The annual International Science Olympiad has been dominated by Nigeria since it started in 2009. But the 2014 edition of the competition for science students worldwide took a different turn for the country as South Africa became a dominant figure. But for the 15-year-old Akanimoh Udombeh, Nigeria's flag may not have been hoisted on the winners' podium this year.
About 20 countries from across the world came with their young and smart cerebrals to compete for coveted honours at the 5th edition of the International Science Olympiad (ISO) which was recently hosted in Nigeria by the Nigerian Turkish Nile University (NTNU) in Abuja. The competition had from inception rekindled hopes of Nigeria still making its marks in global education platform despite her socio-economic challenges.
From the body languages exhibited by the young contestants on the final day, expectations were indeed high at the annual intellectual contest which seeks to help gifted science students to improve on their talents, while at the same time encourage them to further their career as scientists.
Several countries who participated had looked forward to the gain of their hard work during preparatory stages, but in truth only the finest from the lot emerged and based on hard work, Nigeria's 15 years old Akanimoh Udombeh was among the very few crowned as winners of the competition.
Perhaps, oblivious of his accomplishment, Udombeh who is a grade five student of the Nigerian Turkish International College (NTIC) didn't really know that he had succeeded in keeping Nigeria at least within the enviable golden stage, until the time came.
Udombeh ensured that for the fifth edition running, the dominant figure of Nigeria during the yearly competition was kept, despite South Africa's spirited challenge that made it won a record five gold medals against Nigeria's previous record of four gold medals at a single edition.
Udombeh told THISDAY that he had expected more of his compatriots who made up the Nigerian team on the winners' podium after they had expended so much efforts studying to take other participants to the cleaners as it had always been for them in the past but that he was still grateful for making it at least.
Standing tall with the Nigerian flag, Udombeh was cheered by a number of people including the wife of the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Hajiya Aishatu Bala Muhammed who attended the event.
For Udombeth, Olympiad was worth the efforts of staying up to burn the proverbial midnight candles. As the spotlight beamed on him, he intermittently turned to acknowledge cheers from his compatriots.
By merit, his feat earned him a gold medal and 100 per cent scholarship at NTNU which will kick in at the appropriate time. "I am really happy and thankful to my family and friends for their support. It wasn't easy but here we are with this, I'm just happy," he said.
He added: "Some students were picked from my school and we went through rigorous selection process at the National Mathematics Centre from where the winners were put forward to represent Nigeria at this years' ISO.
"I am surprised that I am the only Nigerian with a gold medal this year, because we all worked very hard in our team which included students from the Kano centre and others who all deserve a gold medal but I will just advise them and other students to keep up with their studies, hopefully, next year, we will get back to clinching all the prizes as we always do."
While applauding the efforts of the South African delegates to the ISO 2014, the young science Olympiad further explained that what he achieved at the competition did not come as a probability but through his commitment to excellence and hard work. He noted that such commitment to excellence was a choice he made and hopes to stick to his quest for greater accomplishments in sciences.
Earlier, the chairman of ISO and Vice Chancellor of NTNU, Prof. Huseyin Sert in his welcome remarks, stated that ISO was fast gaining popularity and recognition amongst countries in the world as the only international Olympiad that comfortably combines multiple subjects in one science Olympiad.
According to Sert, irrespective of Nigeria's security challenges, about 20 countries; South Africa, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Uganda, Ghana, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan and Egypt amongst others made it to the annual competition with a couple of new entrants admitted to participate.
"I recall that in this competition last year, a country making its debut appearance with a single participant got an Olympic gold medal. This is no mean feat. I hope that more of such performances will be experienced at the 5th ISO.
"I want you to know that irrespective of the result at the end of this competition, you should not be discouraged but be encouraged to work harder to achieve better result in the next edition. More importantly, you should all know that indeed, you are champions," Sert stated.
He spoke on the composition of the competition saying that each ISO member state which has either participated fully in or sent an observer to the ISO in the previous year is always invited to send a group of 10 science students but with a minimum entry of two. The team is also expected to be accompanied by not more than one counsellor for each discipline; biology, chemistry, computer, physics and mathematics.
Sert noted that ISO which provides countries with the chance to compare the curriculums and educational tendencies in science education within themselves for further development of science education at national levels, is administered by the Ruling Union (RU) which is a committee of country coordinators that meets during the ISO competition or more frequently if requested by a majority of the members through its president.
According to him, each participating country must appoint a country coordinator who is usually one of the counsellors to represent the country on this committee while the host country appoints the chairman of the RU. The RU also approves changes to the ISO constitution which comes into effect from the following years.
Further on its roles in the competition, the RU approves the final results of the evaluation and decides on the number of gold, silver and bronze medals to be awarded in accordance with extant rules and to ensure the validity of its processes, members are obliged to keep secret all information about the competition results until the official final announcement.
"The countries taking part in the competition are obliged to observe the ISO rules. Countries infringing the rules without adequate explanation may be issued a warning by the RU and if the infringement continues, it will be suspended from the competition for at least one year," he added.
For Nigeria, Udombeh's gold medal provides that reassurance that the future of its young people is alright, especially coming at a time, when the chance of going to school in the northeast is being threatened by terrorists.
So at a time when the fear of insurgents in the northeast is keeping many children away from schools, Udombeh rekindled the hope of a greater future for the Nigerian children, irrespective of threats to their existence and right to formal education.
Published on AllAfrica.com, 17 June 2014, Tuesday