A couple who obtained PhD in different disciplines the same day, two brainy female students and some distinguished Nigerians stole the show at the 50th convocation of the University of Lagos.
The couple were not born the same day. Neither did they attend the same primary and secondary schools. They are also not from the same state. The husband is from, Ilaje, Ondo State while the wife is from Abeokuta, Ogun State.
Fate and love for knowledge, however, brought them together at the University of Lagos. And because they are both made for scholarship, the two were among the students and distinguished Nigerians that were celebrated at the UNILAG’s Golden Jubilee Convocation last week.
The couple made history by becoming the first couple to bag a doctorate degree same day at UNILAG. The husband, Dr. Olusegun Samuel and his wife, Temitope, were rewarded with a PhD in marine ecology and botany respectively in front of an ecstatic crowd at the Multipurpose Hall of the institution, the venue of the ceremony.
They were not the only students so honoured. Twenty-two-year-old Ibok Favour Asuquo, emerged the overall best graduating student after obtaining a Cumulative Grade Point Average of 4.89 to bag a first class degree in accountancy. Also, Miss Babtony Flora, who got a CGPA of 4.88 out of a possible 5.0 and bagged a first class degree in psychology was also rewarded. The two also received a standing ovation from the audience – with prizes including cash, certificates and plaques from the university.
But the audience went wild with joy as soon as the institution’s Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Rahamon Bello, announced that a couple was among the 47 students that were being conferred with doctoral degrees in various disciplines at the event.
The crowd yelled, heads were turned and the couple instantly became the cynosure of all eyes at the ceremony. The audience, including the Minister of Education, Prof. Ruqquayyat Rufa’I, who represented President Goodluck Jonathan; the Pro-Chancellor, Deacon Gamaliel Onosode, principal officers of UNILAG, including the Registrar, Mr. Olu Sodimu; parents, students and newsmen all wanted to catch a glimpse of the brainy couple.
In a chat with our correspondents after the award, the couple said they were able to cope in the course of the programmes because it was what they agreed to do even before their marriage.
The husband, who joined UNILAG as a lecturer in the Faculty of Science in 2007, said, “It is what we both agreed to do. I don’t feel threatened that my wife has attained the same academic feat with me. It is for the benefit of the family.”
Samuel did his PhD work on marine ecology, with a focus on ecotoxicology - the study of how poison and chemicals affect the ecosystem. His wife focused on dermatophyte, a group of fungi that causes skin diseases.
They said it took them a lot of hard work, sleepless nights, and huge financial resources to complete the programme.
“It took a lot of sacrifice. But since we were both involved, we were able to manage our time. Whenever I was not at home, my wife would be there. Again, at times, we worked so late on the campus that we did not get home until 11.00pm,” Samuel said.
Speaking on how they started their love journey, the wife said it was an Internet connectivity problem that brought them together at UNILAG.
“I was browsing in one of the offices in the department and he (her husband) walked in and complained that the Internet service on his system was behaving funny. I offered to help. That was how he took interest in me. The rest, they say, is history,” she said.
They got married on May 1, 2010 and the marriage is blessed with a baby boy.
But how did they cope combining marriage with the PhD programme? Temitope said, “We decided that we were not going to mix pleasure with business. The two don’t go together. Why should we have another baby so soon? When we got married on May 1, 2010, we both agreed on what would happen before we started our PhD programme. But now, the programme is over, we can return to that.”
She, however, added that one of her cousins was of great help to the family all through the duration of the programme.
“My cousin was always there to take care of our baby,” she said. “My husband too is excellent and supportive. He loves and always encourages me to become successful. He’s not selfish.”
Speaking on the challenges they faced while on the programme, Samuel said lack of facilities and uncooperative attitude of some private companies in Agbara Industrial Estate, where he needed samples, almost frustrated his research.
He said, “When I realised that they were not ready to open their doors for me to come into their facilities to carry out my research, I had to go to where the effluent was being discharged and took samples to the laboratory.
“Again, I also consulted some academic authorities who had done works on this field. So, I was able to do whatever I needed to do. I discovered the metal level in some organisms – like periwinkles – were higher than what the World Health Organisation prescribed,” Samuel who did his first degree at UNILAG and Master’s degree at the University of Ibadan, said.
