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You can graduate with First Class without paying your way — Chiagoziem

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Chiagoziem

Mbagwu Johnpaul Chiagoziem recently bagged a First Class degree from Department of Industrial Physics, Imo State University, a historic feat in 39 years of the department. Chiagoziem, an indigene of Mbara Ezihe in Isala Mbano Local Council of Imo State, graduated with a 4.51 Culmulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) in a 5.0 grading system. In this interview with OGECHI EZE, he spoke about his motivation in achieving his academic feat, challenges faced as an undergraduate and future ambition.

Can you take us through your growing up?
I AM from Mbara Ezihe in Isiala Mbano Local Council of Imo State. When I was in Primary School, I was one of the best pupils. I always took either first or second position. I went to a public school and we had the best teachers then. When I passed my Common Entrance Examination in Primary Six, my teacher told me to go to Government Secondary School, Owerri, to apply for its entrance examination, but, there was no money to pay for the examination. I waited because my father told me I would go to Emmanuel College, Owerri. That was fine.

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When I was in Junior Secondary 1 (JSS1), I was the Staff Room School functionary and Classroom Prefect. In my SS2, I was given an award as a unique student in 2012. My principal gave me a gift. In my SS3, my teacher told me to apply for the West African Examination Council (WAEC) examination and the National Examination Council (NECO) at the same time. My father advised I should apply only for WAEC. I was the only student that applied for just WAEC in my set. When the result came out, I had the best result and the best graduating student as well.

Was it your decision to study Physics at the university or did it happen by chance?
Well, I will say, ‘no.’ Starting from my JSS3, I decided to go for my dream course, which was Medicine and Surgery. But, along the line, in my SS2 second term, I fell in love with my Physics teacher. Anytime I was with him, he would say, ‘Johnpaul, once you’re done with your WAEC, try and apply for Physics or Industrial Physics.’ I would reply to him, saying, ‘Sir, God forbid, please! I wouldn’t not.’ He would laugh at me, saying, ‘Are you sure you know what you’re doing? If you know, you wouldn’t be saying this, Johnpaul.’

When I wanted to buy a form for my Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) examination, the person that registered me asked if I wanted to study Physics. I answered in affirmative.

He jokingly asked: “Is it the ‘almighty Physics’ that people runway from? Guy, you’re too much oh.’ I laughed and said, ‘ Sir, it’s because I love it. I can do it. Those studying it at the university don’t have two heads.’

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Were your parents supportive when you eventually settled for Physics, as against Medicine and Surgery?
Yes, my parents supported me. My father precisely said to me: ‘Johnpaul, I know you can do it because I know you are good at Physics. I thanked him for the support and encouragement.

Bagging a First Class in any course is not an easy task, how did you do it?
Actually, it wasn’t easy. In my year one, when I saw my first semester’s result, it wasn’t what I expected. I wanted to give up, but God said: ‘My son, I know you can do this.’ If I was reading six times a day, I tripled it to make sure I covered up in courses I did not do well in my first semester.

When I saw my first semester’s year two result, my Grade Point (GP) was 4.74. But in my second semester of year two, I joined my departmental politics and vied for Departmental Director of Projects. I was returned unopposed. My course mates supported me, but I forgot that I had an ambition of graduating with First Class and also break the record.

I won the election but my GP was low. I got 4.32. So, I advised myself, saying: ‘Nothing will make me involve in school’s politics.’

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In my third year’s first semester, my result was good and I was happy. In my final year’s first semester, my GP was excellent. That helped me to make up for the first semester’s year one result. I had to put all my energy and efforts in my second semester’s final year, without thinking about my first semester’s year one GP again. My second semester’s final GP was 4.77 and I said: ‘Thank you Lord for this great result. I am grateful and also happy for breaking this record.’

It wasn’t easy at all, especially in the Physics Department of Imo State University (IMSU).

What was your motivation?
Actually, I had many of them. But let me mention a few. Anytime I didn’t have the strength to read or I was busy, once I remembered what my senior colleagues and my course mates told me then, I would be motivated. They inspired me to work hard by always saying that having a First Class in that department was a herculean task. They used to say that ‘graduating with First Class in the department was not easy, no matter how hard one read. So, anytime I heard those words of discouragement, I would pick my textbooks and begin to study even harder.

There are some quotes I do enjoy anytime things get tougher. I enjoy reading this particular quote: ‘Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.’ One of my lecturers, Prof. T.C. Chineke told me: ‘Johnpaul, hope you will graduate with First Class because nobody has graduated with First Class in this department before?” I told him, ‘Prof., by God’s grace, I will break the record.’ That is exactly what I did.

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What challenges did you face as an undergraduate at IMSU?
Well, many of them. Let me mention a few of them. Finance was number one because I had to buy my textbooks, laptop, pay bills (school fees, clearance, transport myself to school among others). In my third year, it was difficult for me to find a place for my Industrial Training (IT), but with the help of God, through my lecturer, Prof. T.C. Chineke, I was accepted at a radio station in Owerri, where I did my six-month I.T.

With your eyes set on an excellent result, did you really interact well with your fellow students?
Well, I interacted with them, including my junior colleagues. They were helpful as well. As a Course Representative, many of the students liked to interact with me. But that didn’t make me lose focus of graduating with First Class. In fact, my slang then was: ‘First class or nothing.’

I was the best student from my year one to final year. My course mates were close to me. Some always came for me to assist them in assignments, especially in Quantum Mechanics, which was regarded as one of the most difficult courses in the department.

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What about your lecturers, were they friendly and supportive?
My lecturers were friendly and supportive, especially Prof. T.C. Chineke, Dr. Okanandu J. Ozuomba, Mr. F.M. Ezike (my project supervisor) and Dr. Joseph Onwuemeka. The ones I didn’t mention were friendly and supportive also, but the above-mentioned names were outstanding in different ways. May God bless them.

Did you at any point experienced the ‘pull him down syndrome’ in the course of your study?
Somehow, I did experience that. One lecturer, in my second year’s first semester, didn’t want me to have higher grades in his courses. I didn’t know his reasons. I am glad, I overcame it by the grace of God.

Some students believe that without paying your way, an excellent result like yours is impossible. What’s your take?
That’s not true, I’m a living witness that you can graduate with a First Class without paying your way. Students believe so because they don’t read hard and they think everybody is like that. They can get such a result if they determine to put more efforts in their studies.

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As an alumnus of IMSU, what changes would you like to see in your department and institution?
Actually, I will like my department to get more experimental apparatus. I want to see enough textbooks and laptops in the departmental library. There should be raising of final year and third-year laboratories up to standard. I want IMSU to have steady power supply at various offices and laboratories. We need a secure environment to study and students need to see their results on time, at least one month after the first or second semester to know what to do next.

What are your future aspirations?
Well, I want to be a lecturer to impart more knowledge to others. I am open to politics. Many students don’t further their studies because their parents cannot afford to send them to school. if I have the money, I will like to send many of them to school to acquire knowledge and help their communities.

What advice do you have for undergraduates in Nigerian universities?
Apparently, many students in universities don’t study. They want an easy life, but they don’t want to work hard to achieve their goals. They should focus on achieving their goals first and forget about relationships. Some relationships make them be distracted. They should also know that all that glitters is not gold. Making First Class in the university is very easy, only if they will abstain from cultism, partying and playing school politics.

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