By Tunde Osho
Twenty-four-year-old Nigerian doctor, Toluwalase Awoyemi and 20-year-old Ghanaian statistician, Emmanuelle Dankwa have emerged winners of the 2018 Rhodes Scholarships for West Africa.
The duo will be joining 93 other “scholar-elects” from around the world to commence studies at the prestigious University of Oxford, United Kingdom in October next year.
Dankwa and Awoyemi came out tops among the 15 most qualified candidates that made the final shortlist. A total of 2,948 applications were received from intending scholars across the region out of which 244 that graduated with a First-Class degree or its equivalent made it to the next round. Through further screening and in-person interviews the number was eventually scaled down to 15.
Rhodes Scholars are chosen on the basis of the criteria set down in the Will of Cecil John Rhodes, who established the scholarships in 1903. Academic excellence is a major prerequisite for selection but it is only a threshold condition. Other important criteria include moral force of character, commitment to service and the instinct to lead.
“It was a keenly contested award,” said Ndidi Nwuneli, Founder of Leap Africa and a member of the West Africa Selection Committee. “All fifteen finalists were remarkably brilliant with outstanding individual qualities but we could only select two. For Emmanuelle and Toluwalase, this is an award well deserved, and we have no doubt that they will go on to excel in their chosen field of study and do the continent proud.”
Sangu Delle, Chairman of Golden Palms Investments Corporation (GPI) and also a member of the Selection Committee noted: “Originally, the West African Scholarship for 2018 was intended for one scholar. However, with the exceptional brilliance demonstrated by all the finalists, it was decided that two scholars will be selected but this did not make the job any less difficult for the Selection Committee.”
Dankwa graduated with First Class Honours in Mathematics and Statistics from the University of Ghana in July 2017, and currently serves as a Teaching Assistant at the Department of Statistics in the same institution. While an undergraduate she founded a plastic waste recycling advocacy group, which not only enlightened the university community on the benefits of recycling waste but was actively involved in collection and removal of plastic waste from the university campus through a partnership with the local government and some plastic recycling firms.
Awoyemi holds a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (M.B.B.S.) degree from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. He graduated in August 2016 as the Best Medical Student in his set, and was a recipient of 19 prizes at the institution’s convocation ceremony. He is passionate about healthcare delivery in Nigeria, and as Programmes Director of CHECK – a non-governmental organisation involved in health education, screening and diagnosis – he has organised over 25 medical outreach programmes to undeserved areas and communities in Nigeria.
The Rhodes Scholarships cover all university and college fees for Dankwa and Awoyemi, a personal stipend for room and board, health insurance and travel, as well as the costs of the Rhodes Leadership Development Programme at Rhodes House. Depending on their course of study, the total value of the scholarship could range from £50,000 to £60,000 per annum, with the average tenure for a Rhodes Scholar being 3 years.
Responding to the award, Dankwa, who intends to study Statistical Science in her first year at Oxford, said: “I am deeply honoured to be selected for this prestigious scholarship. It is, indeed, a rare opportunity, and I am determined to make the most of it for my personal advancement and, ultimately, for the betterment of my country and the world in general.”
On his part, Awoyemi, who is opting for International Health and Tropical Medicine as his preferred course of study, said: “I am truly grateful to my alma mater, the University of Ibadan, for helping me develop into the scholar that I am, and to the Rhodes Trust for the opportunity to further my learning at the University of Oxford. I feel like the entire continent is looking up to me, and I promise to work very hard to maximize this opportunity for my development and for the good of our people.”
The National Secretary for West Africa and a 1989 Rhodes Scholar, Ike Chioke, said: “As a beneficiary of the scheme, I am delighted that the 24-year campaign for the re-reinstatement of the scholarships in the region has been realised, with the emergence of these two awardees. We must continue to provide young people with opportunities to develop to their full potential through quality education. This is the surest way to secure the future of the African continent.”
The Rhodes Scholarships for West Africa was launched in May 2018, and it is open to students from Benin Republic, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, the island of Saint Helena, Sierra Leone, São Tomé and Principe, and Togo. “Assuming two scholars are selected from the region each year, over time up to six scholars in residence will be supported at a total of approximately £510,000 per year,” Chioke noted.
The new West Africa scholarships are part of a wider geographic expansion of the Rhodes Scholarships. The total number of Scholarships awarded each year will increase from 83 to 95, including new Scholarships in China, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Palestine, Syria, the United Arab Emirates and West Africa. This increases the number of Rhodes Scholars studying at the University of Oxford at any one time to approximately 250.
Application opens on 1st June 2018 for the 2019 Scholarships. Interested candidates were asked to apply online at www.rhodeshouse.ox.ac.uk