A snapshot of an UDUS Scholars’ Forum webinar. Source: Mazeed Mukhtar Oyeleye

Mazeed Mukhtar Oyeleye writes,

Like water off a duck’s back, Abdullahi Abdulazeez’s efforts to secure career development opportunities were in vain. The weight of unsuccessful applications threatened to overwhelm his quest to boost his career and exposure. Fortunately, his resolve to change society through volunteering for causes he held dear rekindled his hope.

After three years and a bout of rejections, Abdulazeez, a 400-level student of Agriculture at the Usmanu Danfodiyo University (UDUS) finally hit a home run. The Feed The Vulnerable Families (FTVF) Foundation selected him to volunteer from home. As a volunteer with the foundation, he helped raise awareness on the activities of the foundation, to reach donors and intimate prospective beneficiaries about the distribution of items like food and clothing parcels, which they need.

The FTVF Foundation is an NGO that focuses on improving the lives of vulnerable families in Nigeria. Working with this foundation has given Abdulazeez a better grasp of the reality of poverty in Nigeria. This experience and exposure challenges him to work towards a society where resources are distributed equitably whilst arming him with access to a network of individuals making efforts towards enhancing the quality of life in the Nigerian society. 

However, he credits his long-sought triumph to the guidance he enjoys through the UDUS Scholars’ Forum (USF), a non-profit, apolitical and non-religious students’ association initiated by two undergraduates at UDUS. The association seeks to give exceptional students a push towards harnessing their potentials and maximising life-changing opportunities. As of June 2022, USF had 177 members, five of whom are the executive board members.

He said, “Honestly, being a USF member triggers me to take part in volunteer programmes because I will be able to render my own possible best to humanity. Through USF, I have been enlightened on how being a volunteer helps in many cases like when preparing a CV for job applications.”

Statistics from a random sample of 187 Danfodites’ Grade Point Average (GPA) in the last five years. Source: Mazeed Mukhtar Oyeleye

This reporter conducted a survey of a hundred random students from the 17 faculties offering undergraduate programmes at the UDUS. The survey, conducted in June 2022, revealed that many Danfodites believe their awareness and knowledge of how to win opportunities are fair.

“Most UDUS students don’t have access to online information as many believe in manual application. The backwardness of the academic calendar and not having access to some important documents that are needed for grants and scholarship applications are also factors hindering the winning of some opportunities,” a 300-level student of Agriculture opined, while explaining why Danfodites are indifferent to opportunities despite their impressive academic performance.

Statistics from a survey of 80 random Danfodites on the number of opportunities they have applied for. Source: Mazeed Mukhtar Oyeleye

“Most Danfodites have limited awareness of scholarship opportunities. Just imagine a graduate of UDUS who doesn’t know the meaning of FSB (Federal Scholarship Board), [even less of applying to it for a scholarship],” a 400-level student of Agriculture added.

From the survey,  several Danfodites who have not applied for any opportunities since joining the university proved their colleagues right.

Some of the explanations offered include: “I have no idea of it before,” “It doesn’t function,” “I haven’t heard of any,” “[I do] Not have access,” “I feel like it doesn’t work out,” “The procedures are [too] many,” “I see too many people going for it, so I don’t see myself as one of those lucky ones,” “I don’t know it at all — the opportunities,” and “I don’t think I have enough skills to participate in any opportunity applications”, among others. 

The words of Professor Aminu Bayawa of the Chemistry Department and the occupant of the Petroleum Technology Development Fund Chair at the university further unravelled the mystery clouding the situation.

“I don’t think there is enough awareness,” Bayawa said while reacting to the low level of awareness about opportunities among Danfodites.

In November 2021, against the insufficient awareness that limits Danfodites’ chances of accessing opportunities, a duo of visionary students began the USF “to fill the information gap and provide opportunities to potential scholars for positive maximisation,” according to  Muhammad Adeyemi, a finalist in Biochemistry department and the convener of the USF.

One of the membership criteria is that interested students must be in at least the second undergraduate year and have a minimum Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) of 4.0/5.0. However, the students of the Faculty of Law and the defunct Faculty of Arts and Islamic Studies were allowed a minimum CGPA of 3.8/5.0.

Adeyemi and his co-convener, Sulaiman Olawale Abdulhafeez, a 400-level student of Pharmacy, went live with the initiative in the final quarter of 2021, calling for applications from qualified candidates through social media. Their bold decision continues to impact Danfodites’ lives.

Like Abdulazeez, Muhammed Adisa, a 300-level student of Public Administration, had not been lucky with opportunities. But unlike Abdulazeez, his situation hinged on the fact that he never applied for opportunities. Adisa busied himself with studying and stacking up good grades rather than applying for the few openings available to students in his field [and others outside the science-related courses]. However, he picked up a thirst for opportunities when he joined USF.

