UNILAG first class graduate: "I decided to make a first class & I made it"

Olugbade Israel, 26, graduated with a first class from the Department of Pharmacology, University of Lagos, having scored 4.52 CGPA in the 2013/2014 academic session. In this interview with Punch's Tunde Ajaja, he talks about his days as an undergraduate:

Can you recall how you felt when you learnt you were the best in your department and faculty?
I was very happy when I learnt I was the best in the faculty because I wasn’t expecting it. I didn’t know I was the best in the department until the final faculty result was released. So, when I heard I led the faculty, I was very happy. I believe many people also worked hard like I did, but God just wanted me to have it. It was a total surprise.

Did you have a goal you were working toward or having first class was just by providence?
Graduating with a first class was a decision I made two years before I gained admission into the university. All I did while in the university was to pursue that goal, and that made it easier for me because I already knew what I wanted. I discovered that most people don’t have an expectation of what they want to graduate with and that makes it difficult to track their progress.

Beyond setting a goal, did you do anything out of the ordinary to be the best in your faculty?
It is mainly about getting priorities right. I understood that when school was in session, it was time to read and all I did was to read. Then I played when school was on break. I think what I did differently was that I read every day for at least four hours instead of waiting until exams period. That helped me to prepare ahead such that I had few things to cover when it was time for exams. Interestingly, I wasn’t so much a fantastic student in my previous schools. My performance wasn’t consistent. There were times I had good results and there were times my performance was not very good. So, it was a mix, but thank God I became better. So, regardless of my efforts, I would still ascribe my success to God because, really, it is all about Him. I did my part but God granted me the strength.

If you were not so fantastic then, did you find it difficult to pass your West African Senior School Certificate Examination and Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination?
Passing WAEC was a big problem for me because I had a faulty orientation about it. I was told all I needed as a science student was just to pass English, Mathematics, Physics, Biology and Chemistry. So I felt I didn’t need to read since I saw myself as brilliant. It took me three sittings to have 5 credits. UTME was very easy for me, even though I took the exam three times and I had more than 240 in each of the sittings. Basically, my WASSCE kept delaying me. I finished my secondary education in 2006 and I secured admission in 2010. I didn’t find it easy seeing some of my mates already in school while I was still at home, taking O’level exams, but that has passed and I’m happy with where God has brought me.

Some people believe that courses related to medicine are meant for brilliant students only. How true is that?I believe everybody is brilliant and there is no course meant for some group of people, it’s just the application of our minds that differs. Medical courses are actually stressful and the textbooks are usually voluminous and it requires consistent reading, but if people are doing it, then anybody can do it. Some of those textbooks are interesting while some are very boring. I always read the boring ones before reading the seemingly interesting ones. But in spite of the demands, I love it and I enjoyed it. Though, there were times I felt intimidated by other professional medical courses, since I enjoyed what I was doing, it wasn’t a big deal to me.

When did you start having first class?
My final year. I had been working at it right from when I was in 100 Level, but it didn’t reach that mark until my final year. I never gave up and I’m glad I made it.

What was your typical day like?
My movement was mainly revolved around three places; from hostel to class and or from there to church. I was always in class from 6pm to 10pm every day and I was always at our praying field from 6am – 7am, Mondays – Saturdays. Having a first class is not cheap, so, I was reading for about six to seven hours during weekdays and I could do 10 hours on Saturday and Sunday. I only used the library during my first year but after then, I preferred reading in class because I like reading in a noisy environment.

Given the volume of books and notes you had to read, did you have time for social events?
At my leisure, it was either I was reading or I was teaching others. So, there was no specific time for social events but I didn’t miss Chelsea matches, even if the team was to play at 2am or I had exams the following day. I loved football and I wasn’t going to miss any match that concerned my team, except I was in church. I believe to be intelligent is to know everything about something and to know something about everything. So, I had to read beyond my course.

Were you in a relationship then or you saw it as a distraction?
I was not in any relationship. Though there were ladies I liked and there were ladies who liked me, I knew the goals I had set for myself and I knew I had to concentrate my emotional energy on God and my studies. It could have been a distraction for me, so I had to leave it.

Were there weird things you did in a bid to read?
I read in the oddest places on campus, like in the canteen, on the street, in the wards, in the toilet, at the lagoon front, etc., mainly because I read alone. I hardly read with people except I was teaching.

Since you were also reading at your free time, didn’t your friends see you as too serious?
There were such instances but I didn’t allow that to disturb me because the people who were seeing me as being too serious were still the same people who would ask me to teach them during exams.

What were your memorable moments as an undergraduate?
I had a number of that but out of them all, there were two memorable moments that stood out, the day my class went to Whispering Palms in Badagry to have fun after our exams, and I really had fun, and my convocation day, when I had to shake hands with the university chancellor, Prof. Jerry Gana, and the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Rahamon Bello.

In your view, why do students fail?
I think some people fail because they fail to place their priorities correctly and because most students wait for exam to come before they prepare for it. Students need to be diligent and consistent. I believe those are the key to having an excellent result.

What was the oddest thing you ever did for the sake of your academics?
Spending Christmas and New Year holidays in school.