By Azuka Onwuka
A big opportunity came to President Muhammadu Buhari to shine some weeks ago but he let it waste. A graduate of the University of Lagos, Mr Ayodele Daniel Dada, made history by being the first graduate of the university to make the maximum cumulative grade point average (CPGA) of 5.00 point out of 5.00. Even though it was not said that he was the first graduate from any Nigerian university to make such a result, I have never heard that a graduate made such a result in any other Nigerian university.
What it meant was that Dada made an A in all the courses he took. That includes courses from other departments and faculties, which were not related to his course of study. For example, imagine an arts student who hates computations and scientific theories being made to take a subject in the natural sciences as well as computer. Many of such people would just pray to get the minimum score in those non-related but compulsory courses. Their dream will be to just pass those courses so as to be free to focus on the directly related courses that made them come to the university in the first place.
In the case of Dada, he made an A in all these courses right from his first year to his final. If he had made anything less than an A in any of his university courses, it would have dented his CGPA and he would not have made a 5.00. Reports from UNILAG indicate that when the university authorities heard of the unbelievable result, they called for his papers. After a thorough scrutiny, they found out that Dada deservedly got an A in all his courses. The CGPA was subsequently awarded to him.
However, he did not get the same opportunity in 2011 when he sat for the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination. The Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board seized his result that year “for cheating”. JAMB must have been too shocked with his result that it believed that there was no way Dada could have made such a score except by cheating. Sadly, JAMB has not come up with any mechanism to identify exceptionally brilliant candidates. Dada eventually decided to take the option of doing a diploma programme at the University of Lagos. That disappointment of having his result seized for being too brilliant could have dampened the spirit of some people and made them derail. But happily, Dada persevered in spite of his unenviable family financial status.
The announcement of Dada’s university result on February 25 was therefore a heaven-sent opportunity for Buhari to shore up his rating among the people. It was the type of opportunity many presidents would pray for but never get. The reason is simple. This is not something that happens regularly. It can never even be predicted. Having a first class is a regular occurrence in universities. Each university graduates many first class students every year. But having a graduate with 5.00 CGPA out of 5.00 is a rarity. It is said that perfection is not possible among humans, but this is something akin to perfection. So, anybody who has achieved this feat is nothing but a genius.
Why did President Buhari not celebrate this exceptional student? Was it because he did not know about it? Was it because it did not carry much weight with him? Did his media aides like Mr Femi Adesina and Mr Garba Shehu not know about it? Did the ministers of education not hear about it? What about the minister of youths and sports? Did they hear about it and briefed the President on the need to tap into and celebrate the achiever but were ignored by the President?
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At a time entertainment (like music, acting, comedy, dancing, etc) is taking the attention of many youths away from education and academic excellence, celebrating the academic feat of Dada would have done a lot for education in Nigeria. Immediately the news broke, the President should have sent a letter of congratulation to Dada and then invited him to Aso Rock for a handshake. At such a meeting, the President should have used that opportunity to stress his administration’s commitment to excellence in all human endeavours, especially in academic pursuit. He should have used that opportunity to inform the nation of his belief that the youths are the hope of the nation and should be supported and encouraged to excel. Then, he should have given the young man a scholarship and whatever other incentives he could.
It was also surprising that neither the governor of his state of origin (Ekiti State) nor state of residence (Lagos) keyed into the excellent performance of Dada. It was as if it was nothing special.
Similarly, except for the few comments within the two days of the breaking of the story, most Nigerians did not see the news item as something of great importance to talk about. Compare that to last month’s story of the transformation of Mrs Jumoke Orisaguna from a bread hawker to a model. Almost every person made a comment about her in the social media and private discussions for weeks. Even columnists wrote about her. Companies and brands fell over themselves to make donations to her and her children as well as make her advertise their brands. Pastors used her to preach and pray in churches.
It says a lot about our focus and values as a nation. Even though most Nigerians want the nation to become a superpower and a super economy, the government and citizens don’t celebrate academic excellence. How can a country become one of the leading countries of the world if excellence – especially academic excellence – is not celebrated? It is for the same reason that teachers, lecturers and researchers are poorly remunerated, while creative minds and their creations are ignored. It is for the same reason that winners of entertainment contests get prizes that run into millions of naira, while winners of academic and scholarly contests get rewarded with plaques. But then one may not blame corporate organisations because they are not charities. They need to support programmes that will give them visibility and patronage. But that the government joins in not giving priority to academic excellence is not excusable.
Entertainment is good and needs to be promoted. But a country does not grow by giving all attention to entertainment to the detriment of educational excellence and scientific breakthroughs.
It may not be easy for a government to turn the economy around within a year. It may not be easy for the government to defeat the Boko Haram as promised. It may not be easy to solve the electricity supply problem within a year. But there are quick wins that a government can achieve. There are also opportunities that a government can exploit immediately they present themselves. These opportunities will always present themselves in the life of every administration. Whatever an administration makes of such opportunities depends on that administration. Sometimes even a bad situation can be quickly turned around by a government that thinks on its feet.
The tempo may have died down on the issue of Dada, but it is not too late for the government to celebrate him. It is said that it is better late than never. When excellence is rewarded and celebrated by the government, people are encouraged to seek excellence. As David W. Johnson said: “There are no speed limits on the road to excellence.”
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