Akure, Nigeria – All is set for the grand contest…
Jarus, an author, chartered accountant and public analyst, is the Chief Resource Officer at JarusHub
(Editor’s Note: The author has used Femi, Michael and MT interchangeably in this article)
This week, my friend from primary school, Dr. Oluwafemi Michael Taiwo, clocks 34. I have been fortunate to mentor a good number of young Nigerians online and offline on their education and careers. But not many people know that my penchant for assisting others is a way of giving back what I have got. In this essay, I celebrate my greatest academic benefactor.
Did I say my benefactor? I didn’t know in the beginning.
The nightmarish beginning…
My earliest memory of Femi was actually that of a nightmare I wished I never met!
In September 1990, we had just been promoted to primary 3 at Adeola Model School, Offa, Kwara State. Sharing the 3-seater seat with me was Femi and one other female pupil by the name Grace. We were not in same class in primary 2 (reshuffling done every year) so I didn’t know him earlier. We had just started using biro, away from pencil. I struggled with the new writing material. I was always having ink spilling on my hand, bag and pocket. I was a rough pupil. This boy used to poke fun at me for being a dirty pupil. To add insult to my injury, Grace, the lady sitting between us would be laughing at me. I wished I could break Femi’s head. I also remember one day I vomited in class and Femi also poked fun at me for eating amala to school. I don’t know where he saw amala in my vomit as I actually ate rice and beans that morning.
I actually had an opportunity to beat him one day during break time when me and him engaged in wrestling under the orange tree at the school playing ground. It was meant to be a play between us, but I was determined to beat this boy that used to poke fun at me in class. I didn’t win the fight. I think we fought “draw”. He may not remember, but I do.
He was 7 years old. I was 8.
Then I think at the end of that term or session, we were reshuffled again and we never got to be in same class again.
I was relieved.
Unknown to me, that boy would later turn out to be the greatest non-family influence on me in my life. He would be responsible for where I am today (by God’s permission).
How? Keep reading.
Primary 4-6: Nothing much. Our paths hardly crossed as were not in same class. By the end of primary 6, I topped primary 6A (the only time I came first in primary school), while I think, but not sure, Femi came first in the other arm, 6B.
Secondary school and the olodos’ excuse
In September 1994, we moved over to same secondary school, Offa Grammar School (OGS), where his mum was one of the VPs.
I think that was where Femi became something else in academics. He bested every student hands down. No one came close. He not only led his class (JSS1C) but the whole arms (A-F). I was in B-class. I wasn’t even the best student in B-class. I hovered between 2nd-4th every term.
Poor pupils. We thought he was dusting us because his Mum was the VP. His Mum soon left for another school, and our “misery” of not being able to catch Femi continued. No one ever came close.
We were still “hi hi” friends. Not really close friends.
The Science Student, the Commercial Student
Then in 1997, we resumed SS1. Both of us were posted to Science Classes, Femi in Science 2, I Science 1.
In January 1998, I moved from Science from Commercial class, because I knew what I wanted: to study Economics or Business Administration.
There were gossips by other students that I had run away room Science class. It was a torrid time for me because I felt embarrassed by the gossip. How can Suraj, one of the best pupils in our JSS classes, abandon Science for Commercial class, which they thought was meant for the less-than-average students?
Same week, while the gossip spread, Femi’s path crossed mine below the staircase one afternoon. Of course, I knew he had heard the “misfortune” that befell me. It’s like Messi now playing Nigerian league, at least in the eyes of people. Isn’t that “misfortune”?
Sighting him, I felt like being swallowed by the ground. I expected him to say, “Suraj, how can you of all people dump science class? So disappointed in you”.
He never said that. What did he say?
“Suraj. I heard you had moved to commercial class. You want to be an accountant like brother Akeem abi?” (Brother Akeem is family friend to them through his own sisters).
I said “yes” and he wished me all the best.
While many Science students that were, in all modesty, below me in academic standing, were making jest of me, Michael encouraged me and wished me all the best.
That validation by no less a person than the best student in the whole set was like a gold to me. I felt relieved. I got “healed” of my “withdrawal syndrome”. I became a proud commercial student. I wasn’t shy to associate with commercial class again.
