Graduating in the First Class category from a university anywhere in the world is not easy to achieve. It means the person must have A passes in all his/ her courses and have 4.50 and above in the Cumulative Grade Point Average, CGPA.
But some undergraduates are so endowed that they break the barrier by getting CGPA of 5.0.
People in such category are seen as talented and whiz kids of sorts and societies treat them with great respect.
A scrutiny of First Class graduates produced by seven public universities across Nigeria in the last one year shows that a total of 1,899 of them were produced out of 115,255 students who graduated.
The universities are the Obafemi Awolowo University, OAU, Ile Ife, which produced 158 First Class graduates out of 7,910 graduands during its 47th convocation ceremony.
Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria (ABU), on its part, produced 273 out of 35,758, the University of Ilorin (UNILORIN), which held its 37th and 38th convocation ceremonies together, 450 out of 25,234, and the University of Lagos (UNILAG) which had 238 out of 12,272.
Others are the University of Ibadan (UI), 314 out of 6,865, the University of Benin (UNIBEN), 178 out of 14,254 and the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), 288 out of 12,962.
Because those who graduate from universities in the First Class category are seen as eggheads and probably sold to academic and research work, efforts are always made to retain them in the system.
Those who are not retained, especially in the developed world, are recruited for research and development (R&D) among other key areas of the economy.
But the Vice Chancellor, OAU, Ile Ife, Prof. Adebayo Bamire, while briefing journalists prior to the recent convocation ceremony of the university, spoke on what is happening in Nigeria.
“We are ready to retain our First Class graduates; there is no need to even think twice on that, but then what is the policy of government in respect to recruitment in the universities? We can’t do that on our own”, Banire had said on that occasion.
“Before you can actually recruit any one into any department in this university now, your paper has to go through seven agencies of government.
“It is not like you just pick anybody on the street and just say this is what you want and bring them in. You can’t because it has implications on the budget that is done for your school.
“For us, we don’t want to throw away our First Class students but because of the limitations that we have, it appears very difficult for us to retain them.
“You know the university is not autonomous to that extent. We just have to be looking ahead that policies of government will favour us to be able to do so”.
What it used to be
Relating his experience to Sunday Vanguard, a septuagenarian, Pastor (Dr) Peter Olayinka Sonaike, a First Class graduate from then-University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, said, “I graduated in 1970 with First Class from the Department of Economics, University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University).
“I was the first person to graduate with First Class in the Faculty of Social Sciences of the university and the only person to graduate with First Class in the whole university in the year 1970.
“Immediately I graduated, I was appointed Assistant Lecturer in the department. After one year, I was sent to Oxford University on sabbatical leave to do a doctorate programme.
“My four-year post graduate programme was financed by the United Kingdom Technical Assistance programme to Nigeria and the University of Ife.
“I also had scholarship award from the Population Council which I did not utilize.
“In those days, the University of Ife was growing and needed many lecturers, and brilliant students who graduated with Second Class Upper Division and above were encouraged to go back to their departments as graduate assistants or assistant lecturers, and thereafter sponsored to undergo post-graduate programmes locally and abroad.
“All the arrangements for admission, visa, travelling and reception abroad were usually made by the university authorities and the foreign sponsors where appropriate.
“We were treated as staff on sabbatical leave and given generous allowances to cover all our expenses.
“It was a deliberate programme of the university authorities to develop manpower for the university.
“The sponsorship was usually with a bond for the beneficiary to go back and serve the university for a number of years.
“In those days, federal universities had full autonomy and were administered by their Governing Councils and Senates.”
Sonaike later worked for then-University of Ife for some years before joining the private sector where he served as a consultant to many local and international agencies and bodies.
When Miss Amina Yusuf made the headlines early this year when she became the first person to get 5.0 CGPA at the Lagos State University, LASU, she was given N10 million by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu and got an offer of automatic employment.
But there are other First Class graduates too who went home literally unsung.
When one talks about a perfect 5.0 CGPA in recent times, the name that may probably first come to mind is Ayodele Daniel Dada, who stole the show during the 2014/2015 convocation ceremony of UNILAG.
He graduated from the Department of Psychology.
Because he was the first to record such a feat in the university, the school gave him one million naira reward and then-Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, facilitated his appearing before the House on March 22, 2016.
The Ekiti State-born Ayodele was also honoured by then-Governor of Ekiti State, Mr Ayodele Fayose.
A year later, Miss Taiwo Bukola and Miss Ajoke Omotuyi also graduated with the same 5.0 CGPA from UNILAG in Cell Biology and Genetics and System Engineering respectively.
Not much was heard of them afterwards.
Covenant University, Ota, Ogun State produced its first 5.0 CGPA graduate in the person of Miss Motunrayo Ajia in 2018/19 from the Department of Petroleum Engineering and Ewerechukwu Asaka from the Department of Computer Engineering followed in the 2020/21 session.
Where are some of these eggheads?
