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Interview: Prospect of winning prizes as best student motivates me – UI, law school first class graduate

Bukola Alada, who graduated with first class honours from Faculty of Law, University of Ibadan and repeated the feat at the Nigerian Law School, speaks to about her outstanding academic achievements

You were named the best graduating student in July 2021, having graduated with first class at the Nigerian Law School, Abuja Campus, and won 16 prizes. You had also graduated with first class from the University of Ibadan where you won 11 awards.  How does this make you feel?

I feel excited and fulfilled. My academic work has been a major part of my life. So far, I’ve performed excellently. It is a great foundation for me and it makes me confident starting out my career and the next phase of my life. Being the best graduating student from the Nigerian Law School, I think about the number of people who get to be in that position. It is some sort of record and my name is now on it. It is exciting.

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Tell us a bit about yourself.

I am the second of my parents’ two children. My sister and I are lawyers now. I grew up in Ibadan and schooled in the university community from kindergarten. I had a regular childhood and like every other child, I could not wait to be an adult. Now, I wonder why I was in such a hurry. I was good at maths in secondary school. I was the Arts student who won the prize for best in mathematics. When I said I was going to study Law, my teachers tried to convince me to study medicine. I always knew I did not want to be a medical doctor. Years later, I have not wished otherwise. Generally, I believe that one should try to distinguish themselves in an area. I believe that what is worth doing at all is worth doing excellently well and that guides my actions. I enjoy being around people I can have great conversations with. I enjoy art in all its forms.

Would you say your childhood experiences prepared you for these achievements?

Yes, definitely. I grew up in an environment where academic excellence was celebrated and valued. At home, my parents consciously took steps that prepared me. The schools I attended were competitive enough to push me to put in my best efforts. Right from primary school, my parents made me understand that the point of examinations was to be able to answer all questions correctly. So when I prepared for exams, it was to get the maximum attainable grade. Early on, they trained my sister and I to study on our own. During the holidays, we had novels to read, so reading was always a part of my life. They also rewarded me with gifts when I performed excellently, and they were willing to make sacrifices that would help me perform better.

One event took place when I was in Primary 1. Promasidor was in our school on the prize-giving day to give prizes to pupils who emerged best in each class. They brought branded bags, sachets of Cowbell milk, branded shirts, caps, certificates, etc. To my five-year old self, it was very enticing. But I did not emerge the best student in Primary 1 that day. Coincidentally, that session was one I also felt I could have done better. So, I put two and two together and told myself I was going to get the prize in Primary 2. I came top of my class in Primary 2, but Promasidor was not in my school that year. I did not get the Promasidor prizes until Primary 4 and Primary 5. But knowing that if I emerged as the best student, I could get such reward, which fascinated me, was a reason for me to keep pushing each session. It did not help that I was not sure which year Promasidor would visit again.

What study pattern did you adopt in the university and law school?

I don’t have one study pattern that I always use at all times. My study pattern changes and I adapt to the demands of the exam. Often, I form notes using textbooks and other recommended study materials. It is these notes that I study for the exams. I also participate in group discussions. Talking to people helps me confirm what is really important and what just additional information is. Sometimes I practise with past questions, if the demands of the exams require such familiarity, like at the law school. My study pattern is a combination of my strengths and weaknesses for a particular exam. I like to go over my notes more than once because I think retention is my weak point. I also estimate the number of hours it would take me to read a note. It helps me organise myself. Finally, I don’t go into the exam room knowing there is a good chance a question would be asked without preparing for it.

Having graduated as the best student in UI, were you under any sort of pressure not to underperform at the Nigerian Law School?

Yes, I was. It was unavoidable. Many people expected me to finish with first class honours, at least. In 2020, when the best graduating student from the law school was announced and he was from UI, people sent me messages hoping I would be the best student in my set too. I also did not want to be that story: “Even Bukola did not make a first class”. But that was it. I couldn’t avoid the pressure but I tried not to let it get to me. Law school was fresh ground; I was there for myself, not for anyone. I wanted to make first class or win prizes primarily for myself, and then for my family. It didn’t matter that anyone else expected me to repeat the feat; they were not going to write the exams for me. So what if I did not perform as well? Personally, I wanted to be consistent, to repeat the feat and validate myself again. I also understood that my performance may also inspire someone else to push for excellence. But I wasn’t always walking around with these in mind. More often than not, I was any other student trying to make the most of law school. I also knew things could go different ways.

Was there any course you were afraid of?

Fear is not the right word in my case. There were two courses that were more demanding because their content was more than any of the others – Corporate Law Practice and Civil Litigation. They required more time. Then, there was Property Law practice where questions were asked vaguely. But I was not afraid of any course. I regarded them in the same manner.

