These are not the best of times for Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country. The dominating news item in local media spaces and, in fact, soft gossip sites is still Sunday’s grisly crash — the worst in nearly two decades — at Iju-Ishaga, Agege area of Lagos State involving a Dana McDonnell Douglas MD-83 airliner that charred and killed all 147 passengers and six crew members aboard, as well as a yet-undetermined number of Agege residents whose houses were pierced by the plane before its eventual crash. But it is not all dark and gloomy for Nigeria.

On Saturday, 2nd June 2012, a day before the crash, a young Nigerian in faraway New York United States, bagged seven distinguished awards at the 2012 graduation ceremony of Lehman College’s City University of New York (CUNY). The news, most fittingly, did not filter into Nigeria until the following day, coinciding with the breaking of the news of the air crash.

Although Olu Onemola’s success ill-compares with the agonising loss of hundreds of citizens in just one moment, it offered some faint relief for the section of Nigerians that at least wanted to read some positive news about the country in international media, following the death, also that same Sunday, of scores of Christian worshippers who were bombed to death in the northeastern city of Bauchi in a suicide attack masterminded by adherents of the notorious Islamist fundamentalist Boko Haram group.

The Nigerian elite class will find Onemola’s feat utterly unsurprising- he was born to the family of Ambassador Bukun-Olu Onemola, the country’s deputy permanent representative to the United Nations.

The older Onemola graduated from the University of Lagos in 1979 with a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) Degree in Sociology, and was also awarded Master of Science (M.Sc.) Degree in Sociology, and International Relations from the University of Ibadan in 1985. He joined the Foreign Service of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 1980 and has since served in various capacities, including a 2008 appointment by late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua as Ambassador, Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Nigeria to the United Nations, New York.

The younger Onemola, now a graduate of Political Science at Lehman, received the distinguished Golden Key award, otherwise called the International Honour Society, an academic honour society for high-flying scholars.

He bagged the Pi Sigma Alpha National Honour Society in Political Science, and the Jacob Hammer Memorial Prize in English, awarded to the best student in theatre performance.

In addition, he grabbed the Edgar Dawson Prize in Political and Legal Theory, an honour bestowed on the graduate of Political Science with the strongest portfolio of political and legal essays.

Onemola equally received the CUNY Vice-Chancellor’s Excellence in Leadership Award, as well as the Cum Laude award — a Latin term signifying ‘With Honours,’ — a distinction on which graduates with a 3.4 to a 3.59 GPA on the four-point scale are honoured.

Without asking or being told, Onemola, who has unbelievably also served as president of CUNY Student Government, has worked his socks off, as involvement in campus politics and academic excellence seem to be two mutually exclusive endeavours.

“My impression is that hard work definitely pays off,” he confirms, speaking after carting away his prizes. “Being able to achieve such feats while serving as the president of the Student Government is a testament to hard work.”

Well, just in case anyone is still unconvinced of the magnitude of Onemola’s achievement and the pride it has brought to Nigeria and Africa, it should be noted that CUNY is the largest urban university in the U.S., comprising more than 260,000 degree-credit students and 273,000 continuing and professional education students enrolled in 23 institutions (11 senior colleges, six community colleges, the William E. Macaulay Honors College at CUNY, the doctorate-granting Graduate School and University Center, the City University of New York School of Law, CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, and the Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education).

Onemola, indeed, has chosen the right time to achieve his string of successes, thereby helping to put his country in good international light, at a time when it is beset by a succession of tragedies, one so devastating that the president declared a three-day national mourning, its green-white-green flag flying at half-mast.

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