26 year-old Iziren Josiah Akhigbe set a new record at the Convocation Ceremony of the prestigious University of Lagos on Thursday, February 16, 2012, with a Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) of 4.98. Graduating from the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Iziren led not only the 37 First Class graduates from the Faculty of Engineering, but the 118 from the entire University, achieving the highest first class degree ever in the history of the University. Izi, as he is fondly called by his friends, has proved that nothing is impossible to achieve with hard work and determination. He shares his inspiring journey to his enviable degree in this exclusive interview with Adeola Adeyemo.
Born and raised in Lagos, Iziren has had a long ride to getting his University degree. Ever since he completed his secondary school, he had his eyes set on University of Lagos and didn’t want to attend any other University. However, after having three unsuccessful attempts at his entrance examination, he opted to attend Yaba College of Technology where he obtained both his National Diploma and Higher National Diploma before gaining admission to the University via Direct Entry. Iziren, is currently undergoing a four-month training course at GTBank and has his eyes set on furthering his education later on.
What schools did you attend before getting into the University?
I started my Primary school at Laraday Nursery and Primary School, Ikeja but I finished at St Leo’s Catholic Private School, also in Ikeja. Then I went on to Federal Government College, Ibillo in Edo State. Then I went to Yabatech and finished my HND in 2007. After that I did my NYSC before getting admission into Unilag through Direct Entry. I entered at 300 Level.
Why did you go to the Polytechnic first if you had your eyes set on a University degree?
I wrote JAMB three times and every time I saw that I was getting to the cut-off mark of the previous year, they would increase it. Unilag was just the only University I wanted to go to. Maybe if I had tried Uniben with my results, being from Edo state, I probably would have gained admission, but I just wanted it to be Unilag. So I decided to go to Yabatech and do my National Diploma (ND). Unfortunately, the year before I wanted to switch to Unilag with my ND results, they changed the requirement from Upper Credit to Distinction and I had an Upper Credit at ND. I tried Direct Entry with my Upper Credit, it didn’t work, so I had to go back for my HND again. By the time I was done with my HND, I had an Upper Credit and that was what Unilag required for Direct Entry at that level so I was able to get in.
After spending five years in a Polytechnic and one year at your National Youth Service, why did you feel a University Degree (B Eng) was still necessary?
I didn’t want to limit myself. I didn’t want to get to a point and be told that I couldn’t go further because I didn’t have a Bachelors’ Degree. Since I had the requirement for Direct Entry into Unilag, I decided to give it a shot.
Do you think coming into 300 Level at the University with a HND gave you an edge over your colleagues?
I would say that the things I learned in Yabatech helped me succeed in UNILAG.
You’ve set a new record at University of Lagos with a CGPA of 4.98. How did you make this feat?
It was in Yabatech that I actually developed a reading culture. Not just reading what I learnt in class, but to actually do more research and studying. I had a couple of study groups at Unilag. There were people who understood some courses more than me. I asked them questions to teach me, you can’t be proud about such things. There were times when I had to do tutorials for a couple of people and when you do stuff like that, you understand it better. It was just studying, studying groups and the people that I helped and people that helped me.
What does your degree mean to you?
It means that I can actually do what I want to do. I can say I want to be a professional, be a specialist. I can decide to do some more academic work and if possible come back to the academic line. I can decide to do a business, and see how I can put the knowledge I’ve gained to work. Generally, I think I should be able to do anything I want to do.
If you had a chance to go back to being an undergraduate again, what would you do differently?
I would take my Lab course more seriously, because the only ‘B’ I ever got was in a Lab course. I don’t really know what happened that semester. I think I probably took for granted some questions I was supposed to answer and thought I would still get an ‘A’.
Was the ‘B’ grade your lowest ever in the University?
Yes it was, and I had it only once. In my 300 Level second semester.
Some people say a first class degree in Unilag is cheap and can be easily gotten. What would you say to this?
I would say they should probably come to Unilag and see for themselves. Its not cheap o.
Did you ever have time to socialize in school?
I was just like every regular student. I went for a couple of parties. Ozone cinemas is not far from Unilag so once in a while, I went to see a movie, sometimes I used to go to my friends room and hijack their laptops and watch any movies I hadn’t seen. There were a couple of hangouts, I went out with friends from school, friends from outside school. I think I had a normal social life.
