A nephew of this writer came to America, after winning the visa lottery from the Embassy. He spent a few years, brushing up the skills he didn’t have at the Nigerian secondary school and the University he had attended to receive his WAEC and Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry, respectively. He humbled himself unlike other Nigerians I have taught and known, agreeing to help out with dirty work at a tire shop. Here is a science graduate of one of Nigeria’s premier university, working as a daily laborer. Na wa!
He accepted some American professors’ advice to repeat the undergraduate program in a different science field (Neuroscience) in order to gain admission to a medical school. Pride is killing many big-headed Nigerian boys and girls at home and overseas. My nephew is an exception! His Neuroscience professors loved him so much they gave him a $4,000 financial award to complete the 4-year program in 3. Na wa! Omume ya amaka (his behavior is sweet) like sugar.
What can I say? Nothing but praises! King David sings in Psalms 34:1 “I will bless the LORD at all times: His praise shall continually be in my mouth.” This writer has helped many relatives to complete college at home, include a niece who, after graduating from law school and passing the Nigerian Bar, did not show appreciation. She audaciously said to me: “What did you do? You did nothing.” Her mother added another insult to a festering sore with: “You gave us only peanuts.” I forgive, but I blame the parents for teaching children such attitudes.
My nephew, Ikechukwu, has now matriculated at and moved to the campus of a top Georgia medical school. I am looking forward to yelling out as loud as I can like a crazy man in four years when Ikechukwu graduates with the degree MD (Doctor of Medicine). Now, I got it! Nigerian schools have serious problems, but a determined boy or girl can and does make it. Guaranteed!
This essay is multi-headed: First: to talk about a nephew I am proud of. Second: to paste the blame for Nigeria’s poor education arena on the foreheads of the persons directly responsible for the mess; and third: to suggest a few ways Nigerian students (from primary to university) can overcome the disadvantages their politicians and irresponsible school personnel have stacked up against them. We are going to agree that education is the body, intellect, and soul of modern societies, Nigeria included. The importance of education is a given modus operandi like the Quadratic Formula .
We also are going to agree to attribute Nigeria’s deteriorating educational climate to a number of factors , including underfunding, low-quality teaching personnel, poor infrastructure, inappropriate curriculum, and absence of dedicated educators. Our agreement does not mean we should allow the factors contributing to school failure to place the final nails on the coffin of our young people’s school experience. We reject boko haram (Western education is evil) as a mantra for persons who see no joy in learning, have chosen a life of failure, or who do not see anything good to live for We are going to still believe that there is a lot of good things to come out of education.
Yes, we are aware of the dismal pictures we see plastered across our daily Nigerian newspapers about poor students’ performance on the various evaluating and benchmarking examinations such as the GCE (General Certificate of Education, the WAEC (West Africa Examinations Council), the NECO ( National Examinations Council); and the UTME (Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination). Although these prognoses seemingly be true in the past, yet we can change the pictures and begin to turn the drawback into a comeback.
Listen to this: statisticians sometimes lie with their computations for reasons that do not exclude money, a desire to be the champion of something or watchdog over progress, or to harbor the ambition and impression that “we hold the key to the future.” Nonsense! Statisticians need jobs. Newspapers specialize in sensationalism in order to sell their papers. Come to think of it, the real faults with regard to our dismal educational system do not lie inside you the student; the faults lie outside you; you are just the unfortunate victim.
Let’s accept a few truisms. A truism is an axiom, platitude, or saying that makes sense and ought to be accepted as article of faith (a) there is a decline of reading culture in the Nigerian society; (b) there is a debasement of basic values in Nigeria like respect for authority; (c) there is the disrespect for true nation-builders such as parents, teachers and church leaders; (c) there is the lionizing, inordinate idolization or veneration of thieving politicians, looters and dishonest criminals.
You are the Nigerian student. As a student, you are aware that your Nigerian government is rotten to the core; that your politicians are thieves; that your chemistry lab is poorly equipped, your teachers underpaid, and you wear the same dirty uniforms to the school all year round. The worst thing to happen to you is that you do not see good, praise-worthy role models to pattern your behavior after. One thing is sure, and that is that, although the Nigerian educational climate may face you as a wounded lion, you do not let it handicap you. It is said that when the going gets tough, the tough get going.
Although all these ills may confront you in the face like a dangerous lioness whose cub has been snatched by a hunter, all is not lost; you can still make it. All has not gone with the winds. Things are intact, and things have not fallen apart. There is a lot you the student can do. My nephew did it big time. You too can. The boxing match is not over until the champion emerges. You are the undisputed champion! Because you the champion are down once or twice on your knees does not ipso facto mean you should always remain on the floor, does it?
