The Tony Elumelu Foundation is rewarding the best students, in Economics, Business Administration, and Medicine, in 10 Universities.
By Ben Ezeamalu
When Joel Zuhumben’s phone rang in his solitary room at Gindiri, and the voice at the other end told him he had won a prize; he thought it was a hoax.
“I was chatting with my colleague and I shared the news with him; he said ‘be careful, don’t begin to jubilate yet,” said Mr. Zuhumben, an Economics and Commerce teacher, at Boys’ Secondary School, Gindiri, a Jos suburb in Plateau State.
“I took his advice. Actually, I was battling inside between excitement and all that. Gradually, I got to confirm it,” he added.
For finishing top of his M.Sc Economics class at the University of Jos, Mr. Zuhumben, 31, was awarded the Elumelu Legacy Prize, an award for top undergraduate and graduate students in selected universities across Nigeria.
The prizes, instituted by banker and economist Tony Elumelu, and making its debut this year, will be awarded to students in Economics, Business Administration, and Medicine in 10 universities drawn from the nation’s six geopolitical zones.
“These prizes reflect the appreciation that my wife and I have for our own university education in Nigeria, and our confidence in the quality of the education provided by these great institutions,” said Mr. Elumelu, a former Chief Executive Officer of United Bank for Africa.
The schools were selected based on the particular influences the schools themselves, or the geographies of the institutions, contributed to the career and development of Mr. Elumelu and his wife; according to the Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF).
Two other winners, also from the University of Jos, joined Mr. Zuhumben as recipients of the award – Obianuju Okpara, who finished top of her class in the Department of Economics; and Francis Ayomoh, the best graduating medical student.
Last Saturday, the foundation also announced the conclusion of the second year of its African Markets Internship Programme (AMIP), its commitment to the development and celebration of African business leadership.
Among the events to mark the occasion included a lecture ‘Building a Great African Agribusiness’ by Vimal Shah, TEF Advisory Board member and Kenyan agribusiness executive.
Also, an exclusive career fair was organised for this year’s graduating AMIP associates to discuss career opportunities in Africa with companies such as McKinsey, UBA Capital, and Africa.com.
Mr. Zuhumben and his compatriots from Jos participated alongside 28 graduating AMIP associates drawn from countries like Ukraine, Ethiopia, Columbia, and a host of others.
“The whole thing is giving me an opportunity to come and interact with great minds from round the world,” said Mr. Zuhumben. “We’ve had time to share experiences; listening to their experiences, their points of view, I’m learning.”
Nothing to something
When he could not secure a decent employment after his Masters Degree programme, Mr. Zuhumben got a job as a computer operator where he helped with typesetting and other menial computer works.
Then a teaching appointment came.
“It wasn’t really what I wanted to do but what else can I do? I wanted to teach but at the university level, so it’s due to unemployment,” Mr. Zuhumben said.
“I just have to start somewhere. It’s a step.”
Prior to being announced as the winners of the inaugural edition of the award, the three award recipients said that they had no knowledge of the foundation’s existence.
Sometime in May, Mr. Ayomoh had just finished his call duty at the Jos University Teaching Hospital, where he worked as a House Officer, when he was informed, via phone, that he had won the Elumelu Legacy Prize.
“I knew there was a convocation coming, I suspected I was top of my class but I hadn’t gotten confirmation yet. So the call confirmed it,” said Mr. Ayomoh.
“But apart from telling me I was going to get the university’s award, that was when they told me there was a certain foundation that wants to recognize excellence in Medicine,” he added.
After overcoming the initial fear that he might be in strange company – amongst economists, bankers, and managers; Mr. Ayomogh said that he now plans to run a hospital someday.
“Working with the foundation has exposed me to a lot of opportunities, and I’ve really learned a lot of entrepreneurship and business management, even though I’m a medical doctor,” the medical doctor said.
“I have plans to go into business and entrepreneurship in the near future but, however, even Medicine has the business aspect of it,” he added.
After receiving the prizes, each recipient will join a lifelong network of TEF beneficiaries as they successfully enter the workforce and progress to becoming prominent leaders and entrepreneurs; the foundation said.
“The Elumelu prize is our own way of saying ‘these are people we have high hopes on,'” said Efe Odeleye, AMIP Programme Manager at TEF.
For Mr. Zuhumben, taking up the challenge of living up to the expectations is, in itself, a challenge.
“Everything is overwhelming because I wasn’t expecting it,” he said.
Already, after a virtually seamless transition from a student to a school teacher, Mr. Zuhumben said that he is grappling with the task of adjusting to life outside the four walls of a classroom. But he is determined to make much of this chance at success.
“I wasn’t expecting all these. This is the first time I’ve been invited to a programme like this, and this is my first time in Lagos,” Mr. Zuhumben said, with a smile.
“It can’t be compared with my teaching job. It’s far better.”