Why Nigerian students excel abroad – Engr Oni

By Dayo Adesulu (Vanguard)

Former Chairman of Odu’a Investment Group, Engr. David Oni  who is the Founder and Executive Chairman of Dave Abion Consulting, in this interview with journalists, sheds light on some topical educational issues including why many Nigerian students excel abroad.

What inspired you into the education consultancy business?
I was educated in the UK where I studied Mechanical Engineering at the University of Greenwich, London with a scholarship from British Petroleum Co. Ltd. When I got there and saw the method of teaching and learning and the facilities that were available in terms of books, library materials, laboratories, workshops, etcetera, it dawned on me that the UK is the perfect study destination. I worked for many years in British Petroleum and other companies when I came back. On my retirement, I decided to set up my own consultancy so that many Nigerians can enjoy what I enjoyed when I studied in the UK.

There have been numerous instances whereby Nigerians who had their secondary education or first degree programme here, emerge the best students once they go abroad for studies. What do we attribute such development to?

What I would say is that most Nigerian students excel when they travel abroad more than they would have excelled here. This situation can be explained through the statement of an American management consultant. “Success is equal to opportunity plus capability.” Many Nigerians have the capability but they do not have the opportunity when they are here in Nigeria. So when you add their capability to the opportunities that open to them when they are in the UK, I am not surprised that they excel. World-class libraries, good lecturers, good facilities and excellent environment. I won’t compare them to UK students but most of them do excel beyond the expectation of many people.

How do we explain the current craze for overseas education in which Nigerian students now move out in droves even to countries like Togo and Benin Republic both of which are not better than Nigerian in terms of educational infrastructure?

We are selective in terms of the countries we send Nigerian students to and specialize mostly on UK institutions. Nigerians tend to love everything foreign. Whenever some students talk to me, I always ask them whether they want to go abroad for the hope of heaven or for the fear of hell; hope of heaven because there are better libraries and better laboratories, etcetera or the fear of hell because there is no electricity here and you are tired of armed robbers and bad roads. I always appreciate a situation where students want to go abroad for the hope of heaven.

Engr. Oni

Engr. Oni

Once you get your qualifications from a top British University, you are from a world class university and you get a good job anywhere. If you have an MSc or Phd from say Glasgow University, you are simply irresistible in terms of employment; there is nowhere in the world you cannot get a job. Some  Nigerian universities are very good and well known abroad, others are not. So I think the craze for foreign education arises from the fact that people know that if you struggle and make a good grade from a British University, you are more or less made for life!

A lot of Nigerians go to Ghana for their education. The qualification of Ghanaian universities is very good, their educational system is stable and they hardly go on strike unlike here in Nigeria where you can go in for a four-year programme and may not finish in seven years.

Education is not only about reading, writing and arithmetic, you also want to make friends. Later on in life when you graduate, you discover that you have developed life-time opportunities through your network of friends. Many Nigerians may not be aware of the value of such networks because they believe that they are only there to read their books and nothing more. We always counsel them before they leave that they are not going to read only physics and chemistry, they are also going to read the chemistry of life and make friends that will be useful to them for the rest of their lives.

What is the possibility of Nigerian universities fulfilling those needs that make our students go to UK universities?

There is nothing impossible. I met Prof. Peter Okebukola at Lancaster University in 2005 and that was the same question he asked me. “Engr. Oni, you are taking Nigerian students to Britain to study, why are you not bringing British students to Nigeria for studies?” This is a possibility. The world has become a global village, not only in the field of education but in the field of technology, culture and almost every sphere of life. People can come here and study our culture, language, etcetera and we should also be able to travel out and study. At the moment, the trend is one way: people want to travel to China, US, Germany and UK.

It’s one-way and may remain so until we are able to improve our infrastructure, security, health services, power and safety consciousness. If these facilities improve, there is no way the flow which is uni-directional at the moment cannot become bi-directional, so that people come here and we go there. That’s the way it is supposed to be in a globalised world. People are not coming to Nigeria for reasons we all know. Nobody will hear of Boko Haram and decide to risk his life coming here.

