Basil Enebeli, who bagged a first-class degree in Physics at the University of Benin, Edo State, tells FATTEH HAMID how he emerged as the 2023 best-graduating student in the Faculty of Physical Sciences and the hurdles he had to overcome

You were the best graduating student of Physics in your department and Faculty, having graduated with first class at the University of Benin. Was achieving this feat a target you set for yourself as an undergraduate?

I feel happy, and proud too, maybe not proud enough as I think that I have not yet fully come to terms with what I’ve done. Before I gained admission into the university, I only imagined myself graduating with flying colours, as a best-graduating student or with a very high cumulative grade point average. I didn’t think much about it but I knew it was possible.

Bagging a first class wasn’t like a goal. I only wanted to do very well in school and give my best. So, if that meant graduating with a first-class degree, fine. Somehow, it helped me manage my expectations and since I saw the result of my hard work every semester, I was only encouraged to continue.

Did you also have excellent results in your primary school days?

Yes. In my primary school days, I performed very well. In secondary school, no one was ever ahead of me in my class till I graduated, though I didn’t think it was a big deal then. I always felt I probably didn’t face too much competition. I’d say yes, I believe everything that has happened in my life, one way or the other, contributed to the qualities I possess that helped me succeed.

What study pattern did you adopt at the university?

At first, I drew a timetable and tried to fit all my courses in a way so I could study all of them weekly but later realised that it didn’t work. So, I focused on one course at a time.

Many have exam fright. How did you cope?

Everything happens in one’s head, so you need to have mental strength. I learnt to cope with exam fright before gaining admission. I knew that if I studied well, there was nothing to be frightful of. I just didn’t think about the pressure, as I said. I thought less and did more.

What was your lowest point at the university?

I tried very hard not to let my problems get to me. I always focused on the positives. Since I was challenged financially, which I consider a low point, I only spent on what was very important and was content with whatever I had. At one point, I resumed for a semester with only N1500. It was really tough thinking about how to survive. Academically, I believe I had the grace not to encounter significant challenges.

What was your most challenging point as an undergraduate and how were you able to scale through?

When I started having customers patronising my tailoring business, balancing work and school became very challenging. I made a first-class grade point average in my first and second years, so there was a lot of pressure to finish well. I couldn’t let either suffer. I needed the extra cash and also to build my brand as an alternative to studying for a degree. When you think about it, it’s very difficult but when push comes to shove, you just have to do what needs to be done. I started doing more and thinking less. Luckily for me, when I sat to read, I comprehended well, the foundation was okay and I wasn’t new to working hard.

With the pressure you faced, was there a point you felt you probably wouldn’t graduate with a first class?

The thoughts always came. For instance, when I was in the 300 level, the workload was much and we had just returned from the Covid-19 break to a very short semester. I knew that If I scaled through, I would have done the job. I eventually did, thanks to God. I always expect to give the best in whatever I do. I guess I took the ‘what is worth doing is worth doing well’ quote personally.

What was that thing you believe you did differently that made you the best among others?

This is a tough one. I only know myself, but I’d say belief, consistency and diligence. And I believe that the grace of God contributed hugely too. I studied Physics and there is always that course every semester that makes you wonder what it is all about because of how tough it is but I wasn’t really afraid. I converted my fear into motivation to study and understand the courses.

What was it like studying at UNIBEN?

If there’s one word to describe it, I would say studying Physics was eye-opening. It was really exciting, getting to meet and mingle with people from all over the country was a different kind of feeling. I enjoyed every moment here.

Was there anything unique about the company you kept at the university?

My friends were hard workers too. I was the only one who bagged a first-class in the department and my friend graduated with a second class upper grade.

How did you select your friends?

I didn’t intentionally select my friends. I believe we became friends because we had similar goals and similar beliefs. So, it was natural.

For someone who spent more time studying, did you have the time for social activities?

I don’t think I’m a bookworm. Someone once said I was the most unserious person they ever met. I wasn’t interested in politics and I had been a stay-at-home before school. In fact, school improved my social life and my relationship with people. Aside from academic activities, I played games, saw movies, even played football and, of course, I sew. I enjoy good movies, series, shows, etc. I also watch football, play football games and play football with friends.

