way home from school she checked at a cyber cafe to send hers.
But there was a crowd of people who also wanted to use the facility and when it was getting late, she pleaded with the centre’s operator to call her parents on the phone so that she could tell them where she was.
“But the man did not answer me, and I did not want to leave because I might not be able to submit again,” she said.
Apprehension at home
For a girl who was not in the habit of staying late at school, the parents became unsettled when she didn’t return home on time.
Narrating the experience during the award ceremony which was held at the bank’s headquarters in Lagos, Esther’s mum, Chika Enwereuzo, said she was unaware that her daughter was taking part in any competition until they found her at the cafe where they had thought she could be registering for her National Identity Number (NIN).
She said; “To be honest, Esther believes in herself. She is not a child who comes home late so we were all worried and I began to cry. But we felt she might be trying to register for her NIN at a cafe and that was where we found her.”
The mother, a civil servant in Enugu State, said she didn’t understand the importance of the competition until she received a message that her daughter qualified among the top 12 essayists.
Miss Esther in her winning piece which sought to answer the question; “If You Could be an Entrepreneur, What Business Would You Set Up Today and How Would Your Business Impact Africa?” said she decided to write about recycling because of the danger posed by poor waste disposal in the country and the continent by extension.
“I thought that if we have containers in strategic locations on the streets where people can dump different wastes and we go around to collect them for recycling, we can turn them into something useful and as such, reduce pollution and flooding.”
She said she feels proud, happy and grateful as a winner, adding that she never thought she could make it.
“Maybe I underrated myself. I never thought that I would win and that is the most amazing part. I just wrote because of the pressure my friends put on me to write.
“In class, I am not one of the best. I know people who are way smarter than me so I am grateful,” she added.
She said the feat is inspiring her “to want to think more, read more and do more.”
Apart from Esther, 17-year-old Chukwubikem Nduka of Oxford international school, Aba, Abia State and 15-year-old Hajarat Abdulwahab of Addy Basic School, Kano State, ranked second and third respectively.
While Esther will be rewarded with N3 million worth of scholarships for ranking first, Master Chukwubikem and Hajarat will be rewarded with N2.5 million and N2 million worth of scholarships respectively.
Also speaking on his experience, Master Chukwubikem who said his mother informed him of the competition, said he was reluctant to participate.
He said; “My mother saw the announcement on Facebook and told me to send in an entry but I was reluctant to do so because I had taken part in various competitions in the past without success.”
He said he once progressed to the state level of the popular Mathematics competition otherwise called Cowbellpedia, but lost out before the finals.
“I am good at Maths but I have never been lucky in any competition. So when I was encouraged to take part in an essay competition I was afraid. But here I am being ranked second nationwide. I give glory to God and I thank my parents who encouraged me.
Chukwubikem’s mother, Uwankaego Okorie, described her son as precocious, saying he had started reading newspapers as early as age five.
She said she could not believe that all the way from Aba in Abia State, her son could win such competition.
The second runner-up, Hajarat, said her uncle notified her of the competition and helped her to submit her entry. But unlike her competitors who had doubted their winning capacities, Hajarat said she wrote the final entry “with her heart set on emerging one of the best in the competition.”
About the competition
The competition, which is targeted at senior secondary students in Nigeria and held annually, is part of the UBA Foundation’s education initiatives that are aimed at promoting the reading culture and encouraging healthy and intellectual competitions amongst students in the country.
Speaking at the event, the managing director of the bank, Kennedy Uzoka, said based on the special interest the financial institution has in education and the future of the country, it increased the award prizes by 33 per cent.
“When we started, the first prize used to be about N500,000 but today the Foundation has done some revisions and the current first to third winners will be given N3 million, N2.5 million and N2 million worth of scholarships respectively.
He said the bank is organising the same competitions in other countries where it operates on the continent of Africa, and that the use of scholarships is restricted to any higher institution in Africa, saying; “Only Africans can make the desired change possible on the continent.”
Representing the judges panel, Ini Uko, a professor of English at the University of Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, said more than 7,000 entries were received across the country out of which the best 12 entries were selected before they were pruned down to the best three.
She said unlike in the past, the judges were faced with the challenge of selecting the best 12 entries because “many of the entries were really good.”
“We arrived in Lagos on December 4, for the final stage and the selected 12 wrote the final stage essay on Sunday, December 5.”
She said with the enormous numbers of entries received, the panel noticed that the efforts of many students to write well is clear, adding that it is apparent that the students are now mindful of the expected standards and are more meticulous in writing their essays.
“This ensures the credibility of their entries, which implies that the motivation for proper English usage among young users of English Language is beginning to manifest,” Mrs Uko said.
She said the 12 finalists put up a very fervent contest and commended them for what she described as their ability to write very well on the topic chosen for the final stage.
“This indicates that the students are interested in being considered for the prizes. By implication, the youth as a veritable set of English language users in Nigeria may be progressively appreciating the huge distinction between the informal ways of writing as used in the SMS mode of communication and the formal one required in an exercise like this,” she said.
The managing director and chief executive officer of the Foundation, Bola Atta, commended the participants for their efforts and pledged the organisation’s continued support for education as the fulcrum for national development.