Jennifer Hilejime, a female first class graduate of the Benue State University (BSU) who is also an orphan, has continued to inspire many with her story. In this encounter with Daily Trust Saturday, she speaks about how she made it, her motivation to success and her plans.
How would you describe your background?
I am from a humble background of seven; dad, mum and five siblings. My parents were civil servants; however, we were more into commercial farming. Though we were not rich, our parents provided our little needs so we never went to bed lacking. I lost my parents (while in JSS3) and two brothers (who were teens). I have two surviving siblings – a boy and a girl. Our relatives suggested we move to the village at a point but my immediate elder brother (late) decided to do farm work to ensure I further my education since he considered me as the intelligent one. I attended Great Bethel International School and came out with one of the best results of 6As and 3Bs in my SSCE.
What year did you gain admission into BSU? What was your resolve after this?
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I gained admission into Benue State University in 2017/2018 through direct entry having completed my National Certificate of Education (NCE) program in 2014. The moment I stepped foot on the campus, I said to myself, “I am going to break the existing record in the department of no first class, but if it’s tough and there is only a 2.1 student, then that must be me.” My goal was to leave a mark of success in the institution. After secondary school, I went into teaching, earning N3000 out of which I saved to register for JAMB, and scored 232. I ended up at College of Education since I could not afford university fees. I studied Maths/Economics and graduated with 13points (one of the highest that year). When I gained admission to study Economics at BSU, that was my happiest moment as I was fulfilling the wish of a dying father who told me, “No matter what, get me a degree.”
What was your aggregate results from 100 to 400 level?
I started through direct entry, at the end of 200 level first semester, I started off with a GPA of 4.64 and Second semester of same level. I had 4.71 as a GPA, making a CGPA of 4.76. In 300 level, first semester, I had a GPA of 4.82 leading to a CGPA of 4.78. Then, in the second semester, GPA of 4.90 was achieved earning me a CGPA of 4.81. With 4.81 as previous CGPA, in 400 level first semester, I had a GPA of 4.56, (a decrease which was as a result of financial challenges) taking me down to a CGPA of 4.77. However, with positive mind, I recovered second semester by making a GPA of 5.00 which resulted to my final CGPA of 4.80.
At what point did you realise you were a potential first class graduate?
I realised I was a first-class candidate the moment I rounded up my NCE program. This was because one of the most feared lecturers (intellectually) in BSU was a product of same college. Having broken his existing records of many years at the College of Education Katsina-Ala, I felt I could as well break his records at BSU (laughing).
This belief however lost its value after graduating from the college and staying home another three years in order to raise money. However, I had hopes of ending well even if it was not with a first class. My faith returned the moment I heard there was a lady on first class in the department (she was a year ahead of me). It then became obvious that to leave a mark, I will have to break her record and create mine. It was at this point that I realised my zeal to make a first class was still alive.
What was your defining moment in school and how did you conquer the challenges?
Permit me to inject a little story: From my three years of work after my NCE program, I saved money enough to cater for my school fees (having made research of how much it will cost). Just as I gained admission, my only brother’s wife was involved in the tanker fire outbreak at Ushongo LGA of Benue State. My father’s house was to be sold (suggested by uncles) for her treatment. I couldn’t bear the thoughts of our parents’ struggles being sold, so I turned in all my savings for her treatment. It was during this period that my name was shortlisted. I reared pigs, so I sold them and processed my admission and paid all that was required, leaving me with nothing.
It was indeed a tough one right from the beginning. From accommodation, feeding and the rest but I was comfortable with the fact of being in the university and reading a course of interest. It was during this moment that, Dr. Joseph Fefa shared his life experience with students in class. This was actually a starting point of more determination for a victorious ending.
So, what were the other challenges you surmounted in school?
Truly, it was not an easy journey. At the college, I was that girl with only one black gown and one shoe, picking pieces of soap in the bathroom to have a clean bath. At BSU, I became more matured. I could hide my tears under my smiles. I could give help to others even though I too knew I needed the help. I lived in a worst environment but was happy I could have a space to keep my table and read. For each night that it rained, I stayed awake to ensure that I control water. I can’t belittle my God and hide His grace over my life. Just when I was about dropping out; I got awarded as Transformative Education Examplar through the office of the first lady (Her Excellency, Eunice Ortom) and this came with financial benefits and I got a scholarship award for being indigent yet outstanding by ASUU national body. I pulled through to the end. I survived the storm. I fulfilled the wish of a dying father. I set a pace for other orphans out there. With determination, we can achieve a goal.
What was your reading culture like and how did that help you achieve this enviable feat?
I had three reading habits. Personal reading: I read just like every other student. However, for every lecture I attended in a day, I browsed the internet to check more about the topic treated, taking note of findings made. Also, I knew my weakness in theoretical courses so; they were more on my private timetable than quantitative courses.
Tutorials: I organised tutorials for my mates. This was my best and most effective reading culture. Any knowledge I shared through tutorials remained with me. By teaching my mates, I master that which I read on my own. Lastly, I had my special team known as ‘like minds’. After carrying out number 1 and 2, we always shared ideas of our individual findings and this greatly influenced our success. God so kind, three of us graduated with first class, making a total of three in a session since the history of the department; Ungwa Dennis (4.5), Damilola Owansonye (4.6) and me, Hilejime Jennifer (4.8).
Apart from reading, what else did you do while on campus?
Daring myself to do the most feared is always a motivating point. There was a believe that a unionist doesn’t do well academically. So, I wanted to see how I could balance studies and leadership. In my quest to test my capacity, I served as Treasurer, Nigeria Economics Students Association (NESA)- BSU chapter; Zonal Coordinator (NESA) North Central geo-political and Education Secretary – Nigeria Economics Students Fellowship where I was saddled with the responsibility of teaching economics across the levels in the department. Beyond the walls of the school, I enrolled in baking classes where I acquired my baking skills which later aided my financial challenges while in school.
Your father’s dying wish may have propelled you to stardom, how exactly did it influence your performance?
His words, “get me a degree!” was a daily reminder. Getting a degree just like every other person wasn’t the aim but a degree that will be a shout-out to my daddy’s name influenced me. I wanted the name “Hilejime Jennifer” to be on the lips of people. Knowing my father well, him saying ‘get me a degree” was more than just getting the paper, so even in death, I wanted to get him a degree that will be cherished. I just hope I made him proud enough to rest in peace.
Are you the first female to achieve such feat in Economics in BSU?
No. I am one out of three female first class graduates in the department. However, at this point, I have set a new record of 4.80 which can be broken by others in subsequent years. Until then, let’s celebrate the ‘topper’ of the department until a new king or queen emerges.
What’s your advice to other students who are faced with challenges and those that want to make first class like you?
In simple words, I will say, “do not give up no matter the situation.” Use every situation you find yourself as an encouragement. Do not let your condition mar your progress, instead make use of it for self-development. Grace found me and I pray it will locate those who genuinely need it for sustainability. Above all, every fate is determined by the almighty. Yours may not end with first class, but that doesn’t mean you didn’t do well.
Now that you have graduated, what next?
Success begins when we put to use our gained knowledge and I wish to utilise my knowledge in the real world. I need a platform where I can give my contribution to the growth of the nation. Though it’s my desire to further my education, I look forward to getting a source of income so I can take care of my needs and also assist my siblings to go back to school. I will end by saying, Jennifer is open to any opportunity out there that will give her a chance to prove her worth.