Before 2017, never before had a student graduated with a first-class from the University of Ibadan’s Department of History.
Martins Isaac Olusanya, a former president of UI’s Union of Campus Journalists, achieved the feat this year, the second in UI’s history department’s 72 years of existence.
In this interview with Yusuf Akinpelu, Mr Olusanya, the only child of an Ibadan-based mother, spoke about how he combined active extracurricular engagements with a determination to graduate with a summa cum laude. He also touched on campus journalism, leadership, student unionism and his aspirations for Nigeria.
PT: Tell me, what does it take to become UI’s department of history’s joint overall best graduating student in 72 years?
Martins: It takes reading hard and smart. The higher I went, the lesser I had time to read owing to my extracurricular commitments, yet my grades soared. As much as you need to spend more time reading, in the humanities, it is important to know what lecturers want and give it to them. It really doesn’t matter what you think is right because they end up deciding your score.
It is also important to read vastly. I always consulted sometimes 10-15 literatures or more to prepare for a single question. I used the internet to help me streamline my searches. When I am in the exam hall, I write from start to finish with no time left for proof-reading, hardly taking breaks except when I feel hand pains.
Another important thing to note is time-management. One of the first things I do whenever the word “start’’ sounds is, I divide the total time allocated by the number of questions then add to the starting time, and the next and next. I always had an idea when I should round off every question.
Most importantly, (my) mum’s prayers have always been my solid foundation.
PT: How do you think history can be used as a tool for social re-engineering?
Martins: It has often been said that to not know what has happened in the past is to forever remain a child. The lessons of history are embedded in past events. Knowing what has happened before makes it possible to prepare better and avoid a recurrence. Failure to do so, you repeat the mistakes of the past, starting all over again.
This summarizes the problem of Nigeria, both for leaders seeking to make changes and citizens who vote the same crop of leaders, or leaders who initiate the same old policy. Even in science, progress is only made when scientists continue from where old researches stop, introduce new methods and explore new options. They do not disregard what has existed before them. They rather use it, examine the shortcomings and improve upon it, and from there, innovations occur. Not even doctors immediately administer treatments without constructing an analysis of a patient’s past medical record. That sums up what history is for you.
PT: You made a first class despite being neck-deep in extracurricular activities. Those aren’t two easily compatible ventures. How did you manage the two?
Martins: I will never stop getting asked this. First, I will say it’s God’s grace. I always knew when to attend my extracurricular and when to leave it for my books. I knew how long it would take me to prepare for each course. I was very determined to make the first class. It was all about the balancing, at the cost of social life.
Of course, like I would always admit, I took energy drinks. Their importance is that they make your body capable of working extra hours at optimum functionality. I take them when I’m tired to extend my active hours, especially at night.
There were days I would just go to cafter a long day, take energy drinks, sleep for an hour or two and wake up super active and productive. Some of the prices I paid for that habit was a constant headache, migraines and red eyes. I once spent three days non-stop at KDL to prepare for two exams, with my only exit during the period being to get food.
I take breaks by watching movies. (Laughs) I watched Money Heist, Stranger Things, and Harry Potter series all between the exam period at KDL between 300L and 400L. They help me unwind and sustain a long reading period. I froze my WhatsApp during this period, communicating by call and texts. It helped me keep away from prolonged distractions and remain focused. I also had the support from classmates with notes.
PT: Nigerian best graduating students are often less rewarded. Was it any different in your case?
Martins: Well, it is something I believe tertiary institutions should work on. It was not any different in my case. Although, I must add that Mr Ekele – the pacesetter — reached out to the department to reward myself and the best graduating female.
Reward doesn’t even have to be monetary. There should be a system that makes deliberate efforts to help first class students, not only BGS, to further in their future aspirations. I believe to make a strong 2:1 – let alone a first class – especially from UI, we can all agree it is not “beans.” It requires high-level consistency, perseverance, focus, brilliance, retentiveness and never say die attitude spanning four to seven years.
Many need guidance, real support from here to fully fulfil the potential they have shown. Not some caricature shows, or speeches without substance in the form of advice.
Nigerian institutions should be doing more. UI can and should be doing much better than the offer of tuition waiver for Master’s programmes to first class (graduates). 72 years of a vast empire of resourceful alumni, international recognition, global appeal should be channelled into the citadel for the development of its product. One of the most proven ways of motivating excellent results is the potential of proportional excellent rewarding.
PT: You led UNIBADAN’s Union of Campus Journalists in your final year. Some believe press vibrancy in Nigerian institutions is blunt. Would you agree?
Martins: Well, it would depend on the case study. In UI I will strongly disagree. Are they doing enough? No. Can they be better? Yes. Are there limitations? Absolutely.
For example, the management of UI had just renovated the halls of residence then. I must add that the very first episode of my weekly column — The Spy Next Door — published in 2018 strongly called for renovation of hostels since they had hiked fees based on that premise. After that, minute renovations were seen (I hope I haven’t said my article made the management respond, well, could have played a part) starting from a week after.
Sometime in mid-first semester, I summoned an editorial meeting where I urged the entire editorial board to focus, for that week, on halls of residence and writing about what was deficient and needed renovation in them. I divided them into all the halls of residence existing.
But then, they protested it considering Adekunle Adebajo had just been sanctioned for a similar venture. I persuaded them to write the stories, and for those who were scared, they can put my byline or leave it empty. The point is, fear of sanctions, rustications and expulsions are huge factors in restricting the functionalities of press members.
