Oladimeji Shotunde, 22, has emerged as the best graduating student of the Lagos State University, Ojo, as he graduated with 4.95 CGPA from the Department of Business Administration in the 2018/2019 session. He shares with TUNDE AJAJA how he made it happen, the difficulties he encountered and his plans for the future
Did it come to you as a surprise that you were the best in your set?
I never saw it coming. When I gained admission into Lagos State University, I wasn’t too clear on whether I would graduate with a first-class degree; I only had the mindset to graduate with a reasonable grade. However, I think what helped was the academic group I founded. I named it Excel Minds Academic Group. It was an organisation that catered for the academic welfare of over 10,000 members. Having such an academic platform became a motivation for me, because it meant I had to exemplify academic excellence myself.
I started with a 4.78 GPA, so I felt I could graduate with a first-class degree but not necessarily as the overall best because there were a lot of people ahead of me. I wasn’t even the best in my department. However, as time went on, I became more motivated, but it wasn’t until my third year that I began to lead in my department. I was mainly focused on service to humanity – running Excel Minds, doing tutorials, etc. It was in my fourth year that I knew I was the one leading the set; so, I had to put in the effort to push it through and I thank God I cleared all my courses.
What motivated you to start Excel Minds?
I found out that there were instances where some of my colleagues found it difficult to comprehend what we were taught in class; some missed classes and some couldn’t ask questions in class for obvious reasons. So, I thought of what I could do to help them. When I took my first tutorial in the second semester of my first year, I saw that people were impressed and I felt fulfilled. With the way it grew so fast, some persons asked me to monetise it but I declined. The fulfillment I derived from helping others was more than the money. Thereafter, I made it formal and I scouted for more scholars, we came together and I took them through the vision of the organisation. So, beyond tutorials, it became an academic group that offered free training, conferences and we later donated a 32-seater reading arena for the use of fellow students. We built it for over N1m and that was in October 2019 before I graduated.
How did you raise the money since you didn’t charge them?
We got donations; we offered our services for free, so people were willing to identify with us and we got donations from external organisations that we partnered. We are glad with where it is today. We organised a mock exam and we asked students to pay just N50 for printing. We had some excess amount from that and I felt that instead of leaving the money in the account we could use it for a legacy project and that was what we did. We have people that are running it now but the facility is there for everyone to enjoy today.
What’s your plan for Excel Minds going forward?
Excel Minds would remain in LASU. However, since June I have been working on an EduTech start-up, Excel Minds Professional Solutions, and under it we would be offering standardised but very cheap services to students. We spent about N400,000 to design the website; not just a website but an enterprise application where people can go to have mock exams, virtual learning interfaces and such things. Basically, we want to upscale Excel Minds to a company that would be a social enterprise while maintaining what we started at LASU.
How many students have benefited from that initiative?
We have about 10,000 members but I brought an initiative called compendium. We looked at general courses that gave people issues and created compilations and resources for them and it’s helpful for all interested students. With that, we could have impacted about 35,000 students.
You had 4.95 CGPA, which means you must have had 5.00 GPA a number of times. Can you take us through your grades?
Yes, I ended up with 4.95 CGPA because I had three B’s in the first year; two in first semester and one in second semester. But from the first semester of my second year till I graduated, I had 5.00 GPA consecutively.
Have you always had such brilliant performances in your previous schools?
In my JSS1 to JSS2, I wasn’t really brilliant until in SS1 when I started picking up. Growing up, I had an eye problem, which was why I used glasses with thick lenses and it affected my studies. I struggled with subjects that had calculation because I couldn’t see the board. It was after lectures that I would take notes from my classmates to copy. I only got along in subjects where notes were dictated. However, I began to see that I was a bright student when I was in secondary school. I usually took the first position and the least I had was second position. I had my West African Senior School Certificate Examination once but I took the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination three times. I wrote GCE in SS2 and I passed. I also took UTME but I had 167, so my dad bought the form of Yaba College of Technology for me because my score was not enough to gain admission into the university. That was a blessing in disguise because Yabatech gave me the exposure that I needed and the platform to be focused. I took UTME the second time but my dad said I should complete my programme at Yabatech
Were your parents aware you had an eye problem?
I couldn’t tell them because I knew their financial situation and they might be unable to get me glasses. I was in that condition till SS3. However, I didn’t see it as an excuse; it was a motivation for me to work harder than others so I wouldn’t lag behind. There is no excuse for failure.
Your dad is a mechanic and your mum, a trader; did that pose any financial challenge?
I would say yes and no. I said no because in LASU, our school fee was N25,000 and after selling some things, they were able to afford it year after year. I have to give special appreciation to my dad; he didn’t mind selling his cars. As a mechanic, they always have opportunities to buy decrepit vehicles they could repair and use. He sold his vehicles about five times anytime we had needs. He would go to any length to meet our needs. He and my mum have been very supportive and I thank them specially. They are not educated but my siblings and I attended some of the best schools because of their sacrifices.
