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.
This week’s subject is Akinola Oluwafemi. He talks about his desire to study in Canada because of his discontent with the Nigerian education system and how he tried to leave twice but couldn’t because the universe happened.
When did you get into school?
2015. I chose UNILAG, because, for some reason, my parents thought federal universities were better than private universities. Also, most of my friends from secondary schools were filling in UNILAG in their application forms. There was this whole hype around the school — about its fun and freedom — and for someone who was coming from a restrictive secondary school, that was a big deal. However, I went to UNILAG because there was no choice. I couldn’t care less about any university in Nigeria, I wanted something more.
What did you want?
A university outside of Nigeria. I didn’t want to study here.
Lmao. All of us.
Yeah, but that wasn’t going to happen at the time. So, I opted for UNILAG and applied to study Electrical Engineering. Apart from my love for innovation, I’ve always wanted to have the “Engineer” tag. It sounded cool. My parents didn’t oppose my decision, and I suspect that they even loved the idea of it. Luckily, I got in. That was a silver lining.
What happened when you got in?
Man, I still believed that the Nigerian education system didn’t have a lot to offer me. I was here but I was hell-bent on studying abroad and I continued to put pressure on my parents to let me go. I used to say I was in UNILAG for tutorials, to prepare me for the Canadian experience. In my first year, I was just in school physically. I was going to classes only for attendance. My sights were set on the remaining five months I had left to spend before I japa.
Life oh! 2016 was weird. The second semester of 100 level came and it was time to leave. I’d written the TOEFL exam and everything was ready. I applied to University of Manitoba to study Electrical Engineering and I got accepted. All I needed to do was pay the acceptance fee.
But that didn’t happen?
I got another offer from my aunt in the UK. Her children weren’t living with her, so she wanted me and my brother to come to the UK and attend one of the universities there. She’d been in the UK for a long time and claimed that she had some international student privileges that were going to be useful for me and my brother. Well, that complicated things.
You needed to make a decision
Pretty much. And my parents left me to decide. They could afford University of Manitoba, but it was still a lot of money. Also, my aunt really wanted me to come to the UK, so I was like “Okay, I’m going to forfeit the University of Manitoba admission, and I did.”
Two weeks after the payment deadline had passed, she called that there was a new development. She found out that we weren’t qualified for the aid. She would still have to pay a whole lot to get us in.
Ah. That sucks.
Now, the UK university was more expensive than University of Manitoba. She said she could take one person. We agreed that my brother should go. After a week, she called again to inform us that she couldn’t take any of us due to a lot of factors.
It wasn’t her fault, though. She got the wrong information. I reached out to University of Manitoba to see if I could still continue the process there. That didn’t happen. There was no extension and they had already registered the students that were coming in that year. That was the last straw. My parents were already pissed and were off the case. They were like I should continue at UNILAG, and that was it.
It be like that sometimes.
I wasn’t going to let that be the end of it. I continued to coax my parents. My dad had moved on, so there wasn’t a way there. But I got through to my mum. She enrolled me for SAT classes and the plans were set in motion that I would try a US university this time. I paid for the classes and exams.
But something else happened, didn’t it?
You bet that it did. The SAT exam day clashed with an exam I needed to write at school. It would have been easier if it was a test, but it was a whole ass exam for a compulsory course and a prerequisite for another course. I needed to pass it before I could register for the next one. Also, the professor was the most-dreaded lecturer in the faculty. Now, I needed to make another decision. If I didn’t write the exam, I would have an automatic extra year. And I wasn’t sure if I was willing to take that risk for something I wasn’t sure would come through.
I’m guessing you chose to write the UNILAG exam
Yes. My parents were pretty adamant that I wrote the UNILAG exam. They promised that I could always write the next SAT. That made sense, so I sat for the school exam. When the time came to write the next SAT, they’d already moved on and I couldn’t convince them this time. They were like maybe that was how God wanted it — you know how Nigerian parents are. So yeah, it turned out that I was going to spend all five years at UNILAG.
Oof. You were looking forward to leaving Nigerian and studying abroad and you tried twice, but it didn’t happen. What did you do to move on from that?
It took me a while to accept it. There was a process to coming to the realisation that it wasn’t just meant to be. I blamed myself for how I handled the University of Manitoba thing. For the longest time, I beat myself up for it. At first, it affected the frequency with which I went to class. For a while, I wasn’t sure what the point was. It wasn’t what I wanted. But when I realised that UNILAG was the only thing I got, man, I had to stand up and go on about my business as usual. I couldn’t lose in two places if you know what I mean.
I’m curious, do you think your privilege had something to do with it?
Yes, I guess it did. But also, University of Manitoba was just the right fit because I could get an international student loan. Everything was set, so it definitely felt like I screwed it up.
Did you ever settle into UNILAG?
Yeah, but it was a slow, agonising process. I spent my first two years trying to get out. By the time I realised that I wasn’t going anywhere, I’d missed out on so much. I hadn’t made friends or anything, so it was basically just me trying to find my place two years later than I should have. It wasn’t until 300 level that I started to blend in, became a normal UNILAG student, and started to enjoy the school.
Did this affect your grades in any way?
It did, actually. They were just there when they could have been so much better. I couldn’t complain, to be honest. If I had been invested from the start, chances are that they would be mad. The whole reason I wanted to leave this country and its education system was built around this idea I had that I couldn’t get much from the system. And I was running with that until I went for IT and had an epiphany. My IT changed my life.
Tell me about that.
I got an opportunity to run the 6-month IT at Total. And man, it was tough to get a spot there, More than 1000 students across Nigeria applied for it. There were a series of tests we had to write at each of the four stages. The toughest part was the waiting period. I didn’t even wait for them — I had started my IT at a radio station. When they eventually notified me that I had gotten it, I couldn’t believe it. For the first time in some time, I was truly happy.
I know what you mean.
I started there and everything just felt like a dream. They didn’t pay a lot of money to student interns, but there were a couple of benefits. I stumbled on the payment logbook and I saw these outrageous numbers. People were actually earning so much in a country I was desperate to leave. This did a lot to change the way I saw this country.
I was somewhat cool with my supervisor and I told him my japa story. He’d been abroad and he was like living there is overrated. He advised that I learn how to play my cards right and I would see that there’s a lot to do and experience here.
Facts. How was the Total experience?
I was in the Information System and Technology department and everything I had to worry about was making sure the communication systems worked perfectly. It was surreal, to be honest. I was seeing and using all these stuff I had read about in the textbooks. I’ll admit that I geeked out. I thought I was having all the fun I could until it was time to go offshore.
Was that fun?
The best! I was in the Gulf of Guinea for about 6 weeks, surrounded by the ocean, working for one of the biggest oil companies in the world. What could beat that?
You didn’t want it to end, did you?
Nah, but it had to. I tried to extend my internship and they were okay with it. But UNILAG had to sign off on it and it was going to be a long process. So, I had to let it go and go back to school. I left with all this energy and motivation. In fact, I’m looking to go back there.
So how’s your final year going?
Not bad. The major thing to do now is to write my project and leave. However, ASUU strike and the Coronavirus have put everything on a pause, so I’m still here. It will end soon, though. I’m sure of that.
I know you said your outlook about the country has changed since your IT, but are you still looking to move out?
Yes, I wouldn’t rule it out. I still need to experience something new in another country. The difference now is if I leave, I’m sure that I’m coming back. There’s a lot to do here.
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