Sequel to the trending reports on Ogun State governor, Dapo Abiodun, who gifted winner of BBNaija 2020, Laycon, with a house and a cash sum of N5m, I decided to do a brief research on what best graduating students in our tertiary institutions, especially the public ones, have been getting for their outstanding academic performances and I was able to come up with these few prizes, some shocking, I must admit.

But for the picture of Best Somadina published in a reputable online newspaper, holding on to his prize of a tuber of yam and a fowl, nothing could have made me imagine that a university in Nigeria could give such as rewards for academic excellence. Yet, those were the prizes that Somadina got for emerging as the Mass Communication Best Graduating Student from Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University formerly known as Anambra State University. It is possible that these prizes may have some cultural values that people may not know but for someone like me, those items look strange, and more so when they were all that someone got for academic exploits.   

Interestingly, however, in terms of the value, Somadina’s case seems to be far better than that of Bamisaye Tosin, who got less than a dollar, precisely N200, for being the best graduating student of the Ekiti State University's Department of Civil Engineering during his own set. I guess many of us can easily relate with this as it is obviously devoid of any form of cultural connotation. However, Oluwole Hikmat Ibrahim-Buruji was luckier. She got  about $6 precisely N2,000 prize for topping the University of Ibadan’s Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies in the 2016 academic session. The value could have been lower if the current exchange rate was used for the calculation but thankfully the official exchange rate was better in 2016 than it is now. Otherwise, at the current exchange rate, that would have amounted to about $4. Despite the poor prize money, all the recipients cited above are still lucky compared to Esther Fatogun, the 2018 best graduating student of Lagos State Polytechnic, who only got a handshake.  

Olabisi Deji-Folutile

But, in 2019, Ridwan Ola-Gbadamosi of the Faculty of Engineering of Lagos State University was far luckier than his contemporaries as he got a whopping N200, 000 for emerging the institution’s overall best - that’s about $620.  He got N100, 000 as faculty best and N100, 000 as university best. In the case of Nuhu Ibrahim, the 2018 best graduating student from Ahmadu Bello University, he was able to meet the Kaduna State governor, Nasir el-Rufai, who promised to sponsor his postgraduate studies. But aside that, he only got the Dean’s award for the best student from his faculty, a laptop; an award from Royal Choice Hotel worth N50,000; and another one from Chief Felix, also worth N50,000. In all, he got about $300 for his academic feat.

Compare this to the prize of the winner of the 2020 BBNaija, who went home with N85m aside other gifts. In Nigeria, winners of beauty pageants also go home with mouth-watering cash, car gifts and other benefits. Some people have said that BBN teaches nothing and adds no value; some even think the programme encourages mediocrity. Well, people are entitled to their opinion. I may not know why the organisers keep able-bodied youths in a building, feed them every day and allow them to play around and reward the best of them with millions of naira every year, but I guess the programme has been sustained all these years because it probably serves the goal of its organisers.  

Personally, I have nothing against anyone taking part in a reality show that could bring them to the realm of what eyes have not seen nor ears heard in terms of cash reward that anyone can get for practically doing nothing -I mean investing nothing in terms of cash or labour!  I also don’t think whatever amount a company chooses to give out as reward to the winner of such shows should be my concern. After all, it’s all about business. For instance, Multichoice, sponsors of the BBNaija show, has told us that over 900 million votes was recorded in this year’s edition. This means the BBN is a popular show among the populace. I can’t blame a company for identifying a good business opportunity and maximising such to its advantage. I am also not going to blame any company for ignoring education contest and focusing on entertainment when the company has cleverly discovered that the society prefers frivolities to substance. Every society gets what it deserves.

