Students in Nigerian universities have stories to tell, but hardly anyone to tell them to. For our weekly series, Aluta and Chill, we are putting the spotlight on these students and their various campus experiences.
Today’s subject on Aluta and Chill is Chidinma Anya, an HND 1 student of Business Administration at Moshood Abiola Polytechnic. She wrote JAMB three times but didn’t get admitted into the universities of her choice. So she went for the next best thing: polytechnic.
Let’s talk about how you got into school.
I finished secondary school in 2011, but I had to go back because I failed mathematics. I didn’t even write JAMB that year. I was 16, so my dad thought I was too young to go to university. I had to do SS 3 again at another school.
What was that like?
It was terrible. It was a new school but people knew me and they knew I was supposed to graduate from secondary school the previous year. They didn’t ask me, but they knew what happened. I took everything as best as I could and wrote WAEC again. This time, I passed all my papers.
Not so fast. I wrote my first JAMB in 2012 and I didn’t score up to 200. However, I got more than 180, which was the cut-off for University of Abuja where I applied to study Public Administration.
I did the oral interview, but it didn’t happen. I didn’t make it into any of their admission lists. It sucked, but I didn’t stress it. It was my first attempt at writing JAMB.
Did you try again the following year?
Yes. I wrote another one in 2013 and applied to Osun State University. Again, I went for Public Administration. And again, I wasn’t offered admission. This one hit differently. That was the first time I clocked that there might be a problem. It was tough to handle that. In 2014, I decided that I wasn’t going to write the exam that year.
Why did you make that decision?
I was tired. All my friends had moved on and I was the only one left behind. I felt out of place, and when things like that happen, you begin to question why you even bother. I guess that’s what happened in 2014.
I’m sorry about that.
We move. I tried again in 2015. I chose Federal University of Abeokuta (FUNAAB) this time as my first choice. But desperation had kicked in. For the first time, I was deliberate about the choice of a polytechnic and I selected Moshood Abiola polytechnic as my second choice.
I wrote JAMB, scored above 200 for the first time and wrote both school’s post-UTME exams. This time, I scored 46.5% in FUNAAB’s Post UTME and the cut-off mark was 50%. There was a story about how the school was going to create some new departments and how they would transfer some of us that scored close to the cut-off marks there. So, I waited. Boy, was it a long wait. At the end of it, the polytechnic worked out and I got admitted to study Business Administration. The university didn’t. I was 21 ;when this happened.
Do you think the four years wait between secondary school and the polytechnic did anything to you?
Yes. The mention of JAMB triggers me. It was the beginning of my mental health struggles. There was a lingering feeling that I was a failure that couldn’t do anything right. It was tough to deal with it because I’d never struggled with school until JAMB. When this admission struggle started, it came with the feeling that I wasn’t as intelligent as I used to think.
I’m sorry about that.
By the time I was starting at the polytechnic, most of my friends were already graduating from universities. It sucked, but it is what it is.
How excited were you to finally get into school?
I’d been trying for four years, so I couldn’t wait to get started. However, I hated the school from the beginning. Everything about it annoyed the hell out of me.
I’d been away from the academic scene for far too long. I was 21 when I started my National Diploma, and I was in a class filled with 17 and 18-year-olds, so I didn’t exactly fit into the place. In my first two years, I managed to have only two friends. It was hell.
Did that affect your grades?
Terribly. I was on a lower credit through my National Diploma, even though my second-year results were better than the first. And it hurt so much because I’d waited so long to get here. I thought about quitting a lot of times — I don’t know where the strength came from, but I stuck with it.
I was dealing with finding a place in the polytechnic and most of the people I knew made it worse because they didn’t think I should be in a polytechnic.
What do you mean?
They couldn’t accept that I was studying at a polytechnic. After I finished my ND, I worked in an NGO first, then a PR company for a couple of months. Both places were good experiences for the most part, but the people there had something to say about how the polytechnic wasn’t a good fit for me. There was a never-ending influx of advice I didn’t ask for and condescending comments.
What were they saying exactly
Things like how I’m too smart to be a product of a polytechnic. Or how I should give university another go, even if it’s a part-time program.
Not cool. How did you deal with these comments?
Not very well. Everything about this triggered my anxiety; I spent a lot of time crying. There was a feeling of inadequacy already, and it didn’t help that people around me were so negative. I could take it from people I worked with, but when it came from family or friends, it hurt more deeply.
Where do you think these opinions came from?
I think it’s from a place of fear that I might struggle with a diploma certificate, which I get. There is a clear dichotomy between universities and polytechnics in Nigeria.
However, it’s not been easy to get here and it would be nice to get as much support as I can from the people who claim they want the best for me. I know that I have to be at my best, and I just need them to trust me that I can do it.
Did these comments put any pressure on you to give university another go?
Totally. At first, I planned to leave after getting my National Diploma. I was going to write another JAMB and transfer to a private university.
Did you do that?
Yes. I finished ND in 2019 and applied to Lead City University. I got the admission, but I couldn’t continue with it.
Finances. I didn’t make the payment deadline. That one just went like that. Immediately I realised I wasn’t going to Lead City, I applied for MAPOLY for my HND and I got in.
Did it elicit a strong reaction from anyone you know?
Yes, the usual. But the one that hurt the most came from a family friend. She’d been pushing me to try a part-time degree at a university. When I received the admission offer from the polytechnic, I texted her to let her know. She called me immediately and came for me with everything she had. She was so critical of my decision that I couldn’t hold myself back from crying. In the middle of it, I had a panic attack. After I’d calmed down, I sent her another text, informing her I was going to go through with it. It was my journey and it would be nice if someone asked what I wanted.
Good for you. How do you manage to deal with all the pressure?
I’m not sure I do that well, to be honest. A panic attack could break out anytime, even though I try to snap out of them. The only thing I can do for myself is to take it one day at a time.
That’s the best way to do it. Now, do you think you will get your grades up?
I don’t know. I’m quite nervous about it. It hasn’t been easy to get here, and at every point, I’m constantly being reminded by everyone and everything that I’m failing at this thing. I know that I will be fine, though. I’m working to finish my HND with upper credit. We will see how that goes.
What are you looking forward to the most now?
Graduation. I’ve been at this thing since 2011. I see myself going back to school after since I have to improve my chances with a Postgraduate Diploma and Masters, but it will be really great to close this chapter first. I’m going to cry on the day I write my last papers. By the time I graduate, it will have been 11 years since I left secondary school. That’s one hell of a long time. But it’s fine. All I want now is a happy ending.
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Can’t get enough Aluta and Chill? Check back every Thursday at noon for a new episode. Find other stories in the series here.