Students in Nigerian universities have stories to tell, but hardly anyone to tell them to. For our new weekly series, Aluta and Chill, we are putting the spotlight on these students and their various campus experiences.
On this week’s Aluta and Chill, we have Obinna Ugwu, a 500 level student of the University of Ibadan, studying Industrial Engineering and bossing it. He shares his story with us; about how he’s worked hard to get the best out of his time in school.
Let’s start with something interesting, what is the most exciting thing you’ve done recently?
Let’s see. I was in China for two weeks to represent my University in a study trip sponsored by Chinese tech giants, Huawei. I was with nine other Nigerians, and it was so cool. We learnt about Chinese culture, language, and some of the amazing technology Huawei is currently working on.
Interesting. How did a final year student from UI hop on a plane to China?
The Students’ Affairs Division of UI nominated me. We proceeded to Lagos to write some tests and do some interviews at the Huawei office. That was all really; next thing I knew, I was selected to represent the University and was on my way to China.
The programme is called Huawei Seeds For The Future; it’s a CSR initiative run by the company. Every year, they select top students from different universities and bring them to China to learn about culture and technology. In my batch, there were students from Azerbaijan and Indonesia.
Lit. I might be wrong, but this feels like a culmination of some sort. So, could we start from the beginning when you first got into the university?
Of course! Industrial Engineering was my first choice, against the wishes of my parents who wanted me to go for Medicine and Surgery. I’ve always been sort of a rebel and MBBS didn’t seem like what I would like to do. For starters, I hate biology and I hate the sight of blood. It was never going to work out.
I also felt that studying a mainstream Engineering course would not give me the body of knowledge that would make me competitive globally. I went online and made research, found Industrial Engineering, and it was sold to me as a bridge between Engineering and Economics, and that caught my fancy. I was admitted in 2014, but I didn’t resume school until 2015 because the 2013 ASUU strike slowed down the school calendar.
That was the genesis and truthfully, it is one of the most important decisions of my life.
I get it, but did it feel like that at first?
The early days were rough. I came from a lower-class family, so there was a massive problem with finances. I was not comfortable at all and it affected a lot of things; the way I dressed, the things I ate and stuff like that. There was this red shirt I used to wear all the time. Anyone who saw a red shirt from a distance could tell it was me. Also, I was drinking garri whenever I had gone through the little money I had.
That must have been tough.
It was. But I knew I was in school to make something of myself, so I threw practically all of me into my academics. I mean, it was all I had. And I knew it would make things better. End of the first year, I came out top of my class. 6.5 out of 7.0 CGPA.
Mad. How did you pull this off?
In 100 level, the only thing I had going for me was academics and my friends. I attended most of my classes and studied extensively. Actually, I didn’t see it as a herculean task; all I needed was discipline.
That definitely made you feel that you were doing something right, didn’t it?
Yes, it did. It also broadened my scope and made me hungrier. I didn’t have to think about this a lot because this was when the opportunities started coming in.
Tell me about these opportunities.
I was in 200 level when I got the first of the scholarships; Total E&P CSR scholarship. I actually applied and wrote the exam when I was in 100 level. They contacted me in 200 level and I filled some documents and all. It was going to be more money than I had ever handled on my own. I guess the possibility that I might not get it eventually was scary because I totally took my mind off it.
I remember the day the money entered. It was sometime during first-semester examination and I was taking a break from studying to watch a football match. A text message came in and I saw a lot of zeros. It was more than what I had ever seen. Man, it was wonderful.
A few months later, the second one came.
Levels on levels.
This one was awarded by Shell. They paid for two years at once. So, I had a few hundred thousands on me.
Before then, I used to have like 1000 naira in my account, and that was all. And the only reason I had the 1k was that that was the minimum balance I needed to have in my account, so I couldn’t withdraw it. I would have if I could, and my account would have been plainly empty. It was a transformation of sorts.
So 200 level was the turning point.
That year was actually a good one, not only for me but my family too. My dad got into a new line of business and was doing better. Generally, things started looking up.
It was always going to happen.
Yes, I guess. But I couldn’t let that be it, so I forged on. I believe so much in nurturing the right relationships. You need people to get the best out of life. I found some mentors in my church and department, and I always went to them for advice. This shifted my mindset about grades – they are important but you need to be more than your grades. I embraced versatility and ventured into other things. 200 level was really good.
Okay. Walk me through your third year?
2017 and 300 level was characterised with a lot of firsts for me. First, I became the General Secretary of my Department’s Student Association. It was a pretty big deal for me because it put me in a position to add value to a relatively large association.
Then, I started to learn chess.
