By NBF News
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With the highest Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) of 5.0 in the foundations of their degree examinations, Olayombo Ade-Ojo and Eniola Opasina easily wrote their names in gold as the brightest students of the Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti (ABUAD) for 2010. The two girls were the cynosure of eyes at the university's second Founder's Day anniversary celebrations recently, where they bagged scholarship awards with prize money worth N400, 000 each. They also got certificates, plaques and ABUAD pins to the bargain!

Their feat, however, appears not surprising. Both girls, admitted along with 238 boys and girls as pioneer students of the university in January last year, had a background of academic distinction which teaching at the new, but wave-making institution, added fuel to.

Now a 200 level Law student, Ade-Ojo, (17), attended the Loyola Jesuit College, Abuja and made seven distinctions and a credit in her West African School Certificate/Senior Secondary Certificate Examinations WASC/SSCE in 2009. Opasina, also 17 and in the same class, was always among the top 10 at Maryland Comprehensive High School, Lagos, from where she graduated in 2009 with five distinctions and three credits.

Not particularly so, however, is Susan Abumere.
This 17-year old Economics student in fact, confesses to Education Review that she was just an average student, prior to coming to ABUAD. But, the former Nigerian Navy Senior Secondary School, Ojoo, Lagos student who passed out in 2009 with credits in all the eight subjects she offered in WASSCE/SSCE ended her first year in the university with a CGPA of 4.69, a grade which, if she maintains for the rest of her academic programme, sets her on the track of graduating with First Class honours!

How did she manage it? Abumere credits her movement into the league of high flyers to her new academic environment's routine which, she says 'keeps you busy and focused.'

Abumere is one of the 33 students who went home with N100, 000 each, for scoring between 4.5 and 4.9 CGPA in their various disciplines spread across the three colleges - Sciences, Law and Management/Social Sciences with which the university took off.

Nobility of Character
Yet, there is another batch of about 50 of their colleagues who were rewarded for exemplifying ABUAD's philosophy of promoting nobility of character - leadership, honesty, integrity, neatness, perseverance, industry and sports in the community life in the past year. For their exemplary conducts, they each received prizes ranging from N10, 000 to N25, 000.

One of the lucky recipients is Omoniyi Toyeeb Onabule (19), a part-two Law student, who won the Most Outstanding Student (Integrity) Award. Onabule was honoured for returning N8, 000 he found on the campus to the authorities. It was in February, last year, shortly after the school resumed and the students were registering. He had found the money inside the Owolabi Auditorium where the owner, one Titi Adewale, inadvertently forgot it. Onabule, who said he reported his find to the management 'because I believe it was the next right thing to do', thought nothing further of the matter even though his name was officially taken down, until the announcement of his nomination for the award. The university's administration also published news of his honest act in one of the editions of the university's monthly bulletin.

Then there is Sarah Itamunoala. Also on the university's Law programme, this 19-year old versatile student was voted the Most Industrious Student. She earned her place on the roll of honour with her involvement and all-round activities in her class, church meetings and diverse groups - drama, dance, choir, study and hostel management and despite these, coming tops in her class with a CGPA of 4.83! For this, she carted away the N100,000 scholarship award in addition to N25,000 for her industriousness.

The Okrika-born ex-pupil of Federal Girls Government College, Abuloma, Port Harcourt, Education Review was told, is very active in the university's drama group, which has so far staged 15 full length plays and numerous skits.

She has acted among other roles as a gossip, a jealous girlfriend and a Christian turned back at heaven's gate in several plays including Sacrifice of Praise and Indelible Mistakes, the latter currently being shot into a movie with the support of the university's Media Resource Centre. In class, Itamunoala, who is well-accepted among her mates invariably emerges head of study/assignment groups. She often makes the greatest contributions in terms of attendance and participation in discussion, research and report writing.

But the student was said to have attracted the attention of the school management more with her diligence in ensuring the cleanliness and sanitation of a section of the female dormitory assigned to her. Although ABUAD has cleaners responsible for the maintenance of the hotels, Itamunoala makes sure the rooms, corridors and toilets in her zone are always neat by picking up pieces of paper and dirt on her floor and cleaning up toilets sometimes left un-flushed by other users.

High sense of responsibility
But the biggest haul of the awards went to Ebunoluwa Abolarin who bagged two individual honours as the Most Outstanding Student Leader and Sports Woman of the Year and was co-winner of two group awards for Students using the Cleanest Toilet and students in the Cleanest Room.

Abolarin was recognized for demonstrating high sense of responsibility and leadership qualities. At 23, the Law undergraduate is one of the most mature students in ABUAD, whose average age is 17 years. Although there is air of equality on the campus, the age difference earned Abolarin some respect and made her self-appointed job of enforcing discipline among her colleagues an easy task. 'What happens is that we have regulations and time for shutting the hostel at nights. I took it upon myself to be locking the gates after 10:00 pm and over time, the porters became used to asking me to come and do it.'

She is also often called upon to intervene and settle disputes due to her perceived maturity and excellent interpersonal relations skills. She is also a great athlete who plays basketball and was the only female student member of the committee that successfully organized the university's first inter-collegiate games.

The impressive performances of the students are apparently proof of a novel revolution in university education being led by this private university, founded by foremost educationist, renowned philanthropist and legal icon, Aare Afe Babalola (SAN). Babalola, saddened by Nigeria's failed tertiary education system, characterized by problems of indiscipline, strikes, cultism, fallen educational standard and unstable academic calendar, to which he was exposed during his stint as Pro-chancellor and Chairman, Governing Council of the University of Lagos (UNILAG) between 2001 and 2007 has projected ABUAD as a world-class institution to lead education reform not only in Nigeria but also Africa, as a centre of excellence in academic ,character, sports and entrepreneurial development.