Educational consultancy for foreign students seems to have become an all-comers’ affair. Are there factors that make Dave Abion consulting to stand out from the crowd?

In every sphere of human endeavour, there are always cowboys: cowboy doctors, lawyers, bankers and teachers. We stand out for a number of reasons. First, our organisation is recognised by the British High Commission and the British Council. We are also affiliated to the ICEF, an international body that recognises quality and brings quality education consultants in contact with quality education providers. I attended the ICEF seminar for a week in Dubai last January. People know us in the industry and we also know our students and their parents very well. We operate nationwide and are fully registered with the authorities. We have offices in Ikeja, Victoria Island, Abuja and Port Harcourt.

How do you keep tab on your students after their graduation to know how they are faring?

We encourage the students to keep in touch with us through emails, letters, telephone, text messages etcetera. When you are still studying, we ensure that there is regular communication between us and we keep that up after your graduation. That’s how we are able to learn that four or five of our students came out with First Class degrees in their undergraduate studies last year. When they finish, many of them prefer to stay abroad for a while at least to get quality job experience.

Assuming you studied engineering, by the time you come back, you must have got a job over there with a quality engineering firm here in Nigeria. We are interested in all our students. Apart from piloting them towards a quality education that will make them stand out anywhere, we are interested in how they progress in their careers overseas and on their return to Nigeria.

What do you consider as the basic problem of Nigeria’s educational system?

The problems are numerous. But essentially it is the problem of leadership of the country. There is no articulated philosophy of education. It might have been stated in the constitution but that’s not enough. I know that the United Nations Organisation stipulates that any country that is serious about education must devote at least 26 per cent of their annual budget to education. I am sure that what Nigeria devoted to education this year is not more that 8 per cent! In the last 10 years, the story has not been different.

One of the key problems therefore is under-funding. There is a lot of demand when about two million people will take the University Matriculation Examination (UME) each year and only about 250,000 will be absorbed by all the universities and polytechnics in the country. Over a million students waste away every year from UME and a fresh set comes up the next year. The existing universities cannot even be properly funded and people are thirsty for education because they know the value and understand that education makes them able to contribute meaningfully and effectively to national development.

If you go to Britain, they try to adjust their educational system to the political and economic realities of their country. Manpower planning is essential. For example, you are looking for a plumber or electrician, if there is good manpower planning, where are the institutions where you train plumbers and electricians here in Nigeria? UK, USA, Canada, Germany and Australia have institutions that train and certify this category of people.

In Nigeria, everybody must go to the university and you have lots of university graduates who are not employable. We are putting unnecessary emphasis on university degrees. A good plumber could earn more than a university professor in the UK. The plumber is trained in the technical college and is happy to be a plumber. Here everybody is running after university degrees. Government has to fundamentally develop a policy on education and be determined to provide the proper level of funding needed to execute the policy. The private sector should also be encouraged to play a key role.

A school of thought believes that the country’s standard of education is falling, while another school believes it is rising. Which of the two do you belong to?

I belong to the one that says the standard is falling. If I am facing somebody in a debate on this issue, first of all, we must agree on what is meant by standard. People debate on a lot of things in Nigeria without agreeing on the fundamentals. Somebody will say that the educational standard is going up and point to the fact that students now easily go online and go on Apple Ipad and things like that.

But I will be arguing that many years ago, if somebody was in form five, he would’ve studied History, Geography, Mathematics and have a very good all-round education. Today, the reverse is the case. There was a time I asked my secretary who holds a Higher National Diploma to send a message to Jos. She sent it overseas and told me that Jos was in England!

What we do in my office requires a fair knowledge of Geography so I brought somebody who was a graduate of Geography from one of our local universities. I gave him a map of England and asked him to show me where Manchester was on the map. He couldn’t. The vocabulary of most of today’s graduates is so shallow and their knowledge of the English language is so poor that they cannot communicate well. I could write better English in form 2.

