For the 12th edition of its annual essay competition among secondary school students in Nigeria, the United Bank for Africa Foundation asked participants to write on the topic: “ASUU strike has often cost Nigerian students time. Advise governments on how they can reach an agreement with ASUU to improve tertiary education in the nation.”
But in its report presented on Monday during the grand finale of the competition at the headquarters of the financial institution in Lagos, the four-member panel of judges said a good number of scripts out of about 5,000 received, lamented the strike by the lecturers.
The report was read on behalf of the panel by a Professor of English Literature at the Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto (UDUS), Asabe Kabir. Other members include Emmanuel Omobowale, Ini Uko and Samuel Onuigbo, all professors from various universities.
According to Mrs Asabe, the judges were excited about the topic, saying they had thought its liberality ought to “have given the students independent reasoning to express new ideas broadmindedly with unadulterated points, devoid of much plagiarism as have been observed in previous years, especially from those who would soon join the university system.”
However, the panel said it was unfortunate that many of the candidates did not seem to understand the topic or what was expected from them because: “Some wrote in the letter form instead of the essay form; many of them used bullets to present their ideas in segments; many of them concentrated on the ASUU strike that was subsisting at that time, even though the topic was conceptual and not actual; some were very passionate about the strike and concentrated more on the history of ASUU, the number of strikes in Nigeria, the roles of successive governments in mitigating ASUU strikes.”
The report added: “Others went ahead to vituperate the members of ASUU and condemn them for often interrupting the education of Nigerian youth, among many other things rather than suggesting viable and practical ways of addressing the issue at hand.”
Mrs Asabe said many of the students went ahead to coin new topics to suit their understanding of what was expected of them. “As a result, we came across topics like: “Breaking Free from the cycle of strikes”; “Time is Precious; End Strike”; “ASUU – yesterday, today, tomorrow”; “Restructuring tertiary education in Nigeria”; “ASUU strike and its influence on the government”; “ASUU strikes: the elixir”; “ASUU strikes: In retrospect”; “All you need to know about the ASUU-FG dispute”; “Proffering magic bullet to ASUU’s incessant strike”; “Strike – A blow to the nation” among several similar topics.”
Meanwhile, out of the almost 5,000 entries, Mrs Asabe said 12 were able to proceed to the next stage by writing on another topic: “Nigeria and the Brain Drain: The Interface between a Better Life and a Loss of Fortunes”.
The report, however, further noted that the judges’ hope that the new topic would “generate sprightly and feasible discussion was however dashed when we noted during the evaluation of the essays that many of the students did not even know or understand the concept ‘brain drain’”.
The panel linked the development to what it described as “the narrow scope of the student’s understanding of social issues.”
But at the end of the evaluation, a 15-year-old student of the Federal Government Girls College, Ikot-Obio Itong, Akwa-Ibom State, Usongubong Paul, was ranked first, scoring 69 per cent. She was rewarded with a scholarship worth N5 million, and received a laptop, among other gifts.
Princess Sholabomi, 15, of Value Spring College, Lagos, was ranked second scoring 65.5 per cent, and was rewarded with N3,000,000 educational grant and a laptop; while the third prize of N2,500,000 and a laptop was won by another 15-year old student- Sharon Nwajiaku of Ota Total Academy, Ogun State.
The other nine finalists, which included only one boy, Daniel Idom, also received laptops, among other consolation prizes.
Miss Usongobong, who was accompanied to the event by a member of the school’s multimedia team, Akanyere Chigozie, said she was excited by the feat, saying she never expected she could go that far in the competition.
She said: “I am so grateful to the UBA Foundation for this great opportunity. It has helped me to believe in myself and bolstered my confidence. This scholarship will go a long way towards assisting in my dream to become an ophthalmologist. This opportunity has changed my life.”
UBA CEO, others speak
The bank’s Group Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Oliver Alawuba, said the institution remains vested in the African youth, describing them as the future of the continent.
He said: “As a bank, we are interested in empowering our youth, and to do this, we must educate them, through efforts such as these. The truth is that we are launching these programmes in all the 20 countries where UBA has presence. Already, some of these countries have started. I was in Sierra Leone a few weeks ago where the NEC was held, and I was really encouraged by the enthusiasm and participation. Since we at UBA know that our future lies with our kids, they will take Africa to the world where it needs to be.”
Also speaking, the Chairman of the UBA Foundation, Kennedy Uzoka, congratulated the finalists, noting that within the last 12 years of its introduction, the competition has offered scholarships to over 60 students, “and we have been able to produce doctors, engineers, lawyers through this platform.”
The Managing Director of the Foundation, Bola Atta, said: “Every student who sent in an entry is a winner. To be confident about your writing skills and ambitious enough to enter a competition to further enhance your educational path is laudable. For those that did not come first this year, I would say do not be discouraged. Take it as a challenge to perfect your writing skills and enter for the competition again next year.”
Based on their findings, the judges in their report said the quality of the essays is a reflection of the fact “that many youths are not conversant with the happenings and realities in their immediate environment.
“This really calls for a reawakening from not only school authorities but also parents. This generation needs to grapple with the realities on ground if we want to have any meaningful intellectual development and sound nation building. One can only suggest or proffer solutions to known problems and challenges and not the other way around,” the report said.
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