Despite financial hurdles that he had to cross, Michael Akomolafe made first class from the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Ekiti State University, Ado-Ekiti with 4.75 CGPA. In this interview with The Punch’s Tunde Ajaja, he speaks on his academic journey…
Are there memories of your growing up that are still very dear to you?
There are lots of memories that are still very dear to me but one that really motivated me for success was when my dad used to give me a particular soft drink anytime I came first in class. And then I remember when I was in Senior Secondary School Three in a public school and we were banned from speaking in the vernacular. Then, anyone found wanting would be fined. On the day they gave the instruction, people in my class naturally kept quiet because all of us were used to speaking Yoruba and I needed to communicate with a friend on the other side of the class. I thought for several minutes about what to say. I kept rehearsing and then suddenly, I spoke out, boldly amid the silence and the class erupted in laughter because I had never spoken publicly in English Language before then. I was a bit timid, but I later became courageous.
Beyond the soft drink your dad was giving you, were there times your parents coerced you into being serious?
My father was a great motivator, and that helped a lot. My eldest brother was always available to give me thorough explanation about any topic I had challenge with, especially in Mathematics, Further Mathematics, Integrated Science, Introductory Technology, Physics and Chemistry and that fuelled my thirst for success.
Does it mean better understanding of those core subjects influenced your choice of engineering as a course of study?
It had a role to play because I found that my passion and understanding of those courses improved. In addition, when I was much younger, I had a strong passion for electronic gadgets and I was always eager to operate the electronic gadgets we had. In fact, over time, with the knowledge of earthing system in Physics, I used to insert an iron rod in the ground, sprinkle the ground with salt, and connect a copper wire at the rod’s tip which would be drawn to the room. I would then insert the live terminal of our Monochrome TV (Black and White TV) to the live terminal of the socket and use the earth terminal drawn to the room as the neutral terminal for the TV. That would successfully power on our TV and enable us to watch TV with very low voltage. People used to wonder how it was done, but I felt so happy at that time that the idea worked. My passion for Electrical and Electronic Engineering grew so rapidly, because of my desire to ensure that we had constant power supply in our home. My father was a technician and there was virtually nothing he could not repair. That was also a great encouragement for me.
What was your performance like in your previous schools?
From my primary school, I have always had good performance in my academic work. My father instilled the zeal for excellence in me by encouraging me with a bottle of soft drink. As a young boy from a poor background, we only took soft drinks during special occasions and Christmas. So, taking it apart from those times, on account of my performance in school, was a huge delight, which made me to strive for success in subsequent terms. And one of the amazing things about my dad was that anytime I came first in class, he always appreciated me specially, in addition to the free drink. That singular act had been a great force for my momentum for good success. When I sat the West African Senior School Certificate Examination, I passed safe for English Language where I had D7. And at that time, I didn’t register for the National Examination Council examination due to lack of funds. So, I had to take WASSCE twice. I studied hard for the examination and I had B3 and I still had good grades in other subjects. Also, I sat the Unified Matriculation Examination three times and I scored above 200 in all but I just didn’t get admission into the university. And then I sat the polytechnics and Colleges of Education examination once. Overall, I waited for three years before gaining admission into higher institution.
How did you cope at that time?
I was frustrated and unhappy during that period. I finished in secondary school in 2006 and three years after that, which was 2009, I had to reluctantly accept the admission offer at The Polytechnic, Ile-Ife, Osun State to study Electrical and Electronic Engineering, even though my dream was to be a university graduate. I later realised I could use Direct Entry to get into the university and that was what I did after my National Diploma in 2011. It was also after the ND that I lost my mother and it was a challenging period for me, but I thank God for keeping us strong.
Was the delay part of what made you to aim for first class or it was just fate?
Actually, when I was in the polytechnic, I had a goal to graduate with distinction in order to be admitted into the university on merit through Direct Entry. I pursued that goal, worked really hard and graduated with 3.84/4.00 CGPA. That also prompted my decision to graduate with a first-class degree in the university, to prove to myself that I could be the best anywhere I find myself. Like I said, my father had instilled in me the passion for success and he taught me to always aim for the best in life. That is why I believe that nothing just happens and nothing good comes easy. And I knew that for my goal to be achieved; I needed the grace of God. After all, there were people who studied more than I did.
What were the things that helped you?
