Emmanuel Ohuabunwa is one of the exceptional talents of Nigeria; he was taken to America as a child and was a victim of racism but he came out strong and on top. Emmanuel, who hails from Abia State was adjudged as having the highest honours during the graduation that was held on May 24 this year. He made a Grade Point Average of 3.98 out of 4.0 to bag a degree in Neurosciences in the University.
For his efforts, he has won a scholarship to Yale University to pursue a degree in Medicine.
Besides, he has been inducted into Phi Beta Kappa Society, a prestigious honour group that features membership of 17 US Presidents, 37 US Supreme Court Justices, and 136 Nobel Prize winners.
Emmanuel was born in Lagos, Nigeria and attended Lilly Fields Primary School, Lagos. He left Nigeria after his Junior Secondary School education at Air Force Comprehensive School, Ibadan, Oyo State.
“My parents moved the whole family when I was 13 years old. I was about to begin SS1 at Air Force, Ibadan. When I got to the US, I was enrolled with my age mates, which meant at 13, I was in middle school. I went to Fondren Middle School, which was in the middle of the ghetto. That was one of the darkest years for me because I encountered a lot of peer pressure. Some of the students, ignorant about Africa, bullied me and called me names such as ‘African booty scratcher’ because to them, Africans were dirty and scratched their butts all the time.
“Some asked me if I lived in mud huts and ate faeces for breakfast. I remember one day, when I was walking to the school bus, a boy came from behind and punched me in the face, called me an African and walked away. It took everything in me not to retaliate. I knew that God had put me in the U.S for a purpose and it did not involve fighting or selling drugs or doing the wrong things. “My experience during that year gave me a thick skin. I learned to stand for what I thought was right even when the opposition seemed insurmountable. I also learned to look at the positive in all situations. Even though these kids were bullying me, I was still gaining an opportunity to school in America and nothing would stop me from making the best of this opportunity.
“The shocker was that the kid that punched me in the face was black. I would have expected the blacks to be nicer to me. Nevertheless, I don’t blame those kids because they were ignorant about Africa. All they knew about us was the stuff they had watched on TV or documentaries, showing primitive African tribes, living in the jungle and making noises like monkeys. “In regards to the whites, there might have been some minor episodes but again I don’t blame them for it because it is a problem with stereotypes,” he said.
But in spite of this humiliation and racial prejudice against him, the first in a family of three was not discouraged. He faced his studies and was always coming top in his class. After he completed his middle school education, he passed the entrance examination to DeBakey High School for Health Professions. It was at this school that his interest in neurosciences and medicine started.
“I knew I wanted to go to the best school in the US. I had heard that Johns Hopkins Hospital had been ranked the number one hospital in the US for the past 21 years and I wanted to be in that environment.’’
Worried that his parents might not be able to sponsor him to the university, Ohuabunwa purposed to work very hard. He did and when the result of the PSAT came, he performed so well that he won the National Achievement Scholar. By virtue of this award, he received certificates of recognition from various organisations including senators from the Congress of both Texas and the US. He also received scholarship from the University of Houston; Rice University, Texas A&M Honors College and many more. He had also won the Principal’s Award during the annual awards ceremony at DeBakey High School.
But his breakthrough came when he won the Bill and Belinda Gates Foundation full scholarship to any University of his choice. He worked hard and gained admission to Johns Hopkins University to study Neurosciences.
Speaking on what does he considers to be the missing links in the education sector of Nigeria when compared with that in the US, Emmanuel said unpredictable academic calendar, corruption, examination malpractice and inadequate funding were some of the problems confronting his home country’s university sector.
“There were a few problems with Nigerian higher education that contributed to our emigration in 2003. The first was the number of strikes that occurred in schools. It took my uncle seven years to graduate with a degree that should have taken him only four years. A second problem was the corruption. We had heard of people going into universities, because they paid someone to look the other way. I also heard of a few cheating scandals, where people would pay someone to take their exams for them or get a copy of the exam a few days before,” he said.
Upon completion of his programme at Yale, Emmanuel said he would like to come back to Nigeria.
“I am absolutely interested in the health care policy decisions in Nigeria. Because there are many changes that need to occur, I will not rule out the possibility of coming back after my studies, in order to join hands with the leaders to make these changes possible.”
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