At first, it was 4.78. A year after, he bagged 4.86. Aiming at the prize annually set aside for the best graduating student (BGS), Oladimeji Shotunde would thereafter rake in 5.0 twice as his grade point in 300 and 400 level, a feat that saw him spiral up to 4.95 in his final year — setting a cumulative grade point average (CGPA) that shattered pre-existing records in the Lagos State University’s (LASU) 37-year history.
It was on the back of this achievement that the Lagos state government awarded Shotunde, a 22-year-old graduate of Business Administration, the monetary prize of N5 million alongside a postgraduate scholarship and automatic employment in the civil service. Yet, thriving in the labour market and attaining career success demands more than academic excellence, Shotunde’s university journey had seen him take up several leadership positions.
He had founded Excel Minds, an educational services brand that is now morphing into an edutech startup, while still on campus. He’d enlisted his colleagues to deliver course-specific tutorials, trainings to ready students for jobs, conferences, compendia, debates, and other sessions. In the dusk of his campus life, he would stage an award and dinner night where he recognised executives of the brand as well as lecturers that made an impact on his colleagues.
“People think I read 12 hours a day. But what if I tell you I don’t do more than an hour? I’m not the type to read for a stretch like that; what am I reading? One of the things that helped me was that I founded Excel Minds Academic Group. What we did was to provide free academic services like tutorials, training, mock exams, and conferences. I did the sessions often. By virtue of taking my colleagues, I was already reading,” Shotunde tells TheCable Lifestyle.
So, ‘Dimeji, you were recognized and awarded by the Lagos state government for emerging the best graduating student at the Lagos State University (LASU). Go ahead and tell us how that happened.
Well, the news came while I was home; exhausted from the previous day’s activities. Someone called me from school to inform me of the development that the governor made the speech, on Thursday. I’m yet to interact with any government official but what I plan on doing is to reach out through my vice-chancellor. But from what I saw in the papers, I was told the governor made a promise of N5 million alongside a scholarship. I also saw on another medium that the package includes automatic employment. But I’m yet to confirm the specifics of the award. Being named the best-graduating student, I felt fulfilled but also felt an additional responsibility on my shoulder to meet up with expectations. With that prize comes a name to which one must live up to. I’d say it was a mixed feeling.
Achieving a CGPA of 4.95 must have been tough. Tell us about how you were able to pull this off.
Actually, I started with a 4.78; that was in my 100 level. Thereafter, I had a 4.86, making it a CGPA of 4.82. Subsequently, I began having a 5.0 till I graduated. What helped the most was the fact that I was intelligent — let me put it that way. I’ll always tell people to develop intelligence because there’s a distinction between intelligence and brilliance. When you’re brilliant, it implies you know everything about something. But intelligence implies your ability to know something about everything. And if you really want to thrive in the contemporary world of today, there’s a need for you to develop intelligence as opposed to brilliance. To a large extent, intelligence helped me. And interpersonal relations also did. I understood the environment in which I was; LASU is a very complicated one. I was able to build interpersonal relations with students, lecturers, and everyone. I knew what they all wanted. It’s all about intelligence, humility, persistence, and ensuring you have a good understanding of your school environment.
What were those strategies that you deployed? How many hours did you have to study daily?
It might be surprising; people will expect you to say you read like 12 hours a day. But what if I tell you I don’t do more than an hour? I’m not the type that reads for a stretch like that; what am I reading? Apart from intelligence, one of the things that helped me was that I founded Excel Minds Academic Group. What we did was to provide free academic services including tutorials, training, mock exams, and conferences. I took these sessions often and, by virtue of taking my colleagues, I was already reading. To a large extent, this played a pivotal role in my emergence. Beyond academia, I led social impact campaigns, held leadership positions here and there, and chaired committees. Balancing these things led to my emergence. I came to understand that books don’t solve it all. There’s a need to have a combination of social and academic life. When you do, it makes you exceptional. I tell people I’ve never used the school library except when I went there for library registration. It’s just about understanding yourself. The only time I forced myself to read up to two hours was like a day to exams. But other times, I did 30 minutes to one hour.
At what point did the idea of graduating with a first-class occur to you? What was the drive?
It occurred to me in my 300 level. Upon gaining admission, my intention was to have the best possible grade. It might not be first-class but something to make my parents proud. When I had a 4.78, it was a plus. Some people were discouraging me then like, “Oh, LASU? They’ll fail you.” I had all these normal admonitions from our seniors. I didn’t take all those to heart but kept pushing. It was at 300 level that I said to myself, “You can give this a shot. You’re leading the faculty.” As of the first semester of 100 level, I wasn’t even in the top-50 of the university. I would later place my gaze on the ultimate prize when I was in 300 level until my announcement as the 2020 BGS.
