Most students think of school as a one-way street, allowing movement in one direction and to one destination only. The choice is inevitable between academic excellence and socio-practical achievements. You cannot be both gregarious and a genius. You cannot have it both ways, they say. They are like oil and water – incapable of mixing freely. But one man has proved them utterly wrong; his name – Daniel Nkemelu Kelechukwu.
Daniel, who unofficially adopted the middle name “Oluwaseun” out of love for the Yoruba culture, graduated from the Department of Computer Science, University of Ibadan, last year with a perfect Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) of 7.0. His academic pursuits did not, however, deter him from engaging in numerous co-curricular activities, from debating to politics and entrepreneurship. Daniel is perhaps a classic example of what you call “the perfect student.”
In this interview with ‘Kunle Adebajo, The Transverse burrows into the magnificent mind of Daniel Nkemelu, unveiling who he is and what he expects from the future. He also bares his thoughts about national politics, education, his days as an undergraduate, and the secret to his outstanding academic feats.
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TT: How does it feel finally achieving the peak of academic excellence within the university, a perfect GGPA?
DN: If I could describe how it feels in two words, I would say humbling and challenging. When you look at the University of Ibadan; its reputation and history, it’s a very huge privilege to achieve such a feat. Also, the countless graduates of the University of Ibadan who have gone on to do great things; they serve as motivation for me, so I strongly am not carried away. I want to move on to greater things for, in the words of Dr Jonas Salk, the greatest reward for success is the opportunity to do more.
TT: You were also once awarded as the Overall Best Graduating Student in the National Diploma Category at Yaba College of Technology. What do you reckon having or doing differently that paved the way for both huge feats?
DN: Nothing different, nothing special. I studied a course that I enjoyed reading and practising. I would however say that my experience at Yaba College of Technology was influential to my success at the University of Ibadan.
TT: Have you got any particular hobbies? And what are they?
DN: Watching movies, reading, watching and playing football, and playing Scrabble. I also love to hang out with family and friends. Trust me; I use my leisure time well.
TT: How would you paint a perfect day for Daniel Nkemelu?
DN: Hmm. My days come in different forms and colours and each one presents an interesting array of opportunities and experiences. I try to stay positive daily. Modelling a perfect day might blind one from seeing the hidden beauty in those seemingly bad days.
TT: What virtues and ideals are you driven by?
DN: I believe that my life has a purpose and its meaning is derived from my spiritual dependence on God. I also believe that life’s best work is in service to humanity and the central idea of all our endeavours should be to improve humanity, to spread kindness and happiness and to leave the world better than we met it.
TT: If you become the President of the Federation, considering your love for Nigeria and inter-ethnic integration, what policy will you put in place towards achieving this ideal?
DN: Issues relating to tribal and inter-ethnic cohesion can be found in many other places around the world. So it is not a Nigerian problem. It’s a global challenge. However, Nigeria’s issues go way beyond the surface.
We have several people who are more emotionally attached to their tribe or political associations over common-sense, truth, justice, merit and fairness; and this leaves only very few Nigerians. These are concerns that, ideally, education would solve. Sadly, this is not the case. This implies that for every extra year that we continue with the current shameful neglect of our educational sector, Nigeria is thrown a decade backward as a country. What we need before anything else is a renewal of individuals and this renewal can come from proper education. Even a line of the University of Ibadan anthem says “a mind that knows is a mind that is free”. It is this renewed mind that will transform families, institutions, political and economic groups and then the state. Each time we sing the National Anthem, we proclaim to serve our fatherland with love and strength and faith. But how many people even know the meaning of compatriots? How can you keep what you said but don’t understand?
TT: Having spent several years within it, what is your candid opinion of Nigeria’s university system?