Get up! Dust the sand off! Throw more punches! When life gives you a handful of bitterleaf , don’t just drink the bitter liquid. Wash the bitterness off the leaves with plenty of miri (water) and cook a sweet bitterleaf soup. Add dawa dawa to it and enjoy the deliciousness. If you are smart as Nigerians are, pour in some palm oil and add egusi. Top it off with palm wine or Heinekens. You are a Nigerian, aren’t you? You are a winner!
Let’s go off on a tangent a bit to talk about this writer’s favorite nephew whom I shall name Ikechukwu. I like that name Ikechukwu. Ikechukwu means the power of God. Ikechukwu graduated from a popular Nigerian university with the degree Bachelor of Science in biochemistry. His late father was my cousin who was as poor as my father . His father was a bit poorer than most men in our village.
When your Papa is ote nkwu (palm wine tapper), my friend, your family is poor, dirt poor, or as poor as the proverbial church mouse. One cannot be poorer than a man who makes a living, climbing tall, dangerous palm trees to harvest the intoxicating sap. Many tappers have fallen to their deaths. Folks tell me that that was what happened to my nephew’s father. Some good can come out of tragedies!
Suffice it to say that Ikechukwu was a poor boy by all standards, from a poor family, surrounded by everything that reeks or smalls of “poverty.” The word poverty seems to have been plastered in bold letters across the face of Ikechukwu’s family. To make matters worse, Ikechukwu lost his father when Ikechukwu was but a tiny tot. He never knew his father as much as I knew my own late dad. I know a Nigerian whose parents died in Nigeria and he received the news very late while taking his final exams in college America. He couldn’t mourn no go to the funeral. Dr. N. O. (initials only) is a PhD in engineering
My nephew Ikechukwu grew poor in my poor village that was just beginning to have a few ota akara (church-sponsored ABC or Kindergarten schools) manned by untrained, barely literate, underpaid teachers . Ikechukwu had one thing going for him: he has the brain that absorbs information like a blotting paper that feeds on those nasty black, blue, or scarlet ink .
To make a short story long, Ikechukwu made an easy walk over the ota akara school. He took the entrance examination and was sent to a secondary school in Anambra to prepare for the West African Examination Council qualifying tests. Somehow, Ikechukwu made up his mind that science is what he would excel in as a vehicle to lift his family and himself out of the clutches of onye ogbenye (poverty-stricken person).
Ikechukwu fell madly in love with the SEM (Science, Engineering, and Mathematics, also known in Nigerian secondary schools as Maths, Add Maths, Bio, Chem, and Physics). With a fantastic result in the WAEC and distinctions in all the sciences, Ikechukwu was ready to face the world. He had to answer the daunting and haunting question: “Who would sponsor me?
He still had three major drawbacks: poverty, uneducated family members, and no one in the family to turn to for help. He applied for the United States Government Visa Lottery and declared medicine as what he wanted to study. Gbam! He got it. Surprisingly, the American Embassy offered him Akwukwo Ndu (the green paper) and he landed on my lap.
His struggles remind you of the endless fight back of many people you have known during their quest for education. The poem INVICTUS by William Ernest Henley says captures the essence: “when my unconquerable soul is under the bludgeoning of chance, my head is bloody but unbowed”. What a powerful poem! Read it on the internet!
Ikechukwu’s initial applications to medical schools were rejected. Medical schools were like: “What is this rude boy trying to do, asking to be admitted into our schools? Didn’t his undergraduate degree come from Nigeria? Hahaha. Does Nigeria have schools at all? Hahaha! Does Nigerian have scientific education at all? Hahaha! Aren’t Nigerians used to witchdoctors and poisonous herbs? Do they believe in Western medicine and doctors? Hahahaha!”
Letters from the medical schools he had asked for admissions arrived with words: “Sorry. We have numerous qualified applicants better suited to our needs than you are. Sorry.” Refusing to be deterred or discouraged, Ikechukwu approached some science professors at a large State University in Georgia. The professors downgraded Ikechukwu’s Second Class Upper degree in Biochemistry, and suggested he undertake a second science degree in Neuroscience.
Ikechukwu obliged and went to work hard once again in an environment where there were pieces of science equipment and materials that are far superior to what he had seen at the Nigerian secondary and university he had attended back home. He was appreciative of the opportunity. Ikechukwu now has two science degrees: the BSc Biochemistry from Nigeria and the BSc Neurosciece from America. What a lucky man! No, it wasn’t luck! It was hard work!
Ikechukwu stood a better chance of attending medical school if he could obtain an acceptable score on the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test). The MCAT is not a Pass-Fail examination. It is what-did-you-score-that-would-make-the-medical-school-you-are-applying-to-want-to-admit-you? You do not flunk the MCAT. Your score determines whether or not a particular medical school would accept you.
