With God and Grit: How Religious Organizations in UI Encourage Academic Excellence

By: Habeeb Abdul

All too frequently, perceptions of religious societies in the UI are defined through the lens of encounters with them. Evangelists on gospel missions to rooms in hostels, Muslims in marked religious attire, the sounds of both religions as members observe practices at fellowships and mosques alike.

These images will typically structure responses to religious organizations. However, secondary qualities which are so easily ignored include the relationships formed in these communities and the security they provide to otherwise solitary students. There is also the undoubtable cakewalk of forgetting that membership in these societies can be quite crucial to academic excellence at our vaunted institution.

This article will explore religious societies and their contributions to academic excellence by chronicling their responses to members’ needs.

The Houses That Are Well Divided

Crucial to the formation of any society is the development of a workable structure. Religious organizations are not unaware of this as they must handle the large volume of student-congregants. There are variations within their methods. At the Muslim Student Society of Nigeria, MSSN, structure is about coordination between central and faculty levels. The Society operates a decentralized system that allows subordinate faculty associations to assess the academic needs of members and respond appropriately. On a broader scale, it has a dedicated Directorate of Studies overseen by Abdulsalam Oladapo, a 500-level student of Civil Engineering.

He informed me that there are six established tutorials under the MSSN, each with a seemingly all-encompassing focus on popular subject areas. There is the CPMSS, Circle of Preliminary Muslim Science Students; CPMAS, Circle of Preliminary Muslim Arts Students; MTSG, Muslim Techites Study Group; CPESMS, Circle of Preliminary Economics and Muslim Social Science Students; MASSG, Muslim Agriculture Students Study Group; and MMS for Muslim Medical Students. The tutorials are primarily focused on 100 and 200-level students with the exception of MMS which integrates third-year students of the College of Medicine. 

Although its structure is fairly similar, a surface-level inquiry into the Deeper Life Campus Fellowship UI might tempt one to believe it is more complicated. The church organizes services across various halls of residence, some at Abadina Community and Agbowo. While I theorized that this is a way to accommodate its sizable audience, a member who preferred to be kept anonymous explained that it was possibly designed that way to aid accessibility. If centers are closer to members, then attendance is a much easier endeavor. During combined services, members converge in hundreds on a single location. When I asked Joshua Akinniyi, Veterinary Medicine student and General Coordinator of the Mellanby Hall Center about management with so many branches, he stated that tutorials are center-agnostic; they are conducted at faculty levels with representatives directing activities.

Esther Osore, a 400-level law student and member of DLCF provided more detail, stating, “my fellowship organizes several academic seminars on how to research, academic excellence, networking, social interactions, how to secure scholarships, how to write CV/cover letters, etc.”

Joshua Okegbola, president of the Ibadan Varsity Christian Union, outlined a granular approach to tending to members’ academic needs. He alluded to the importance of spirituality in guaranteeing excellence, stating that members are frequently reminded of their need for balance and diligence as Christians. The Union relies on its Academic Committee to develop “workable timetables” and attach students to others at higher levels. There are also tutorials, distributions of past questions, and project writing assistance for final-year students.

Omotunde Masha, the immediate past head of the Academic Committee and current member, explained that the unit “consists of a team lead and about 10 full members and many associate members.” These associate members include students from faculties “in charge of the overall monitoring of students to ensure they live a balanced life.” The organization of faculty-specific activities such as tutorials, exam preparations, and others are managed by the associate members. Congregants may also be assigned team members to assist with academics on request.

Worship Centers, but Communities Too

Besides academics, religious societies offer communities to students, especially freshmen who have just started out. Esther perceives her fellowship, DLCF, as a family. For her, it is a place where members look out for each other and provide help in times of need. Recounting her experience as a first-year student, she stated “when my food finished at the time, I could easily go to my fellowship hostel leader’s (some call them pastors) room to inform her and she would give me food.” Her bond with the church was further cemented by her attachment to a final-year student who put her through difficult courses. She recalls receiving exam packages and the feeling of having people look out for her welfare in an unfamiliar environment. This was enhanced by the presence of a ‘Koinonia’ where she could unburden herself to other members of the unit and find comfort in their prayers.

The same obtains at the Muslim Students Society where Imams and heads of faculty-level associations are tasked with overall monitoring of Muslim students and providing welfare packages to indigent members. A significant moment is the month of Ramadan, the Islamic fasting season when the Society tends to the nutritional needs of its members. It provides iftar, a meal taken after sunset to mark the end of the day’s fast, to throngs of Muslim students. Members converge on the Central Mosque every day, for 29 to 30 days, to listen to sermons and eat as a community afterward.               

Excellence through Incentives

To motivate members, both ends of the religious spectrum have perfected the use of incentives. Abdulsalam stated that the MSSN awards first-class Muslim students during its orientation week to stir freshmen and celebrate high-performing students. “During the last award ceremony, we recorded more than 250 Muslim students currently on a first-class grade and they were appreciated with cash prizes and other goodies.” Prodded on the highest grade points recorded, he responded, “we have quite a number of 100-level students on a perfect CGPA of 4.00.” 

Abdulsalam referred me to some of the organization’s past and present exceptional students, one being Olalere Yusuf, an alumnus and best graduating student at the Nigerian Law School. Yusuf created a storm in his set as he swept away multiple prestigious awards on graduation. The Oxford MSc candidate was unavailable for comments at the time of writing this article.

Omotunde’s sentiments are no different from Abdulsalam’s. She believes the award of gifts to outstanding students by the IVCU is a motivating factor. When I requested the number of times she has won those awards, she replied, “I’m in 400 level now, so, yeah, every year. That’s three times for the 100-300 level.” Joshua, the IVCU president, did not hold back when he hinted that the Best Graduating Student from Zoology was an IVCU member and that the Union has students with CGPAs as high as 3.8. 

Challenges

While religious societies have shown to be great avenues for learning, they are not free of hitches either. Joshua says one of them is the selection of a venue and the attendance of academically weak students for whom tutorials are actually necessary. In Masha’s opinion, it is more of a logistics problem. She explained how tasking it can be to communicate with an average of 500 members, notifying them of important events within the university. For Abdulsalam, the main worry is the matter of attendance. He lamented the costs expended on organizing tutorials and the low turnouts recorded thereafter.

Moving Forward

On how the university can improve the performance of students in academics, recommendations ranged from mentorship programmes at faculties to equal compensation for academic achievers and athletes. Joshua Akinniyi added, “the faculties or departments should also give ‘worthy’ awards to students who perform well, instead of plaques.”

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