A Nigerian, Ifesinachi Nelson Ezeh, has won international acclaim for finishing his Master’s degree at Saint Petersburg Agrarian University in Russia with distinction and for his edge-cutting research in Agronomy. His feat earned him a Ph.D scholarship. HANNAH OJO writes on the exploits of the youngster whose aim is to tackle the food crisis in his fatherland.
Ifesinachi Nelson Ezeh, a 26-year-old Nigerian, has dazzled Russia with his brilliance. The Nsukka, Enugu State-born student finished his Master’s degree in Agronomy at Saint Petersburg State Agrarian University, graduating with a Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) of 5.0 – the highest Russia has ever recorded.
Ifesinachi’s feat was celebrated by Russians during the university’s graduation. Russia’s Ministry of Agriculture and the school leadership showered encomiums on him, praising his dedication to quality research and academic excellence.
His journey to success started from a newspaper in 2008, when he read about a scholarship scheme to study in Russia. Then, he had just enrolled at the Nigerian College of Aviation Studies in Zaria, Kaduna State. But, Ifesinachi forfeited the admission for the scholarship.
According to him, his father got the information about the scholarship and encouraged him to apply. The scholarship is a bilateral agreement between Nigeria and other countries, including Russia, Cuba, China and Libya.
He said: “I was among the top five students selected at the College of Aviation after the scholarship examination. This got my dad excited. I was waiting to resume at the college when I received a call from Abuja, inviting me to come for the scholarship interview. The urgency of the information gave me no room for preparation. But, I went for the interview and travelled to Russia for study.”
In November 2008, Ifesinachi arrived in Russia with 40 other students from Nigeria for his Bachelor’s degree. Since Russian language is a prerequisite for study in the country, he enrolled at Don State Technical University, where he learnt the language for one year. Afterwards, he was transferred to Saint Petersburg State Agrarian University to study Agronomy.
Ifesinachi’s brilliance was discovered in his sophomore year when he was assigned to Prof Lev Gennadievich Tyryshkin as his thesis supervisor. Also a researcher at the Russia Institute of Plant Industry, Prof Tyryshkin exposed Ifesinachi to academic and industrial research methodologies.
“That was when my journey in scientific research started,” Ifesinachi said, adding: “The professor is an atheist and for the time I spent with him in the laboratory, I literally became an atheist too, because my mind was preoccupied with research work.”
Ifesinachi’s research on species of Aegilops won him recognition from the Science Community in the Europe.
The research, he said, was to re-study six species of Aegilops (a wheat variety) and bread wheat that were said to have effective LR23 gene for resistance at juvenile stage. In the course of the study, Ifesinachi discovered inadequacies in the previous researches carried out by scholars in the field.
He said: “It was during the comparison of results of the DNA markers and phytopathological tests that I discovered there were possible errors in the previous studies. After that, we reset the conditions that were recommended nationally for phytopathological study. Our results were narrowed down to the large collection of specimens that have been approved for hybridisation with bread-wheat nationally from 15 specimens (six species of Aegilops) with effective LR23 gene for resistance at the juvenile stage.”
After his research, it was discovered that previous researchers falsified records and gave the Russian government wrong information about the Aegilops species. Ifesinachi’s results enabled the Russian government to update plant bank gene collections with effective genes.
The student said his closeness to Prof Tyryshkin contributed to his success, because he had access to Plant Bank Collection in Saint Petersburg, which he said houses several collections of genes and known species and varieties of plant.
It was not smoothsailing all the way. In 2012, his first research was rejected when it was published. Ifesinachi blamed it on his level of fluency in Russian language then. The rejection, he said, made him to develop more interest in research work.
He said: “In 2013, I got more results and I presented them to the university leadership. Two of us were selected to represent the university at a regional level. We presented our research results to the jury of the regional contest. We won and moved to the national level. My research was adjudged third best work at the national level and I am the only African student among the best student-researchers. I was recognised by the Russian Ministry of Agriculture. My university gave me an honorary degree in recognition of my feat.”
Ifesinachi’s feat improved the ratings of Saint Petersburg State Agrarian University and fetched him a scholarship for his Master’s degree. He completed his undergraduate degree with a CGPA of 4.92 and finished his Master’s degree with a CGPA of 5.0 – a distinction.
He got a scholarship for his doctoral degree during the university’s convocation.
While his academic feat was being celebrated by the Russians, he was unsung by his country
Ifesinachi said he did not get any commendation from the Nigerian Embassy in Moscow.
He said: “The only reward I got came from the Saint Petersburg State Agrarian University. I never got a call from the Nigerian Embassy in Moscow. I felt I should pass the information through the scholarship board, but it appeared nobody showed interest.”
On the challenges he faced while in Russia, Ifesinachi said the greatest was being alone in the midst of Russians speaking their language fluently. “I always felt lonely in their midst,” he said.
Ifesinachi suspended his doctoral programme and returned to Nigeria last month for the National Youth Service. Against the expectation of his supervisor, Ifesinachi said he decided to return home and serve Nigeria in field research before going back for his Ph.D.
“The Dean of my faculty was worried when I told him I would be in Nigeria for a year before resuming my Ph.D. I think it is justified to impart the knowledge I garnered in Russia to my countrymen. I was on scholarship for seven years. I also need to serve my country, which gave me the opportunity.”
Ifesinachi is also a budding writer. He has published a fiction work titled: Sister Kingdom. He said the motivation came from his family.
According to him, he wants to use his innovative research expertise to solve the country’s food crisis through plant breeding. This, he said, would enable him fulfil the purpose of his scholarship.