I had a practical knowledge of my field, thanks to the ND programme and the Industrial Training I had at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. Also, I had some basic skills in electronics before my admission into the Ekiti State University, such as electronic circuit design, interpretation and construction of electronic circuit diagram, computer engineering skills, troubleshooting and repairs of electronic devices such as inverter, etc. These helped. I have realised that what we see can be retained longer than what we hear. Beyond these, understanding my lecturers was another factor that helped me. I was also attentive to every detail in class and I had soft copies of materials and textbooks I needed for each course on my phone. In addition, I conducted tutorials for people, which was a way of gaining more knowledge.
From your observations as a student, and for the benefit of those still in school, what are the things that make students fail?
Students fail for so many reasons, including lack of interest in their course, inadequate preparation, unhealthy comparison, which sometimes could be deceptive. I think students should understand what is best for them, like when they tend to assimilate things better. Other factors are late determination to be serious, misplaced priority, wrong association and distractions.
How many were you in class and how many made first class?
We were over 100 in the class, but less than 80 students graduated with us, and I was the only first-class student in the department. I understood the principle to get an ‘A’ in any course and that is hard work and reading to understand, and I made use of it.
Were you involved in other activities or was it all about your books for you?
I was busy doing many things at a time, and so I had no consistent reading schedule, but I understood myself. I was involved in religious activities, personal teachings, repairs and marketing. I was a trader in school so as to sponsor myself to some level. I sold torches, lamps, power banks, power stations (big power banks, with a small fan, and two DC bulbs, with USB ports for charging phones), etc. I used to move from class to class and across hostels to market those products. Also, for few years, I used to travel every weekend for the purpose of God’s service. I was actively involved in the choir as an instrumentalist and by the grace of God; I was able to manage my time well.
Some students argue that studying engineering in Nigeria is still theory-based, and that it explains why Nigeria still grapples with things like poor power supply.
What are your thoughts on that?
Engineering is both theory-based and practical anywhere in the world. Understanding the theorems and laws that govern a course will be a guide for the practical application of same. For example, students need to acquire practical skills in their field and the internship period is a good time for that, but you would find engineering students undergoing their IT in the bank, marketing firms, etc., because relevant organisations are not ready to take them.
Are there new innovations the Federal Government should have embraced to boost power supply?
It is crucial at this point to involve fresh graduates in the power management team. Fresh minds are needed in this sector. Also, prepaid meters should be readily available for consumers so as to minimise power wastage. Other means of power generation should be explored, other than the hydroelectricity and gas-fired systems of power generation. Renewable energy and solar power should be explored in Nigeria.
Having gone through it, do you agree with those who say engineering is difficult?
Engineering would be difficult for the unprepared minds and for students with poor background in Mathematics and Physics.
Did you win any scholarship or awards throughout?
I didn’t win any scholarship while in school, but I received four awards during our convocation. I received the award for the best graduating student in the department; best graduating student in the faculty; best male graduating student of the university and award for the best student in the final year degree examination of the faculty. I was the second overall best graduating student in the university. And I would dedicate my success to God. No man is worthy of taking this glory unto himself, except my Father in heaven who lives in me.
Were you in a relationship or did you think it was a distraction?
I got engaged to my wife, who was my fiancée then, in my 300-level even though she was in another institution. It wasn’t a distraction because I set my priorities right. In fact, she contributed greatly to my success.
What were your happiest and most embarrassing moments in school?
My happiest moment in school was when I had a GPA of 5.00 in my last two semesters. My most embarrassing moment was when my test script was torn by my course lecturer because after we were told to submit, I waited for a few seconds before attempting to submit my script. I wanted to tidy up my work since the class was still rowdy then. He just called me and tore my script. I almost cried because it was so painful and embarrassing but I knew it wasn’t the end.
Where would you like to work?
I would like to work in the engineering department of any top FMCG companies like Nestlé, Flour Mills, Unilever and Dangote Group.
What are your aspirations and plans for the future?
My plan is to own a world-class company in the field of electronics where companies and individuals will be trained on different aspects of electronics and control for industrial applications. I also aspire to have a company in Nigeria where electronic devices of world-class standard are sold and serviced for the benefits of Nigerians. Conclusively, I want to get to the peak of my career by studying abroad for my Master’s degree and PhD in the field of Power Electronics.