I made a lot of personal sacrifices. I’m of a humble background. My dad is a roadside mechanic and my mum a trader. She grinds pepper. I share the sentiment of the average Nigerian student. Everyone has their story. There are times that, even as an undergraduate student, I still helped my mum to grind pepper before going to school. I washed her machine every morning till I graduated. I live not so far from LASU. It’s just like N50 /N100 bus. There are times when I had to go to my daddy‘s carwash to work just to raise money for the family. I had chronic myopia from the start. All of these things are just some of the challenges I faced but I’m grateful for where I am today.
And how did this priority you gave to academics affect you personally, socially, and professionally?
Funny enough, despite all these, I was indeed a very social person. I organized an award dinner where I had about 400 guests. I held it under Excel Minds to reward committed executives and lecturers that have contributed to the success of the platform. I attended parties, beyond the dinner. I connected with everybody because no one is useless. I lived a balanced life, not focusing solely on academics because I was very much conscious of these things.
Tell us about some achievements you stacked over the course of running your programme.
My most significant achievement is the number of lives I’ve touched. I touched over 20,000 students during my life on campus through the compendiums we created, tutorials we did, mock exams, training, and events we organized. There’s also the excel minds arena we donated which we built for N1 million. It’s a place where students can sit and read. It’s a mini-project but it houses 32 students in one meeting. We built the arena and had the VC come open it. That was a very great one. I was also the outreach manager for SDGs ACT (Sustainable Development Goals Awareness Campaign Tour) at LASU. It was the first campus-led SDGs movement we had in Nigeria. Beyond that, I was also a local coordinator, African Students for Liberty. I took up a lot of leadership roles and global challenges.
What drove you to study business administration? Was this always the option from day one?
As I said, while growing up, I had chronic myopia. There are times when I wouldn’t see what’s on the board while in class. It got to a point where I was only flowing with courses that had to do with dictations. When they start writing things on the board, I won’t lose track. I was sceptical about telling my parents because I knew the treatment was going to come at a huge cost to them. To some extent, that affected my coordinative abilities. I would later develop competence in anything theoretical. Aside from that, I saw myself becoming an entrepreneur. I’m currently working on my start-up which is focused on leveraging technology and human competence to promote learning. The ultimate aim of all of this is to become a business person. That’s why I had opted for business administration.
How easy was it making the cut in your UTME and Post-UTME?
It was quite easy, although I tried LASU thrice. I didn’t undertake SS3. I wrote my GCE when I was in SS1 going to SS2 and passed. I had three As, three Bs, and two Cs. I didn’t go for Yoruba then. When I had the result, and we saw that it was impressive, my dad saw no reason in me writing WAEC or going ahead with SS3. I went to YABATECH then. From there, I tried LASU the second time. I had a good score but they gave me a course I couldn’t work with. They gave me Management Technology after which they changed it to Physical Health Education (PHE). I decided that year wasn’t mine. I completed OND 2 in YABATECH and tried LASU the third time. The floodgates opened. There was a point when I combined 100 level first semester at LASU with OND 2 second semester at YABATECH.
What were the challenges you faced during your programme that you think the Lagos government should address or that the Nigerian educational system should work towards overhauling?
I would say there is a need for the government to work on the infrastructures we have, that is, in terms of facilities. We’re short of lecture halls, especially with the new training we’re having now. The faculty and all other areas are always congested. I think the government should do well to erect additional buildings and other facilities that are typical of a world-class university. LASU is getting better but we still have a long way to go. Also, in terms of our curriculum, I don’t think that is really within the purview of the government. But there is a need for an upgrade. In my opinion, the curricular are obsolete. They’re not fully in tandem with what is currently obtainable. There’s a need for the lecturers to start taking us on things that are industry-specific; things that are relevant out there. Excel, data analysis. All of these things are very important, not just the usual note-taking. There’s a need for us to work in line with what is happening now. If we can have a course that will involve acquiring contemporary skills.
I understand you were granted a postgraduate scholarship, should in case you wish to further your studies. You were also offered employment in the civil service. What’s your plan going forward?
My immediate plan is to proceed with NYSC. After that, I plan on running my master’s in perhaps innovation and management. I would also possibly go for a Ph.D. also. As for the money, I plan on using it to advance my start-up, the one I told you about. I need a substantial amount to work on it. Some personal needs will also be taken care of.
