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Meet Ademola Tokunbo-Ishola, First Class Graduate Of Urban And Regional Planning, UNILORIN

Solomon Ademola Tokunbo-Ishola is a First Class graduate of the Department of Urban and Regional Planning, University of Ilorin, Kwara State, for the 2021/2022 academic session. He graduated with a CGPA of 4.6. In this interview by TESTIMONY ISHOLA, he speaks about his academic journey and how he achieved this feat.

What is your schooling background like?
I moved from school to school. I did my nursery school at Little Toes Montessori School. I did a bit of my primary school Little Toes before changing to Logic Junior Primary School and then to Tori Schools where I finished my primary school. For my secondary school, I attended Baptist Boys’ Academy, Obanikoro, Lagos State, for just a term. Then, I moved back to Logic International School where I finished my secondary education.

I have always been in school. I think that has a lot to do with my family values, among which was the fact that education is very important. I remember doing my common entrance in primary 3 just to test me and I passed, even if I didn’t proceed because I was too young.

After exams, my parents would look through my answer sheets and report cards and grill me. This has helped me right from when I was little to be among the best.

Why did you decide to study Urban Planning?

It’s a funny story. On the other hand, it wasn’t. The backstory is that, when I was in junior secondary school, I sat behind a senior during technical drawing and they were building stuff and I loved what it looked like — the way he was drawing and all.

I applied for Architecture when I took the JAMB examination in 2016, but my score wasn’t high enough. So, when I went to the JAMB centre to figure out what to do next, I saw Urban Planning on the list of courses that the University of Ilorin had offered me, and I thought to myself “Architecture is the design of structures and buildings while Urban Planning is the design of cities. So, it’s still a design thing.” I went with Urban Planning instead.

How did you feel when you found out you graduated with a first class?

I had a big dream since I was in 100 level that I wanted to graduate with a first class. I had it in the bag since then. In 300 level, I already knew that I was on track. However, I wavered a bit in my final year when I had to do a course that had to do with research and I somewhat struggled with it.

So, one day, I made a spreadsheet of my grades from 100 – 500 level and checked how low of a grade I could get in my final year project that wouldn’t make me graduate with a first class and I exceeded my expectations. I already knew I was graduating with a first class, but was excited when I saw the graduating list from the school.

When did you discover you were in first class and what motivated you to keep going?

I don’t want to sound prideful, but I started leading as a first-class student in 100 level. My first CGPA in 100 level was exactly 4.5 and the only reason I didn’t have more than that was because of those general courses that seemed like the lecturer in charge was out for blood.

Quite a few things motivated me to keep going. One of them was the ‘scholar money’ that Unilorin gives to the best student in each class every year. At 100 level, I was living with two of my cousins who were in their final year and they always joked that if they didn’t get the scholar money, then I should be able to get it.

They never allowed me to do anything, just wake up and read, especially on weekends.

What was your study pattern like? Did you have a social life?

I always say that I don’t know how to read so I didn’t particularly have a study pattern. However, I never missed classes and I always participated actively in class and jotted down important things.

My social school life was practically non-existent. The only things I can count as social life consisted of going on campus to use the school Wi-Fi to download all the seasons of ‘Game of Thrones’ or occasionally going to Viva Cinemas to watch the latest movies.

If you had not studied Urban and Regional Planning, what would you have preferred to study?

The obvious answer would be Architecture. But, I also have another course I would have liked to study and that is Theatre Arts, also known as Performance Arts. It seems like an exciting field and I can be quite dramatic.

Who were/are your role models?

Wole Soyinka, for one. I like his appearance and his brilliance. But seriously, my role models are mostly people who are ahead of me academically. A good example is my grandfather whom I am named after — he is a PhD holder and this has always made me conscious of academic excellence. It also helps that I had very nice lecturers who genuinely took an interest in me because of the love for their work. For example, Mr A.O. Anofi is one of the lecturers who left an impression on me. Another role model that I met through one of my lecturers is Ifelanwa Osundolire, who has been a fantastic mentor and role model. I admire these people for their values and commitment, amongst other things.

Lastly, my parents have been great role models. I wanted to build myself around people with good and strong work ethics and who have value for the dignity of labour.

What were the things that helped you as an undergraduate?

As I mentioned earlier, the University of Ilorin ‘scholar money’ was a huge help. I believe that a good number of people who attend federal universities do not do so because they believe these institutions offer top-notch education, but they go because it is affordable. So, getting that kind of money, for me, was a huge help.

Also, my first set of roommates in the university — my cousins — put me on the straight and narrow path. I also think that having a genuine interest and determination to do well also incredibly helped me.

Would you say your choice of friends influenced your grades?

Not really. I’ve always felt like it was easy to separate the work from the people. My friends were brilliant in their own ways, but we all had different goals that we were working towards. I must also mention that most of my friends are older than me so I look up to them and wonder if I can reach where they are or even do more than them.

What are your career plans? Do you intend to practice with your degree?

In a perfect world, yes. Urban and Regional Planning is an amazing discipline. So, yes, I would like to practice. I don’t like the idea of studying a course in Nigeria and going abroad to practice, even though the opportunities to work with this course abound more abroad than in Nigeria. However, with the way Nigeria is, I would probably have to go into tech.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I see myself in tech and making money from it. It’s either I’m working in a multinational where I can use the concepts I’ve learned in Urban and Regional Planning to create more insight into the development of urban areas or I’m completing my PhD in an Urban Planning-related field.

What challenges do you think is facing the Nigerian tertiary education system?

Specifically to Unilorin, the transportation system sucked. You’ll be thinking of how to get to school or how to leave school. Ninety per cent of the time, you won’t be able to give classes your full attention. These problems differ from school to school. However, generally, infrastructure needs to be improved. Also, lecturers should be more accommodating to their students.

Any advice for undergraduates striving for excellence like you?

Honestly, to each his own. But, as a rule of thumb, always try to know who your lecturer is and what they expect from you. It’s one thing to know your stuff but another thing entirely to know what your lecturer wants. If you don’t understand what your lecturer wants, you’ll fail even if you know it all.

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