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I almost gave up spending 12 years to earn a degree –Ojumah, UNILAG first class graduate

After several years of pursuing her dream course, Medicine, from one institution to the other, Oluwamayowa Ojumah, 27, eventually settled for Biochemistry and made a first class at the University of Lagos in the 2015/2016 academic session. She shares her story with TUNDE AJAJA in this interview

You got married while in school. How were you able to combine home, family and school, all at once?

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I think God ordered my footsteps. He is the centre of it all. I got married in November 2013 when I was in my second year. Thank God I married a wonderful man, he helped out with a lot of things. My husband was very supportive and took up the cooking and other things both during the session and while I was taking exams. He was very patient. So, having a supportive partner and family made it less stressful for me. I also contributed my best.

How easy was it to have a first class, in spite of the commitments that often come with marriage?

I was committed to prayer as well as reading. I prayed like I hadn’t read and read like I hadn’t prayed. I was going to school from home and most of the time, by the time I got home in the evening, I would be too tired to read, so I had to sleep and push my reading time to midnight, and there were days I couldn’t read at all. I used to download materials online to have better understanding of my courses and as long as I attended the class, I would have a good grasp of the course. So my reading time was just to get more knowledge on the courses. There were times I read all night from around 10pm till 6am. I used to love watching movies and reading books because I’m a lover of classic books but I had to put those aside for a while before exams. In fact, my husband would always place a temporary ban on watching television or movies once it was about a month to exams, and he was very strict with it even if I got angry. So, visual aids, like downloading videos from Youtube helped me a lot and I used to have many jotters. When necessary, I asked for help from some colleagues, but my strong point was understanding from the moment I was taught in class.

We learnt your father mandated you to have a first class. Was that your main drive or you also wanted it for yourself?

The word mandated fits really well. To be candid, I did not really care what he wanted as of 200 level. All I wanted was to just get something and leave the system. So, many times he brought up the first class issue, I would tell him I was tired and that he might have to do it himself. It was my husband that took the mandate to heart, especially because we had a large audience waiting to see what would become of my decisions eventually. But as I was entering my third year and discovered that some people were asking if I had dropped out of school, I sat up and decided I was going to get the first class for myself and prove to myself I could do anything I set my heart on with God on my side.

Why did it take you 12 years to have your first degree?

It’s a long story. I finished my secondary school in 2004, and later in the year, I got admission into Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago Iwoye, to study Applied Zoology. I was reluctant initially, because medicine had always been my dream course and I really wanted to be a neurosurgeon, but I was told that if I had very good performance in my first year, I would be allowed to cross to medicine. Unfortunately I didn’t do so well in my first year. In fact, I think I did badly because I didn’t really understand the course. I later left the school towards the middle of my 200 level because I still wanted to study medicine. So, I went with my parents to the United Kingdom but I still could not even start the course.

Why were you unable to start?

It was due to unforeseen circumstances, and because the tuition fee was beyond what we could afford. So, I came back and in 2009, I gained admission into Igbinedion University through Direct Entry to study medicine using my transcript from OOU. The following session, I sat for my MB exam and out of the three courses I did, I passed only one. I had to sit for the other two again, and unfortunately, I failed one of the two again, so the option was to repeat the class, or change my course or take my transcript and go abroad.

If you couldn’t pass three courses at a time, what made you think you would be able to study a course like medicine?

During that period, I did not really pay attention to what I was doing. I didn’t manage my time well and I wasn’t really focused. When I was in primary school and junior secondary school, I was a very good student and I was among the best. It was when I got to senior school that I became an average student. So, I was just distracted, maybe by all I had been through.

How then did you make it to UNILAG?

I applied to a university in Ukraine, but unfortunately again, I had a few issues with my passport and by the time I got it, it was about two days to the deadline for students to resume and I couldn’t do anything about it. So we started making alternative plans. Just before we completed these plans, my mother passed away; that was in March 2011. It was a time of serious heartache for me and I had to stay home for the rest of that academic year. I did not want to sit for another Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination so I decided to go in for the foundation programme in UNILAG. At that time, we had financial constraint but God provided for us and after the programme, I crossed using Direct Entry to degree programme. At a point, I had to pray to God to take me to an expected end because of the experiences I had.

You had always wanted medicine but you eventually got Biochemistry. What made you take the offer?

I got tired of trying. At that point, I just wanted to get a degree and forget about school, so even without the option of crossing to medicine, I jumped at the offer. At the initial stage, I didn’t really understand the course, but in 300 level, I developed interest in the course and I started having distinctions, which was after I had determined in my heart to have a first class. It was just God and my family members that supported me, and those experiences really made me stronger.

While you were moving from one school to another, how did you manage it anytime you came across some of your mates that were already working?

I used to be very uncomfortable. I was always hiding and walking as fast as my legs could carry me and if I got caught, I would just laugh to hide the shame or embarrassment. Most of them were nice and did not dismiss or ignore me if they saw me. After a while, I got over it.

Were there times you felt odd among your colleagues for being old?

It happened many times. Many of them were really young and initially, some used to be very rude to me, but we became good friends halfway through, so it became better.

Were there people who tried to discourage you?

Yes, there were. Some people felt I should just go and start a business because they thought I might not do well with the way I was changing schools. Besides, I got a huge discouragement when I wanted to get married in school. I quite understood their concerns as it is assumed that married women studying never do well. But I was determined and I felt in my heart that God was with me and it was the right decision.

When you had delay in getting pregnant, how much did it affect your studies?

I was worried, sometimes I was disturbed about it while I was supposed to be reading, and people started asking me questions within that year. It was really tiring so I devised a means of avoiding such people that were disturbing me with questions. But thank God, there was no pressure from my family or my husband’s family.

When did you start having first class?

It will interest you to know that I did not have first class until my final semester. As at 400 level first semester, I had 4.45 CGPA. That I could still make that first class remains my happiest moment. In that final semester, I offered six courses and to the glory of God, I had five ‘A’s and one ‘B’. I jumped because I just couldn’t believe it. If I had one more ‘B’ instead of an ‘A’, my CGPA would have been 4.49. There were times I almost gave up on having a first class but my husband really encouraged and supported me.

What was your typical day like as an undergraduate?

Wake up early, study a little, make breakfast if possible, rush to school, attend lectures, try to do a few assignments, do laboratory work, rush home to beat traffic, take a nap, prepare dinner, talk to husband about his day and try to listen to his software terms without falling asleep, read a book or watch a movie, wake up to read school books and back to bed. Basically that was my routine.

Would you still like to go back to medicine?

I believe I will because it is a course I love and enjoy so much. I would like to go and study abroad but if I don’t get that opportunity, I love biochemistry as well, maybe not as much as medicine, but biochemistry also makes me happy and my interest areas are medicinal biochemistry and clinical biochemistry.

Where would you like to work?

I love to teach. Apart from that, I would like to work in a research facility or in an agency like the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control.

What is your advice to students?

The centre of my success is God, without Him I would never have been here. Students should put God first and He will take care of the rest. Students should not dwell on their mistakes, rather, they should learn from it and move on. New students should set their goal and work towards it, while those who are already in school but not doing well should learn how to calculate their CGPA to know the level of effort they need to invest in their work to have a better result. In all, students can achieve anything they put their minds to, with God.


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