How I became best graduating student, broke 55-year-old academic record in Philippines – Fetimi, Ijaw academic genius

By Ebi Oboko

To Engineer Fetimi Bebetebe Balogun, making money at a tender age was not his headache, in fact he never believed in going to school, not until the propelling came from his brother and one of his female teachers he came across in the course of his educational pursuit.

Today, Fetimi is a graduate of Marine Engineering from the University of Cebu in Philippines. Not only that, he broke 55 years old academic record in a foreign Land as he was offered scholarship to study PhD Naval Architecture, Ocean and Narine Engineering in University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland in United Kingdom without Master’s Degree. 

In this interview with GbaramatuVoice, the young engineer shares his experience, challenges and how he attained such a remarkable feat.

First of all, very big congratulations to You Sir. This is a commendable feat, graduating with a First class and being the overall best graduating student of your set from University of Cebu in Philippines, not just any department but from the almighty Marine Engineering in a foreign land breaking 55 years old academic record. That is like a double win, congratulations! So Tell us your story, how were you able to scale through the jungle in the Philippines?

First of all,  I want to give God the Glory for supporting me all the way. It is my great pleasure to share my story with you on how I started a trip, I will call it a life time trip because the journey has actually started right from when I was in my primary school  but going to the Philippines was a more welcomed development to my academic life by the Grace of God.

Well, Philippine is a very nice country, the education system there is very encouraging and there are lots to learn, the education system there is of world standard. As I will narrate, the journey all started with an interest. That is, an interest for change and what kind of change, I only had interest on positive change having the believe that, you can reach the sky one day.

You see, I came from a very remote environment where several of us  believed that ‘One cannot go that very far’  but one day I looked up to the sky and just believed myself that I am created by the  Almighty and that I can go thus far. And the opportunity came to my glaring purposes, I found myself in the Philippines. Going to a country with diverse cultural integration That is, there are a lot of people from far and near countries. So, It was all about determination and The mercies of God. This is the best words I can use to describe my Journey”.

You graduated top of your Set, precisely the 2019 set. Did you deliberately set out to achieve this?

Yeah, one thing with life I always tell people is this ‘Whatever you vividly imagine, deeply desired and enthusiastically act upon must inevitably come to past’. Most times what you don’t believe, what you do not see with the eyes of your heart will be impossible to achieve. So, it is something that I have set for myself but though, the power, energy and grace is given by the Almighty God. 

However, God himself at every point in time want us to plan cause when we plan and dream very big and work towards this plans, God’s Grace will start speaking. So it is something myself wanted because growing up in environment, coming from public and private schools, I will definitely want to create an atmosphere where people can learn from my story because my story, if I narrate from genesis, is quite something that is interesting that will encourage both the poor and rich.

So, I set up a standard from the beginning and you know what it is to set a standard for yourself. It means, you are doing what every other person won’t love to do. So it has been all through that way. Coming to this point in time, graduating with that kind of result is actually something I prepared my mind for. So yes, is everybody’s desire to get to the top but somehow, when expectation meet preparation, success becomes something that is inevitable”.

What are the challenges you encountered as a student at the University of Cebu in Philippines. How were you able to overcome these challenges?

First of all, going to a strange land with diverse culture comes with good degree of challenges. How to adapt to a very new environment, this entails academic environment, the kind of food, the weather condition. They were all big challenges and seeing a very beautiful environment, sometimes, distractions will always come to your thought, but as I rightly said, determination is something that can make you scale through whatever miles of journey you want to embark on. I have to first know the reason why I am there, this definitely helped. Thus, I have to define the purpose why I traveled that far to school and this purpose is for me to ‘Graduate in Flying Colours’.

So after the aforementioned definition, whatever challenges that come along it, I see as preparation to meet the next level in life. So, it’s all about determination coupled with interest. So, I prepared myself, I have to adapt to food and love the strange culture. This is the only secret to overcome whatever standard that has been in place. I had to love the people, I had to love their culture and I had to start integrating myself to know them better. Thus I give credit to determination, interest and ability to adapt”.

What other factors can you say contributed to this success story?

