Vanguard (Lagos)

Nigeria's Iyayi is S/Africa's Youngest Doctor

Emerges best graduating student

HIS story rings like that of the young Jesus, even though this is no comparison of any sort. He is of very humble birth and hails from one of the most unlikely and obscure quarters in Edo State. If you were looking for the young Jesus at birth, you needed to go to shanties and look through the mangers.

Same goes for this young boy of twenty. If you need to meet him, you would have to go to Ugbegun in Esan Central Local Government Area. In the 60s and early 70s, Ugbegun used to be a prominent town enjoying road connections from Opoji, Auchi through Irrua and Uromi, all leading to Agbor and Onitsha which have remained prominent trading hubs in the Eastern part of the country. All that now has become history; Ugbegun has suffered calamitous neglect from successive regimes of the state.

Ehinomen Iyayi hails from this little town that has been given up for rot. Sometimes, neglect and abandonment can be too minuscule to kill the human spirit. This is why on December 15, he became the youngest South African medical doctor, making the best result in the Medical University of Pretoria, MEDUNSA, and collecting five of the six academic prizes that were at stake.

The youngest South African Doctor? It is true that one can change his nationality but Ehinomen Iyayi's story is very instructive and fits the mode of neglect of citizens for which Nigeria is well known. We shall return to this but first let us look at the agency reports of Ehinomen's academic feat with the headline: Nigerian Whizkid Becomes South Africa's Youngest Medical Doctor.

"Pretoria (South Africa) December15, 2004: A 20-year old Nigerian whizkid, Ehinomen Iyayi, has emerged the youngest Medical Doctor South Africa has ever produced, collecting five of six academic prizes at the year's graduation of the country's premier school.

At the 23rd graduation ceremony of the Medical University of South Africa, MEDUNSA, on Tuesday in Pretoria, the young Iyayi did Nigeria proud before thousands of the country's professional and academic community including Health Minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, receiving five distinctions in Pediatrics, Internal Medicine, Family Medicine, General Surgery and Psychiatry, amid standing ovation by the guests.

Iyayi also came top of the 608 graduands, 59 per cent of whom were women.

Iyayi who emigrated with his parents, Alex and Florence Iyayi from Nigeria to South Africa in 1994, completed his school certificate in Pretoria's Hillview High School at the age of 14 with seven distinctionsâ-oe"

So Iyayi became the youngest medical student in South Africa and was also the youngest student to have been admitted into MEDUNSA!

Although quite a number people may have been astounded by Ehinomen's performance, three persons are not. They include Ehinomen himself and his parents, Alex and Florence. Ehinomen knew his capabilities and the parents believed in the exploits of their son. And here comes the story of neglect that was broached at the beginning of this story.

About three years ago, at the South African International Airport in Johannesburg, the three of them in my company, had run into a Nigerian diplomat based in Pretoria where they also lived. Alex told the diplomat the story of his life and the academic records of his children and said that he would want the children to be tied to their country, Nigeria and tried to find out if they could benefit from any scholarship package, including the Gifted Children's Programme introduced into the country's education sector by Prof Jubril Aminu as Minister of Education.

The fear he expressed was that if that was not done, he would not only lose the children but the country at the end of the day would also be the loser. He was greatly assured by the diplomat that something would be done. Quite interestingly, it was the last time he would ever talk to that diplomat who has since ensconced himself in "His Excellency" which most Nigerian diplomats flaunt all over the world to the detriment of their jobs of truly representing their country.

Now, what Alex feared has come to pass. The children are increasingly called South Africans. When there were two exchange students from MEDUNSA to Sweden two years ago, Ehinomen was one of them. His younger brother, Ighodalo, third year student at the University of Pretoria is enjoying full-time Openheimer scholarship, and their father would always say that the last of them Ejemen who is now in High School in Canada where they had gone to settle, combines the brilliance of her senior brothers.

Was Alex just sounding off and looking for help for the children? Not at all. Both parents are professional nurses and had done well for themselves in South Africa before going to settle in Canada. They did long hours and the rounds to ensure that their children had the best. They are very proud Nigerians and extremely very proud of their heritage.

When contacted in his Canadian base, Alex said: "First and foremost, my three children are all Ugbegun children, born and raised in Benin City. They came to join me in South Africa at the respective ages of four, eight and nine. Ejemen (4), daughter, was actually already accepted in primary one, at Iyahen International Primary Private School in Ugbowo while Ighodalo (8), son, was in primary six in the same school. Ehinomen (9), then had started JSS 1 at Edokpolor Grammar School in New Benin quarters."

In spite of what is being said of the country's education sector today, obviously because of government's lack of enthusiasm in the sector, both parents and children readily acknowledge that the seeds of a great future in education were fertilised in Nigeria.

When at 14, no university in South Africa would admit Ehinomen because of his age and except after a different round of interview; through his performance, he was hailed a genius and Drum International did a story on The Boy that would be South Africa's youngest Doctor, Ehinomen responded then that he wasn't one, adding that where he was coming from in Nigeria, some 'smaller boys' would perform better.

You may attribute that to modesty but the truth is that with a little enhancement in facilities, the Nigerian spirit always blossoms and oftentimes ends in the realm of genius.

Ehinomen who is at the moment vacationing in Canada said he would like to specialise in surgery but the question that becomes very pertinent is how many young Nigerians like Ehinomen within and outside of Nigeria are being turned away by the government? And will they ever come back? The questions threaten to explode a fear that is as real as the night that must follow the day.

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