Success, they say, is a product of hardwork and dedication. Being top of one’s class for about two decades is not just a wishful thing; but outcome of a collection of dedicated acts enwrapped with towering intellectual acumen. More so, “to those whom much is given, much is expected,” John F. Kennedy once remarked. Such is the grand-breaking feat of Elizabeth Nwarueze, the best graduating student of the Faculty of Law, University of Ibadan class of 2018. In this interview with The Transverse’s Adeyemi Ayeku, Elizabeth gives insight about her academic journey at the Nigeria’s Premier University and her exploits in and out of campus. Enjoy the excerpts:
The Transverse: May I have a brief introduction about you?
Nwarueze Elizabeth: My name is Elizabeth Chinenyenwa Nwarueze. I am a 2018 Graduate of Law from University of Ibadan. I am also a prospective candidate of the Nigerian Bar. I am a public speaker, a legal researcher and the Membership Coordinator of Streetlaw Advocacy Network; a network formed to offer pro bono legal consultative services to indigent persons in areas of Small and Medium Enterprises, Matrimonial Causes, Registration of Companies and Child Rights among others. I am the third of four children in my family of six and the first person to undertake a career in the legal profession in my entire family (nuclear and extended).
The Transverse: You were recently announced as the best graduating student of the Faculty of Law, University of Ibadan. What does this mean to you?
Nwarueze Elizabeth: I do not take that feat for granted at all. I would say this is because I deliberately took steps towards it and realised that with all the activities I could involve myself with in school and excel at, this activity — the academic activity was quite the principal one. When I received the news, I was humbled that every single planning and prospecting paid off. What it means to me strikes little in my heart than what it means for all who have drawn strength or motivation by my journey. I am very much happier for them. They have proof that balance is attainable. Of course, everyone knows that the heights which men attained were not gained by sudden flight.
The Transverse: How did your parents receive the news that you came top of your class?
Nwarueze Elizabeth: Haha! Might I say that they were not surprised? In my mother’s usual manner, she sang a round of praises and danced like a very proud African mother would. My father gave me a very “powerful” handshake and beckoned on my younger sister to follow my footsteps. He took time out to congratulate me on five years of Firsts! Their reaction meant so much to me. All in all, I believe they were quite not surprised. Doing them proud has been my profession since the day I took my first breath.
The Transverse: What do you think distinguished you from your colleagues or what were the specifics you did to achieve such great feat?
Nwarueze Elizabeth: Hmmm… well. It is very important to understand that there are no “specifics’ for success or excellence. If there were, everyone who is minimally wise would be excellent in academics or life generally.
Just like baking cakes, there are usual procedures but that which distinguishes one baker from the other might be a little more understanding of techniques that work best for such baker’s expected outcome. This is same with attaining some height in academics. As a general rule, which is not hidden, I tried to be very determined, highly focused and alert in my academic surrounding. I also participated in myriads of activities that helped me in developing myself.
What I might call “specifics” was my deliberate effort to set my priorities right even in the din of fatigue and academic weakness. Times came when like every normal student, my academic spirit was totally low. I understood myself enough to know how to bring myself back and up to speed on things. I understood also, the value of spiritual, physical and emotional intelligence in increasing the rate of mental intelligence. I took care of these areas of my life following Steven Covey’s recommendation on Habits of Highly Effective People.
In all things, I cannot underestimate the place of grace. For in vain would I have prepared, planned or practised without God’s grace. Sometimes, I felt I did not do so much to be gifted on a platter of gold.
The Transverse: Have you always been the top since primary school? If yes, what have been your colleagues’ reactions?
Nwarueze Elizabeth: Oh graciously, yes. I am grateful for two decades of unbroken first.
However, in between the Firsts, there have been moments of low scores and confusing subjects. Sometimes, I would never imagine things turning out great in the end. But hey, the end, they say, justifies the means, right?
On reactions, I am directly unable to point out the emotions of people on this subject. As we know, some people might be skilled at giving off a different reaction from what sits in their hearts, but I have been blessed with great friends who have held the torch up in celebration with me. I am always thankful for their genuineness and love.
The Transverse: Upbringing, most times, influence one’s educational performance. To what extent could you say this influenced yours?
Nwarueze Elizabeth: I subscribe to the fact of upbringing being directly affective of one’s educational performance. I owe my performance to a stellar upbringing. I am from a family of six. I was born and raised in Lagos State although we are indigenes of Enugu State of Nigeria. .
