Encounter with Nigeria's 'Little Einsteins!'

By The Rainbow

A colleague of mine at the Arizona State University described 11 Nigerian students, aged 13 to 17, as the future … and a promising one. I agreed with her. Already, these SSS II and SSS III students have accomplished what many of us oldies can't even dream of. This includes winning a national science completion and the ticket to compete with 1,500 high school kids from 70 countries at an international science fair in the United States. And they didn't just come for the sights; they brought award-winning innovative projects to the 2013 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, which held in Phoenix, Arizona from May 12-17.The encounter with these students was a particularly delightful experience for me, as well as for my colleagues at work and my family. Personally, I love smart kids who value education. Also, these kids were well behaved and looked very cool in their uniform, which attracted admiring glances and comments even from strangers. Once at a parking lot, two young folks rolled down their car window and yelled, 'I love your uniform!'  One of the Nigerian kids said she didn't understand why their uniform - skirt/trousers, long-sleeved shirt and tie - drew so much attention. Someone explained that it was 'because the uniform here is very drab.' Ouch, I thought. When we got home later, my little girl ran down the stairs to welcome the team. She was still wearing her Friday uniform (gold polo shirt and brown skirt). Against the guests' clothes, her uniform did indeed look 'drab!'

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me tell you how I got to meet Nigeria's future scientists and inventors, the Einsteins of our time - if we can harness these talents for the common good. In any case, if we don't, other countries will. Already, three of the kids have received full scholarships to attend a US university!

I first became aware of the team through an e-mail from Dr. Jerry Orhue, a biochemist at the University of Benin and the executive director of Genius Illumina, an organisation which he incorporated in 2004 to address the 'rapidly growing failure in our educational system.' In the e-mail, he said he is a regular reader of Medals and wanted 'to place on record that I acknowledge and appreciate your very constructive articles published in Saturday PUNCH in Nigeria.' (I live for such e-mails!)

He also said he was bringing some Nigerian kids on the platform of Genius Illumina to attend a science fair in Phoenix. I looked up information about the event (to confirm its existence) and responded. I indicated interest in getting the students to visit my department. I figured that kids who were smart enough to travel all the way from Nigeria to a science fair in Phoenix, Arizona would be interested in our degree programme in STS, an emerging field that examines the intersections of science, technology and society. The visit to my campus was scheduled for Friday, May 17, right after the fair had formally ended.

While I had sent an e-mail notification to my colleagues, it looked as if the team would be meeting with just me as most people had already left for the summer. Dr. Orhue said this wouldn't be a problem. I still had a problem of my own though: how to transport 14 people (which turned out to be 18) from Downtown Phoenix to my campus in Mesa, about 40 minutes away. My minivan has a maximum capacity of eight (including the driver).  Megida, my very own super hero, came to the rescue … as always! He rented another minivan and together we picked up the team from their hotel and brought to my campus where a pleasant surprise awaited us.

The department was not as empty as I had assumed. Even my dean, whose main office is on another campus, was there to receive the Nigerian team! With some staff and faculty, we sat around in a conference room in the School of Letters and Sciences at ASU Polytechnic Campus and listened to Nigeria's 'tomorrow's future' as they spoke about their research projects. The students came from three schools: Doregos Private Academy, Lagos; Calvary Arrows College, Gboko, Benue; and University Preparatory Secondary School, Benin.

For the past nine years, Genius Illumina has organised the National Festival of School Science, a science and technology exhibition now affiliated with Intel-ISEF. The three school finalists at the national level earn the opportunity to participate at an international science fair. At the Phoenix fair, one of the teams won a special award in the Energy and Transportation category for its project in which urine was used to power a generator. (The urine was generously donated by another student!) In another project, one of the teams used extracts from a common plant for antibiotic and insecticide purposes. In other words, the plant extract is a killer of 'little enemies' inside our bodies and around us!

Each project demonstrated strategies of utilising available materials to solve everyday problems. They underscored my personal philosophy that every problem has a solution and one just has to find it. Or to put it more 'elegantly': what you are looking for in Sokoto may very well be in your sokoto (Yoruba for pants/trousers).

Also, with the right guidance and opportunity, Nigerian kids can compete successfully with the best around the world. Dr. Orhue, who grew up in a resource-poor environment, said sheer determination propelled him from being someone who was not expected to complete secondary school to a PhD holder. For nearly 10 years now, he has marshaled that determination toward creating opportunities for Nigerian students. He goes knocking on corporate doors so vistas of opportunities can be open up to kids, especially those with limited resources.

This is not the end of the story though. Come back next week to meet some of these kids, the organisations that support the Genius Illumina project and enabled 11 kids to accomplish the near impossible. One of those kids is a brilliant but painfully shy girl from Gboko who not only showcased her science project in a faraway land, but also had the opportunity to celebrate her 16th birthday in the home of 'familiar strangers' in Arizona. She and her teammates are indeed Nigeria's future, our own Einstein in the making.

He said: 'Well, the Appeal Court has done its work. As lawyers, we have no other choice but to abide for now with its decision.

'We understand the policy base of the decision, which the court gave as an idea of preventing inundation of law enforcement agencies with cases of this nature. But we disagree.

'We think in our view that the period constitutionally prescribed for the arrest and detention of citizens of Nigeria cannot be extended. It appears that is what the Appeal Court has done in this case and we disagree.

'We will file notices of appeal as urgently as possible, believing that the Supreme Court will take a different position,' Aturu