YOU CAN'T SCHOOL IN ENGLAND WITHOUT BEING SERIOUS â€“ AMAO
Amao (left) as a pupil of Queens School, Ibadan
How old were you when you started primary school and what was your first experience in school?
I started primary school at two and half years old, it was pretty early but I was anxious to go to school. My first day in school was boring, I cried because I was not in the same class with my old ones. I attended the University of Lagos Staff School because my parents were lecturers. They used to give us milk or chocolate. Initially, I thought we spent too long a time in class before going for break and it was like we were spending too much time in school but later the time became shorter. My primary school days were fun-filled. Reading was not necessary, I could remember all the things I was taught, life was just easy. Besides, we had a very big family compound, I used to climb trees after school hours, I would catch grasshoppers and keep them in a tin. I had so many toys. I had a doll called Sherifat. I had so many mechanical toys, things like LEGO. I was used to putting things together, building things really exposed me to construction. We had lots of slides of our pictures and we used to travel a lot. We travelled to Togo, Dahomey and so many other places. Primary school was fun to me because I had a lot of time to play.
How were your secondary school days?
I attended Queens School in Ibadan, Oyo State. I was 10 years old when I gained admission to the school. Initially I was home sick, but I later got over that. We had excellent facilities in the school, the taps were running, I can't remember going to any stream to fetch water. The seniors were also nice, cases of bullying were rare. We had very good Filipino to teach us physics then. I love science subjects right from my secondary school days, I was very strong in the sciences. When I was in Form One, I didn't read but I passed, but when I continued that method in form two, I didn't do too well. It was then I learnt a good lesson of life, anytime I strayed and played, my grades dropped. So I knew early in life that I wasn't somebody that could combine play and study together. I learnt to be more focused and I had to re-strategise. I identified with people that were doing well, we worked on past question papers together and my grades improved. I used to read mock news. When you read mock news you could abuse all the seniors. I remember one of my mates that abused a senior during mock news. She paid dearly for it, but in most cases, we escaped punishment.
Did you participate in any sporting activity? How will you describe social activities in general when you were in secondary school?
I wasn't a sports person. I only belonged to the supporters' club. We used to have dancing competitions during social events in those days where pupils from other schools were in attendance. These were times of fun. There were some of us who specialised in monitoring the dancing steps of others. Though I'won't describe myself as being sociable, I enjoyed school. I am the kind of person that likes having my mind engaged, I love having opportunities to apply myself. My fulfilment comes from being busy and engaged.
Did you ever go for any excursion?
We went to places like Lever Brothers, Shell and Coca Cola. They used to give us little gifts, travelling in the school bus was fun. I also remember the Ali Must GO saga, we trekked from our school to the secretariat in Ibadan. We had a wonderful time.
Did you go straight to the university after your secondary school or did you go to university through direct entry?
I had my A' Level in England. Initially, I didn't like the weather. I also had issues with maths. I had to change from traditional maths to modern maths so it was a bit tough for me. I was almost made to believe that I didn't know maths despite being one of the best maths pupils back home in Nigeria.
Can you recollect your experience on your first day in a laboratory in England?
I was totally lost in the laboratory in England. There were too many digital gadgets beyond my imagination. Everything was electronically-controlled. I was only used to manual operations in Nigeria. I didn't know the colours of the chemicals. I started asking questions. Everybody knew what they were except me, I kept on disturbing others.
How did your mates react to your constant questions? Did that form a basis for discriminating against you?
They responded reluctantly to my questions. They told me that they were only ready to answer me once and after that, that I should not disturb them again. I also tried to observe them carefully. I was the only black student in my class. I didn't have problems with discrimination from my mates but I had a racist maths teacher who taught I couldn't know maths because I was African. It was a lot of struggle. I had to go to my classmates, I had to adjust. Eventually, he had no choice than to change his mind.
How was life in the university?
I schooled outside Nigeria. I didn't have much fun in the university. I was extremely focused. I moved from school to library and from library to school. I was not very sociable. I studied Engineering, you can't combine social activities with studies especially in England. The level of intensity of work is difficult. Lecturers give tutorials, workshops and seminars. We had up to 40-60 hours of work every week. There was no time to socialise. You are compelled to do some research. Engineering is tough. I can honestly tell you that there were no cases of girls following after 'sugar daddies' or lecturers making passes at their students. You can be with a male lab attendant all night and there won't be any problem. Now I hear stories of university girls going out with 'sugar daddies' for weekends, you see married men chasing after girls, I can't imagine any girl in my shoes doing that in those days.
You studied a course considered to be male-dominated. How many girls were in your class?
We were two girls in a class of 50. The other girl was a Chinese. At the doctorate level, I was the only girl out of the 16 students in my set. Technology is something that you can master, it also makes you creative and innovative.
How did you feel being in a male-dominated class?
I didn't even realise that I was a girl. We did everything together. Our discussions were focused on solving problems.
Can you compare the education system in Nigeria with that of England?
The Britons are conservative people. They are very serious in anything they do and they don't settle for anything less than the best. The university I attended was over 100 years old. But I can't see that level of commitment and seriousness here.
What was your best subject?
Maths? A lot of people claim it is a difficult subject. Why did you like maths?
Maths is easy. It is the only subject where you can score 100 per cent and you don't suffer for the 100 per cent. It is the cheapest subject. You only need to understand the fundamentals and principles.
What was your best food?
My best food was rice and beans. I also loved toast, potato, carrots and peas or Xmas pudding with custard. Now I like Eba with okra and fresh fish stew.
Can you recall any nasty experience in your school days?
Yes. I felt so bad when I was denied admission to Cambridge even after I had been issued a letter of admission. I had packed my bags and headed for the university but when they realised that I was black, the university authorities cancelled the admission. They told me the slot was reserved for European citizens. Another nasty experience was when I was in primary school and I chewed gum in the class, my class teacher rubbed the gum through my hair. But our driver rescued me. He took me to his wife who applied kerosene to the hair and removed the gum, so my parents didn't know what happened.
You mean your admission was cancelled even after a letter of admission was issued ?
Yes. I think what they were trying to do was to keep that area of technology to Europeans. They didn't want people from developing countries to have access to that knowledge, it is a way of preventing technology transfer so that we can rely on them perpetually. Well, that's what smart governments do and I think Nigerian government should also be strategic about the nation's development and goals. Government could encourage research into the use of shea-butter, palm trees and barks of trees that are medicinal and develop these courses in our universities.