DN: Saying that the system needs an overhaul would be simply repeating the obvious. It is a discussion we can’t exhaust in few sentences. I once gave a talk where I called the phenomenon which we currently face in Nigeria “an academic paradox”. We are told that education is vital; and yet attention is not placed on it. It’s confusing really. We place value on the wrong things. Look at a school like Ladoke Akintola University of Technology for instance. I personally know promising young Nigerians whose plans have been put on hold for the past one year. Yet we have federal, state governments and a Ministry of Education. The truth is, with continued underfunding and strike actions, our universities would remain in intensive care unit. The university administrators may be capable but, even though I’m not a medical student, I know you won’t perform a brain surgery with just plasters and bandages.
TT: How do you think Nigerian varsities can better harness the hidden potentials of the nation’s bulging youth population?
DN: I think we have a problem at the point where the industry intersects with the academia. Schools and the industry run in parallel, and as a result graduates may not be fully equipped with what is required to make significant contribution in the ‘real world’ – emphasis on ‘may not’. In software development, part of what we call the ‘agile process’ is to continually get feedback from the owner of the software and to implement these changes iteratively. The Nigerian Universities Commission needs to work with the universities and policy makers to review the curricula to match global trends and industry needs. Schools should organise more workshops, hackathons and skill development programmes for the students. Students who show vocational skills and entrepreneurial promise should be encouraged and the university should run an environment that fosters creativity and allows students’ voices to be heard.
According to James Bryan Conant, the 23rd President of Harvard University: There is only one proved method of assisting the advancement of pure science (permit me to rephrase this as education, for arts have a scientific soul and all the sciences are artistic) – that is picking men of genius, backing them heavily and leaving them to direct themselves. The methods of the past are no longer sufficient to solve the problems of the future. Therefore, anything that would encourage critical thinking, creativity and complex problem solving in young people should be encouraged.
TT: Why Computer Science as a course of study?
DN: Growing up with no access to computers or technology of any form, I always thought of efficient ways to solve problems and this curiosity was the reason for my interest in the computer and its applications.
Computer Science is about problem-solving; creatively solving problems using computation, and this allows you work at the intersection of several disciplines. I foresaw the proliferation of technological solutions in the future and I wanted to be a part of that future. So by the time I was writing my final exams in high school, I knew exactly what I wanted to study and why.
TT: In what other activities (i.e. other than strictly curricular ones) did you engage during your undergraduate days?
DN: Haha. Well, part of my aim on entering the University was to be a perfect example of one who created a balance between school and other activities and I think I was able to do that. I held positions in the executive council of the students’ association of my department. I served as the Chairman of the Faculty of Science Independent Electoral Commission in 2016. I served as the Chairman of the Sultan Bello Hall Ivory Tower Awards Planning Committee in 2016. I also volunteered for non-profits like One Voice Initiative. There were several other responsibilities and competitions I took part in. 🙂
TT: Where do you see yourself 5 years to this time? What should we be looking forward to?
DN: I strongly believe in the power of technology and innovation to improve lives, solve basic and complex problems, drive inclusive economic growth, create employment opportunities and revolutionize existing industries in Africa and the world; so I would be working towards playing a key role in this development by that time.
TT: Any advice to the government of the day?
DN: Former U.S. President, Barack Obama said once that “we have an obligation and a responsibility to be investing in our students and our schools…’ To save our nation, we must first save our education. If we keep heading into the obscure future without headlights, the result will be fatal. And because preserving our future is a serious matter, we need less betrayal of public trust and more patriotism, less dishonesty and more integrity, less lip-service and more action. My patriotic duty is to support the government; the government’s duty is to uphold its promise to improve the welfare of the Nigerian people.
TT: Any advice to students of various high and higher institutions of learning across the country?
DN: The first devastation of an average Nigerian student is the realization that he has been betrayed and short-changed. The inadequacies that abound may make us despair or be discouraged, but that is not an excuse to not reaching our potential because that would be even more tragic than the former. Nigeria needs intellectual leaders and an informed citizenry to push us to the next phase of our development. We need to ask more questions, read more and learn more. In the words of Mark Zuckerberg, “change starts local.”
Even global changes start small — with people like us. In our generation, the struggle of whether we connect more, whether we achieve our biggest opportunities, comes down to this — your ability to build communities and create a world where every single person has a sense of purpose.