Ekene Ezeunala … Rare gem jambite from Lagos public school
He does not attend a school that is blessed with a state-of-the-art library, air-conditioned classrooms, heavily equipped science laboratory, lush green playing fields, generally plush ambience, or that is sited in an upscale neighbourhood.He is also not chauffer-driven to and from school with lunch packs laced with assorted beverages and confectionaries.
Like some of his schoolmates, Ekene Franklin Ezeunala treks for 45 minutes to get to school- Meiran Community Senior High School, located in Meiran, one of the backwater communities in the state. He repeats the exercise on his way back. But all these imperfect conditions and challenges did not stop him from excelling in the just concluded Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME), organised by the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) where he beat over one million others to emerge the candidate with the best score.
If Ezeunala’s feat shocked everyone else, especially in the light of what public schools in these climes are synonymous with, his teachers and schoolmates were not surprised at all. This is because he has always worked hard enough to remain peak of the pack.
Ezeunala attended a private school in Akoka area of Yaba, but when his parents relocated to Meiran, rather than send him to a mushroom private secondary school, they settled for Meiran Community Senior High School, which was also their son’s preferred choice.
The young Ezeunala said he settled for school after finding out that it once produced a one-day governor, who is usually the winner of the state’s spelling bee competition.Reminiscing his feat, Ezeunala, who is from Imo State said: “It was fine coming tops. When I heard the news, I did not believe it initially. So, I went to sleep, woke up to hear the news again then it dawned on me that it was indeed true, and that I was not dreaming.
“I was also very surprised to hear the news not because I did not prepare well for the examination, but because I know that there are lots of brainy students in Nigeria. So, I felt it would be a difficult task to be able to get to the top position. This was the main reason that I was shocked on hearing my score initially,” said Ezeunala, who said his target was to score 370 and above.
On how he prepared for the examination, Ezeunala, whose father is a retired NITEL staff and mother, a private school teacher said: “I just read and study with my group because I belong to a three-man study group who are my classmates. I read normally even when there is no examination in sight, I study past examinations and I practice a lot with them. The competitions that I have participated in also helped me a lot. Personally, I do not read many hours at a stretch, but I read and play a little with what I have read, and relating them with things in my surroundings.
“Sometimes, I and my reading group members challenge ourselves aside doing private reading at home, but I did not have any special home tutorial from any teacher.”On what prompted the formation of the study group, he said: “We just got attracted as classmates since we started Senior Secondary One because we seem to like the same subjects- mathematics and sciences.
“There is no rigid format in the way we operate, we meet regularly but no fixed time and schedule. Sometimes, one of us can just pose a question and we begin to solve it. But we meet mostly during and shortly after school hours.”Ezeunala’s success in the UTME was not a fluke. He has always been a trailblazer coming tops in competitions where he represents his schools right from his primary school days.
He even had the honour of representing Lagos State during the last Nigeria National Petroleum Competition (NNPC)-sponsored science competition where he finished fourth at the national level. All these notwithstanding, Ezeunala says he does not operate any choky study scheme all in a bid to excel. “After school hours, I go home to eat, bath and watch television for some time and then read my books. I love mathematics, physics and chemistry. So, I read them almost 10 times as much as I read others, but I include them in my study plan.
“My teachers played a very huge role in all of these, and their impact cannot be underestimated. From the encouragement, to advice after participating in some competitions that I did not win, like the NNPC Science Competition, where I came fourth, even though I was targeting the first position,” he said.
On his impression of public schools, especially against the backdrop of what many think about it, he said: “I believe that any student that has an aspiration in a public school is going to go places because there are a lot of opportunities. For any student that has set a goal to achieve, there is no way all the teachers would neglect such a student. There will always be a teacher that would associate with, and share the student’s vision. I also believe that in public schools, there is a lot to gain, even though sometimes situations may make some teachers to be harsh on students and be uncommitted. But in my school, the teachers are dedicated and they teach using the WAEC syllabus.”
He was also full of gratitude for his parents for the great roles they have played so far in his educational pursuits.JAMB said Ezeunala would not be admitted into the University of Lagos (UNILAG) despite being armed with the highest score because he is still underage (15).
Asked if he was not aware that he was ill qualified on account of age to seek admission, he said: “I did not know that I was not qualified for admission into Nigerian universities before I registered for the examination. In fact, I thought students that are above 13 years could be offered admission. This was because I heard of a student that graduated at the age of 19 and being admitted at 14. I thought same applies in Nigeria.”
But does he feel bad about this? He responded: “If we look at some of the greatest minds the world has produced, including Isaac Newton, who was outstanding at 19, you would find out that most of them started early. So, I feel the government should find a way to give younger students that excel admission. If for any reason some young and smart students are suspected not to be emotionally okay, an emotional test can be conducted on them to ascertain their true state of mind.”
He advised his peers in public schools to “just stay focused. In public schools, there are bad and good pupils, so each pupil will determine his fate. People say public schools are thrash, which I disagree with. If you have a goal, you will meet other like minds, interact with them and become a better person.“I have learnt over time that when we walk in groups, we learn a lot from other people; we learn from each other, and what I know I pass across to others and they also share with me what they know,” he said.
Ezeunala implored government to overhaul the syllabus for secondary schools because “there are some topics in Mathematics and Chemistry Olympiad that are never taught in public secondary schools, and when we get to the competition we are rattled by it. In some private schools these topics are taught.
“For instance, in our school, we are taught one to two variable inequalities, but in the Mathematics Olympiad, you get to see five-variable inequalities with absolute function. If the government can include that in our curriculum, we will be at par with countries like India.
On his aspirations, he said: “I plan to study chemical engineering. I have great flair for chemistry and chemical engineering is a platform by which you can change the world, and it is also the backbone of world science.”He equally aspires to study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States on scholarship because the institution has produced some of the best minds in the industry, and has great facilities.
Ezeunala’s chemistry teacher, Mrs. Lydia Chilaka said whenever the pupil represents the school and fails to carry the day, he always feels bad to the point that everyone around will know that something is wrong.Mrs. Chilaka, who started interacting with the whiz kid when he was in SS1 said he has always been very impressive, and making brilliant contributions in class.
Chilaka recalled that Ezeunala and his friend, Ahmed Ramadan, despite being in SSI, upstaged their SS2 counterparts in a pre-competition test scoring 40 and 35 over 50 respectively, as against 23 and 25 points scored by their senior counterparts.“Ezeunala and his two friends are usually willing to learn and would approach her to help solve problems on topics not yet taught in class. I always encourage him not to relax and he keeps pushing because there is a world out there, so he tries not to measure himself by the successes in the school. Many teachers in the school have contributed to grooming Ezeunala. The Head of Department of Mathematics some weekends keep him and his friends busy with academic activities.”
The Principal of the school, Mrs. Taibat Akano said when Ezeunala was first spotted and fished out in SS1 to take part in competitions, his “parents were apprehensive, and did not want him to be distracted. “But I stood my ground and told them Ekene is a child that will achieve greatly. I subtly threatened that if they do not want him to go for competitions, then they should take him away from the school. It worked and they agreed that he should be entered for competitions. That was how the journey started.
“Over the years, the school has been winning awards even before I got here. The school building was given to us when one of our students won the Spelling Bee Competition and was crowned One-day Governor, when he wished that her school should have a new building.”
She thanked the state government, which has put in place a lot of programmes to encourage students, teachers and administrators.
“And the success story cannot be complete without the input of the Tutor-General of Education District 1, Dr. (Mrs) Olufolayimika Ayandele, as she encourages us to be the best.”