Mary Oguntoyinbo, a first-class graduate of the Department of Insurance, University of Jos, is not just a scholar; she’s a fighter, in life, classroom and the arena.
She has a passion for sports and martial arts and believes that education is not limited to the classroom. She credits her extracurricular activities with helping her to develop important life skills such as resilience, composure, and the ability to adapt easily.
Mary speaks with Edugist about the ‘Nigerian factor’ and her plans to further her studies and pursue a career in risk management. Excerpts
Please share with Edugist, a little about yourself and your background
I am Mary Oluwashola Oguntoyinbo and I graduated with first-class honours in my bachelor’s degree from the Department of Insurance at the University of Jos. I hail from Oyo state, was born in Lagos, raised and live in the North, Kaduna precisely. I am the second of three girls. I grew up in a home where education is paramount, my mum is a great tutor in her field and my late dad was a brainy too.
Growing up, I loved to read anything readable, it was a hobby for me. I would wake up at night as a kid reading story books and novels, encyclopaedias, atlas, even the dictionary (I once read the 6th edition of Oxford dictionary from beginning to the end, of course, it was for weeks), then my mum would tease me and call me a mobile dictionary and atlas, because there was no word or country you asked me about that I didn’t know back then. I realised I love knowledge and being vast and global was key for me, so studying any material I found useful was a pleasurable feat for me. I always topped the class growing up and was always rewarded with more books to study.
Could you tell us briefly about your academic journey and your involvement in sporting activities?
Gaining admission into the university was a battle for me. Not because I failed the UTME, but due to some Nigerian factors at play. I had to sit the exam four times before I finally got admitted to the University of Jos. As a kid, the reality of life in Nigeria didn’t hit me much, until I graduated from secondary school, then I understood many things better.
Before gaining admission, I had heard a lot of stories (mostly scary ones) about Nigerian institutions, which of course is very true and I went with the mind to just be myself and do my things as I’ve always done. When my first result came out I was super excited. It was a first-class, and I gave all thanks to God. Same result in my 200 level, then I told myself to keep trying hard, until the end. I had some not-so-funny experiences in school though and at some point made me lose hope of finishing with a first class, but again God showed up for me and didn’t let my efforts and sleepless nights be in vain.
Sport for me is an innate passion, it’s something I would choose over and over again. I normally just keep fit, and then I decided to take it seriously in 2019. I started with indoor workouts and along the line, I met wonderful like-minded people (friends, coaches). Then in 2020, I trained very hard in the mornings and evenings during the COVID break. I took up martial arts, which is the sport I’m into.
By January 2021, it started like a joke and my passion for it grew more. But it wasn’t so easy having to mix it up with school. I had to miss out on lots of opportunities because I didn’t want to lag in my academics, but I didn’t joke around with free time to train. I took breaks when I had to and returned stronger.
How has your education prepared you for a career in your field?
Well, at first I didn’t know I would study insurance. As a kid, I loved psychology or keeping accounts of things, so I applied for accounting but when I got insurance, I told myself I was going to do it whichever way since God was involved. Studying insurance has made me realise a whole lot I didn’t know, especially in a country like ours where the demand for it isn’t as high as in other countries.
While in school I kept wondering what exactly I would love to do in this field. Upon reaching the 300 level I fell in love with a course called ‘Risk Management’ and since then I told myself if I would further a career in this field it would be in Risk Management. My project work was even related to it too.
Have you participated in any internships during your time at university?
Internships related to my course I would say, no. But in the sporting world, yes. Though it may be a sort of informal education, being privileged to train under some coaches to learn from them was a form of internship for me, especially whenever there was an indefinite strike action that would keep students at home.
Tell us about your experiences in extracurricular activities and how they have contributed to your personal growth
I always quote that education doesn’t end in the four walls of the classroom, so for me, my sporting activities in and out of school were a great form of education. Though I didn’t get to explore very much, once in a while I availed myself of the opportunity to travel to Abuja, Port Harcourt, Lagos to engage and mingle with like minds. Through it, I have learnt how to be strong, resilient and to face life’s challenges. I have learnt how to be calm in the face of danger and how to adjust easily. I have been privileged to meet a lot of great champions.
