Abraham Oladebeye was the best graduating student at Achievers University, Owo, Ondo State in the last convocation. He made 4.94 CGPA from the Department of Industrial Chemistry. In this interview with PETER DADA, he talks about his days on campus.
How did you achieve the feat?
It was by God’s grace, but I also played my part. At the beginning of each semester, I usually penned what I wanted God to do for me in my academics because my target was always to achieve success. Once I did that, I would start working towards it. I always made a copy of my registration form and I used to write the score I wanted against each of the courses and God was faithful all along, the way He is always.
Could you tell us about your background and the kind of upbringing you had?
I was born into a very poor family. In fact, I grew up in a ghetto at Agodi Gate area of Ibadan, Oyo State, but my parents remained a source of inspiration to me. I had always dreamt of being the best in everything I lay my hands upon and I want to thank God for making it possible for me to achieve this feat.
Could you share your educational history with us?
I attended CAC Primary School, Total Garden, Ibadan; Army Barracks Grammar School, Iwo Road, Ibadan and I also attended the Federal Polytechnic, Ado Ekiti, Ekiti State, for my OND and HND, where I studied Science Laboratory Technology/Applied Chemistry.
Since you already had HND, why did you go back to the university?
It was because of the discrimination against HND holders, and the need to prepare myself for the future.
Have you been discriminated against before?
Yes, I was a victim of that. My first employment status was reverted despite having HND with PGD and awaiting M.Tech result. The Federal Government, in its ministries, departments and agencies, by policy, places B.Sc. holders higher than HND holders in the service. Ironically, having experienced the two systems, I found out that the polytechnic curriculum is richer than that of the university.
Given your background, why did you choose private university?
Well, due to my age, I wanted a private university, like Achievers University, with high standard of education and one that was devoid of violence and academic interruption, which is common in Nigerian public universities.
How old are you now?
I am 43 years old.
At 43, you are likely to be older than many of your classmates, how did you cope?
Initially, many people on campus used to think I was a member of staff; they didn’t know I was a student. At times, it came with a lot of embarrassment. I remember during my first registration, when I got to the admission office, somebody stood up for me, taking me for a visitor. I had to say I was a student. Also, when I got to the dean’s office for registration, they didn’t see me as a student. Somebody said, ‘sir, what can we do for you? I told the person that I was a student and I came to collect a uniform that we were to wear every Wednesday. When I went to the health centre, they registered me as a member of staff, so when I went there for the final clearance and they were looking for my file, they later discovered that they put my name on the staff list. Similarly, when I got to the hostel, it was something else entirely. It was not easy coping with such; in fact it took a lot of determination. Initially, I was not close to them, perhaps due to the age disparity, but I knew what I was looking for, so I put all those things aside and brought myself down to their level. I saw them as my colleagues. Over time, we read together, ate and played.
How were they calling you?
They called me daddy, which was enough to get anyone thinking, but because I learnt to overlook it, it didn’t affect me.
Were you the oldest person among the students on the campus?
I think I was the oldest in my department but in other departments, I saw people older than me and that encouraged me some more.
What were the challenges you faced during the programme?
Sincerely, it was not easy, particularly in the area of finance. I didn’t find it easy at all. I sponsored myself, coupled with the fact that I was married with three children. And due to the age factor, one had to read twice as much, and that was a must for me because I set targets for myself. It wasn’t easy, but I thank God all those are now in the past and I’m grateful to God I have something to show for it. Actually, I must thank my wife for being very supportive. I told her and the entire family that I wanted to go back to school and they would have to make sacrifices and they agreed. Their collective support gave me the peace of mind that I needed to focus on my studies. My wife is a lecturer and so she understood what I was passing through. She was actually one of those who encouraged me to go ahead.
Would you also consider lecturing?
Yes, I’m actually into lecturing too.
How were you able to combine your job as a lecturer with being a student for that length of time?
I was officially released by my employer and that helped a lot.
Is Industrial Chemistry your dream course or you just took it because you were desperately seeking university education?
Actually, I wanted to go for medicine but when it didn’t work out, I took Industrial Chemistry. In my HND, I took a related course for me to be on the same line, and that was why I decided to take Industrial Chemistry.
How did you raise money for the programme eventually?
I had to take loans from friends and relatives. But I have been able to pay back.
How much was the loan?
Actually, I can’t estimate it because there are some other miscellaneous expenses that I can’t really recollect now. I was spending up to N600,000 per session and that included the tuition fee and other expenses I incurred in the course of the session.
What is your next step now that you are done with your first degree?
By God’s grace, I will proceed in my academics. I won’t stop studying. You may be surprised; if I have the opportunity of studying law, I will go for it. It is also my dream to become a lawyer.
But you are in a science field, how do you intend to do that?
It does not matter, it is a matter of studying courses related to arts, and I can do it. I know it would be challenging but I know I can face it. Where there can be a little challenge is the basic requirements (art subjects), but I am ready to pursue it. I don’t see it as impossible. It is a matter of preparing for my O’level again and I don’t mind. It is in this part of the world that we see age as a constraint. Even after one is married with children, one could still further his education. I believe everything is about interest. I’m happy I took that decision, even though it wasn’t easy, neither was it any better when the programme was on; I mean the financial issue, taking care of the family and maintaining excellence in academics.
Did you have any challenge in your academics?
The truth is that there are things you can’t run away from. The brain of a 40-year-old man cannot be compared to that of a 23-year-old, and that came into play when I was in school. I had a target that I didn’t want to fall short of, so I had to do everything possible to keep up. In fact, I would say that setting a target helped me because I had something I was working towards. If you don’t meet up, you can easily do an appraisal of the effort you put in and take decisive steps to get better. But once you don’t have a goal, it’s easy to settle for anything, and you would think you have tried. It was not easy waking up in the middle of the night burning candle to read but I did, due to the target I had set. I did not allow it to distract me from achieving my target.
How often did you visit your family when you were in school?
I used to go home on weekends but not every weekend.
Did you have time for social activities while on campus?
I’m not a social person and so I didn’t go to parties, but I participated in sports – I played football and table tennis and I also didn’t miss church activities.
In your speech, you mentioned the Rector of the Federal Polytechnic, Ado Ekiti. What is your relationship with him and what is his contribution to your academic success?
Yes, he is my elder brother. I’m the sixth of seven children. He was also the best graduating student of his set and I simply followed in his footsteps in my HND programme as the best graduating student of my set. He singlehandedly sponsored my ND and HND programmes. So, I appreciate him a lot.
You said your late dad was shocked when you informed him about this programme, does it mean he did not want you to go for the it?
No, he encouraged me. He always wanted us to be the best. He was only concerned with the money involved. I actually borrowed some money from him and my mum to start the programme.
Do you believe in having role models?
Yes, I do and I have too. It’s a long list but I would mention some of them. I have people like Pastor Enoch Adeboye, Bishop David Oyedepo, Pastor Williams Kumuyi, Albert Einstein, Michael Faraday, my late dad, Dr. D.H. Oladebeye, who was an engineer, among others on the list.