A 41-year-old man, Nwankwo Anyamaobi, who graduated with a first-class degree in Economics at the University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State, tells TEMITOPE ADETUNJI how he achieved excellence despite dropping out of school in 2001

What was childhood like for you?

My name is Nwankwo Anyamaobi. I am from Amaji town in the Omuma Local Government Area of Rivers State. I am the second child in a family of eight. Childhood was fun for me. I was a very adventurous young boy and wanted explanation for every life circumstance I came across. Being inquisitive in this way made me a very good learner.

How did you feel graduating as the best student at the recently held convocation of the university?

I am grateful to God for His grace, mercy and favour which are instrumental to my academic success. I feel elated about this achievement as my hard work finally paid off. This is actually my second attempt at obtaining a university degree that is befitting of my intelligence quotient, having dropped out of a previous programme earlier. Graduating as the best student, however, didn’t come by luck. I desired and worked towards it. In addition, my dad was a disciplinarian and he used to advise us not to settle for good when excellence is obtainable. He insisted on the best or nothing. Although he died before my honours, it had always been his desire to see me excel in my academic pursuit and life in general. Suffice it to say that he laid the foundation for whatever success I enjoy today. Unfortunately, he is late; he died at the age of 57 or thereabout. His demise really created a vacuum difficult to fill for me and my siblings.

What about your mum?

My mum was also very supportive. In fact, when the economic situation of our family was at a low, she sacrificed her comfort and marital companionship by settling in the village to farm and support my father and my siblings in the city. She is alive and is very happy that I finally made her proud. She has several other graduates though.

What was the reaction of your wife when she was informed about your recent achievement?

My family is my greatest motivation for achieving this success. Their welfare was somewhat reduced as I resigned from my job to pursue the programme and I am very grateful for the sacrifice they made in this regard. My wife received the news with so much joy, though she was not surprised as she was taking records of my results from year one till the final year. She believed so much in my resolve to graduate top of my class. In fact, I had told her while preparing for the post-Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination that I would not only graduate with first-class honours, but also be the valedictorian upon convocation. My children were equally happy to hear the news, although they could not be there physically as they had their exams going on at that time. I have always encouraged them to take their studies seriously and be the best in whatever they do. So, I had to lead by example.

What year did you get married?

I got married in December 2013. I enrolled in the programme a year after marriage.

I got married to the best wife ever.

How did your interest in Economics begin?

I started having a great liking for Economics when a brother of mine (now late) used to come to me to teach him Mathematics to help him cope with issues in Mathematical Economics. I discovered that Mathematics had a lot of applications in Economics and I picked an interest in it.

Which areas of Economics are you interested in the most and why?

I’m interested in quantitative (economics) and econometrics. I derive joy from solving economic problems using quantitative techniques. Economics is a very relevant course, especially in a developing economy like Nigeria, with a lot of complex macroeconomic behaviours. For a country suffering from stagflation, we are in dire need of analytical economists at the planning as well as implementation levels to put this economy on the path of sustainability, growth and development.

You mentioned that you dropped out of school at a particular time, what really happened?

Yes, I dropped out of a programme I was studying at River State University (formally Rivers State University of Science and Technology) due to very poor grades and financial constraints. It was one of the most painful decisions I ever took in life. My parents and siblings were highly disappointed in me and I faced a lot of ridicule from my relatives and friends.

What inspired you to go back to school?

Despite dropping out of that programme in 2001, I never gave up on studying. I obtained a diploma in Electronics and Telecommunication Engineering in 2004 with distinction. I taught and encouraged a lot of students to succeed. Deep down, I knew I would someday obtain a university degree that was befitting of my intellect. I did not relent and the result is what you have seen today.

Was Economics what you originally wanted to study?

Growing up, I wanted to study Medicine and Surgery. My father encouraged me to study engineering due to proximity; we lived in a university community and Medicine and Surgery was not studied in the school. As I said earlier, I didn’t get to complete my study as an engineering student. When I finally studied Economics, I found fulfillment and I am proud to be called an economist.

 What kind of educational foundation did you have at the basic levels and how did it prepare you for what you achieved at the university?

