The arena was overflowing with people; thousands of Nigerian youths seeking an opportunity to further their studies overseas in the hope of securing a brighter future. Every corner of the arena had clusters of youths sitting around; from verandas, to tree shades, to the open fields. The saying, “there is comfort in numbers” had the exact opposite effect. The sheer number I saw brought fright, not comfort. We were all assembled for an overseas scholarship selection test. As it is always the case, only a limited number of awards would be granted. Rumour had it that 200 awards would be granted. With over ten thousand people coming out to sit for the test, the odds didn’t seem so friendly to anyone.
I got into the examination hall after hours of waiting for the test to commence. I found the questions to be neither easy nor difficult – perhaps the worst feeling to have about an examination. But I did my best. After a couple of months, I was happy to be among those shortlisted to go on to the the next stage of the process – the interview. This was bitter-sweet. Sweet because I was shortlisted, bitter because the shortlist was in fact a really long list. Though the odds had improved, it still wore a tight frown.
The interview day drew near with heightened tension. I prepared like I had never prepared for any exercise before. Especially considering the fact you could never be over-prepared for such interviews. Nairaland became my friend. Ideas and notions about what would be a great preparation strategy flew around, the Nairaland way. People logged heads to establish that their suggestions were superior to others’. Not knowing what was authentic and what wasn’t, I followed the advice, and even formulated my own strategy.
This exercise gave me a great boost of confidence on the interview day. I walked in bold, knowing that I had pretty much touched all possibilities. I was asked numerous questions, ranging from questions related to my course of study, to current affairs, to a bit of history and even to what I considered quite mundane stuff. But I was prepared, so I answered everything with a bright smile. I walked out of that interview room confident that I had secured the scholarship. My heart nearly burst from suppressed glee. As I made my way out of the interview venue, I was excused by a lady, who had sat in at the interview. I walked up to her with great trepidation. “That was great in there,” she said
“Thank you,” I responded, excited.
“My dear, I came out to meet you because I think you are very intelligent. I would really love for you to get this award.” She said. My heart sank. “What the heck was she talking about?” I wondered. “Do you have anybody?” She asked. “Yes, I have people. My parents, siblings, friends…” I replied, confused. “I mean do you have someone influential?” She interjected. “No,” I said, completely saddened. “Well, I would advise you to find somebody influential to speak on your behalf if you really want this scholarship. I have done this job for some years now, I know how it works.” I did not know when the tears rolled down my eyes.
“I’m sorry dear,” she hurried on, grabbing me by the waist, making to provide comfort, “I didn’t mean to make you cry. Don’t worry my dear, just pray about it. There is nothing God cannot do.” I cried even more.
About a month later, successful candidates were invited to receive their award letters at an elaborate ceremony. I was not invited. I thought about that kind lady at the interview. I thought about the efforts I had put in. I thought about Nigeria and the price I had to pay for corruption.