I had to value every little thing I do. When I mean valuing every little thing, I think my colleagues will attest to this. I don’t play with my assignment. If  I don’t get it right, I don’t submit it; because, not getting it right and submitting is like an insult to what you are doing , so most times, I had to go to the instructor to beg for more time and they always granted the request. These are lecturers that always wanted you to findout the reason for the assignment. They wanted you to know.

So I had to go deep and even visit other learning institutes all to properly deal with my assignments and knowledge search. I valued everything, be it assignment or whatsoever. Whatever you are doing is important, you know sometimes, failure is not something accorded to only people who failed. As a matter of fact, we only have people who give up on task when the going goes tough. So one has to value every little thing and put in the required time and efforts. You see, sometimes in the classroom, people give priority to things that are not necessary and decide not to pay attention. I have to give attention to every little thing. At a point, I found out that there are opportunities in what people underrate. I don’t make myself look so important in the classroom because, there were lots of people I needed to learn from. By the time you build a humble learning culture, I tell you, even the sky cannot be your limit because you are actually learning from everyone.

Why Philippines and was there any sponsor?

Yeah briefly, I want to thank The Federal Government under the platform of NIMASA. It was a national call, a scholarship call, and with the help of God, I obtained this scholarship to go to Philippines and study. My name was shortlisted after writing the entrance exams. First, I was thinking, it was a scam and later realized it was for real.  How I found myself in the Philippines was indeed a miracle. So I want to thank NIMASA and the Federal Government.

Can you give us a brief history about your life journey?

I am an indigene of Egbema/ Gbaramatu Kingdoms. As the last child of the house, I was always with mother to the point that I forgot about school completely until an advice came from a loved one that ‘Didn’t I want to go to school’.  I didn’t see the need that time because I saw people making money even without going to school. 

However, I came to realise that learning was very important when my undergraduate elder brother lectured me whenever He was on holiday. I learnt how to read and write from my brother. And on a faithful day, my elder sister took me to school and registered me in primary five, yes I started from Primary five and it was a bitter experience. So, when I got to the class room everything was actually different and strange. I felt like, I was being punished. Based on my brother’s lectures I developed passion for arithmetic (Mathematics) thus, my brother didn’t teach me how to write and you know primary five comes with copying notes from the black board and in no time my teacher found out that my letters were joined and sometimes, I got a stroke on my head for not making logical sense in my writing from my teacher, then I asked why were you flogging me, he would respond “Look at your writing at your level  and this went on and on. On my way back from school one day, I tore my book and disposed them and when my elder sister asked, I simply said ‘My teacher instructed us to leave it in school so that we did not to stain them. At a time, I was just hanging out with friends not even getting to the school gate.

So on a faithful day, one of my siblings visited from the village and opened my eyes saying “you are in the city school, you couldn’t write, while me that is from the village read and wrote very well’. There and then I told myself this school I must go. I understood the challenge so, I bought a book and started copying the note by myself and eventually went back to the classroom. 

Then as a growing child, you know somehow, somehow one could be attracted to the opposite sex. To impress my female counterpart by name Comfort, I went to the class board and wiped part of the note on the board to impress comfort and what followed was a pandemonium. The pupils were furious and angry and in response reported me to our teacher. He walked to me and asked ‘why did you clean the board boy?’ He flogged and slapped me. After school that day, I decided that I won’t go to school again and that I wanted to return to the village.

Thereafter, I encountered a woman that advised that I should be taken back to Primary three from primary five. So, my family took me to another school, precisely ‘Olodi Primary School.’  While in the classroom, my class teacher noticed that I could read, but could not write very well and that my letters were without any meaning. Then she asked, have you been to school before boy?  And I responded by saying ‘no ma, as a matter of fact all this were strange to me ma, that is, school in general was strange to me’. This teacher from that point took it upon herself to teach me. She told me that I was not concentrating enough on the board that was why my letters were jointed and that I needed to concentrate. She usually taught me after school and from there onward, I began to learn and find school more interesting. She picked up my CRK book on a faithful day to check and found out that I underlined Jesus and the rest and when she asked, I simply told her that the underlined words were my answers. Then she said no my dear, this subject we teach it and you go home and study for days and come back to answer questions at the end of the term and not this way. 

