The Lebanese Nigeria Initiatives (LNI) was set up by some Lebanese business men doing business in Nigeria as a vehicle to impact the Nigerian community through legacy projects. One of such projects is the endowment of US $1.5 million in American University of Beirut (AUB) in Lebanon. This is for a full MBA scholarship for a young Nigerian every year. In this interview, Johnson Nwazuruahu, a Telecommunications engineer and IT expert, who is the second Nigerian to benefit from the scholarship scheme, shared his experience on the sideline of a Meet and Greet session in Lagos recently. CHUKA UROKO brings the excerpts:
It is no mean feat for you to have gone and come back. Tell us how you heard about the LNI scholarship scheme?
Interestingly, I applied to AUB and was to fund it through another scholarship scheme, but one of the staff from AUB called me to inform me that there was a scholarship sponsored by an NGO in Nigeria. So, I told her I was interested, so she sent my details to LNI. I was contacted by an official of LNI.
Since you were already aspiring to do an MBA in the same school, how did you feel getting informed that you won the scholarship?
I felt so elated; I am very particular about where I do my Masters. AUB is a well renowned university globally and has produced so many Presidents and Heads of countries and top people in industries and the professions. It is the best university in the Middle East. So, being fully sponsored to do an MBA there is a big deal; so, I feel highly elated. And the fact that the scholarship sponsors one student each session and you are the one student, makes one feel good and inspired to achieve more and impact the society.
As briefly as possible, give us some insights into your experience going through the programme?
In summary, I can categorise my experiences in three ways: academics, country and business. In terms of academics, American University of Beirut is a very great school with multinational students and staff population. The faculty is world class with very experienced professors similar to what you find in other great universities like Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge, MIT among others.
The curriculum is rich, the work was extremely intensive. You do four courses per term. There are three hours of lecture per day in the evening. The rest of the day is devoted to research, theses writing and presentation. It is a very intensive programme. The programme was comprehensive and rich; the academic experience was very rewarding. I have an engineering background, and you know MBA is supposed to widen your horizon and your experience, you are supposed to know more than what your background has offered you. Now I have great experience with finances, financial matters, IT, management and even operations. So, the total experience for me is great.
It has made me a well rounded manager. I see things and new business opportunities beyond my original background. I am not just speaking as an Engineer, I am now more about providing solutions to every aspect of the organisation and also how the society can benefit from such endeavour beyond just making profit for the organisation.
As for the town, Beirut, I was opportuned to do my Masters degree in the UK and I went for a UNESCO sponsored programme in China. I have also schooled in Asia and of course, in Nigeria. Combining all these comparatively, I can say my stay in Beirut was one of the best experience.
Lebanese are warm, very friendly and accommodating. Because of the rigid COVID-19 restrictions on campus I had to rent a small apartment in town which enabled me to interact with the people very well. They have very rich culture.
I visited some tourist sites, very beautiful; the underground water is the most beautiful thing I have seen in my life, you actually see water forming faces and all that, it was a beautiful site. Beirut is a bubbling business town like Lagos. Everybody is doing one form of business or the other.
You have family businesses that have been passed on from generation to generation. Just like the Lebanese in Nigeria, the ones back home are equally hardworking and contributing immensely to the economy.
One of the important aspects of this LNI scholarship is that anybody that takes up this opportunity should be able to come back and drive growth and impact our society. So, what is your plan to take this experience to drive impact in the society?
One of the things I intend doing and I am already doing is involvement in activities that have direct impact on the community. We already set up an agricultural firm. Like I said, I have an IT background, so we are looking at how to inculcate technology into agriculture, the whole process, to see how technology can advance output production, productivity and entrepreneurship. But then you have to consider the community, how does it impact the community.
And of course, being a vital part of the LNI family, I am looking at a time one will be able to do what LNI did for me in someone else’s life. I am also looking at funding the studies of people that might not fund that kind of study and even starting at the level of just basic Nigerian institutions. So basically, no matter what I do, I am involved in the community and that is very paramount to me now.
What can you say to young Nigerians looking for opportunities like the one you just benefitted from?
If I have to say a word, I will advise the younger people that whatever you do, be very serious in it. If you are in school, please give it your best, because if you are able to come out with a very good grade, there are opportunities out there you can benefit from. And always stay informed.
I was discussing with a friend about this scholarship, and he was like how can somebody fund your studies free and I was like seriously? He wasn’t apparently informed that such things are in existence. Always stay informed because you are only limited by your level of knowledge; the more you know the better it is for you in life.
As a beneficiary of this scheme, what would you say to LNI?
The US $1.5m MBA scholarship endowment in American University of Beirut for Nigerians by foreign nationals is most audacious empowerment project by an individual or organisation in Nigeria till date. I can’t remember any other scheme like it. I am proud to be one of the beneficiaries of this scholarship. I say a big thank you to Chairman of Lebanese Nigeria Initiative (LNI), Faysal El Khalil and other members of the body for this life-changing opportunity. I am assuring that their investment in me will produce very great results that will be visible to the larger society not long from now.