Was there a time you felt like giving up on your goal of making first class at law school?

Yes, more than once, in fact. We spent 14 months in law school before writing the Bar finals due to the pandemic. This was unlike other years when students wrote the Bar finals after nine months. So, sometimes, I got tired and felt like giving up because it was taking longer than planned. Most times, I felt like giving up because of the demands of the system. Our course, content was too wide; we needed to memorise too many things. By the week of the exams, I had learned some sections of at least 30 laws, up to a thousand cases and even more principles. I didn’t learn them once. I would learn, forget and relearn. In the beginning, I wondered if I could do it. I would ask people I knew how they managed and they would say things I had heard over and over. At some point, I asked myself if I really needed a first class. If I managed to pass, at least, I’d be a lawyer. So, yes, there were low days and on those days, I allowed myself to wallow. But I soon picked myself up again and continued. I knew why I wanted a first class. People had done it before me, I had achieved some of the things these people also did, I could scale law school excellently as well, I constantly reminded myself that. It also helped that I had friends who felt this way on different occasions.

You also were the best graduating student in your secondary school during your set, having passed WASSCE with flying colours. Why did you choose Law?

This is where it gets funny. I’ve wanted to study Law for as long as I can remember. But I can’t point out the exact reason I wanted to. I knew what studying Law was about and it was an idea I liked. I often mention that my paternal grandfather was a lawyer and my dad often talked about him. So, that provides some context.

What was the experience like in the University of Ibadan?

It was enjoyable. The environment was competitive enough to keep you on your toes. People took academic work seriously and aiming for good grades was the norm. It was easy to find people who had the same academic goals as me. There was also a lot going on besides academic work – extracurricular activities. I joined student organisations, planned events, participated in competitions. There were some downsides like disrupted calendars, and areas we wanted the school to do better at. But it was one period I enjoyed.

READ ALSO: 12 Students who Formed a Study Group Graduate with First-Class Together

Did you know all along that you would graduate with first class?

In UI, yes I knew. At the end of my fourth year, my CGPA was 6.7/7.0. I only needed 6.0 to make first class. It would have taken a drastic underperformance for me to not have finished with at least a 6.0 in my final year.

Can you describe how you felt when you received the news about your final result at law school?

Yes, I remember it vividly. We had heard several rumours that the results would be released that day or the following day. It was already night time. I was with my mum when someone sent a link to my class page to check the results. I thought it was false alarm again, but I decided to check it still. I entered my details. In the few seconds it took, my heart beat fast trying to make peace with the fact that it might not be what I expected, hoping it won’t be too surprising, yet being positive. Then, I saw “first class”. I wasn’t sure that was it. I went through all the details, my name, my number, the website. I wondered if it was fake or scam. This went on for about 30 seconds. All that time, I was still with my mum. She didn’t notice I had become very quiet. It was after I had confirmed it was real that I told her that our results were out and I made a first class. She screamed, I screamed. We ran to my dad who was eating. He stopped eating and joined in our excitement. We were laughing and thanking God at the same time. I think they were more tense than I was at some point before the results were released. I could see the relief on their faces. That made me even more excited.

READ ALSO: “How I Emerged as BGS In OND, HND and BSc”- UI First Class Student Speaks

You held some leadership positions as an undergraduate. How did you balance your academic work with extracurricular activities?

For me, it was a matter of interests and goals. I was interested in the activities – the debates, mooting, etc. I enjoyed them. My extracurricular activities were some of the highlights of my undergraduate days. I also wanted to achieve more in UI than excellent grades. In balancing my interests, it often came down to time management and prioritising. I accounted for my hours on the days I had school work and other activities. I assigned specific hours to each activity. I also understood that my primary goal was still to achieve excellent grades. So, I easily picked my academic work whenever a conflict arose. But planning my day, accounting for my hours helped me achieve a balance.

How did you manage admiration from the opposite while in the university? Were they distracting?

I managed admiration like I managed any other thing that was of interest. I didn’t find it distracting. I was in control of my time and I knew how to turn things down when they were going to be in conflict with my academic work.

You were named a Scholar of Nigeria Higher Education Foundation and a Pioneer Scholar of the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria. How did you get there?

I was an NHEF Scholar in 2018. I was a BOSAN Scholar in 2019. They are both independent organisations. For NHEF, applications were called for. I applied, went through all the stages and emerged as one of the 40 scholars in Nigeria. For BOSAN, a number of us were shortlisted from different law faculties in Nigeria. We were informed by our faculties after we were shortlisted. We wrote an exam and had one interview. Five of us were announced as scholars eventually.

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David Oludele

Pls, federal polytechnic offa admission for still on sell

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