This is the major challenge in many schools, victimization of the press. But even those truly practicing are not encouraged, but rather endangered, just like mainstream journalists. Even fellow students and alumni threaten you over stories you write.
If you want to see how vibrant campus journalism is, you have to look at its export to the mainstream and how they ease into mainstream journalism. ‘Fisayo Soyombo, president of UCJUI in 2008 is one example. There is Oluwamayowa Tijani, Olaiya Templer of Guardian, and more recently ‘Kunle Adebajo, Yusuf Akinpelu (yourself), Aishat Babatunde and many more from UNIBADAN.
From OAU, I know how great Alfred Olufemi and Kabir Adejumo are doing; I know Ibrahim Adeyemi as well. So, campus journalism is a very sound grooming ground. It has always been, and in some schools, it still is.
PT: Student unionism upon which early national leadership thrived is almost a shadow of itself. Where did we get it wrong?
Martins: Weak and selfish leadership, feeble-hearted and enduring followership. Everything about political leadership at present for those who are in position to keep winning has always been self-centeredness and lack of will to initiate a change in the narrative. As for the followers, they are weary from fights. At the moment, Nigerians can endure just about anything so far they remain breathing.
Poverty and hunger are two instruments that have been used to defeat the people. Religion has not made that any better with its message of hope. Many have lived and died still hoping. So, rather than take the initiative to change the narrative, they hope on and long for a messiah; that brought us Buhari.
On student unionism, corruption has filtered everywhere in the country. Youths want to open ways for themselves. So, political office became nothing more than an avenue to better their lot than the actual mandate given to them. Many of the students they lead on the other hand, do not see any better. Students hardly even vote in visionary leaders. Like the mainstream, it is a popularity contest.
Even in the rare instances that we get it right with leaders, there are no leaders to offer support. I can remember many refusing to protest what should be rightfully theirs, afraid of rustications, reprimanding or expulsion. Rather than even remain indifferent, which is just as bad, they act as foil.
So, there is a really misguided mentality amongst Nigerians, which transcends mainstream politics into every fabric of the society, student leadership inclusive.
PT: Any way forward?
Martins: Revolution. It encompasses several facets of humanity. But first, in mentality. However, people lost hope in good government because they feel nothing can be done to the system. It is rigid and there are people benefiting from it. Ojo Aderemi (UI’s former student union president) was rusticated for four semesters for confronting anomalies. No student union leader would attempt such in a long time to come.
If any even attempts it, the followers are not going to support because they believe it would be a futile and counter-productive exercise. So, to begin with, in the remodeling of Kenneth Kaunda, a revolution of the minds of people is critical. The belief needs to be affected, needs to be given life.
A movement is needed, one shrouded in enlightenment, that perfectly captures the majority of the masses. Aderemi attempted this intellectual revolution in UI, but while many believed, not many were willing to partake actively.
PT: What did your stint as UCJ President teach you for those, particularly youths, who are seeking power?
Martins: People. People. People. They are everything. You need very capable and committed hands to go far in any position of leadership. You need to identify leaders with the right mentality and focus amongst your ranks and commit them to worthy responsibilities.
As the leader, you should perform oversight functions. You cannot be everywhere, so you need people to execute tasks, while you do the thinking and harmonize goals.
You also need those who will connect you with those who will help you with things beyond your reach. You need those who will put you in check. You need those who will freely express their reservations on your plans, it makes you see possible obstacles and work around them. Even more important, you need the right set of people within your cabinet, whom you can preach your ideals to, and who will astutely believe and follow you.
In short, my faith has always been in people. They are the most important set of resources you can have. Their freedom allows them to execute with the right vigour and determination. With your oversight, you keep them in check and you continue to motivate them. You trust them, they trust you. It is why you have to carefully know the goods and bad about the people you have. Everyone is a mix of both, it makes you identify how to work with them.
PT: You once said you have an aspiration to lead this country someday. Have you begun to mobilise, or have you given up on the goal?
Martins: [Smiles] I wouldn’t completely say I have completely given up on it. I know I am better suited to administration than anything. I don’t intend to be a career politician. So, if I will eventually set my mind to it, it will have to be because I strongly believe I can make a change considering the circumstances at the time.
When the belief is there, then I will set out to assemble a vast team, with focus on a revolutionary-inspired empire committed to solving some of the major problems of the masses, pulling financial resources, alleviating poverty and changing the mindset of the common people on practical ways good governance can change their lives for good. Until then, I plan to live as a private individual committed to amassing vast wealth.
PT: What next after your first degree?
Martins: In my situation, there is not much to go by with my first degree and my future plans or aspirations. So, I intend taking further steps higher. I am beginning to seek post-graduate studies (masters and PhD) in the West.
PT: What was your sexual life like while in school?
Martins: It was a mess.
PT: What were your most memorable moments and worst moments, if any, in school?
Martins: My most memorable probably has to be when ‘Fisayo Soyombo rated my administration the best since he left school, or fifteen years. He wasn’t alone. Tijani Mayowa, Dr Bayo Ajala, associate professor at NISER, highly rated my administration. They mean a lot to me. I came, achieved and left legacies, which have even expanded now.
My worst moment? I am not sure. Maybe when I slumped into depression while planning the union’s alumni reunion and I was being subject to undeserved treatments including the spread of falsehood. It did not last the day though. I went out to catch fun and then dealt with it later.
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