The kind of things they used to emphasize to us: “write well, think clearly, put it down”, have all gone. Because of the work I do, I have substantial evidence to prove that the standard of education in the country has gone bananas. If Nigeria is serious about moving forward, we must start improving our standard of education from the primary school level right through to secondary, technical/polytechnic to university.

 
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Nigerian breaks Academic Record at John Hopkins University

by SEGUN OLUGBILE    (Punch NG)

Emmanuel Ohuabunwa

A 22-year-old Nigerian has emerged one of the top graduating students of John Hopkins University in the United States. He obtained a Grade Point Average of 3.98 out of a possible 4.0 to earn a degree in Neurosciences, SEGUN  OLUGBILE writes.

A 22-year-old Nigerian, Emmanuel Ohuabunwa, has made history at John Hopkins University, United States of America.  Ohuabunwa from Arochukwu, Abia State, has done the nation proud by becoming the first black man to make a Grade Point Average of 3.98 out of 4.0 to bag a degree in Neurosciences in the university. He was also adjudged as having the highest honours during the graduation that was held on May 24 this year.

For his efforts, he has won a scholarship to Yale University to pursue a degree in medicine. Besides, he has been inducted into Phi Beta Kappa Society, a prestigious honour group that features membership of 17 US Presidents, 37 US Supreme Court Justices, and 136 Nobel Prize winners.

According to Wikipedia, The Phi Beta Kappa Society is an academic honour society. Its mission is to “celebrate and advocate excellence in the liberal arts and sciences” and induct “the most outstanding students of arts and sciences at America’s leading colleges and universities.”

It was founded at The College of William and Mary on December 5, 1776, and thus it is the oldest honour society for the liberal arts and sciences and among the oldest undergraduate societies in the US.

In an online interview with our correspondent, Ohuabunwa, who was born in Okota, Lagos and attended Lilly Fields Primary School, Lagos, said he left Nigeria after his junior secondary school education at Air Force Comprehensive School, Ibadan, Oyo State.

“My parents moved the whole family when I was 13 years old. I was about to begin SS1 at Air Force, Ibadan. When I got to the US, I was enrolled with my age mates, which meant at 13, I was in middle school. I went to Fondren Middle School, which was in the middle of the ghetto. That was one of the darkest years for me because I encountered a lot of peer pressure. Some of the students, ignorant about Africa, bullied me and called me names such as ‘African booty scratcher’ because to them, Africans were dirty and scratched their butts all the time.

“Some asked me if I lived in mud huts and ate faeces for breakfast. I remember one day, when I was walking to the school bus, a boy came from behind and punched me in the face, called me an African and walked away. It took everything in me not to retaliate. I knew that God had put me in the U.S for a purpose and it did not involve fighting or selling drugs or doing the wrong things.

“My experience during that year gave me a thick skin. I learned to stand for what I thought was right even when the opposition seemed insurmountable. I also learned to look at the positive in all situations. Even though these kids were bullying me, I was still gaining an opportunity to school in America and nothing would stop me from making the best of this opportunity.

“The shocker was that the kid that punched me in the face was black. I would have expected the blacks to be nicer to me. Nevertheless, I don’t blame those kids because they were ignorant about Africa. All they knew about us was the stuff they had watched on TV or documentaries, showing primitive African tribes, living in the jungle and making noises like monkeys.

“In regards to the whites, there might have been some minor episodes but again I don’t blame them for it because it is a problem with stereotypes,” he said.

But in spite of this humiliation and racial prejudice against him, the first in a family of three was not discouraged. He faced his studies and was always coming top in his class. After he completed his middle school education, he passed the entrance examination to DeBakey High School for Health Professions. It was at this school that his interest in neurosciences and medicine started.

