The transition from primary school to university can be quite difficult for many students. That was not the case for Dr. Bashir Jelani Usman. Dr. Bashir, an exceptionally talented student, struggled with his studies at first and came close to failing out. Read this inspiring story about a scientist who holds three degrees.
Without knowing my story, one may wonder why I emphasized having three science degrees. I will briefly take you through this interesting journey.
When I was 6-7 years old, I was enrolled in a public Arabic/Islamic primary school located in a town in Kebbi State. Garkuwa Islamiyya Primary School was introduced to simultaneously educate students on both Arabic/Islamic and western education. More than half of subjects in conventional primary schools were swapped with Arabic/Islamic classes such as: Qur’an, Tajweed, Hadith, Seerah, Nahwu etc. The school started with close to 200 students, and I happened to be in the first cohort.
After completing the six-year program, we knew the fundamentals of Islamic religion and could at least write and read Arabic and Hausa Languages, thanks to my first tutors. Unfortunately, only two of us made it to the university level, as far as I know. The other friend has succeeded in obtaining his first degree in the Arabic Language.
The plan was to continue with Arabic since my performance was stronger in Arabic-related subjects. All arrangements to further my studies in an Arabic school were made. However, Almighty God does so many things for reasons not necessarily known to us. Admission and tuition fees were given to someone who would help us make the payment. To date, no explanation! After a long period of waiting, one of my uncles suggested that I should look for another school at least to start. This was how I was enrolled in Government Secondary School Bunza.
The school was supposed to be a boarding type, although I have never slept there. I missed many days without attending school; I joined some of my out of school friends where we mostly went to rivers/lakes for swimming/fishing or go to the bush for hunting. It was great fun! Nevertheless, this was how I spent some three years on/off school.
While I did all the time-wasting, I had ambitions, and I knew I wasn’t on the right track. I wouldn’t say the school was poor, but it was certainly not a great school for someone residing in that town. I dreamt of switching to one of the best government schools in the state, Nagari College Birnin Kebbi. It initially seemed unlikely because of my background and the competition involved, but the almighty Allah made it possible for me.
Moving to Birnin Kebbi to complete the rest of my secondary education was probably the most critical decision in my life. I joined smart, intelligent peers at Nagari College. Almost all my classmates appeared intelligent, focused and ambitious. It wasn’t initially easy because I had to account for the weak background and the time I wasted. I remember crying during my first days in class because I could not grasp anything, while my classmates clearly understood lectures and interacted perfectly with teachers in English. With the help of Almighty God, I quickly adapted and performed excellently.
After completing secondary school, I had an ambition of going to a university. My father was happy and assured me of his support. Unfortunately, he died a few months before starting university. This life is full of challenges!
My grandmother was behind everything I achieved in life. This woman, although unlettered, had a strong passion for education and supported me to the best of her ability. However, I had to make some effort on my part while studying. I barely had three square meals. I knew the pain of schooling in financial distress. The unique grandmother was with me in any difficult situation, and I am delighted she is still alive.
The good news started after my first degree in Applied Chemistry at Usmanu Danfodiyo University Sokoto. I got an offer for a lecturing job (Graduate Assistant) at a university. In the same year, King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM) accepted my scholarship application. I flew to Saudi Arabia not to study Arabic but Materials Science and Engineering. KFUPM (QS world rank = 163) provides fully-funded scholarships to postgraduate students but has only a 4% acceptance rate. While receiving an offer from KFUPM is an achievement, withstanding such a competitive environment is more pleasing due to the university’s high standard.
After my M.Sc., KFUPM offered me another scholarship opportunity for a PhD. A few months later, my scholarship application to Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF) was successful. Through the PTDF scholarship, today, I am celebrating my graduation with a PhD in Materials at the prestigious University of Manchester, one of the top 30 universities in the world. Looking back at how the journey started, I must be grateful to the Almighty God.
My dear younger ones, be self-motivated, follow your dreams and don’t listen to naysayers. I am barely distracted by what people say about me. I have since forgiven them, but I still see people that called me infidel to my face because I chose to follow a different path. I was mocked with names: ‘Mungo Park’, ‘Baban Boko’, and other jargon used against people who decided to follow that direction. Probably because of such societal influences, none of my eleven (11) elder siblings went to the university before me.
There were times when I felt like quitting during my undergraduate days because of stress. I endured that pain of just four years but have enjoyed it for many years now. I didn’t pay a kobo towards my postgraduate studies. I won scholarships worth millions of naira. By the grace of God, more blessings will come, and they are not for me alone.
My dear younger brothers/sisters, be courageous enough to face life challenges as they come. The time of suffering is usually shorter than the joy that follows it. You may suffer alone in such difficult situations, but the benefits are not for you alone when you succeed. There is no limit to the impact such sacrifices would make. It is worth it.
I completed my PhD program last year in a low-key mode. However, I realized that I was very wrong in hiding my story. Besides, this story could inspire younger ones to embrace life challenges and passionately follow their dreams without giving up. ‘Do not let your background put your back to the ground.’
Finally, I am grateful to my supportive family and friends, my teachers, my academic supervisors and anyone who contributed towards this journey in one way or the other.
Now, it is the time of celebration. Look at that smile on my humble face!