My father taught us faith and hard work and well, independence. He is a firm lover of education and promised to train us to any level we choose. My father enjoyed buying our books himself even up until now, with how grown we are. All five years in University, he personally picked out all my law books even when I protested that he should not bother. He believed that every door could be opened with unrelenting hardwork and faith, so he ensured to drill that into us from the period we were able to understand our priorities.
Beyond the triviality of certain decisions my father allowed my sisters and I make as children, I believe it now says a lot about me. Those values never left and I am most grateful.
I believe the first lesson I learned in life was about sacrifice and resilience in the face of tough decisions. My mother was a banker at a very reputable bank until my younger sister was to be born. All I remember at that period was having so many bank staff visiting us and having meetings with my mother. It was until I realised that my mother was resigning her appointment with the bank in order to take care of her three children and the one coming at the time. My parents made this decision at a time when quite a juicy promotion at the bank came for my mother. However, in the midst of the distraction of many choices and conflicting interests, my mother yet decided that it was better for her to resign and put the future of our family first. This decision, when I reflect on it, until today, gives me goosebumps. That was probably the beginning of growing the tough skin I have for making strong and scary but futuristic decisions.
One thing I also respect about my parents is their strong sense of encouragement. When we were young, every end-of-term was the time to select the eatery we wanted to have lunch or the amusement park we wanted to go to and the new clothes we wanted to wear there. The little my parents had was spent investing in our education and celebrating our success to encourage us for the next session or term. When we resumed again with the beautiful memory of “Mr Biggs” or “Sweet Sensation” or wherever, we wanted to do more to impress them in order to go to another “fancy” place at the end of the term. Unknowingly, we were picking up the traits of academic strength and excellence. It was not the case that we never went there at unplanned periods, it was just that it was more special to us when we brought great results home.
We always felt the need to bless our parents.
I consider myself the fruit of two very wise and shrewd individuals. Their qualities of hardwork, sacrifice, management and good parenting has baptised me with a double share of same.
The Transverse: Some are of the opinion that sharing one’s achievements on social media causes more harm than good because at times it causes envy to some persons. Have you had such experience too?
Nwarueze Elizabeth: That opinion is expected. People react to good or bad information in surprising ways. As much as I cannot directly comment on any particular experience with envy of some people, I can state for a fact that forward-thinking people find motivation and strength by success stories. I do.
When people stop sharing their experiences and their journey to excellence with us, then we fall flat thinking that we should be satisfied with our status quo. Success stories shared, should fire more people up to attain unexpected heights!
I still enjoy reading success stories; in fact, I personally scout for them myself depending on what I intend to attain. If possible, I strike on a conversation with “my hero” in that area and get important lessons that would help my journey.
Envy of other people’s success will definitely not guarantee yours! The earlier more people learned that and practised it, the more profitable such wisdom becomes.
Of course, also, in all things, moderation is key.
The Transverse: Most people believe students topping their class are only engrossed with academics and rarely do other things. Were you involved in other things during your stay in school?
Nwarueze Elizabeth: True, that is the usual and often proven belief so, I cannot counter that. However, many times in school, I enjoyed doing many other things that were not directly Law or academics.
I was fully engrossed in administration of societies during my time. Especially Debating Societies. I led Queens Debating Society for two years and was Vice-President of Law Debating Society — a place I had served in as Public Relations Officer. I led the Judicial Council of my faculty and also participated in minor respects in other faculty groups.
I participated in church activities and was an executive member for one year and for Central University Organizations, I was not left out. I joined in the planning of Debating Events and Dinner, wrote speeches and delivered them (for some, there were awards) and deliberately caused changes in every single group mentioned.
Outside the university, I spent time volunteering in groups like Streetlaw Advocacy Network — a network of young lawyers offering pro bono services to indigent clients in various identified areas of Law and business practice. I wrote essays, papers and published some of them. Attended conferences and seminars on lifestyle and Policy, took mentoring interested persons more seriously and representing my school within and outside Nigeria either in Law or public speaking.
These made me a well-rounded student. Academics could not just be satisfying without them. Funny how some lessons I learned from leading and volunteering and writing and mentoring helped me balance myself to reach out and touch my goals.
The Transverse: Can you list some of your achievements outside academics?