“By the second year of high school, we were able to interact with doctors, nurses and other administrators in the hospital. The more I learned about medicine, the more it felt like the thing God was calling me to pursue and by being in the US I got a lot of people to support me to do this. Even though in high school, I got to see first-hand what it meant to be a doctor. We studied advanced anatomy and physiology, learned medical terminology, and learned important skills, such as checking blood pressure, pulse rate, and many more.

“I knew I wanted to go to the best school in the US. I had heard that Johns Hopkins Hospital had been ranked the number one hospital in the US for the past 21 years and I wanted to be in that environment.’’

Worried that his parents might not be able to sponsor him to the university, Ohuabunwa purposed to work very hard. He did and when the result of the PSAT® came, he performed so well that he won the National Achievement Scholar.

By virtue of this award, he received certificates of recognition from various organisations including senators from the Congress of both Texas and the US. He also received scholarship from the University of Houston; Rice University, Texas A&M Honors College and many more.

He had also won the Principal’s Award during the annual awards ceremony at DeBakey High School.

“During our graduation ceremony at DeBakey, I also won the Award for the Most Outstanding Senior Young Man and the student volunteer award for my volunteer activities in the State of Texas,” he said.

But his breakthrough came when he won the Bill and Belinda Gates Foundation full scholarship to any university of his choice. He worked hard and gained admission to Johns Hopkins University to study Neurosciences.

But why Neurosciences, Ohuabunwa said, “I studied Neuroscience, because I was fascinated with the brain, its control of our behaviours and how various diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, lead to a decline in its activity. I also minored in Psychology because I wanted to understand disorders in the psyche. What causes bipolar disorders or schizophrenia. I did not just want to label them as crazy but to understand what causes these conditions and how we can treat them,’’ he explained.

But what does he consider to be the missing links in the education sector of Nigeria when compared with that on offer in US, Ohuabunwa said unpredictable academic calendar, corruption, examination malpractice and inadequate funding were some of the problems confronting his home country’s university sector. These, he said, were absent in the US.

“There were a few problems with Nigerian higher education that contributed to our emigration in 2003.  The first was the number of strikes that occurred in schools. It took my uncle seven years to graduate with a degree that should have taken him only four years. A second problem was the corruption. We had heard of people going into universities, because they paid someone to look the other way. I also heard of a few cheating scandals, where people would pay someone to take their exams for them or get a copy of the exam a few days before,” he said.

But is he saying that US university system has no such problems at all? Ohuabunwa said, “Although this sometimes occurs in the U.S, it is less common because of the strict security. I remember when taking the Medical College Admissions Test,  test required before one can matriculate into medical school, each student had to get his fingerprints taken every time we entered and left the hall. The whole place was packed with cameras and security staff that monitored everything we were doing. The exam was computerised to make sure that no one saw the test before the actual date.”

Another difference, he said, is that America rewards hard-work while the system also emphasises on a balance between academic life and extracurricular activities.

On how he won the scholarship to Yale, Ohuabunwa said his 3.98 GPA in Neurosciences, and many awards he had won and God’s grace, contributed to his winning the scholarship.

“As at the time of my application for medical school, I had a 3.98 GPA of a 4.0. This made me  the only black student inducted into the prestigious Phi Beta Kappa. I was also awarded the Becker Family Scholarship for being the most outstanding student in the Neuroscience major at Johns Hopkins University. Furthermore, by God’s grace, I took the MCAT and scored in the top five percentile.

“That, combined with my hours of volunteer service in different hospitals across the US allowed me to gain acceptance into every medical school I applied to, including Harvard, Yale, Johns Hopkins, Columbia, and Cornell. As the time came to make a decision, I had narrowed it down to Harvard and Yale. Both schools, I enjoyed visiting. Nevertheless, while my parents prayed, they asked God to give us a sign of what school to attend. A few days later, I received a letter from Yale Medical School, offering me a full ride scholarship for all four years. That was the sign from God,” he said.

But would he come back to Nigeria after the completion of his programme, he said yes.

“I am absolutely interested in the health care policy decisions in Nigeria. Because there are many changes that need to occur, I will not rule out the possibility of coming back after my studies, in order to join hands with the leaders to make these changes possible.’’