Then and there, I concluded that if school is like this then it must be interesting and after her extra classes for two months I sat for my primary three (3) promotion exams and came out third in class. Thus, when I got to primary 4, school became even more interesting and easy. I suddenly realized that the arithmetic my brother was teaching me back home became a valuable tool and I also realized that other kids were not finding this arithmetic thing easy, so at primary four, I started taking first position in class , and moving on I took my primary 6 exams from primary five and I came out with a ‘Merit’, from there I moved to Ugborikoko Secondary School in Effurun back then, I already have good orientation about school after just two years in primary school.

I put my best to my academics there on based on my primary three guidance and encouragement. I started visiting the library at least five days of the week to the point that the librarians became very familiar. On a daily basis, I saw reasons to walk down to the library just to search for knowledge. I think that was where my academic breakthrough all began. I started making meaningful friends.

And from there, I proceeded to the Petroleum Training Institute (PTI) Effurun, although prior to that time, I conceived the idea of doing the most difficult thing, which was to study medicine based on my teacher friend. I realized that people always run away from the most difficult thing and inside the difficult things lie great opportunities. Thus, I was going to do the most difficult thing. I started preparing for medicine and surgery and eventually sat for JAMB that year and made good grade. I actually got a scholarship to Europe for medicine and surgery, but that did not work out as planned. I still got other opportunity to attend University of Benin for same Medicine and Surgery and eventually things started to fall apart again. 

Thus, I settled and found myself at the Petroleum Training Institute (PTI), let me chip in this advice, ‘please, if you are in school don’t go into relationship especially at the elementary level’. I actually entered a relationship that did not work out as expected and till date, I am yet to get my National Diploma from PTI as a result of the wounds from that relationship. I really loved this girl and I could not stop crying. I even missed out from my first scholarship offer as a result of this relationship. I had to go back to the drawing board and ask questions on which other course was difficult and I received ‘law and Engineering’ and I gave the nod to engineering since I was already in the sciences.

Then, the Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) came into the picture. I eventually wrote the entrance exams and passed. So I was given the scholarship to Philippines and when I got to the country, I already knew my fault so I decided against entering into any form of unwanted relationship. I realized that if I return to Nigeria without doing well academically, it will be a blow on my part knowing fully well that opportunities of going to school back home is very slim if I miss the available chance. And this is the short story I have to share.

Can you boldly say that you actualize the goals of NIMASA?

Yes I did, I was able to get the B.Sc. I graduated with the highest honour in my school called ‘Summa Cum laude’ meaning the student with the highest honour in Latin by the Grace of God and I was the only student to bag that award among other awards. Thereafter, I still had to prepare for my engineering license exams which is also part of the building process and by the Grace of God, I sat for the exams and passed also in one sitting and that is why today I can boldly say, ‘I am an engineer cause right now I have OYC and COC as well, making me the officer in charge of engineering watch’ and that was the programme design by NIMASA. Thus, I can boldly say I actually achieved the primary goal. ”

Can you share the NIMASA orientation content

You know sometimes orientations are important. Therein is motivation. We were told that, if we go there and involve ourselves in any illegal activity we will be  sent back home and that if our Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) is low, we could be sent home as well. So there was a standard from day one, on the contrary if you do well, NIMASA was going to pay you extra allowance and further absorb you into their work force and that they will see to the furtherance of your study. From the side of University of Cebu, we were told that if you did well you would get a brand new car and all these were motivations. All these actually guided my heart. So I and some of my colleagues studied so hard even before the resumption of academic sessions, hence I thank God almighty for the glaring achievement. Although some of the orientation promises went into thin air like the case of the brand new car, I still thank God. Note the car was not the most important cause I got reasonable support from the school just as they promised and I am grateful for that also.”