That is rare. The stereotype is that “brilliant students are nerds” Generally, I think it depends on the individual. There are some people that you would see that they read so hard and their grades are not so good and you begin to wonder what is happening. It is one thing to read, another thing to understand, another thing to remember what you have understood, another thing to put down that which you remember.
How did your colleagues relate with you at school? Did they call you a nerd, a geek or an “Efiwe”?
When people who didn’t know me hear that the guy has this kind of GP, they look at me and say “are you sure he is the one? He doesn’t look like a nerd, he doesn’t look serious.” They called me different names. Some called me ‘Prof’, some ‘the great man’, they just made up some funny names.
What is your definition of success?
Being able to do what you have to do. If you are a business man, you are successful when you are making money. If you are a student, you are successful when you are making good grades. I think success is just being the best at what you are doing.
Now that you have a first class degree and you set a new record at University of Lagos, would you call yourself successful?
I won’t say I’m successful all round, but as a student, probably yes. I haven’t had much work experience except for my Industrial attachment. I did a couple of holiday jobs but I want to really go into the engineering profession and try my hands there. Maybe if I do that for a couple of years and become a specialist in a particular field, maybe then I can call myself successful.
Why did you decide to study Mechanical Engineering?
I chose it from the subjects I liked in secondary school. In the beginning I liked Mathematics and Chemistry, but later I preferred Physics to Chemistry, and then of course Mathematics and Further Mathematics.
A campus environment is usually filled with lots of distractions from people and activities. What were the distractions you were faced with in school and how did you find your way around them?
I won’t say I’m not influenced by people or things happening around me, but to a large extent, I could be indifferent to happenings around if I decide to. There was really nothing to distract me. I planned my time around the activities that I had to do. When I had to watch a movie, you could call it a distraction, but I had to make up that time somehow.
How about distractions from girls on campus. Were they any?
I entered Unilag in 300level and by that time, most people already had their close friends and stuff like that. In my class, we were all guys and just one girl so there was really no distraction in my class. My hostel wasn’t so far from my department so I hardly had time.
But the girl does not necessarily have to be in your department or even in your faculty. There were girls everywhere (pun intended)
I don’t know why, but I’d say nobody had my time. There was a day that I noticed that no girl was actually looking at me. I went to see a friend in another hostel and when I was leaving, I mistakenly wore my leather slippers and a bathroom slippers. I had no idea how I did that and I walked all the way from there to my faculty. My problem wasn’t that I wore it, my problem was that nobody, not even a girl could look at my feet and say “why are you wearing this?”. Then I realized that no girl was looking at me.
What is the next step for you now?
Work. For now its Guaranty Trust Bank but something else might come up later.
You studied Mechanical Engineering and finished with a record 4.98 CGPA. What are you doing in the bank?
I am in the training school right now. You don’t know where you’re being posted to until you finish. Most likely it won’t be anything related to Engineering but I’m actually looking at the possibility of working where I’d have to deal with figures in the bank.
Do you have any plans to go for a Masters Degree soon?
I’m actually looking forward to it but not anytime soon. I want to gain some work experience first.
Were you the guy to call upon when anyone had a difficulty with a course?
There were some courses that were like that, not all.
How would you encourage your child if he or she fails a subject at school
The first thing is to know what the problem is. It could be that the child is confusing something for another thing. I’m an encourager, I’d tell my child that if someone else can do it and pass, you can do it and pass.
How would you evaluate the teaching standards at University of Lagos compared to other Universities across the continent? Did you complete practical work on the courses you were taught?
In UNILAG, I would say that the teaching is thorough. The lecturers try as much as possible to finish their syllabus and when you get tested, you get tested across the whole syllabus. Most of the practicals that we did were lab practicals and they weren’t so much. Really in Nigeria, I don’t think there is any school that would give you all the practicals you need until you get to the work place. That is why most times, wherever you work, you have to do a bit of training.
If you didn’t do as much practicals as you wished, how would you be able to compete favourably with your counterparts from Universities across the world?
The key to everything is to keep learning, there is no end to learning. You should actually decide to improve yourself.
What is your advice to anyone hoping to achieve something similar to what you have achieved?
The most important thing is to know yourself; you should know your strengths, weaknesses and limitations. You should know what kind of environment you like to read in, you should know the time you read and assimilate more, you should know if you are a slow learner or a fast learner. For me, I like to wait for a lecturer to put us through in a course before I go ahead and read on it. It all depends on knowing yourself, everything comes under that.