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Last updated on February 1st, 2024 at 01:20 pm
Makerere University School of Law's Best Student for its 2024 graduation Mr. Iya Israel spoke to LegalReports' Mr. Benjamin Ahikiiriza in this exclusive interview about wide ranging topics. He finished top of his class with a CGPA of 4.25 giving him a Second class upper degree along with two other colleagues, Mr. Nakimbugwe Kevin and Mr. Edwin Sabiiti - both who were his friends and discussion group mates.
Question: Congratulations Israel on your Achievement! Tell us about yourself. Where were you born and raised?
Answer: I was born in a place called Pakiell. It is in the Adjumani District. When I was 3-4 years we came to Kampala. I went to Bat Valley Primary School and that’s where I did my PLE (Primary Leaving Examinations). Having done that, I went to Caltec Academy in Kikoni and then I went to Rutembe International Secondary School which is in Entebbe, and then from Rutembe, I went to Bishop Cyprian Kyabakadde which is in Mukono, and then went for a diploma (in law) at LDC (Law Development Centre).
Question: Have you always been a high academic achiever? Like always among the best students?
Answer: Yeah. It is not by coincidence that I have topped my colleagues at law school. It has been part and parcel of my entire (academic) journey. When I reached Rutembe, I found those guys were behind in terms of syllabi coverage so I was given a biology paper and I scored 30 out of 30 and everyone was like “Wow”. To demonstrate that I was a high achiever, I go back to the 50 strokes I received from a maths teacher when he saw me deteriorating, losing focus, and thought he was going to lose my 20,000 Shs because for every distinction a teacher would be paid 20,000 Shs. Also when I went to Cyprian, I had grown wings and I refused to register for exams and they had to call my mum.
Question: So now you are the valedictorian at Makerere University School of Law for 2024 and that precisely means you are the best of the best. I am curious to know, what do you credit most for your achievement? In other words, how did you get here? How did you end up being the best student at Makerere Law School?
What explains my success is knowing what I want, having a sense of direction, and being focused, to ensure you can get whatever you want to achieve. And having the right people around me. The third best student is my good friend. I have been with him. He is the guy who even convinced me to go and write the pre-entry. Kevin (the second-best student) was in the same discussion group as me. He is my good friend. So the right people around you are going to tell you “Do this and this. Have you copied notes? Are you in class?” Even when you are in a discussion, you want to discuss with competent people. People who are going to critique you. So you are not in a comfortable zone. Someone is adding value to you and you are adding value to them.
Question: That’s Amazing. So, reflecting on your time at the law school, are there any experiences or moments that stood out for you? Both positive and negative, if any.
Answer: The negative thing was Covid-19 because it negatively impacted my results. I would have done better if we had physical classes and physical exams. And then the positive thing I can talk about is the opportunities that come with being a top performer. I was in the CLE class for example and I found myself working with CEHURD which is an NGO that deals in health rights. In my experience with CEHURD, I learned a number of things, and my opinion about sexual and reproductive rights changed. Also getting to interact with very many people, including members of the Parliament of the East African Community or the legislative assembly.
Question: So then, What obstacles or challenges did you encounter in your law school journey, and how did you overcome them? What kept you motivated?
Answer: Commuting was a major obstacle. We had online classes and they used to come abruptly. You are at home and they tell you there is a class online. You do not have data, you are broke. At law school, there is strong wifi but because you are at home you cannot have access to that wifi. How was I able to overcome that? My two friends (Kevin and Edwin) would record and send them recordings. Maybe the other obstacle was that everyone’s focus was on me you want to impress but at the end of the day it is costly. You do not want to make a mistake because everyone’s eye is looking up to you. For example, in the third year, everyone was talking about me and I was forced to put in more additional work.
Question: That’s interesting. What were people talking about you? Was it something positive or negative?
Answer: It was a positive thing. You know they are telling you how the hopes of the class are in you.
