“I gave up things I Love, just to graduate with first class”

Onakoya Oludare, a 25 year old, who could not make first class as an undergraduate at the Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago Iwoye, Ogun State, where he studied Law, made it in Law School in 2016 and that was a milestone for him.
In an interview with Punch he speaks on the things he did differently.
Read the interview below:

Did you have any specific target when you were an undergraduate?

I didn’t really plan to have first class in the university. I just wanted to give it my all and satisfy myself that I had given my all, and if that was good enough to have a first class, then good, but if not, then I would still be content knowing that I had given my best. So, I didn’t feel bad, I was satisfied I had given my best and I still finished as one of the best students in my class. So that was sufficient consolation. However, in Law School, I planned to do everything I could possibly do to have first class.

How easy or challenging was it to graduate with a first class from the Law school?

Even though it’s easier to have first class in the Law School than in the university, it didn’t come easy either. Law school was a sprint, while university was a marathon, and you would agree with me that it’s a lot easier to get tired and give up in a marathon than it is in a sprint. However, the workload was much and we were required to really put in a lot of hours if we wished to be at the top of our game. But I knew it wasn’t impossible, so I saw the challenge as one that could be surmounted, and by God’s grace, it was. I became more focused, more so that law school was for a year. So, I was completely focused in my academics for that year, with little time for extra-curricular activities. In my early days in the university, I made it a principle to speak to only those who had excelled in their academics and not people who would tell me all the reasons it was impossible to pass a course. And that helped me greatly.

Is Law what you have always wanted to study?

Initially, I wished to be a pastor, though I can’t remember why. However, I got scared because I felt I wasn’t ready to be in a profession where I would be fighting witches and wizards all the time. No thanks to the Nigerian movies we used to watch then. My elder siblings were both in the sciences and so it was presumed I would also join them. It wasn’t until JSS3 when I discovered I was terrible at Chemistry and Physics that I decided it was possible my talent was elsewhere. I then joined the Art class and the next logical step was to start working towards being a lawyer as I had always been good at logical reasoning and argument, so law just seemed like the perfect choice. Also, I was attracted to the legal profession because of the challenge it presents. I wasn’t ready to settle down for a job where I would be doing the same tasks every day. I wanted a profession that would keep me engaged and challenged, and law seemed to fit in rightly.

Would you tie your success to how many hours you read or there was more to it?

The only thing I can say I did differently was that I read with understanding. I’m sure there are people that read more than I did and put in more hours than I did, but success at the bar finals isn’t necessarily about how many hours you read, but how much you understand. Therefore, I didn’t try cramming anything. I was aware that law school could be very tricky with questions, so I read and ensured that I understood everything I was reading. I also made sure I read during my peak periods, to ensure that I gained most with less time wasted.

Given your target in Law School, were there things you were used to that you left behind?

I like playing computer games a lot, it’s one of my hobbies, but while in law school, I left my game controller at home to allow me to focus more. I also deleted a lot of movies on my laptop and I made sure I didn’t download any new movie to avoid temptation. I kept reminding myself that law school was just for a year and I could afford to starve myself of these things to aid myself in getting my desired result. Then, there was lesser distraction in law school; nobody had time for frivolous pursuits. We all knew what was at stake and so there was no time to waste.

Would you say you improved on your performance in your previous schools?

In primary and secondary schools, I was just above average. I was one of those who used to follow the brilliant students for competitions, to serve as backup (laughs). I think I hadn’t yet figured out what I was really doing. In my first Unified Matriculation Examination, I scored 234, which could not get me Law in UNILAG. I was offered English. After that, I was admitted for Diploma in Law in OOU which I didn’t complete, but the knowledge gained from my brief stay was invaluable because I took the exam again the following year and I had 275. That combined with my Post-UME result made me the candidate with the highest mark in my set of admission in OOU.

What was your typical day like in the Law School?