Investigation showed that Ayodele later went to Stanford University in the United States (US) in 2019 for further studies in Psychology.
He is probably still there contributing to the knowledge base of the US.
For Miss Ajia, after working as a consultant at Boston Consulting Group in Lagos, she left for the University of Oxford, England for her master’s degree in Energy System and has been part of the Africa Oxford Initiative of the Oxford University.
Miss Asaka, from Igbanke in Edo State, was offered employment by Governor Godwin Obaseki (it is not clear whether she took the offer) last month, but she won a master’s degree programme scholarship courtesy of Rhodes Scholarship for West Africa and will be attending Oxford University.
It is obvious that many of these brains are lost to other nations, especially developed ones where they go to for further studies.
No law to give them jobs – NUC
Speaking on the issue, the Acting Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission, NUC, Dr Chris Maiyaki, said there is no law that mandates universities to offer First Class graduates automatic employment.
“It is just a convention, and not the law, that First Class graduates are taken by these universities to serve as a core of their academic programmes, that is, to teach”, Maiyaki said.
“It means the universities are not under compulsion to employ these people. However, they are encouraged to go for higher degrees and get employed if there are vacancies.
“You may go to convocation (ceremony) and there are over 100 First class graduates. “The number may not be evenly distributed. Some departments may produce some and some departments may not have any for some years. It means even if the university wants to retain such graduates, the distribution won’t be even.
“Now, if the university wants to retain a First Class graduate, the employment of such or any other is done through the Governing Council following the necessary procedures.
“If there is no Governing Council in place, the university does the employment through the NUC, and agencies such as the Federal Character Commission, the Budget Office etc will be part of the procedures before approval is given”.
What parents, students expect
The National President of the National Parent Teacher Association of Nigeria, NAPTAN, Alhaji Haruna Danjuma, wants government to have a programme to engage First Class graduates.
According to him, with the huge vacancies existing in the university system in the country, such people should not be allowed to waste away because of needless bureaucracy and lack of planning.
“Government has failed in the provision of job opportunities for our youths beginning from the federal to state and even local level”, Danjuma said.
“They keep telling us that our children should not think of white collar jobs, that they should go and acquire skills, and do something for themselves, it means our leaders have failed. That is not what they promised us when they were campaigning.
“Most of those engaging in fraud are graduates who can manipulate computers and other gadgets. Millions are in the labour market. Those children are already becoming threat to us because they don’t have anything doing”.
Also commenting, the National President of the National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS, Comrade Lucky Emonefe, noted that while it is good to get a First Class degree and appreciate those who do so, the type of degrees might not determine what one’s contribution to the society would be.
“Generally speaking, the potentials of our youths should be harnessed so that the country won’t lose them to other nations or to frustration that may turn their lives upside down”, Emonefe stated.
What ASUU says
The National President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke, faulted the high turnout of First Class graduates by universities, especially private ones.
Osodeke said: “If you look at JAMB documents regarding candidates seeking admission to universities and those admitted, you would see that most of those private universities lower their cut off marks than public ones.
“Despite that, those students would still come out with First Class in the end. The NUC should look into the matter. In those days, getting a First Class is rare, now in some convocation about 10 percent may come out with First Class.
“Be that as it may, the labour market is terribly bad. If the University of Ibadan, with over 200 departments, produces say 30 First Class graduates in a year, it should not be difficult to retain them. This is where our agitation for university autonomy comes in.
“The law says a Vice Chancellor has the right to engage people on temporary basis. Such engaged lecturers can say, after two or three years, go for his appointment to be regularized and, if found good, be employed.
“But the reverse is the case as the laws establishing these universities have been trampled upon and desecrated.
“It is the National Assembly that approves the budgets of these universities and when such is signed into law, it becomes effective. “It is not the Head of Service of the Federation or Federal Character Commission that should decide who to employ. A VC will drop a name for employment, they will add their own”.
Also, the National President of the Congress of University Academics, CONUA, Dr Niyi Sunmonu, said, “In the time past, Nigerian universities nurtured their best graduates and incentivized them to pass through the conveyor belt of academic training and eventually replacing their teachers.
“This was done by retaining and sending them for training abroad (in most cases) for higher degrees, while keeping their faculty positions with their salaries getting paid. “This breeds a sense of commitment to the Nigerian University System.
“Due to dwindling and inadequate funding of Nigerian universities, this practice began to take a downward turn and peaked with lack of autonomy and embargo on employment by universities.
“What some universities in Nigeria are left with, with respect to their best graduates, is to keep tab on them and when there are job openings, to contact them (provided they are still available).
“Also due to deplorable situation of salaries of academics, most bright and promising graduates are not encouraged to stay and work within the system that produced them.
“For the above reasons, concerted efforts have to be made to bring back the glory of university education in Nigeria by improving all that is connected with it and grant autonomy to universities, as a form of international best practice.”
With the Japa Syndrome and the manner our best brains are thrown to other nations, they are becoming wastes to the country rather than the gains we deserve to get from them.