“USF has impacted my career pursuit and academic development in the sense that I get information about scholarships abroad, the things one needs to prepare ahead, even as an undergraduate. I am learning of things I need to do and by the time one graduates, applying will be very easy. There are also a lot of opportunities sent to the group, and the FSB scholarship I applied for is one of them,” Adisa said, noting that he has applied for his first opportunity as an undergraduate.

Muntasir Oyeleye, a 200-level student of Computer Science, said  “Aside from the enlightening sessions, they [the USF team] share vital resources like past questions to help us prepare for scholarships. They also assist with SOP [statement of purpose/intent] and cover letter samples and CV writing and interview tips and guide us through the application for many opportunities.” 

Thanks to the support and guidance he enjoys through the forum, Ishaq Abubakar, a 200-level medical student, turned in an impressive application that saw him shortlisted for the Rehoboth Dream Solid Foundation Scholarship. He is confident about making it to the final stage, which entails confirmation of his studentship status and commitment to academic excellence, and financial capability.

The Rehoboth Dream Solid Foundation is a non-profit, non-partisan and non-governmental foundation that provides academic support to intelligent students from humble backgrounds through scholarships and sponsorships.

These testimonies prove that the vision of Professor Yusuf Saidu, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research, Innovation & Development) of UDUS, who doubles as the grand patron of USF, is coming to fruition.

“The forum will, without doubt, encourage scholarship among students. This, in my opinion, is good for the well being of the students and their future plans. Any forum that will bring the best-performing students together for academic discourse and identifying opportunities for excelling while on campus and scholarships upon graduation will, without doubt, impact positively on the lives of the students,” the professor had envisioned when USF started.

USF’s conveners believe that exposure to virtual technology is vital for 21st-century professional development, regardless of one’s setting or geography. Further, they want the USF members, who they address as scholars, to enjoy flexibility because of their schedules, which could make physical programmes difficult.

Since activities kicked off in March 2022, the forum uses WhatsApp as the general medium of communication. The scholars use emails for important communication whilst Google Meet caters for their real-time classes and fortnight training. Through these webinars, USF members have benefitted from the repertoire of scholars like Dr Babajide Milton Macaulay, Engr Salahudeen Tope Muslihudeen, Muneer Yaqub and Abdulsalam Ibrahim who facilitated several webinars.

Keeping activities online threatens the depth of USF’s impact as some scholars do not actively participate in the forum’s activities. While problems with device compatibility, network coverage can pass as justifications for the low turnout recorded by the USF team, some scholars embrace truancy because of the perceived absence of consequence for their lack of commitment.

“The turnout is very poor. Members don’t want to sacrifice, but they want to succeed. They want finished opportunities,” Abdulganiyu Abdulrahman Akanbi, the Publicity Secretary of the forum said.  

Similarly, the ongoing ASUU strike has not only truncated academic activities in Nigerian universities but has also forced Danfodites to leave the school, where they enjoy unlimited access to the internet services provided by the university management through wi-fi networks mounted at several points on the campus. Scholars who can not afford regular internet service may miss out on the array of opportunities and training provided by USF during the strike.

Another factor that may limit the impact of the initiative is the lack of awareness of its existence. This reporter found interested students during the call for membership phase who meet the USF membership criteria but had no idea that the forum existed. However, after seeing the benefits members derive, especially through a free-for-all edition of the forum’s webinar series, they also want to become members and plan to join in the next entry cycle.

The competitiveness of the membership requirement is another factor that limits USF from expanding its reach, as this reporter gathered that some Danfodites think the CGPA requirement is too high.

“Students with CGPA of 3.50/5.00 should also be allowed to participate in the scholars’ forum,” a 300-level student of Economics who didn’t give a name in the survey stated.

Like Abdulazeez and many other scholars, USF gave Usman Usman Ibiyemi, a 400-level student of Agriculture his first win — selection for the Agritech Hackathon. However, he could not build on it because of the limited timeframe and lack of necessary resources. He continues to seek ways to boost his academics and career as the scholars’ forum preaches that it is not over “until we all win”.

Meanwhile, while such an initiative is a trailblazing move by UDUS students, the management of the Lagos State University (LASU) has been running an initiative called Centre for International Academic Engagement (CIAE). The CIAE covers affairs relating to student exchange programmes, academic partnership and fellowships, collaborative research, scholarships and international competitions.

A similar programme is in place at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), where the management equally provides their students with an arrangement on the Jobberman soft skills platform that enhances their career growth.

The report was sponsored by I-79 Media Consults’ Campus Solutions project which is supported by the Solutions Journalism Network (SJN) as part of the 2022 LEDE Fellowship.

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