Were there times you helped them out in their shops?
Yes, I suffered (laughs) but those experiences brought out the best in me. Early in the morning, my first duty was to wash my mum’s grinding machine in her shop in front of the house. When I was in Yabatech, polytechnics were on strike, so I used to follow my dad to a filling station where he was doing wheels alignment and such things. My duty was to wash vehicles at the car wash there just for us to make money. It has not really been easy but we thank God for sustaining us. I went to school from home every day, so there were times I still helped my mum to grind pepper. We lived close to the school, so I used to see students while doing that and some of them would even call me from afar. Some people asked me if I didn’t feel ashamed, and I wondered why I should feel ashamed of what was being used to feed me. I’m always glad to do that for my mum. Besides, we all have different paths in life. But, in school I never showed it. My dad used to give me N200 and my mum would give me N50. So, till I graduated, I was living on N250 per day.
How did you manage with that?
I could buy doughnut and sachet water while I reserved N100 for my transportation. However, I was always busy in school so I didn’t really feel hungry. When you are busy, you tend to feel less hungry and even if you do, you may not have time to eat. That worked for me.
You won some essay competitions. Can you tell us about them?
Being an indigent student, there was a conference held in Abuja, the Nigerian International Tertiary Institutions Model United Nations Conference, where we model the United Nations. Most of the other students we met there sponsored themselves to the conference but LASU sponsored 10 to 15 students that emerged through some screening, essay writing and interviews. The school wanted the best to represent them. I was privileged to go for the 2018 edition of the conference and I emerged as the overall male delegate, after which I got an appointment to be a conference official for the 2019 conference. I also got an award for the best conference official. Lagos State University really contributed to my success story. When we went to Abuja, the school paid for our flights, accommodation and everything. Those things gave me exposure and the platform to be on the same table with the privileged ones and I’m very grateful for that. I won other essay competitions and I wrote an article in 2017, titled, ‘The saddening collapse of education in Nigeria’ and it went viral then. That gave me motivation to write and it made me feel I had a gift for writing. I read newspapers a lot. My dad buys Saturday PUNCH and Sunday PUNCH every week, and after reading, he would pass them to us. I’m sure that influenced my writing too.
Did you win any scholarship?
I didn’t get to apply for most of the scholarships because I was very busy with Excel Minds, SDGs and I had a lot of appointments. I was Local Coordinator, African Students for Liberty; I was a volunteer for Hult Prize Foundation; I served as Country Representative, Glocal International Teens Conference and a lot of other engagements. I was also among the 50 student leaders selected globally in 2019 for the Hesselbein Leadership Summit/Global Academy, which was hosted by the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States. I was equally among the 50 finalists shortlisted across Africa for the Afresist Youth Leadership Programme in Kenya. Likewise, I was a Millennium Campus Network Fellow and I was in the first graduating class which was November 2018.
How were you able to combine all of these with your studies?
I was able to multi-task and that helped. If you don’t know what you are doing and you get involved in too many things in school, you might not graduate. Some of those things were enough to distract me but they ended up giving me experience and exposure. One other thing that helped was that I was always organising tutorials for my departmental mates. By taking them in tutorials, I was indirectly reading for the exam. I wasn’t even the type to read for more than one hour in a day because I can’t read for long hours. But I could do a bit more during exams.
People see relationships as a distraction while some feel otherwise; what do you think?
I was an all-round student; I didn’t limit myself because of academics. In the second semester of my second year, I started a relationship and we’ve sustained it. It depends on how you plan yourself.
What’s your career interest now that you have graduated?
I’m looking at two career paths; to either become an edupreneur (educational entrepreneur) to push the EduTech formally or become a management consultant. I really want to make the best out of life so I can reward my parents tangibly. I feel it’s high time my mum stopped grinding pepper at over 60 years and I want my dad to have some rest too, so blessing them financially is very paramount to me.
What were your most memorable moments as an undergraduate?
I had a lot of them; the awards I won and my trip to Abuja, but the most memorable was when I brought the Vice-Chancellor (Prof Olanrewaju Fagbohun, SAN) to inaugurate the arena that Excel Minds built. The arena was the first of its kind and for the VC to open it was a remarkable moment for me. I saw it as an initiative that would stimulate students’ productivity. I can’t remember having any bad moments because I try to see the good in everything.
The reward for academic excellence is very poor and some first-class graduates find it difficult to get good jobs. How do you feel about this?
There is a need for the government to realise that the educational system stimulates critical thinking, which is what leads to innovation and innovation is what propels the much-needed growth and development. So, it is pathetic to see that the government is not really giving education or academic excellence its place in the society. But that is not to discourage us. Moreover, I tell my colleagues that beyond the certificate, it’s incumbent on us to have the industry-specific skills and knowledge to really thrive out there. The value you are bringing to the table is now more important than the class of degree.