Remember the boy with such wisdom was just less than 15 years old then.
I fully settled in commercial class, and in no time I took the lead for the arm.
Femi and I became a little close towards the end of SSS2 when we were both part of the school’s inter-school “Quiz Squad”, as best student in science and commercial arms respectively. I used squad because we never lost a single quiz competition. God help any school in the community that faced us. Not with Femi in the team. Anyway, there was one we didn’t have Femi in the team and still won.
We wrote GCE during the holiday that transited us from SS2 to SS3. Results came out in March 2000, during our second term SS3. Michael, expectedly, had the best result.
The last flight to Distinction Board…
Now, in our school, there is a Board mounted beside the Principal’s office, where names of students that had distinction (i.e Aggregate 6-12, derived from addition of your grade in 6 best subjects in WAEC). The Board had been there since 1952. The names of students that had such results are inscribed there. That’s the highest honour any student could get. In short, that’s the school’s Honour Roll.
Throughout my almost 6 years in the school, I never considered myself good enough to make that Board. My own was just to pass. Michael had set his own eyes on that Board from the very day he got admission in 1994, when he vowed to graduate, not just having his name on the Board, but also making the highest possible (Aggregate 6 i.e minimum of 6 A1s in WAEC), which was last made by a graduating student in 1988.
He used the GCE from SS2 to test waters and he got the aggregate 6. After the result of that GCE came out in March 2000, he came all the way from Science class to my class, asked after me, collected my result, summed up my best 6 subjects and it came to Aggregate 14.
He then looked at me and said, “Suraj, this is Aggregate 14 that you made in your GCE. You only need to do a little better in our forthcoming WAEC and you will make Distinction Board”. 12 is the cap for Distinction Board. I made 14 in GCE I wrote from SS2. I only needed to at least keep my performance in other subjects constant and make B2 in 2 subjects I made B3 in SSCE and my name will be written on this historic board.
A chance I never fancied for 5 years (JSS1 - SSS2), now looking possible with 2 months to our WAEC.
Well, the rest is history. We wrote the WAEC SSCE in May/June 2000 and when the result came out in September, I made it! Aggregate 10 (even better than the 12 I targeted), second only to Femi for the set.
Of course, Femi achieved his target of making Aggregate 6, which was last achieved by a student in 1988. On top of that, he also had the best WAEC result in the entire Kwara state in that year. One stone killing multiple birds.
Femi “dragged” me to join him on this Roll Call. Another pupil could have wished no one else made it so he could brag of being the only student that made it for his set. After all, it had become glaring from our SSS 2 GCE result that he would make it.
That was how Femi “infected” me with greatness. To God be the glory, my name sits below Michael’s in the school’s Honor Roll conspicuously displayed at the school’s open area till today.
Some greatness are contagious.
It did not end there.
UME and the Road to Ife
One day, shortly after our SSCE in June/July 2000, I walked into Michael around Staff Quarters 5, while I was coming from home. He asked me about my UME and the university I chose. I told him OAU. He was excited and said he also chose same school.
I would later visit him in his one-room apartment (his parents had relocated from Offa, so he had to live in a rented place) few days after our SSCE and we had lengthy discussion about the next phase in our lives: University. We had written UME and SSCE but our result had not come out then. He looked forward to Ife. He had had all the information he needed about succeeding in the university. This was someone that dropped pen for SSCE few days ago.
He knew Ife was not going to be like OGS where he had no competition. He told me about some of his friends from Suleja Academy (first time I heard that school) who had also chosen Ife Engineering. He said they were very hot. He was determined to re-enact his OGS feat in the university. He was talking about CGPA and all that. That was also the first time I would hear CGPA. This was in anticipation of OAU admission the next year, 2001. UME and SSCE results had not even been released and he was talking about CGPA in an admission he hadn’t even gotten.
A day after that discussion, he packed his bags to meet his family in Ilorin and bade farewell to Offa. Few days later, news filtered in among us his mates that Femi had gained admission into Ife. How was that possible? He had tested UME waters in SSS 2, and scored 237 or so. He never pursued admission with that result because he just used it to have a feel of UME before the real UME he would write in SSS3 (2000). Guess what? He got to Ilorin and checked his family postal box to know whether WAEC had posted his GCE result only to see an admission letter from Ife!