Temitope did her first and second degrees at UNILAG. She was moved to carry out the research on skin diseases because, according to her, some skin ailments are stubborn to treat.
“They don’t really go away after treatment, due perhaps to right drugs being administered on wrong organisms,” she said.
She noted that she had taken the frontier of knowledge further by going beyond the point where medical prescriptions stopped on skin diseases in the country by her research and sought for the modern way of treatment.
“I discovered that in the country, the treatment available did not go beyond the conventional laboratory method, which involves scrapping and culturing of the skin and viewing it under the microscope. I had to research into the modern way of treatment. Treatment in modern times requires molecular laboratory method, which involves extracting the DNA from the fungus and running Polymarise Chain Research followed by the DNA sequence.”
She said the only institution that had the DNA sequential machine in the country is the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Ibadan.
The couple stressed that they would not force any course of study or career on their children.
“Nobody chose for me, so my children should be free to choose for themselves whatever career they love. I chose to be an academic; so, they should choose whatever they too like,” Samuel said.
On who his role models are, Samuel said, “I don’t have role models, but I have people that I pick certain virtues and values from. Among them is Prof. Elochukwu, dean, Postgraduate School and my supervisor, Prof. Kola Kusemiju, who is like a father figure to me, and Prof. Odiete, who supervised my Bachelor’s thesis.”
Both of them now look forward to their post-doctoral exploits. First, they will be looking for reputable journals to publish their works and, according to them, this does not come easy.
They also look forward to harnessing opportunities that the new status may bring their way.
“Definitely, getting a PhD is not the end. The next thing is to pursue post-doctoral works outside the country, because there is no facilities for such in Nigeria.
“Then, there is the need to get our findings published in a reputable journal. For some, it costs about $500 to get published. Some may say they want to publish it free, but it may take more than two years to get published. For two years, they may tell you that they are still studying your findings,” Samuel said.
However, the event was not about the couple alone, with the best overall graduating student, Ibok, also sharing her experiences with one of our correspondents. To achieve success, the brainy young woman said she abandoned her salsa dance sessions, cinema and closed her hears to all love advances from the opposite sex and faced her studies squarely.
“I did not entertain any form of distractions. There were things I had to forgo. First, I discontinued my salsa dance sessions, when I realised I had to read more. I also stopped going to cinemas with my friends. I get focused on my studies.
“Throughout my stay here, I did not have a boyfriend. That is not to say that I did not have boys who are my friends. I have many of them as friends, I realised they were easier to relate with, without going into an intimate relationship with any of them. I don’t think I would have been able to handle such distraction,” she said.
After the mandatory National Youth Service Corps scheme, Ibok said her plan was to become a chartered accountant.
“I have already enrolled with the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria. I will be writing the Provisional Examination 1 in May, while the second known as PE 2, will be written in November this year. So, I am hoping to become a chartered accountant by December, when I will be completing my NYSC,” she said.
Ibok was, however, full of praises for her parents who she described as disciplinarians.
“They have always motivated us. We have loving parents who provide whatever we need and they tell us to be the best in whatever we do.”
On marriage, she said, “Maybe, I will consider marriage in the next three years, because soon I will be proceeding for the NYSC.”
Her father, who accompanied her to the convocation, also commended his daughter for doing the family proud.
“All the three children God gave us are brilliant. They all went to the same schools, right from nursery to the university level. Favour’s elder sister missed First Class grade by a few points. And Favour too has been recording many firsts before now.
“Even while she was in both primary and secondary schools, she was always first or second in her classes,” the father added.
Ibok, who is the second of her parents’ three female children, said that her elder sister, Stella,read Biochemistry and graduated in 2009/2010 session from UNILAG.
“Joy, our last born, is in 300 Level at the Faculty of Law here at UNILAG,” she said.
Distinguished Nigerians, including the late Prime Minister of Nigeria, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, who laid the foundation stone of UNILAG, Chief Arthur Mbanefo and the former Pro-Chancellor, UNILAG, Chief Afe Babalola, were also conferred with the honorary doctorate degrees of the institution.
Six retired professors from UNILAG, including Prof. Yetunde Olumide, Prof. Peter Adeniyi and Prof. Lekan Oyebande, were conferred with the emeritus professor of the institution.
The former Vice-Chancellor of the university, Prof. Oye Ibidapo-Obe, was also honoured with the distinguished professor of the institution.