I made sure I read about the topic we were to treat that day before going to class. After the day’s activities, I would retire back to the hostel to read the topic we covered that day, and then relax either with my friends or see a short movie before going to bed. I believe in reading when my brain is at its best, because I don’t have much stamina for reading. So, I was reading for maximum of three hours daily. I also ensured I got not less than eight hours sleep every night to ensure that I was mentally alert in class the next day. I never subscribed to the idea of reading all through the night and then sleeping in class. I believe most of the work was done in class, so I always ensured I had a good night sleep. Also, I wasn’t the type to use the library often. I only visited the library once during my stay there. I thank God for my roommate who was a really understanding guy, so I did most of my reading in my room. My reading pattern was quite simple, I would read a page, and then explain it to myself in the mirror to ensure I had understood it. Also, explaining to other people really helped me grasp the course contents. A lot of the time, people just read and assume they have understood, meanwhile they haven’t. And like I have mentioned earlier, understanding is key. I also wasn’t much of a fan of forming notes, but I had a sort of key points which I formed during the externship period (court attachment and chambers attachment) which was of great help to me when I was revising for the exams.

These days, a number of students fail in the Law School and have to retake some exams. From observation, why do students fail, more so that they have reduced workload and it’s just a one-year programme?

The workload isn’t reduced at all. There’s so much more to do within so little time. I would attribute the reason for failure to fear. Fear is what makes people panic and start running helter-skelter looking for materials, attending needless tutorials and basically wasting time that isn’t enough in the first place. And once you start being panicky, your ability to pass the bar exams is greatly affected. I must also thank my parents for making sure that I was comfortable. Their assured support helped greatly. They encouraged me and they were a major source of inspiration to me. I owe everything I am to them and God.

Would you like to practise law or you have interest in other things?

I would like to practise law.

Which area would you like to specialise in?

My initial area of interest was dispute resolution; litigation and arbitration, but now that I’m being exposed to the corporate/commercial field, let me just say I’m still undecided. But overall, the complexity and diversity of law really interests me always. Law is multifaceted, complex, voluminous and technical. I agree with that description, but that’s what I find interesting about it. And I like the fact that law isn’t predictable.

What were your most memorable moments?

My happiest moments in school and law school would be when I was called out of the crowd for awards with my mum in the audience. My most embarrassing moment in the law school was when I asked a question in class once and my lecturer basically said it was a stupid question. I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me. Imagine being told your question is stupid in front of 1,700 people. But everything happens for a reason, so I didn’t let that deter me; rather it gave me more incentive as I felt I had something to prove to that lecturer.

Where would you like to work?

I’m currently a corps member in one of the top law firms in Nigeria. It’s a firm I won’t mind staying on with if they would have me. It’s a great place to be. In the immediate future, I wish to explore the world of legal practice to determine the area I would like to do my Master’s in and probably specialise in. My preferred schools for Master’s would be either Harvard or Oxford.

For the benefit of those who see Law School as a difficult phase to go through, what would you say are the basic ingredients of success in academics?

I would point to four ingredients. God, interest, discipline and determination.

Was there anything you did as regards your academics that you would never forget?

Without a doubt, the most extreme thing I did in the law school was when I read Ogbuanya’s Corporate Law Practice textbook from cover to cover in less than 24 hours. I had been having issues with Corporate Law and Practice, so, one Saturday, I decided that one way or the other, I would crack the course. And I started and didn’t stop till I finished. My roommate just kept looking at me like I was crazy.

Knowing that you have to cite cases while answering questions during your exams, were there methods you deployed to help you remember things?

For remembering cases, what I usually did was to take the names of the parties and link them with people I know who also bear those names. So, when I had to remember those cases, all I had to do was remember the person, and I would remember his/her name, and automatically remember the case.

Were there people who saw you as being too serious?

On the contrary, I believe there would have been quite a number of people who were surprised that I made a first class as I wasn’t one of those who used to answer questions or make serious contributions in class, I just did my own thing quietly, I wasn’t always in the library or leading grand discussions on how to pass the bar finals, so I doubt I really came across as being too serious.

Were there times you almost gave up on having first class?

I kept on believing that it was possible, so I never gave up on having first class.

Do you believe in having mentors, and did you have one?

I had a guide during my law school days, Mrs. Opeyemi Awolesi, who finished a few years ahead of me in the university and had a first class from the law school. I do believe in having mentors as it’s easier to see farther when you stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before you.

Thousands of lawyers are released into the system yearly. Are you sometimes bothered about the issues of the country’s unemployment rate, especially as it concerns first class graduates?
I’m not as concerned about unemployment rate as most lawyers usually find one way or the other to get engaged, but I’m really disturbed by the remuneration packages most firms offer young lawyers, with some even going to the extent of saying that they don’t pay new wigs. This has always been the case, but I would really hope something could be done about it. We aren’t complaining about the work load, just that the pay should be commensurate.

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