Fifty-nine. That was the magic ‘low score’ that propelled Basirat Rufai, 22, to become University of Ibadan’s faculty of pharmacy valedictorian, missing a perfect CGPA only by a whisker – 6.9 of 7.
In this interview with Yusuf Akinpelu, the third child of a family of four who is an indigene of Abeokuta spoke on how, after that downtime in her sophomore year, she did not look back and had a perfect GP in all her courses from then to her final year, and dreams in the pharmaceutical industry.
PT: How was schooling like for you?
Basirat: I would say schooling was not that bad, as it was fun too. It was a mixture of both good and bad times. Coping with the stress of school was not that easy, especially during my 500 level, because that was practically the most stressful year for me. But I must say I also enjoyed schooling because I met a set of great people, great minds from different spheres of life.
PT: What is it like being the best graduating student in your faculty?
Basirat: I feel so excited and also happy I must say. All thanks to Almighty God, for making the dream come true. I have always set my mind to be outstanding in everything I do, and I am happy I was able to achieve that. The feeling is not really expressible, I must say. I am also very delighted I was able to bag distinctions in all courses especially clinical pharmacy.
Right from 400 level, when we started clinical pharmacy, I had always heard, ‘no one gets distinction in clinical pharmacy’. But I did not listen to this. I made sure I put in so much effort to break that record of ‘no one gets distinction in clinical pharmacy’. To be honest, I am very proud of myself to have finished with a CGPA of 6.9/7 and also as the Overall Best Graduating Student.
PT: What did you do to be the best?
Basirat: Well, I didn’t really do anything exceptional. I just made sure I did the right thing at the right time. When it was time for tests and exams, I went into hibernation mode. I made sure I was always very prepared, and when it is time to relax too, I enjoy it. I am bad at reading at night, so during the day, I read such that it is only food and solah (prayer) that can make me leave my book. When it is around 10 p.m., I shut down till the following morning. I do MTN (Morning till night) as UItes would call it.
After waking up and praying, my next line of action is reading. My maximum reading on a stretch capacity was 3 hours. All I do is probably get a 15-30 minutes nap, or use that time to munch on something. After that, I’d resume back to reading. I also do not get discouraged. I am also a fast writer, so I always note what every lecturer says in class. I try as much as possible not to miss out on anything. I also try to filter any information I listen to.
In almost every level, as a pharmacy student, you would always hear something about a particular course in that same level. I could remember in my 300 level, we got news of how people always fail biochemistry and even have resits in the course. As a determined person, I felt this should not be a discouragement. As much as people failed, there were some set of people that passed too. It was not easy, but I was very happy when I got my results and I had 7 points in the two biochemistry courses. This is just to say I made sure I did not fail myself because of news I have heard. Prayer cannot also be left out. I prayed to Almighty God to always bless my efforts and I am glad my prayers were answered. Alhamdulillah.
PT: What was the reward like from your school for your achievement?
Basirat: The reward from school was well deserved. I received cash prizes and also written cheques. I got awards from the faculty and also from the Pharmacists’ Council of Nigeria. I also got a share in a company as promised by the keynote speaker.
PT: What next after your first degree?
Basirat: After my internship and my service (NYSC), I plan to further my education by going for my MSc. outside the country. I hope and pray to get a scholarship for that.
PT: What were your pre-university years like?
Basirat: My pre-university years were basically my secondary school days. Right from secondary school, I had always tried to be among the best. I also received an award in my secondary school for being outstanding in academics.
PT: Are there innovations you envision in the pharmaceutical industry as you forge ahead with your studies, and what aspect of pharmacy do you plan to major in?
Basirat: Well, let me reframe the question as innovations I envision in the pharmacy profession. I used to like community pharmacy practice but now I am getting to like research more. The area that interests me more is HIV/AIDS management. I plan on doing more research about its management in people living with HIV. I also feel it would be a good thing to have pharmacists engaging more in that field. I am also interested in combating menstrual poverty in females through training and advocacy.
I plan on going into drug research/academia. I intend to have many and not just many, useful research publications and also innovations that would be of value to the people and ultimately improve the health of the people.
PT: People often see brilliant people as one with little social life. Is this so? If not, what extracurricular activities did you engage in school?