What are your plans for the future

Again, I want thank God almighty for this rear privilege, God is the owner of the future but man has to plan. Immediately after my graduation ceremony, some opportunities came my way and today I can tag this feat as a very big breakthrough in my academic life. A breakthrough in the sense that, it is an indication of recovering the lost years while growing up academically. I was called by University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, United Kingdom for a direct PhD programme, you know normally, after your,  it is Masters degree and the PhD, however as a result of my performance, I skipped the masters and was offered a direct PhD to study Marine Engineering and this is a once in a life time opportunity. 

This story will be a very complete one and something that is going to be very motivating and encouraging to others. The truth is I am seeing people behind me that can actually do better and that is my prayer as well. 

So, getting a direct PhD study opportunity is a very big breakthrough, because I was really thinking that I have to go through the masters programme first. Based on this same achievement, I still got a call from a university in America and because of the emergence of COVID-19 and lack of movement, I was asked to wait. And my prayer to God Almighty ‘if it is his wills, he should provide me a sponsor for the programme at United Kingdom.’ I have received a lot of job opportunity after school, but base on priority, I did not pick any of the job opportunities, outside that I will love to create my personal company. So my next level is the PhD programme that means, if I can get a sponsor within the next few years, I can become one of the youngest professors in my profession because the programme will take just 36 months that is three years. The normal top up was supposed to be the masters but here is a golden opportunity to go for PhD without the Masters. 

Thus, this is going to be another fabulous achievement in humanity at the Academic level cause there are very few persons that get this type of direct PhD platform and I pray that God will bring sponsor, be it NIMASA or whosoever to sponsor this programme and I promise to put in my best for us to have this history to encourage our children not just because of me, it will be a huge encouragement for generations to come I believe.”

Did you at any point contact NIMASA on the Admission Development

Yeah, you know NIMASA is a very big government agency of the maritime body in Nigeria and there is a department called the Seaferers Development Programme (NSPD), they are aware about the development. The Embassy of Nigeria back in Philippines is also aware. The Ambassador to Nigeria in Philippines is also aware. She attended the ceremony and even brought representatives on that faithful day of the award. To her, it is a welcomed development to have someone from Nigeria to attain such a feat because the news actually went round the city. It really placed Nigeria in a high pedestrian because it is widely believed that Nigerians are so associated with drugs and other criminal activities. Thus, the story was rewritten before their very eyes, hence the Ambassador picked interest and she had to fly down alongside delegates for the ceremony. 

Thereafter, the Embassy also wrote to NIMASA in respect to the furtherance, at least the PhD sponsoring. However, I am praying that God will do it because school resumes by next month February 21st, 2021 but because of the sponsorship issue, I am yet to make reasonable progress. I will thank the school, Strathclyde University because all the admission process I did not spend a penny. The school is also waiting to see my commitment that, if I could show a little commitment financially for the programme, the school will further come in with other bit. At least, there should be commitment from me and my government.  Thus, I am begging God that His mercy leads us through”.

In other words, there has been no response from NIMASA and other Authorities?

For now, no response yet and I am still waiting and believing”.

What is your advice to the youths in the Niger Delta?

To my youths out there, especially to the Youths of Nigeria, Youths of Niger Delta region, Youths of Delta States and the Ijaw Youths and to as many that could read me today ‘please whatever you vividly imagine, identically desire and enthusiastically act upon must inevitably come to pass. Several things may be looking very challenging to you but don’t give up. Define your goals, run after them under rain and under the sun. Don’t be scared of setbacks, hence; see that platform as periods of planting for later harvest. Be very appreciative, it is one of the secrets to success. Today I can say, I am very blessed. Be it people in high and low positions. Don’t look down on anybody, be it age wise, colour wise, tribe wise and otherwise. Appreciate people, see the best in them. If that my class teacher did not sit me down and encourage me, I am too sure I won’t be here today.’

So, whatsoever you are doing, it may take time, and you do not give up, you will definitely have a positive story to tell the future, today and even tomorrow. You will definitely have a good story to share on daily basis

Most importantly also, don’t give your eyes too much sleep, while you are young. Wake up and pursue your dream. The first time I boarded a flight I sat close to the window and observed the global World and I whispered within myself that ‘if a man can do this to enable man and cargoes fly from one place to another, I can definitely make it. I mean, you will definitely make it just work it out.’ Don’t be discouraged.

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