Combat sport isn’t like any other sport, here you are ready to bleed and bleed others in return. Training before competitions sometimes gives me more injuries than the real bouts. Since it’s my passion I never get discouraged even though many times, people have tried to discourage me. As a strong-willed soul, I never let it get to me. I would say, “I don’t know what else I would do with my life if not sports or keeping fit,” because there is this inner peace and fulfilment I derive whenever I do it.
In your opinion, what are the most significant challenges and opportunities in Nigeria?
There are a lot of challenges in academics. Lack of funds could be a challenge to many, and lecturers’ troubles are a great challenge that’s very common to many Nigerian students, myself included. Likewise the incessant strike actions (in fact it affected me mentally a lot, I won’t lie) and I feel the Nigerian method of education is a little bit archaic, that is why at the end of the day, in the real world we still end up going through different trainings to be able to fit in.
In the sporting world, the major challenge I faced was balancing it with my studies as no one cared if I did it. All they wanted was my presence in class which made it restrictive to an extent. I was never going to let sports affect my grades because of the many people who have invested in my academics at various points. Also, sports in the Northern region aren’t as active as the southern and western parts. I’ve always wanted to leave home and travel but again school at that point was a factor I had to consider.
I only took such opportunities when on break or there was strike action. Also, the combat sports in Nigeria are still growing but it’s better than before as people are more aware now and sponsors are coming up to host competitions.
And yeah, great opportunities are coming up in the sports industry, especially in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and so on, one just has to be aware, though it’s not as rewarding as the developed countries but it’s a step to greatness.
Generally, I feel the Nigerian system is a little bit choking for many youths with great talent, it takes a feisty soul to keep up and come out well. That’s why many youths seek to travel out to countries they can explore well and be more appreciated, myself included.
Do you have any role models you look up to in your academic field or sports?
Yeah, I do have role models. Academically, my HOD, Dr Owolabi Adenike, has been a great inspiration, and my supervisor; Mr Saheed Oyede too has been an awesome inspiration to me. In sports, I have a lot but I’ll mention just a few. Connor Mc Gregor, Amanda Nunes, Mohammed Ali, Mike Tyson, Israel Adesanya, Coach Shen, Dr Ebere Bernard and lots more have been a great source of inspiration to me.
What are your long-term career goals and how do you plan to achieve them?
My long-term career goals are basically to further my studies and take professional courses when I have the funds to do so. Also to be a better version of myself in my sports, go pro and someday run a mega gym center.
Have you represented your school in any sporting activities before? Kindly share your experiences.
Yes, I’ve represented my school in the Nigeria University Games Association (NUGA) competition as a Taekwondo athlete. Prior I had gone to a few underground competitions as an amateur. Then in 2022, just when the indefinite strike actions started on February 14, we went for a preliminary NUGA competition in Nasarawa for a week.
Upon returning we went to Lagos after a week or so for the main programme which lasted two weeks. It was quite a beautiful experience, being out there with my fellow teammates. Before this, we had rigorous training daily, every morning and evening except on Sundays. We fell sick and sustained injuries but we never gave up. It was an opportunity to mingle with athletes of different fields too, and teamwork was learnt also.
As a first-class product, how do you envision applying your knowledge to real-world challenges?
Like I said earlier, education and knowledge are not only gotten in the four walls of a classroom. So basically I intend to use every ounce of knowledge I’ve gathered over the years to be a problem solver. The world we live in is full of problems, and it needs those who can create solutions to those problems and lapses.
I have noticed some people don’t like studying, they just want to pass their examinations. I could be a motivation to as many that would be willing, to give inspirational and motivational talks when there’s a need to. And thanks to the sports I do, I’ve learnt to be tough and patient. So I’m applying those virtues to my daily journey because life is not for the weak-hearted.
After your bachelor’s degree, what next?
My dream and goal is to further my studies outside the shores of Nigeria via a scholarship. Due to some personal reservations, I don’t want to go to school here anymore.
Another desire in my heart is to grow in combat sports. Due to my dedication to studies, I’m lagging and I would love to do better now that I’m finally done with my first degree. I have a lot to learn and I’m willing and humble to learn them.