I had a very good academic background, having attended the university staff primary school and demonstration secondary school, International Secondary School of the Rivers State University of Science and Technology, Port Harcourt, both of which were among the best at the time. I owe my academic excellence today to my primary and secondary teachers. They did a fantastic job training me.

As a married man, how were you able to cope with participating in a full-time programme?

 It was not an easy task, I must confess. I had to learn to manage my time and resources efficiently. I’ve been a teacher for close to 15 years. I combined teaching with my academic study, preparing pupils for the Senior School Certificate Examination, UTME, and others, with outstanding records of success to my credit. Teaching is my hobby and I am passionate about passing down knowledge to other people. So, yes I still teach. I taught Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry back then. Right now, I teach Mathematics and Economics.

 My wife was also very supportive and the children also had to forgo certain comfort for me to attend the programme with minimal distraction. I had to work in the evenings and weekends to finance my study and cater to my family. I barely slept for up to five hours a night for the four years of the programme. It was a herculean task but one that needed serious attention and I am glad I lived up to expectations.

What was your experience like in the first year?

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I always set goals for each semester. I planned to get the highest grades obtainable, although I sometimes went a little lower than the projected grade.

My first year was good for me. I was just new in the programme and my zeal for success was fresh and I gave it my all. I garnered some savings before gaining admission and it went as planned. However, I got a ‘C’ in my very first exam at UNIPORT. It was enough to deter me, but I refused to be discouraged. I pressed on and overcame all the hurdles to emerge as the overall best-graduating student.

What were your toughest moments at the University of Port Harcourt?

My toughest moments at UNIPORT were the periods the authorities introduced the no fees, no exam policy. A lot of students dropped out and others were made to repeat a year or two. Gathering the fees within a given timeframe after which the fee portal was shut was very daunting. We also had periods of industrial disharmony between the government and the various labour unions. These delayed my progress too.

What study method worked for you?

 I used the university library only once throughout my study. Funnily enough, it was so quiet and cool that I slept for the whole duration of two hours that I was there. My coursemates thought I was meditating so they didn’t wake me up. I don’t normally read for too long and when I do, it is with a little distraction. My dining room was my best reading spot and I made judicious use of it. I made sure I attended every lecture in the four-year duration.

Another factor that enhanced my academic performance was the zeal of explaining whatever we were taught to my coursemates. That way, I was compelled to do more research to explain more elaborately to my coursemates who, at some point, were looking up to me for guidance, especially in the courses that had mathematical applications.

How did you feel when you saw your results showing that you made first-class honours?

From year one to the last year, I was always in the first-class category. I approached every level exam with all seriousness. In fact, my target was to graduate with a final cumulative grade point average of 5.0.

What CGPA did you eventually graduate with at the end of the programme?

 I graduated with a final CGPA of 4.97 which fell 0.03 off my desired final CGPA. I have a BSc in Economics and an MSc in Quantitative Eeconomics from University of Port Harcourt.

What exactly did you do to ensure that your GPA did not drop below your expectation?

I am a free person. I mingled with everyone but never allowed anyone to get in the way of my academic progress.

Did you win awards on account of your success?

 I won several awards, although none of them has been redeemed yet. I won the Tony Elumelu prize for the best student in Economics, the dean’s prize for the best student in the Faculty of Social Sciences, and several others.

How do you feel about winning those awards?

I feel honoured to win them. I think such rewards, if granted, will be an incentive for high academic performance.

Was there any form of social distraction and how were you able to cope or dealt with it?

 I came into the programme as a mature man with my priorities well spelt out. I gave no room for distractions. I was disciplined from day one and followed my plans religiously to the end. I even minimised my activities on social media space to the barest minimum.

Do you have memories of discouragement?

I don’t think I have any.

What is your advice to students who equally aim for a first-class degree?

 I will advise that they choose a course in the area they have the strength and not be cajoled by their parents or peer pressure. They should create time for their studies and stick to the plan and never give up. Discipline is key.

In the next few years, where do you hope to be?

I see myself as a professor in the next few years. I have already picked a PhD form.

What are the limitations in your chosen field?

Limitations in my chosen field are the same the educational sector in Nigeria is facing. There is poor funding and research and development are capital-intensive. With poor educational funding prevalent in Nigeria, research grants are almost a mirage.