The day was lit with joy, and the euphoric atmosphere was filled with excitement. It was the day 18-year-old Nigerian, Daniel Obaji, was recognised and listed among the ‘Seven Inspiring Graduates Who Symbolize Hope for a Better World’ by New York University, Abu Dhabi campus in the United Arab Emirates.
Daniel who is still in his teens had an exceptional standing among the 275 students from 75 countries recently presented with their degrees at the NYU. This was because he broke NYU Abu Dhabi’s record to emerge as the youngest undergraduate degree recipient and also due to his inclination for academic brilliance.
A native of Abia State, Daniel was born to a mum from Edo State. He is from a humble family which could be likened to be low-income because there were many times it struggled to pay children’s school fees, including Daniel’s. Specifically, he was bred in a small town called Igarra in Akoko Edo Local Government Area of Edo State. While the dad works as a produce buyer, the mum makes a living as a community health worker.
Daniel who started schooling at two also attended Gloryland and then later took a scholarship examination to attend the Federal Government Academy in Suleja, Niger State, in JSS3. Young Daniel was very studious as a secondary school student and his bookish commitment manifested in his academic excellence when he wrote his senior secondary school examinations. “I completed secondary school education at the age of 14. That was in 2014. I have always been the youngest in my class. I got 8 ‘A’s and 1 ‘B’ in my West African Examination Council (WAEC) result. I recorded the only ‘B’ in English Language,” he said.
“While in secondary school, I studied a lot for many hours daily. During ‘extension’ periods, we used to have mathematics and revision classes. I used to spend about eight hours every day studying, aside from classes and other class assignments. After meals, I always went back to my studies and returned to bed late. We also had good teachers. I actually did not set any goal to make ‘A’s. I basically studied just to excel. I ensured I covered the syllabus for each subject. I was happy to get the best result in my school,” the young scholar disclosed.
ADMISSION TO NYU
Daniel seemed to be cut out for the best. With his dedication to studies, he seemed to be embracing and romancing excellence in his soaring heights. Although he could have gained admission to study at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where he had already put in for the post-UTME, but he might as well be denied means to forge ahead. He was only and 14-yeard-old then. And when one remembers the story of the 15-year-old Franklin who made the best result in the 2019 UTME and his likelihood of not being admitted into University of Lagos due to his age, one may understand better how Daniel’s case too could have been.
“Even if I gained admission into those schools, I might have not have been granted admission because of my age. I did not follow through with the application process because I had moved to Abuja to prepare for my SAT as I planned to leave Nigeria for further studies,” he said.
Having good teachers and mentors is a catalyst to success in life. Daniel’s story does not appear too different. Based on advice from his mathematics teacher, he enrolled for the Education USA program at the US Embassy in Abuja after his secondary school education. “I got access to advisory services at the US embassy. There was a mathematics teacher in our school who told me about the programme. I was in Igarra. The teacher called my parents and asked them to take me to Abuja. At Abuja, I prepared for the SAT in three months from August to October 2014,” he divulged.
Being guided under passionate counsellor at the US Embassy, Ms Sade, Daniel got information about NYU Abu Dhabi and all the necessary things he had to do to get admitted. In January 2015, he was called for an interview at NYU Abu Dhabi; hence, he left Nigeria for the first time from February 5 to 9. Later on 21st of the month, he got accepted on a full scholarship to study at the university.
PREFERENCE FOR BIOLOGY OVER MEDICINE
It is a common truism that when the desirable isn’t available, the available becomes the desirable. Daniel epitomized this maxim in his choosing Biology instead of Medicine; more so, in the Middle East instead of the US or the UK. Aside the architectural attractions and endearing facilities which captivated him when he journeyed to Abu Dhabi at first, the cost of medical school in the US and UK was another factor to dissuade him from studying Medicine and opting for Biology.
“I opted for biology because of some reasons. I wanted to study medicine but I changed my mind in my second year. Medical schools, especially in the US, are very expensive. The schools are also pretty difficult to get into, especially for international students. Getting funding is usually very difficult. I could not convince myself to go for medicine. I met some professors at NYU and saw a couple of researches which further fuelled my interest in biology. NYU was also very attractive and there are a lot of resources for students to excel. They make life easier for you,” he said.
GUNNING FOR DOCTORATE NOT A MASTER’S DEGREE
The stress of transition from one academic phase to another could be very demanding. Therefore, if one could genuinely boycott one for phase for the next, why not do so? Unlike Nigeria and some other countries, many universities the United States allow bright students with first class honours to proceed to doctorate degree inasmuch as they could convince the institution of their research abilities. Daniel took advantage of this opportunity; hence, he will be in the New York come fall for his PhD in Biology.
According to Daniel, “I applied to the PhD program at NYU after reading about the school. I attended an interview with some professors in New York in February and I got the offer a couple of weeks afterwards. The professors were interested in what kind of research I had done and why I was applying to the program and why NYU specifically. The offer is a fully funded opportunity.”
“A lot of United States’ PhD program allow students to apply straight from undergraduates so far you are interested in a definite area of research and have some experience. When I was researching PhD and master’s programs, I was happy I didn’t have to get a master’s degree before doing a PhD. My PhD focus is computational biology. That is what I am planning to do,” he added.
Daniel plans to be deeply preoccupied with scientific research and also to work more independently in his chosen career. Meanwhile, by the age of 25, the coast will seem clearer on where his feet will stand more in the sands of time. Yet, he has not ceased being grateful for the opportunity, parental support and mentorship he has enjoyed so far in his academic pursuit.
“I have not thought about where I am heading after my doctorate. The doctorate is between five and six years so I should be done at the age of 24 or 25. I am excited about the opportunity and thankful to my parents, teachers and advisers for their support,” he noted.
One of those who have congratulated the scholar on his sterling academic feat was the Senior Special Assistant to Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari, on Foreign Relations and Diaspora, Abike Dabiri-Erewa.
“At 18, Daniel Obaji is the New York University Abu Dhabi’s youngest ever graduate. Daniel will enrol for his PhD in biology in New York this September, focusing on computational biology, which is a combination of computer studies and biology,” she wrote on Twitter.
Daniel’s towering academic heights depict that young Nigerians too can excel in whatever they dedicate their time and efforts to. Importantly, it has to be borne in minds of Nigerian youths that hard work does not kill but pays when accompanied with patience and perseverance. If Daniel could have gone this far at 18, any Nigerian youth from humble beginning too could even go farther. The path chosen should, however, be legitimate and genuine.
Significantly, it is high time Nigerian government and the administrators of tertiary institutions, especially Nigerian universities, reviewed their admission policies, which appear to dissuade many brilliant but young people from forging ahead. Global trends have proven that age is not really a determinant to academic capacity; and if our government or administrators are yet still in doubt, Daniel’s case is an eye-opener. There is no better time to review those antique policies than now!