In search of rewards for academic excellence

(By Akinwale Akindiya)

However, we  need  to  realise  that young  people’s view  of  success  is  often  shaped  by the  society. If the Nigerian  society is  passing the  signal  that  to be  recognised  means  you  have  to  be  able  to croon like Olawale, dazzle with  the  ball like Iheanacho, be  a  screen star like Omotola or crack peoples’ ribs  like  Julius  Agwu, then  we  should  be  ready  to have in our hands  the  challenge  currently being faced by African-Americans in United  States of America.

THE recently concluded MTN Project Fame  has  brought  to the  fore  again  the  need  to address  the  lack  of  recognition  being suffered  by  Nigerian  youths  who go the  extra mile  in  academic  performance. The  first prize  winner walked  away  with  N5 million,  a  brand  new  SUV  and  a  recording contract worth millions. All the six finalists received what could best be described as “take-off grants” from MTN, the telecommunications giant.

  It is noteworthy that all the telecommunication multinationals in the  country  are  doing their  best  to outdo  one another in  assisting Nigerian youths  in music  and  sports. Glo’s X Factor has a winner’s tag of N24 million! Are you kidding me! No wonder a great percentage of the youth in Nigeria has taken to music to the detriment of their books. The  question  is  why  should any youth study  and  end  up  as  employees  when they  can make millions as  teenagers  from  music?

   The Brand Ambassadors of blue chip companies in Nigeria are music, football and Nollywood stars. They earn  millions  from these  endorsements  just  for  the  right to use  their  names  and  pictures. Even the Federal Government just joined the bandwagon by giving out national awards to the Under-17 team that won the last World Cup. Before somebody tags  me “bad belle”, I believe whole-heartedly  that  these  awards  and  returns   are  well  deserved  and  in proper  order. However, we  need  to  realise  that young  people’s view  of  success  is  often  shaped  by the  society. If the Nigerian  society is  passing the  signal  that  to be  recognised  means  you  have  to  be  able  to croon like Olawale, dazzle with  the  ball like Iheanacho, be  a  screen star like Omotola or crack peoples’ ribs  like  Julius  Agwu, then  we  should  be  ready  to have in our hands  the  challenge  currently being faced by African-Americans in United  States of America.

   In the U.S., blacks dominate sports and music. I was  watching Eminem on TV recently and in my view, it looked  so out of place  to  see  a  white  man  rapping. Naturally, you will  expect  to  see  a  black face  moving those  hands  up  and  down. That is how it has been in America. The whites go to college while the blacks do the odd jobs while trying to succeed as a musician, basket baller or footballer. This trend has become worrisome to some observers such as Ben Carson (the author of “Gifted Hands”). Ben Carson was the first black medical director of John Hopkins Hospital in America. He was the first neurosurgeon to separate twins co-joined at the head. He realised that having  blacks focusing  on music  and  sports to the  detriment  of  academic  pursuit  will  create  an imbalance  that  will not  help the American Society. Ben Carson came  to this  conclusion when  he  read  a  research paper  attesting  that  out  of  22  countries, United  States  was  21st in  appreciation of  mathematics  and  science!

   He also observed that in American schools, cases  of  trophies  won  by  students in sport competitions  are  displayed  while  the  best  students  in academics  are  awarded pin or certificates! Ben Carson was not only concerned, he did something about it. He started the Carson Scholarship Fund in 1994 which gives out scholarships to promising students. To date, the  fund  has  given  out  more  than  five  million  dollars  in  awards.

   Back to Nigeria, the  country  has  started  reaping  the  fruits  of  neglecting   her  brilliant  students. This year’s  Senior Secondary Certificate Examination (SSCE) result  is  one  of the  worst ever  and  I have  observed  that  this  has  been the  trend  for  about 10 years now. It is  left  to be  wondered  by those  who  should  know  in the  country  if  there  is  any correlation  between the failure  rate in SSCE  over  the  last decade  and  the  boom in teenage/youthful incursion into the  Nigerian music  scene within the decade. The Nigerian music stage is practically overcrowded with stars and wannabees simply because the industry pays mega bucks if you “blow”. Young people are rushing to film  auditions  and  comedy competitions because  the  future is  guaranteed  if you  work  hard  and  make  it to the top. Why then is the same environment not created for our academic stars? Why are these multinationals not making first class graduates their brand ambassadors? A student has  nine  distinctions  out  of  nine  subjects  in  SSCE  and  he or  she  has  no pecuniary  rewards? Are you kidding me? A teenager can sing, you give him N24 million. Another teenager excelled academically, you give him a handshake!