Nwarueze Elizabeth: Okay. They include, amongst others, Most Outstanding Finalist, Faculty of Law, University of Ibadan, April, 2019; Most Outstanding Finalist, Queen Elizabeth II Hall, April, 2019; National Best Speaker, Impact Africa Debating Championship, July 2018; Lead-Counsel, Winner, 1st Professor Akin-Oyebode Moot Competition by the Nigerian Bar Association, Ikeja Branch, June, 2018; ACWL Award for Excellent Team Performance, African Finals, ELSA World Trade Moot Competition, April, 2018; Winner, Next SAN Advocacy Contest, July, 2017; Recipient, Nigerian Higher Education Foundation, July, 2017; West Africa Moeroe Price Media Competition, February, 2017; Winner, Professor Pat Utomi’s Prize for Student Debate on Public Policy, February, 2016…
The Transverse: Is there anything you would have loved to do as a student that you couldn’t do?
Nwarueze Elizabeth: I am actually fighting for the answer to this question in my head.
Let’s say… I might have loved to join troupes; not only groups. Especially those in the dramatic arts. Like, a dance troupe or a drama group. Haha. What a marvel it would have been to experience my own self publicly displaying the arts! But I did not do these. I so admired them from afar!
Maybe I would also have loved to own a radio show on Diamond FM. I got an offer to volunteer at Diamond FM in my 300level but turned it down after making an informed decision. I have no regrets but it would have been better if I volunteered to take the news or anchored my own programme.
The Transverse: Would you consider your excellence as a product of your lecturers’ efforts, self-efforts or both?
Nwarueze Elizabeth: Truly, if I passed through an institution well, but can only give credits to myself, then in fact, I should not be considered as an excellent graduate.
The mantra, “it is important for you to pass through school and for the school to pass through you” really defines all my acknowledgement. My lecturers put in effort at every stage to whip me into understanding the Law, I consolidated their efforts by reaching further on my understanding. My friends took time out to rub minds with me sometimes. Indeed, there were groups I was thrust in that determined a part of my grades. These interrelationships were not just coincidence. My excellence is a product of all these.
The Transverse: What’s your take on the legal profession in Nigeria vis-à-vis recent occurrences prior to the 2019 general elections?
Nwarueze Elizabeth: The legal profession in Nigeria stands currently at the mercy of those in power. It is the sad truth that we have arrived at a dilemma of choosing the overall corruption in Nigeria or corruption in the legal profession. Which is actually not meant to be the case. For the first time in our profession, we experienced equally-weighted differing views on justice. Either justice in its true sense or justice in following procedures.
Ultimately, the unfortunate caricature made of the entire profession that period will not be swept under the carpet so easily, afterall, ours is a profession that operates by precedent.
It is important that we revisit the values that ordinarily qualified the legal profession as a noble one. At this point, with the tide of Nigeria’s democracy and party politicism, only the best hands must be our choice in top judicial roles in defiance of other considerations. This is because, if we do not save our own profession, which saves the masses, then we all fall to our Waterloo.
The Transverse: In what realms per se do you intend to contribute positively to the Nigerian judicial system?
Nwarueze Elizabeth: My interests are in Politics and Democratic Governance, World Trade, Arbitration, Corporate Litigation, Mergers and Acquisition and Oil and Gas. At different times and in different ways, I have contributed to legal knowledge in these areas through participation in legal discourses on the subject -matter and publication of research works.
I am not entirely against the changes that might come with experience. I can only expect to make impact anywhere I have opportunity to influence.
The Transverse: It is a common belief among youths that academic excellence is seldom rewarded in this part of the world. Would you say this is true?
Nwarueze Elizabeth: It is true because in our world, we are faced with the rude reality of misplaced priorities.
In any case howsoever, academic excellence is still recognized and rewarded by a few individuals and organisations and these groups hold the fabric of sanity together but it is still not enough and that translates to the falling standards in our society.
I cannot really say and in fact, I fear for our own generation and the consequent relegation of excellence in academics but we hope all things will yet balance up.
The Transverse: What pieces of advice have you for Nigerian students and youths, desirous of achieving sterling academic feat like you?
Nwarueze Elizabeth: Nigerian students and youth must remain resolute about fighting for the future because we shall be faced with the consequence of our apathy to education and self development. For students, I encourage them to see the journey through education as a rewarding process for the future. It’s our time to gain knowledge, so enjoy gaining knowledge. When it’s time to begin reaping then we shall enjoy reaping.
There is definitely time for everything and time itself ticks off processes. Endurance is key in order to finish and finish strong.