Agreed, I may feel pained and wished that such huge money was invested in advancing the intellectual capacity of the Nigerian youth, knowing that this would lead to a better society. But then, how many Nigerians do I know that would be willing to vote if BBN had been an education show for instance? How many people would have been glued to their TV sets as they did if the competition had been about finding the best brains among Nigerian youth, who could proffer solution to the nation’s teething problems? It’s easy to know the values of a society by studying what the larger majority of the people tend to put a high premium on.  Apparently, we prefer to attach more values to things that may not necessarily matter, no wonder we are who we are and where we are.  

The aspect that baffles me, however, is that of a state governor using tax payers’ money as reward for someone that took part in a reality show and won big. Perhaps I wouldn’t have minded if Governor Abiodun had been displaying this level of excitement towards people with records of academic excellence in the past except if the governor is saying no indigene of the state has ever done well in their academics in the past. Even if none of the people from the state ever performed exceptionally well in external exams such as WASSCE, NECO or UTME, what has the governor done to reward students with outstanding results in the numerous tertiary institutions that litter the state since he came to power? After all, Ogun State is home to the largest number of universities in Nigeria. Is it that none these institutions has produced graduates that could be celebrated and honoured?    Is it that there has never been a best graduating student in all of these institutions? The governor may have to tell us why he has never done a thing like this to support education in his state.  

Even if none of the state indigenes has done well in these external exams, I am aware of a student of the Ambassador College, Ota Ogun State, Faith Odunsi, who set a new competition record in speed and accuracy by answering 19 questions in the “60 Seconds of Fame” during the Promasidor Cowbellpedia Secondary Schools Mathematics Television Quiz Show. The governor could have as well sought her out and do something big for her.

The governor’s action becomes appalling especially when one realises that there are still many public schools in the state crying for attention due to deteriorating infrastructure and environments not suitable for learning. A recent report indicated that public secondary schools in rural areas in the state such as Odeda, Ewekoro,  Ogun Waterside, Ifo , Ado-Odo-Ota and Ipokia were in a terrible state. These schools included  Iyesi High School, Ota; Pakoto High school, Ifo ; Itori Comprehensive High School, Agun, Ewekoro and Awowo Comprehensive High School in Obada/Ewekoro. The report even indicated that rails pass through the premises of Itori Comprehensive High School compound. Imagine a rail passing through a school in this age and time. A governor that will dole out cash gift to a winner of a reality show should have at least first sorted out these kinds of seemingly common problems in his state.

Another report indicated how a multibillion school model project embarked upon by Abiodun’s predecessor, Ibikunle Amosu, has been abandoned after billions of Naira were wasted on it.  Most of these schools were reportedly in ruins and uninhabited. I won’t be surprised if there are still schools in Ogun State where pupils sit on the floor. Here is a state notorious for its bad roads-those who live in Ota will tell you what they face every day commuting on that road. Of course, N5m won’t solve all the problems in the state, but who knows how many of such millions are being frittered away on daily basis in the state. We are probably aware of this particular spending because of the personality involved.

Unfortunately, Nigeria has not always been like this. There was a time in this country when students that bagged first class were offered automatic employment by their universities. The universities tried as much as possible to retain these brilliant ones in the systems for research and other developmental purposes. Many of the elderly professors in the system today and the retired ones are products of such scholarly mentorship and we could see the results in their output and products before this final decay in the system. Indeed, there was a country!

While entertainment is part of life, the likes of Abiodun should be reminded that encouraging academic excellence is of great value to the Nigerian society. Already, our values have been grossly eroded with many youths believing that education is a scam, hence the popular saying that “school na (is) scam” or “school is not worth it.” 

To correct such erroneous impression, government should be seen to be focusing more on education and encouraging the youth to aspire to greater heights by developing their intellectual capacity. The governor is free to advance entertainment if he so wishes, but this shouldn’t be at the expense of attention to education. Our leaders should show greater commitment to promoting academic excellence. That is what really matters; that is what engenders development.  

Olabisi Deji-Folutile is the Editor-in-Chief, Franktalknow.com and a member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors. Email [email protected]

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