   I find rather disturbing  that the Nigeria media and public in general  missed  out a key fact in the  story  of  Joshua Kunle Abdul-Azeez, the  17- year-old  boy who was  allegedly maltreated  by  the staff of Egypt Air on his  way to Ukraine.   The  boy’s  wish  to travel to Nigeria was  granted  by her  mother  after he  met the  condition of making a  five-point CGPA! Every article  I have  read  on the case has been  dwelling  on the  injustice doled out to the boy but none has recognised  the  fact that this boy  is  an  academic wonder  that should be nurtured  by the  country  for future  national  contribution  and  development. I won’t be  surprised  if   Ukraine   gives  him citizenship and  appropriate  him  as  a  national  asset.

    Prof. Wole Soyinka has permanently relocated out of Nigeria, breezing in once  in  a  while  to give  us  a  glimpse  of  what we  lost. Prof. Chinua  Achebe  spent his  last  days  where  he  was  appreciated the  most, United  States. Philip Emeagwali excelled because America gave him everything he needed to shine. While  we  continue  to  reward the  youth in the  glamour professions, it  is  imperative  for  us  to realise  that no  nation is  built on music and  sports  alone. India  is  ahead  of  Nigeria  in film making, yet the leading banks in Nigeria  used  banking applications  developed  in India. A lot  of  the  tricycles  in Nigeria are imported from India, not  to  talk of the  drain  on  our  naira  due  to Nigerians ‘medical  tourism  to India. In fact, despite Bollywood, India is a nuclear power!

  Brazil is another country that is known primarily for soccer. The country has produced soccer greats such as Pele, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Zico and Rivaldo to mention a few. Though England is officially credited with the creation of the game, Brazil is globally accepted as the face of soccer. Despite  the  country’s fanatical obsession  with  soccer, Brazil is  gradually  closing  the  gap  on  China  and  India  through deliberate  diversification  of  the  economy. The country has a strong manufacturing base producing millions of tonnes of steel and cement coupled with electronic gadgets and petrochemical products. Scientific and technological development projects in Brazil attract annual foreign direct investments of $30 billion. The growth in the agriculture and mining sectors has also resulted in trade surpluses.

   Brazil and India could not have been where they are if there was no deliberate  plan for sustaining the interest of young people in sciences, engineering, management  sciences, arts  and  other  fields of  study. Imagine  an India where  everybody  is  in Bollywood  or  a  Brazil  where  everybody  is  a soccer star! Nigeria has to get this right for the sake of future generations. Medical doctors are going on protest strikes after years of sacrifice in medical school. I met a medical doctor who was struggling to raise money for his wedding. He admitted he regretted studying medicine for 10 years. Nollywood stars fly plane-loads of guests to Dubai for their wedding. Engineering graduates are ending up as bankers’ employees or at best IT/ICT professionals.   The  junior  ones  of these  graduates  seeing  what  their  elders  who were  bookworms  are  going through will  most likely make  the  “informed” decision of  trying to be  the  next megastar. If most of our youths play football, sing, act or crack jokes, who will build the bridges? Who will design the roads? Who will take care of sick people? Who will refine the crude oil? Who will write the computer programmes? Who will make the drugs? Who will market the goods and services? Who will plant the crops and rear the animals? In short, who will be left behind the books?

   I hereby  call on  all  the companies  currently doling out these fantastic  sums  to  TV personalities to extend the same to bright students  in our institutions of learning who  are struggling hard to remain in class, paying extreme  prices to excel in their  studies. Imagine  the impact if there is  a  competition in Nigeria  in which all  Engineering First Class  graduates  in Nigeria  will compete  on the most innovative  product design and  the winner goes  home with N50 million! Imagine the interest in engineering studies that will be created. Imagine the impact on the study culture of the youths in this country. Imagine the impact on the quality of life of Nigerians.

  Imagine what would happen in subsequent SSCEs if one multinational decides to make the best SSCE student in 2014 its brand ambassador? I have no doubt that the pass rate in the examination will increase by at least 300 per cent! With what I know about human psychology and the practical experience I had while  teaching, I have  come  to the  conclusion that there is virtually no dull  student. What is often lacking is the motivation to study hard due to the absence of a reward or encouragement from parents and teachers. I have tried this assertion on a student tagged “dull” by family and teachers and the boy started passing his papers.

Mountain of Fire and  Miracles (MFM)   Church has  set a good example  for religious  bodies  and  corporate  organisations  by  giving  out brand  new  cars to First Class  graduates in the denomination some  time  ago. The General Overseer being a First Class graduate himself recognised the need to reward these exceptional youth who achieved exceptional feats. I hereby use this  medium to encourage the denomination to continue this programme  as  I have  not read  of subsequent recognition given to First Class  graduates (or  did I miss  it?).

   I also call on the government of this great country to do more in making academic study attractive to the youth. If the reward system is adequately structured such that young ones know they can read their way out of poverty, the youth will be better motivated to study harder. The  youth  of this  generation  are  discerning, they  know  which professions  pay the  bills.

• Akindiya is a chartered accountant.

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