The award ceremony was part of a three-in-one event that also featured the matriculation of the second set of students and a distinguished personality lecture on falling standard of education in Nigeria, delivered by no less eminent Nigerian than, former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon.

As the university's Vice Chancellor, Prof. Sidi Osho told Educational Review 'Our vision is to produce graduates who will be global leaders and socially relevant. graduates modeled after the virtues of good character, honesty, hard work and discipline which our founder, Aare Babalola, stands for. We are saying let's see how we can change the society by managing few students who will go out there with multiplier effect. It is our hope that as we graduate those students, they'll impart these core values in offices and places where they find themselves working.'

A serene and conducive atmosphere
Sprawled on about 1,000 hectares expanse of land along the Ijan-Ado-Ekiti Road, on the outskirts of the Ekiti State capital, with beautiful lawns, flowers, imposing architectural masterpieces, paved, interconnected and well-lit roads (at nights), ABUAD campus offers a serene and conducive environment for learning.

The one-year-old institution, which has a commercial printing press, water factory, 28 fish ponds, mechanized farming, a guest house and bakery producing 15 assorted products that not only support the system, but serve as avenue for entrepreneurial training for the students has, within its short lifespan, gained recognition from national and international bodies including the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and Federal Ministry of Agriculture with which it is partnering on some agricultural projects.

'We believe in our curriculum,' Osho says in a chat with Education Review. 'We are running a curriculum that can be tested across the globe, sound academic programmes that will make our graduates to compete with their counterparts in Europe, Asia or the Americas at the end of their studies. That's why we are signing Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with various international institutions in South Africa , Canada , Europe and the United States . In addition, each student must learn at least a foreign language irrespective of the discipline he or she is pursuing, before graduation. Apart from French, we are introducing Spanish and Chinese.

'We are also grooming graduates who will be employers of labour rather than employees. That's also why they must pass through our Entrepreneurial Centre to learn a vocation or two for which they will be awarded a minor degree.'

With a crowded time-table and academic curriculum that oblige them to participate in one entrepreneurial vocation or the other (for which they bag a minor degrees) sports activities and agricultural activities, in addition to studying for their courses of study, the students are kept busy and this probably account for the high rate of their success.

Testimonies and confirmations
Award-winning Ade-Ojo confirmed this. 'It is like a continuation from my secondary school. They want you to study hard, do your assignments on time; your attendance in class must reach a minimum of 90 per cent for you to sit for exam. Lectures are between 8.00am and 5.00pm. After that, you have barely two hours to rest and go back to your books. And of course, there is curfew after 10.00pm. You have either entered the hostel by then, or you get locked out and face the Students Disciplinary Committee.'

Corroborating her, another laureate Abumere says the unique schedule and influence of her peers helped in no small way in catapulting her from her status as an average student to the club of achievers.

'When I came in, I realized this was not a secondary school and that I had to be serious because there was no chance to play. My three close friends whom I move with - Anyadiegwu Lorretta, Akomolafe Adesola and Adebola Bosun (male) also made great impression on me. They all had backgrounds of being very studious and focused', she said. Needless to say, the three friends she mentioned also shared the podium with other awardees in the First Class bracket. (Anyadiegwu -4.60; Akomalafe - 4.90; Adebola - 4.76).

Itamunoala says having bagged a diploma in Law from the College of Arts and Sciences in Rivers State before coming to the university; she had expected an easy ride in her programme. This is moreso as products of the diploma programme are highly revered for the high quality of tuition even by Law undergraduates of other universities where they have to compete. 'However, I realized this system is tougher and more specialized. You have to work hard for your marks.'

Ade-Ojo, however, says it is not all study stress. 'You don't have to read without resting to make it. As for me, I like my sleep.' According to her, her study regimen involves 'reviewing everything I did in class, including attending to class assignments between 7.00pm and 10.00 pm, sometimes this can last till 11.00pm, and then I go to sleep. Our weekends are very free, so I use the opportunity to do some reading.'

To Opasina, however, the highpoint of ABUAD contribution to her success is the professionalism of its tutors and the volume and quality of books and learning resources. 'We have first class lecturers, professors. They teach with a view not only to impart knowledge, but also how to apply it to solving problems. We have engaged them a lot and found them to be intelligent. You know as students, we read widely and research and when we throw questions at them, to our delight, they are up to the task! Talking of books, I think for a just growing university, we have so many books, journals, encyclopedia and more keep coming. We also have an e-library and smart-boards in the lecture rooms.'

For Hamed Abolaji Gbelekale, an Information Communication Technology (ICT) student, who also garnered 4.74 CGPA, her greatest inspiration for success has been, apart from her determination not to disappoint his mother who has been solely financing his education, since the death of her father, is the university founder himself, Afe Babalola.

'We start classes at 8.00am. He'd be there 7.45am, so, you have to be there earlier,' Gbelekale, who is the Amir (President) of the Muslim Students community on the campus pointed out. 'There was a particular address he gave on time management, in which he taught us how time was essential to a successful individual,' Opasina recalls. 'That talk changed the way I manage my time and it has really helped me a lot. Again, he can meet you on the way and stops and asks how you are faring in your studies. He's such an inspiration.'