Basirat: Well, I would say my social life in school was not bad at all, but maybe I could have had more. I engaged in so many activities. I was a member of Pharmalead Club, and at a point, the head of public health thematic in the club where I organized a first aid training for pharmacy students. I also engaged in so many religious activities being a member of the Muslim Students’ Society of Nigeria (MSSN). During my 200 level days, I was the assistant librarian of MSSN. In my 400 level, I was appointed the chairperson of sisters’ seminar organizing committee where I organized a befitting sisters’ seminar for over 500 Muslim sisters.
In my final year, I was also appointed the role of assistant secretary of the finalists forum committee responsible for organizing programmes for the finalists. I attended trainings, programmes and conferences within and outside the school. One of the training I attended was focused on “strengthening interprofessional education in HIV care and management” and that made me more interested in HIV care and management. I also participated in some PANS week activities like health outreach and the likes. Basically, I did not live a boring life while in school (laughs).
PT: What was your best and lowest moment while in school?
Basirat: My best moments in school are after exams because those times are always like the freest of your times in school and I get to enjoy them with my friends. Also, when results are out and I passed all my courses. I had so many low moments but the lowest moment I can remember was when I saw my 200 level result and realized I had a very low score in a course, despite all the efforts I put into the course.
PT: UI has been touted to be a stress-cooker, how did you handle stress?
Basirat: That’s the stress part, I can only say I know how to manage my stress well. Once I realize I am stressed, I try to make sure I compensate myself with food. I know many food joints in and outside school (laughs). I cannot start stating all of them, but anytime I feel stressed, the next thing I do is to get anything I feel like eating at that particular time. Another of my stress relieving mechanisms is to go out with my friend at night. Like I said earlier, I am not a night reading person. So once I do MTN, most times at night, I go out with my friend and usually buy pre-boye suya or cubes shawarma (laughs).
PT: Nigerian schools have a lot of challenges, but this is not to say they are all doom. What would you miss about UI?
Basirat: I would miss being in a school environment. I would miss having to catch cabs and also attending lectures. I would miss my classmates too. I will miss UI central mosque. I am already missing all those restaurants I get food from.
PT: What would be your advice to students aiming to attain academic excellence?
Basirat: My advice is to be determined and also consistent. Like I said, I always have this mindset to be among the best in anything I do. I once attended a pharmacy induction and I was really overwhelmed with all the prizes awarded to the Best Graduating Student. From that day, I made up my mind that I would work hard to attain it. When my 200 level result came out and I had 59 in Anatomy, I was almost discouraged because that alone spoilt my result that year.
But I tried to encourage myself again, and with hard work, because to be honest, it is not easy, from my 300 level to 500 level, I had seven points in all of my courses. Then it is also not only about being brilliant, but also being smart. There are times, lecturers would stress some things in class which automatically come out in exams. Not everybody is a fast writer but I also made sure I noted the slightest of things lecturers say in class.
PT: What do you think is likely the reason Nigeria has not reached the stage of pharmaceutical advancement needed to help against outbreaks?
Basirat: Lack of research facilities. This pandemic has basically revealed how we lack research facilities in the country which could have helped during the pandemic. There is no proper and adequate funding for research. Recently, Nigeria missed out from receiving the COVID-19 vaccines due to lack of storage facilities. Basically, the problem is lack of an enabling environment to carry out all the necessary research for pharmaceutical advancement.
PT: Did you at any point have to cope with pressure from the opposite sex?
Basirat: Well, yes, but I also made sure I was not distracted.
PT: There have been reports of alleged discrimination againt people who use hijab in your faculty. Did you face such and how did you overcome them?
Basirat: The faculty of pharmacy introduced a dress code, to encourage students to dress in a conservative way and to also look professional. For Muslim students, the dress code did not incorporate the use of khimar (long hijabs) and with the help of MSSN and also the Muslim Community, the problem was resolved and I must say people wearing Khimars do not face discrimination again in the faculty.
PT: Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Basirat: I see myself being a successful pharmacist paving ways in the area of research. I also see myself being addressed as Dr. or even Professor (laughs). I see myself winning in the area of pharmacy practice I delve into and also encouraging younger colleagues. Then, I see myself married with kids too.
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