He added that his ambition is to become a medical doctor specialising in brain surgery.

“Two weeks ago, my grandmother passed away after a long battle with strokes. Even during emergencies, it was difficult for her to get to the hospital, let alone get treatment. This is a common theme not only in the health care system of Nigeria, but in different countries in the world, where the poor get neglected.

“Second, Nigerian hospitals lack the infrastructure required to compete with major hospitals around the world. It would be an honour to one day contribute to this transformation that is necessary for improvements in Nigeria’s health care sector,” he said.

He, however, advised Nigerian youths who have the wherewithal, to go abroad to study. Ohuabunwa also called on  wealthy Nigerians to invest more in the education of the poor rather than in acquisition of material things.

Ohuabunwa, however, said that his parents, who he described as his greatest role models,  contributed a lot  to his academic feat through Godly training, counsel and guidance. He also did not forget the impact  that his short stay at Air Force school had on him.

“I was definitely not the brightest at Air Force. At that time, I felt like I spent more time running away from seniors than focusing on my studies. Nevertheless, I learned three things at Air Force that have served me well in the US. I learned discipline, adaptability and resilience. These attributes helped me a lot in US,” he said.

 
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FNG CENTER offers intensive coaching for SAT®, TOEFL® test, GRE® revised General Test GMAT® students and also testing and certification at our ETS Prometric Approved Center in Ikeja GRA. We also fast track University Admissions in the United States of America and other countries. For information, please send us an email, info@fngcenter.com or call: 08069673315, 08062172776,  +1-202-236-4035 (International/USA)

Two Nigerian scientists bag UNESCO L’Oreal 2013 Award

The two women were recognized for their works on the environment.

Two Nigerian scientists have bagged the UNESCO L’Oreal “Women in Science Partnership” award for their contributions to the advancement of scientific knowledge in the country.

The awardees were recognized in the Laureates and Fellows categories in Paris.

Francisca Okeke, the first female Head of Department, University of Nigeria Nsukka bagged the 2013 Laureate award for her significant contributions to the study climate change. She was the only recipient in that category from Africa and the Arab nations and the third Nigerian Laureate since the UNESCO-L’Oreal partnership was established in 1998.

The second Nigerian recipient, Eucharia Nwaichi, an environmental biochemist from the University of Port Harcourt joined 15 other young scientists in the International Fellows category. She was recognized for her research on “Scientific Solution to Environmental Pollution.”

Four others also got awards in the Laureate category with each representing Europe, Latin America, North America and the Asia Pacific regions.

The international jury which selected the 2013 awardees was led by Nobel Prize winner, Ahmed Zewail.

Ms. Okeke told the Western Europe Correspondent of NAN that she would continue to encourage women to participate in the development of science and technology in the country. She noted that cultural challenges were impeding on women’s participation in global innovations, stressing that “even though it is seen as a male dominated field, people like us inspire others.”

Mariam Katagum, Nigeria’s Permanent Delegate to UNESCO, said candidates who met the criteria were selected by a jury based on their submitted projects.

“Two important elements are respecting the deadline and also making their submission through the Nigerian National Commission for UNESCO because that gives it authenticity,” she said. “For us as delegates, as soon as we knew we had possible candidates from Nigeria, we ensured that due process was followed. There is no interference as you can see; an international jury determined the outcome.”

According to her, they awardees have become role models for girls. “For us as a country, we need to encourage more girls to go into science. We can only do that by providing the environment, access to quality education and making sure that the facilities that will make them interested in science subjects are in place,” she said.

Credits: (NAN)
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FNG CENTER offers intensive coaching for SAT®, TOEFL® test, GRE® revised General Test GMAT® students and also testing and certification at our ETS Prometric Approved Center in Ikeja GRA. We also fast track University Admissions in the United States of America and other countries. For information, please send us an email, info@fngcenter.com or call: 08069673315, 08062172776,  +1-202-236-4035 (International/USA)