For example, if the Harvard Medical School considers your XYZ score inadequate for acceptance, the University of Chicago Medical school or the UCLA Medical school may readily accept your XYZ. Because Ikechukwu was not familiar with the American objective, multiple choice testing system, his initial attempt at the MCAT was not very hot and no American medical school accepted him.
Ikechukwu shed a few tears and took the MCAT a second time. Wow! Ikechukwu came out on top with a fantastic score the second time. . The American medical schools pursued my nephew like a young man pursues the girl he loves .Have you read Shakespeare’s account of how Romeo pursued and fell in love with Juliet?
Ikechukwu received admissions, not to one, two, or three schools but to 5 medical schools. He chose one near my family. Was ikechukwu lucky? Hell no! That wasn’t luck. It was sheer hard work. Luck is when you sit under a mango tree and wish a mango would fall upon your head. Work is when you peel off your agbada (long flowing) gown and climb the tree in stark nakedness. Hey, look at your stinky ass and lifeless penis!
One major problem remains for Ikechukwu: financial. Medical school fees are staggeringly, resplendently prohibitive: $35,000 to $55,000 per year (13 million Naira to 20 million Naira). You can calculate the total cost for the 4 years it takes to complete the 4-year training to be awarded the degree MD (Doctor of Medicine). It is all worth every bit of it. Bear in mind that every drawback is an opportunity for a comeback in disguise. Dust the sand off your body and fight on. Be an Ikechukwu my nephew.
In fact, you are my nephew because all Nigerians who struggle hard are my cousins, nephews, nieces, and relatives, aren’t they? They are my friends, except the thieving politicians. Thieving is the easiest job a fool can do because stealing requires no serious thinking. A thief’s mind is warped, twisted and bent out of shape. He/she is a barawo, taking food out of the mouths of little babies and giving to prostitutes and people who can buy his village for a barrel of oil.
We have a few suggestions to offer Nigerians who feel that the Nigerian educational environment is hopeless or insurmountable, though it is failing them galore. There is no gain without pain, and it takes the hottest furnace to purify the purest gold. Endure the heat for awhile! There is hope, and you are an overcomer.
It’s not all your fault: The educational system in Nigeria has been messed up for decades, and there is little you can do to change it. You have to adjust to it, but hold the bull by the horns. Do not be dejected to the point of giving up. Make up your mind about what your goals are. Set goals that are realistic and require efforts to achieve rather than goals that are as easy as buying and selling firewood.
Focus on areas in high demands, where few people have the courage to go, and where ample jobs are plenteous. Have you thought about such areas as petroleum engineering, oil and gas, chemical engineering, biostatistics, computer science and engineering, medical sciences, nursing, agricultural sciences, just to mention a few?
Enlist the help of your family: Ask your family for support in identifying programs available in Nigeria, and sources of financial assistance. Make appointments to speak with embassies of various nations in Nigeria. Ikechukwu approached the American Embassy and received a visa to come to America as a citizen. Embassies of Canada, UK, Germany, and other industrialized nations are interested in offering education to foreign nationals. Think of convincing reasons why you want to study overseas rather than locally. Examples are: Nigerian universities do not offer the training, financial needs, you nave specialized marketable skills that cannot be developed locally.
Read like your life depends upon books: Studies of predictors ofacademic success seem to suggest that success depends more on your ability to read and comprehend vast amounts of information quickly than on any other factor. If you can read rapidly and understand what you are reading, chances are that you would do well and complete any academic program successfully. Whether you are studying History or Engineering physics, you should be able to read in a time-saving fashion. Therefore, it pays for you to spend time reading books, newspapers, magazines, and textbooks.
Most standardized tests measure reading skills. Nigerian students I have taught at several American institutions have difficulties in written English. They needed to brush up on grammar, syntax, punctuation, and spelling. If you a Nigerian, there is no excuse for you to not read most of the novels written by Nigerian and other African writers (not just Achebe’s Things Fall Apart). The more you read the larger your vocabulary, and the better you do in secondary school or college. Therefore, read every day and everything you can place your hands on. In addition, we encourage you to practice writing essays, opinions, and letters to friends and your local newspaper editors, for example.
Use available resources. Join groups in and outside school , such as Science Club, Math Club, Debates Club . Visit libraries and Reading Rooms to copy phone numbers, address, and addresses of foreign universities. Apply! Write Offices of Foreign/International Students at schools in America, UK, Germany, Canada and ask other English-speaking countries. Ask for admission and financial assistance. You never know what might happen. Take calculated risks rather than haphazard chances. Have no fear! Go beyond your comfort zone, but don’t endanger your life or the life of another. Good Luck, my friend.