He had been offered admission with a UME he wrote in SSS2, with 237, probably because Kwara was an ELDS in Ife admission policy. Admission letter sent home without lobbying? Does that still happen in Nigerian university admission?
The registration was almost closing before he saw the letter and rushed to Ife the next day to gatecrash registration. SSCE result had not come out, but thankfully, he had written GCE in SS2 and made his result. In other words, he got admission with the GCE and UME he wrote in SSS2, which were both intended to test waters before the real SSCE and UME.
UME 2000 came out few weeks later and he scored 296. But it had become useless. By the time WAEC also released SSCE result in September 2000, he had finished his first semester 100L in Ife. That also became useless for his university admission.
His admission came one year earlier than expected. He resumed in Ife less than 2 weeks after finishing SSCE.
I also got admission into Ife to study economics the next year (normal year he should have also got admitted into Ife). He “constituted” himself as advance party to me.
While I waited my own time to resume, Michael went the extra mile of photocopying materials used by his friends in Social Sciences and sent to me in Offa to be reading at home before I resumed. By the time I resumed in Ife in September 2001, I had finished reading all the courses I was to do in 100L. Thanks to MT. Needless to say I had A in all but one course throughout my year 1.
Ife is no OGS, but OGS is Ife
I resumed in Ife on September 5, 2001, and MT accommodated me in his Awo Annexe Room 353 (?) for 1 week before I sorted out my own accommodation. He taught me how to calculate CGPA and gave me gists on academic excellence. He introduced me to another of his mentees who was in my class (Kemi Akinde). Femi would challenge me to top my class. He would go and challenge Kemi too. Neither of us eventually did, anyway. Too many wizards. Ife was just too competitive.
Anywhere MT saw me on campus, he would ask about my result as if he was my father. He would ask whether I was still in First Class.
To God be the glory, we both graduated with one in 2006 (graduated same year despite one year difference in admission year because he studied a 5-year course, I a 4).
Like he did in OGS, he repeated in Ife – stretching me to achieve a potential I never knew I had. He provided me with so much information and that made a difference.
Beyond Ife: The morning after…
Post-school, we both moved to Lagos, he living with his sister, I with my brother, who coincidentally again, were living in Ajah part of Lagos. I had gotten a job ( a pre-NYSC internship actually), but he never bothered with job. He was preparing for advance exams.
I made time out to visit him in his sister’s house in Badore part of Ajah one Saturday and we had another lengthy discussion. I watched him, mouth agape, as he rolled out his characteristically tall ambitions: I want to go to the USA, I want to do PhD without masters etc.
In my mind, I was thinking: “no be me and you again. You don try from OGS to Ife and now here. I no follow again. My only ambition now is to get a good job and start making money. Tired of reading. I cannot come and kill myself. Not ready to spend the next 4 years of my life as a student again”.
That was the last time I saw Femi before we both went for NYSC, and in early 2008, he left for the US for his PhD programme, which he completed in 2012, shortly before hitting 29. He returned to Nigeria in January 2012 for his wedding which I attended. Shell US offered him job shortly after (after a recruitment assessment - SRD - performance confessed by assessors to be the best they had seen from a candidate in many years).
A habit for all seasons
Femi remains a very passionate supporter of my cause.
In 2013 when I organized a free career seminar for my followers through our platform, JarusHub, Femi, unsolicited, sent me money from the US to subsidize the cost. When I floated JarusHub in 2013, he accepted my invitation to write articles for me on weekly, later fortnightly, basis. He did that consistently for 2 years.
Just last month, when I wanted to start the idea of inviting accomplished individuals to come and discuss their life and careers on Facebook via Live Video on my wall, Femi was the first person that came to my mind. He didn’t think twice before accepting my request and he sacrificed 1 hour of his time for me to do FB Live Video here.
That’s a rare display of selflessness. That is the story of my instigator, a man that believed other people’s success does not in any way diminish his own success chance.
I will forever remain grateful to this boy (now man) that saw in me what I didn’t see in myself and made me realize my potential.
Take a bow, Michael Taiwo, you have earned your place in history.