Lilian Nwekwo emerged as the best graduating student of the 2018/2019 academic session in the Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Enugu State.
She tells ALEXANDER OKERE how she made 20 distinctions out of 21 available courses in her professional examinations.
Pharmacy is regarded as highly competitive in public universities. What convinced you to go for it?
I love the health profession and I’m interested in drug production, procurement and dispensing. It wasn’t my first choice but I changed my course (Combined Biological Sciences) to it (Pharmacy) when I discovered my passion for it.
How easy or difficult was it for you to secure university admission?
I didn’t get the course I initially selected. My first choice was Medicine.
How did that affect you?
I felt quite down initially and knew I had to work harder. I, however, got into university immediately after completing secondary school education. I attended St Peter’s Catholic Nursery and Primary School, Ajaokuta, Kogi State. I had my junior secondary education at Staff Comprehensive Secondary School II, Ajaokuta. Later, I had my senior secondary education at Federal Government Academy (Centre for the Gifted and Talented), Suleja. I’m grateful to God and my family that I had a good foundation as they were really good and prestigious schools which offered me a good stepping stone. I made four As, four Bs and one C4 in my West African Senior School Certificate Examination result.
Is the Federal Government Academy, Suleja, really for only the gifted and talented or is it just part of the name of the school?
It’s for the gifted and talented, and it’s part of the name as well. Exams are written and the students are on Federal Government scholarship.
What was the most difficult challenge you had to surmount in your first year at the University of Nigeria?
Running for classes and getting to know the school environment without getting lost was the most difficult challenge. But they weren’t really much of a problem to me as I had good friends who made the whole process a lot easier.
Many first-year students set target for themselves. Did you do the same?
Yes, I did. I wanted to graduate with a First Class and be the best I could.
How did you study at university? Did you read overnight, in your hostel or at the school library?
I read mainly at the school library, then, sometimes, in the hostel as I always had roommates who wouldn’t disturb. I’m not really a midnight person. I like my sleep.
At what point did you notice that you were headed for distinctions in your department?
That was after my first professional result was released and I made all distinctions in it. I realised I could keep at it by God’s grace. So, I decided to try. I do that most of the time. I just try.
What did you do to ensure that your academic performance did not drop below your expectation?
I tried to be consistent because I discovered that consistency would beat intensity 100 per cent of the time. So, I put in hours daily to read no matter how little.
As a young lady, how did you avoid distractions?
I had a to-do list for each day and I had good and supportive friends. So, I was able to stay on track. I had a measure of fun but you know schooling is the major purpose of university life. So, I tried not to deviate too much.
How did you balance your academic study with your other obligations?
I was a member of the Nigerian Federation of Catholic Students and the Guild of St Anthony of Padua. These groups were also supportive in my quest to do well. Some teachings helped me to stay grounded. I made sure I allocated time for both (academic study and religious activities) without letting any suffer. It’s more like balancing – give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give to God what belongs to God.
Friends are influential. What type of friends did you have and were you selective?
I had very amazing male and female friends. I didn’t keep such a large circle of friends but I was friendly and nice to everyone I met. These friends also motivated me and helped me do better. Of course, I was selective with my close friends because I knew that the friendship you keep can either make or mar you. So, I wanted to be as supportive to my friends as they would be to me, too.
Did you have a social life at school, like attending parties?
I had a social life at school but it was done with a balance. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
Were there times you almost gave up on making good grades at school?
I didn’t have such times. My parents and siblings would always motivate and encourage me even when things weren’t so smooth. My parents would always say nothing good comes easy. So, I knew I had to keep on putting the effort.
What was your saddest moment at university?
It was the loss of a friend. I found it most disheartening. Dying at such a young age was quite hurtful.
What were the factors that propelled you to study hard?
I wanted to do my best, make an impact in society and make my parents proud.
How many distinctions did you make?
I made 20 distinctions out of 21 distinctions in the professional Pharmacy courses.
Did you expect that you would make a distinction in more than 10 courses?
As time went by, I believed I had what it took to make good grades and I was very happy and grateful to God for it. The joy was indescribable!
What can prospective pharmacy students do to excel in the course?
I advise the prospective pharmacy students to always work hard, pray, keep at it, and strive to be better. There’s always room for more.
Which area of pharmacy would you like to specialise in?
I would like to specialise in the field of epidemiology in public and global health. I’m holding on for my internship and writing exams for it.
Why do you want to specialise in epidemiology in public and global health?
I’ve always had passion for health and I know that studying diseases, their spread and control would bring about a healthier population.
Most first class graduates are offered automatic teaching jobs at university. Are you interested in teaching?
Yes, I am interested in teaching as I would love to transfer what I’ve learnt to the younger ones and to give back to the society.
What do you hope to do differently as a pharmacist?
I don’t think I’m focused on doing things differently. I’m more interested in acquiring core competencies in health that would put me on the global map. With each passing year, there is always a new challenge, like the COVID-19 pandemic. So, my focus is to take steps that would deal directly with any contemporary problems.