Question: Let’s go back a bit to the beginning of your legal education journey. Why did you choose to study law? Why law, not something else?
Doing law is something I was convinced by a friend to do. It was try or leave. Go write the pre-entry, get Government if you fail then leave. My friend Edwin sat me down and said you man you already have the Attorney General’s Award from LDC, why would you go and do things that are not related to the law? Go and give it a try and see. I cannot say I had the passion from day one. My passion is in Sports. But during interactions with different lecturers, you go to a class and find a person like Joseph Kyazze, they are discussing the law, they have made it in life, they are driving a posh car and you are like “Wow, these guys are able to live a good life because of the law?” And you find yourself inspired.
Question: Okay. So, I realize you speak about Joseph Kyazze. I know he is a good guy. He is funny. He is a man of humor. Could you please tell me about your experiences generally with the faculty at the school of law? Is there any particular teaching staff member you would like to give a special mention on our platform?
Answer: I have two people in mind. The first one is Mr. Ivan Engoru. He has been like a godfather to me. Trying to guide me. He is a person you are going to call and he call you back. He has been really there for me. The other person is Madam Ahumuza Ateenyi Diana. In fact, She is a Doctor. She is a person who used to call and say you know what we appreciate that you are at the top of your game but please do not lose focus. And that kept me on track and not losing focus. So I shout out to them for what they were able to do towards my success at law school.
Law school had the most competent lecturers, for example, Prof. Joe Oloka Onyango. The first time I heard of Joe Oloka Onyango was in the first year. They told us, there was a guy called Joe Oloka Onyango who was going to come and teach us constitutional history, and the the guy came, and he was good. Then Dr Busingye Kabumba came and he was good. You know you are being taught by the top professors and top doctors. So you are like because I am taught by the best surely I have to be like them.
Question: You talked about joining law school at the behest of your friend and that makes me curious. What kind of lawyer do you intend to become? Are there any specific areas of law you are most passionate about?
Answer: I do not want to be a litigation lawyer who goes to Court and argues cases. I was contemplating doing a certificate in soccer management. Not being in litigation. Being in the corporate world. In the Sports stuff and not Court. I have a passion for Intellectual Property because I was taught by Mr. Fredrick Mpanga. And maybe labor because of Mr. Ivan Engoru.
Question: Could you highlight for us any significant achievements outside your valedictorian status that you have realized in your law school journey?
Answer: They are mainly three. At the law dinner, I received two Awards. I received the Lord Denning Award. And the award for best mobilizer. Whenever you wanted people at law school to gather, you had to call me. I was the assistant coach for my class so in 2022-2023 we won the Sports Gala and we were awarded best assistant coaches.
Question: What’s the Lord Denning Award About?
Answer: The Lord Denning Award is not given by law school. It is given by students. But it is about who they think is the wisest student in the cohort.
Question: Okay. What Advice do you have for someone who is considering joining law school? Do you have any advice for current or future law students?
Answer: My advice is simple. Being at law school various opportunities come and once you position yourself in the right position surely opportunities are going to come and you just need to seize them. And you will never be the same. For the person who is at law school who is studying, my advice is that focus and have good grades. If you have an Upper class degree from Makerere University you are good to go. Firms are going to come looking for you. You are not going to look for them. For the future law student, of course, there are saying the market is populated with many lawyers but you see whenever something new emerges, there are various opportunities. For example, you are talking about digital telecommunications technology and we now have cyber law. And people who are majoring in cyber law can earn big. So you just need to position yourself and specialize.
Question: Is there anything you would like to add that we have not covered? What is your parting shot?
Answer: My parting remarks are thanks to everyone who has been part of my journey. My God. My Parents. My friend Sabiiti. What I can say is that those who have been part of my journey; I want to thank them.
Benjamin Ahikiiriza is a Legal Writer And Digital Communications & Marketing Specialist majoring in Lawyers, Law Firms And the larger Legal Sector.
Benjamin currently Works as the Director of Content and Business Development At LegalReports.