Chess. I really got into playing it that I became the captain of the Faculty of Technology chess team. I led the team to the inter-faculty games. Oh, I was also in the University of Ibadan chess team. I was really into it.
On your way to becoming a grandmaster, aren’t you?
Heh. I enjoy it, but a grandmaster is another level. I can hold my own against lots of people, though. I also challenge other players online, but not as frequently as I used to because of my engagements.
I get you. We are still on your third year.
Yes, I also began to read more books in my third year. Like all sorts of good books. Basically, I just started doing things I wasn’t doing before, and they showed me new possibilities I hadn’t thought of.
And yes, I got into my first relationship in my third year.
Ooh, interesting. How did it turn out?
We were together for a number of months and life kinda happened. We ended on good terms, though; we just realised that we both wanted different things. It was good while it lasted. In retrospect, I think the relationship was good for me. It made me understand what to look out for in the future. I’ve tried to be with other people, but nothing as serious as the first one. Right now, I’m single to stupor.
So the third year took the baton from your second year.
For the most part, yes. But it was also when I had to deal with a series of failures for the first time in a while.
Man, what happened?
First, I tried to become an ambassador for Unilever. Several stages and lots of invested time and energy later, I didn’t get selected for the gig. That was not something I was used to. The rejection mail stung so badly.
We win some, we lose some.
Like I said, my third-year was a lot of firsts. The Unilever thing was the first of a series of failure. Fast-forward to my fourth year, I thought to start applying to jobs, and I got called for an interview with a company in Lagos.
I want to say lit, but I don’t know with the way you’ve set this up.
Patience na. I went for the interview. I was answering the first question – I hadn’t even finished before the interviewer interjected and said, “You bore me.”
That disoriented me and blew the whole interview. As expected, I didn’t get the job. That was another thing I wanted that I didn’t get. But it also made me realise that not everything I want will be mine, and that’s not a bad thing in itself because failures are stepping stones to success. These experiences, especially these two gutting ones helped to reshape how I think. I couldn’t let myself become a victim, so I went back to the drawing board and improved on what I thought I was deficient in. I tried out a couple of other applications, but I still got rejected at different stages.
Oh, by the way, my grades dropped to a 2’1 in 300 level too. I was now on 5.9 – the thin line between a second class upper division and a first-class. We kept it moving, though.
The only way to do it.
I guess I was being prepared for something greater. The next thing I know, I was offered an internship role with British American Tobacco. I was with them from August 2018 to March 2019.
YO. That’s lit. Can you tell me more about the internship?
I was an Integrated Work System Intern. The job required knowledge of Microsoft Excel, and at the time I started, I could build next to nothing on Microsoft Excel. I took that as a chance to learn something new, and by the time I was completing the internship, I was more responsible and could hold my own with Microsoft Excel. My time there taught me the importance of data analysis and its importance in decision making. It also propelled my interest in Data Sciences and Artificial Intelligence and opened up a new world for me.
It was one of the most life-changing experiences that I have had, to be honest. I was working with some of the smartest people that I’ve seen.
This internship happened between your fourth year and fifth year, right?
Yes, it was. I went for the internship in my fourth year. At the end of my fourth year, I’d managed to get my GPA to 6.0 – back in the First Class region.
How did this happen?
It’s still kind of a blur; I just thought so many people had high expectations of me, and I wasn’t going to let them down. So I threw myself into everything. I attended more classes, studied way more, and took the internship as though my life depended on it. That didn’t mean I let go of all the other things I was doing; in fact, I became the Media and Marketing Support, Hult Prize – a global student entrepreneurship competition.
I had to relearn the importance of balance during this year too. I was into so many things, and every bit of these activities was instrumental to my growth, so I figured out a workable model to combine all.
When I returned to school after IT, I contested for the post of President in the department student association, and I won it.
That has a ring to it; President Obinna. So, you are in your final year now.
Yes, I am. And I’m not only the president of my department, I’m also the Campus Director, Hult prize, University of Ibadan.
Another feather to a much-decorated cap.
We are in the second semester now; my last semester, and I am a first-class student, the president of my department, the campus director of Hult prize, University of Ibadan amongst others. And of course, I travelled to China on a Huawei-sponsored trip.
I know you play chess, but what other things to do for fun?
I hang out with friends. I watch a lot of movies and series. I’m a big fan of Marvel comics and follow the cinematic universe religiously.
What do you hope to get out of your final year, and where would you go from there?
First, I would like to graduate with a first-class. I’m on a 6.0 now. After that, I would be looking for roles in management consulting firms, production companies, investment banks, across several industries, it could even be a startup. I really don’t mind, as long as I’m able to challenge myself.