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“I Didn’t Have A Girlfriend” – UNICAL’s Best Graduate Reveals

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The University of Calabar recently received a heavy backlash after reports emerged that it offered the sum of N10, 000 as prize to its best graduate during its 30th Convocation. In this interview, the valedictorian, Agala Egbe, who graduated with a CGPA of 4.84 from the Department of Medical Laboratory Science, speaks with NAZA OKOLI about the controversial prize as well as his plans for the future.

Did UNICAL actually offer you N10, 000 in recognition of your achievement as the best graduating student?

Yes. But, I haven’t got the N10, 000 yet. What happened was that for the past couple of years now, N10, 000 has been the amount presented as prize to the best graduating student. Again, the same amount is what is written in the Convocation Brochure. I didn’t wait to collect the money because I had to rush from Calabar back to Abuja where I am currently doing my internship.

When you eventually receive the money, what are you going to do with it?

I am in Abuja at the moment. If I want to go to Calabar to get that N10, 000, it won’t even cover my transportation, by road. I would need up to N35, 000 to do that, to and fro.

Many have condemned the situation in the country today where millions of naira is won on entertainment shows whereas academic feats are rewarded with paltry sums. In your case, do you think that the N10, 000 diminishes the worth of your achievement?

On the whole, I think N10, 000 is not enough encouragement. It is not just discouraging to the person who won it, it also discourages those who are coming behind him, the younger students. I am not saying that the graduate’s effort can be quantified in terms of money, but in Nigeria, money is important; it is a great source of motivation. As for entertainment awards and academic awards, it is not really the schools that should be blamed. Corporate bodies and other agencies are supposed to invest in education. Big companies and organisations that sponsor the entertainment prizes should also make their impact felt in education. It is not something worth hearing about that a federal university is giving N10, 000 to its best graduate.

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Medical lab scientists often complain they are not accorded adequate recognition within the broader medical community. Is it truly the case that you, lab scientists, are oppressed by doctors and other medical professionals?

I wouldn’t use the word “oppression”, though I must say it is true to an extent. You know that in the Nigerian system, the medical practice is not standardised. In the medical profession, there are different professionals and different fields. We have the doctors, pharmacists, medical laboratory scientists, nurses, radiographers, physiotherapists, dentists and many others. What is supposed to be the norm is that each profession ought to have its boundaries. But here, there is often encroachment. In Nigeria, medical doctors are believed to be at the apex, at the top of the food chain. Because of that, they tend to encroach into other territories. For example, there is a recent law enacted, only a couple of months ago, which allows medical lab scientists to head the medical lab units in federal hospitals. Before now, those units were headed by doctors. So I think it’s because the boundaries are not well delineated.

How did you make the best result at the University of Calabar? Did you follow any formula or did it just happen?

Well, I wouldn’t say there was any formula I followed; neither would I say it just happened. People ask me every time whether I know the secret of success. But I wouldn’t call it a secret. It is just about reading your books; being studious and, of course, there is the God-factor.

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Were you very religious?

(Laughs) Well, I am a Christian. I wouldn’t say I was “very” religious. But I believe in God.

Some say romantic relationships are a major source of distraction. Did you have a girlfriend?

No, I didn’t. However, I wouldn’t say that being in a relationship would affect a student that much. I think it is about how you manage your time. For example, you can create time for extra-curricular activities and your girlfriend could be part of your extra-curricular activities.

Were you always on First Class?

No, it was from Year 2. My GPA in the first year was above 4.0, but it wasn’t up to 4.5.

What job opportunities are there out there for medical lab scientists?

Presently, because of the growing popularity of the course, many people are subscribing for the course, unlike some years ago. Here in Abuja, the federal hospital I work for accepted only about 38 people out of over 300 who applied. That is also similar to the situation in other labs. I think there is a boom in the admission and graduation rates of this programme. So, opportunities out there I would say are not enough to meet the growing number. But medical lab science is not really a government-controlled field. It is a field that allows the professional to be on his or her own. You can set up a lab and practise. Once you graduate, you get a licence and that licence empowers you to start a private lab.

What is the next step for you? Have you been offered automatic employment by your alma mater?

At the convocation, the Vice Chancellor did not say anything about that; I guess there was no time. But during our induction ceremony which happened earlier, the VC was present and he said I would be offered automatic employment. I intend to go to the school after my internship to find out what the case is.

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