2020 has been tough. There’s COVID-19 ruining academic calendars of varsities nationwide. There is an ASUU strike worsening the situation by causing a clash in terms of admitted candidates, those looking to purchase Post-UTME forms, and those to whom JAMB is selling fresh UTME forms. How do you think the whole situation should have been handled to avoid this backlog crisis, so to speak?
For me, I think the challenge in Nigeria is that of misplaced priorities. There is a need for government stakeholders and those at the helm of affairs to realize that the education system is a crucial sector that stimulates what we call critical thinking. Critical thinking is what would lead to innovation. Innovation is what will birth the much-needed growth and development in our society. There is a need for FG to brace up and yield to what ASUU is demanding, in as much as I’m trying to be careful because ASUU has some accountability issues. But it’s not something I want to go into because I’m neither a lecturer nor a federal government person. ASUU knows the government has the resources so FG should be serious about addressing whatever demands the union might have and put in place an accountability mechanism to ensure that whatever money is being disbursed will have a meaningful impact.
As a graduate versed in business, you would agree that the economic crisis facing the country has never been more pronounced. You have inflation, the fallen value of Naira due to the realities in the oil market on which a great deal of Nigeria’s export earnings is based, shortage of forex, and the increase in living cost almost sending entrepreneurs to the verge of bankruptcy. How do you think indigenous businesses could have better prepared for this? How should they be handling it?
I’ll address this in two folds. One is that there’s a need for these businesses to start leveraging on technology. And then there’s a need for the government to reduce the cost of governance. It’s too high. The current system is not really for a country like Nigeria. I don’t see a need for a bicameral legislature. A unicameral legislature would have been better. The hierarchies are too much. In a nutshell, I would suggest that the cost of governance is cut down and these funds should be channeled to those areas that are more pressing. There is also a need for us to encourage local consumption and patronage. This will ensure that a lot of things change automatically. It’s going to have a multiplier effect on our export earnings. We have Innoson Motors. Let’s patronize these indigenous firms and see the economy grow naturally. Regarding power supply too (hisses)… I just think Nigeria is a country where things are just moving round and round. We’ve been talking about some of these things for over 20 years, yet, no progress has been seen. But I know that if some of these ideas are implemented, a lot will change for Nigeria in just a year.
I’m working on my start-up on which we’ve spent over N1 million already. I’m working with some of my friends who are my partners. And I’ve come to a realization. The challenge is not really about the government giving loans; N5 million or N2 million loans. The main thing is to create an enabling environment. For over six months, I’ve been having headaches over a particular area about the start-up we want to initiate and that’s the pricing mechanism. What prices should we even fix for our services? We’re looking at having an education technology platform where we can pick a student online via our platform and maybe go to their house once a while. But when you look at the cost of transportation and the security situation in the country, all these things are making us scared. It’s not just about giving loans. There’s a need to have an enabling environment where these businesses can thrive.
What the government needs to do is address all those things that serve as hindrances to the advancement of these startups. Sincerely, Nigeria is a country where startups are most vulnerable. Everything is just bad; you’re paying tax for something you’re not even enjoying. A lot of things are just wrong in the system. For instance, I did business registration back in August. Since then, I’ve not gotten a certificate. Why? They said there’s a new process now. We can’t even open a corporate account because they’ll request for it. These little things we think are not consequential actually matter. We’re meant to launch a start-up by January 1 and, as of now, we can’t even open a bank account.
Do you have any regrets in your academic journey so far? If you were to lend any fresh student some knowledge from your experience, what would you say to them?
I lived a fulfilled campus life. The only thing I regret is not applying for scholarships. I was so busy with Excel Minds, tutorials, and leadership positions. So I didn’t get to really apply for scholarships. To a great extent, I didn’t have time. I regret it. Secondly, I didn’t also go for internships. Going by the nature of my own calendar, it wasn’t a necessity though. But I knew that, if I had gotten that exposure earlier on, I should have been able to get one or two internship opportunities. I think these are my regrets but, aside from that, I think I lived a fulfilled campus life.
I wouldn’t tell some coming behind to be persistent, diligent, and all those random things that everyone always tells them. There is a need for first-class students to start looking beyond academics now. The world is changing. Good grades aren’t enough to stand you out. Ask yourself this question, “If my first class is taken away, what will be left? What am I bringing to the table?” They need to start getting skills that are contemporary, industry-specific, and relevant out there. I advise that the same way they’re reading and having sleepless nights, let them dedicate time to personal development and branding. Do not allow the fear of falling to stop you from jumping. Don’t allow the fear of responsibility to stop you from committing. And lastly do not allow the fear of exposure to stop you from shining.