My social life at the university was okay. I related very well with almost everyone in my class. It helped when I started my business and I was always informed. I believe there’s time for everything. I simply did each activity when it was time.

Did you get a lot of admiration from girls, as a brilliant student in school?

Girls! My department was one with a few female students who were also focused, which meant fewer distractions. Also, girls didn’t really insist when they got the message that there was no time for them.

How would you describe the quality of education you received at a public university or would you have opted for a private university if you had the opportunity?

I guess every Nigerian from an average home doesn’t dream of attending a private university, so it was always a public university. I don’t think I would have preferred a private university either.

How did your parents support you?

I am not from a wealthy home, but they worked very hard to provide all we needed, at least the most important ones. I didn’t have it all and I think that taught me a very important lesson – that you can’t have all you want simply because you want them, you should work to get what you want.

How did the strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities affect you and how were you able to push through?

Each time lecturers went on strike and resumed, it was as though I was learning to become a university student again and adapting to the system all over again. It wasn’t easy but the mindset that I had was to do what had to be done and it helped me push through.

Providing more funding for the education system is very important. I think it would go a long way to reduce the incessant strikes, help get modern types of equipment that would aid learning and research, and also significantly reduce the need to go abroad for further studies. One major concern I have is how we’ve placed very little value on academic importance. Students see no need to work hard as there seemingly are no rewards for their work proving right the saying, “school na scam”.

How did your parents receive the news of your result?

I think we all knew I would finish with a first class after the 300 level. But after the final results were confirmed, we were all happy. My dad was very proud, being a scholar himself who taught me the basics I needed.

Being the best-graduating student in the faculty, did you receive prizes?

At the moment, none yet. I guess I’ll wait till the convocation.

What motivates you to keep going?

My family is one of my biggest motivations. The thought of their efforts to send me to school always pushes me. I have younger ones who look up to me too. I can’t afford to lead a bad example. I also keep going for myself. I have this strong conviction that I have to be successful.

Do you have mentors?

I do have mentors, people who I admire for their successes and look up to. My dad is top of this list; I learnt to work very hard from him. My project supervisor is also one of my mentors. Since I met him, he has always pushed me to be the best version of myself.

What is the next thing for you at the moment?

I’m open at the moment, some of my options now are furthering my education, and working for an employer to help them achieve their goals, but I’m going for a postgraduate degree.

What do you see yourself doing in a few years?

I don’t think I’ve closed my mind on what the big picture looks like yet. I would say lecturing would be part of it. I would like to impact the younger generation, and my fashion brand will be in the picture too.

Have you been getting job offers or other opportunities since you announced on Twitter that you graduated with a first class?

No, I haven’t. As I said, maybe it’s because I’m a very recent graduate. I’ll see what happens after the convocation.

Who are you most grateful to in your life at the moment?

Of course, it’s God. I’m also grateful to my family, my parents, and my siblings. They all contributed to my success.

Do you believe we need a country where the youth lead in the entire affairs up to the presidency?

I’m a very open-minded person. I believe in whoever can get the job done, youth or not. A lot of young people are doing very well and are able to handle the affairs of the country, so I’m not against the idea of a youth president. I do believe in it.

Earlier, you mentioned that you were a tailor at the university. How did you manage that with your education?

It was something I had to do. I had developed a passion for sewing and I needed the extra cash in school. So, I had to find a way to sew, no matter what. I sewed the most at the beginning of the semester when academic activities had not gotten that serious and during holidays. I sewed less and stopped completely a few weeks before examinations.

You also mentioned that managing customers’ orders as a tailor was difficult to cope with studying. When did you become a tailor?

I learnt how to sew after I finished secondary school in 2015. Idleness is something I don’t like. I’m always engaged in one activity or another, especially if it involves creativity. Since, I wasn’t doing anything much and my mum sews, being a creative myself and appreciating African fashion at the time, I started sewing.

It was more of a personal decision. I’d say my mum did push me by encouraging me to sew, at least for myself and my siblings. But it was something that I really enjoyed doing. So, it was a personal decision.

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