THE INSPIRING LIFE STORY OF A STRUGGLING FIRST CLASS LAW STUDENT by Frederick Agaaya Adongo

I am Frederick Agaaya Adongo. I am from Zorkor, a village in the Bongo District of the Upper East Region. Permit me to use this platform to share a brief story about the trajectories of my academic journey. It may inspire someone never to give up. 

I started my basic education at Goo D/A Primary School located at Zorkor. Somewhere in Primary 2, I was turned into a ‘cow-boy’ as it is commonly known. I had to tend cattle and attend school concurrently. I had to do this with a cousin of mine. So we ran shifts in both school and our shepherding task. This meant that in a typical week, I could go to school a minimum of twice or a maximum of thrice in a week. This continued till I got to Form 3 at Goo Junior High School (J.H.S). Thankfully, however, I was able to sit all examinations and I did quite well and was never demoted in school. So in 2014, I sat the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) and had aggregate 13,
although that was not too good a grade, I was the best graduating student in my school. Aside that, I happened to be the best in the district as the general performance was poor in my district. 

Curiously, as at JHS, I couldn’t construct a proper sentence in the English Language because I, like my colleagues in that school and the most part of my Region, lacked the basics of English grammar that many people in other parts of the country had at a very tender age. I quite remember that when I contested for Agric Prefect in Primary 6 and had to deliver a manifesto, I didn’t know what to say. I committed many egregious grammatical blunders in the process. My colleagues mocked me, albeit cheerfully. Maybe I was the ‘Dumb Ox’ of my time, I felt ‘Dumb Ox’ is a term that was used to describe St. Thomas Aquinas because of his huge stature and his quiet demeanour which made his classmates conceive of him as dumb and good for nothing, yet he became one of the greatest philosophers and theologians that history has ever known.

Having passed the BECE, I gained admission to Notre Dame Minor Seminary Senior High School, Navrongo, for my second cycle education in October 2014. I went through a great deal of trouble, wallowing in a solitary, depressing universe in my search for money to pay my school fees. Thankfully, my ever supportive cousin, Theresa Azure, gave me some money to pay my fees (which covered the most part of the school fees). This was supplemented by contributions from Mr. Moses Atengane, Mr. Francis Azubila, Mr. John Azorko, Mr. Samuel Akurigo and Mrs. Lamisi Asapeo (the mother of my age old friend, Daniel Abiliba) who contributed in both cash and kind to enable me go to Senior High School.

I almost always went to school with nothing but my chop box full of books. Luckily I met the likes of Victor Ayariga, Philip Atubiga and others who were in a better financial standing. I benefited a lot from the contents of their chop boxes. God bless them!

While in Notre Dame (in my first year), I had a fracture which incapacitated me for quite a long time (till almost the end of my second year). I was unable to walk without support. I used crutches! This made me stay out of class for quite a long time. Nevertheless, as fate would always have it, I sat all examinations, and under the aegis of God’s benevolence, I performed quite well (I topped my class from first year to final year). To the glory of God, when I sat the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) in 2017, I emerged the best graduating General Arts Student (I made an A1 in every subject, except English Language where I recorded a B2), despite all the struggles I underwent and having served as Library Prefect in my final year. I had friends like Dennis Ayariga who helped me in my revision on subjects in which I was lagging behind, having stayed out of class for a long time.

In Notre Dame, again, I had the most traumatizing experiences. I was in the General Arts (Indigo Class as it was called in Notre Dame). The Indigo Class was tagged the ‘bad’ class. All accusing fingers were pointed at us whenever a crime was committed. This was because of the common perception that all Arts students were dumb and rascal in nature, at least in the eyes of members of the Notre Dame community. Even some Science students who hardly made a C4 in any exam mocked at us simply because they were in the Science (Emerald) Class. This almost made me despair. “Why did I find myself in this class,” I always quizzed myself, but no answers were forthcoming. In first year, I thought of changing my course from General Arts to General Science, because I felt I could bear the pain no more. But Science was a course I never had interest in (not that I couldn’t be a good Science student, but I never had interest in it). In fact, my J.H.S teachers and some members of my community encouraged me to pursue Science because they considered me smart. I refused, fortunately or unfortunately. I wanted to do what I had interest in – General Arts. Nevertheless, in Notre Dame, I decided to take a bold decision, owing to the pain and ridicule I was subjected to. I approached the Rector, Rev. Fr. Francis Kodelogo and told him I wanted to change my course. He sat me down, dissuading me from that thought. He cited many popular figures, including H.E John Dramani Mahama, who never did Science but are admired figures in the country. After giving due consideration to his advice, I decided to continue with General Arts. I am most grateful to God and Fr. Kodelogo that I didn’t change my course.

When I was about completing SHS, I thought of the Programme to pursue at the tertiary level. A lot of opinions came from many people, including my teachers. But I decided I wanted to pursue law. When I communicated to my folks about my intention to study law, I received a lot of discouraging messages. “There are no jobs; see the numerous jobless University graduates – Go to the Teacher Training College, where you are assured of a job after school”, “law is expensive and there is no money, so think about doing something else”, “all lawyers are destined for hell” etc were the popular rantings that preoccupied my ears. I said, I was ready to be part of the jobless many, even if it is the case that all University graduates are unemployed. Again, I assured myself that even if there was no money, as it obviously was the case, I was confident the Lord would provide. And I again formed the opinion that, as one who aspires to be a devout Catholic man and a saint for that matter, I dare to make the difference by becoming the first lawyer to go to heaven, if indeed no lawyer has made it there.

Defying all odds, therefore, I applied for law at the Law School of the nation’s premier University. University of Ghana (UG) is the only school I applied for since I had no money to purchase application forms of other schools as well. I used the money from an award given me by the PTA of Notre Dame for excellent academic performance to purchase that of UG. Under the aegis of a benevolent spirit, I gained admission to UG School of Law.

Then the expected dilemma presented itself. Where was the money to pay the school fees?!! I was worried. But I was nevertheless proud of myself, inwardly. I said to myself: “Even if I was unable to go to school because I had no money to pay school fees, at least the story would be told by posterity of a young lad who once gained admission to Law School but couldn’t proceed because of financial constraints, and that alone is fulfilling.” Miraculously, just about a day to the deadline for the payment of fees, I had a call from a cousin of mine, Theresa Azure (whom I owe a lot) asking for my school details to pay my fees. She was able to pay part of my school fees, just so I could register my courses for the first semester. In respect of residential fees, my mother who was hawking the streets of Accra selling sachet water was able to help me with 500 cedis from her savings. Then a teacher from my community, Mr. Moses Atengane, who had previously helped in paying my SHS admission fees, added 420 cedis so I could pay my residential fees.

When I was reporting to UG, I had nothing proper that I could wear. My dad gave me some of his long sleeved shirts. I altered those and used same in my first year in UG. Luckily, when I entered UG, I was privileged to have met Prosper Batariwah who introduced me to Venny Quansah, who in turn introduced me to Mr. Seidu Agongo who has since then paid my school fees and assisted me with money for my feeding. Then later I met Dr. Dominic Ayine who has also been tremendously helpful in providing for my financial needs. And it will be the height of ingratitude on my part to end this paragraph without making mention also of Rev. Fr. William Abaiku Apprey, Mr. Daniel Aidoo-Mensah, Dr. Francis Poku, Mrs. Johanna Yankson, the St. Vincent de Paul Society and the St. Thomas Aquinas Parish, who have also assisted me, financially and otherwise.

Now, in my first year, I was without a laptop. Learning, being a confused and naive student and without a laptop was uneasy. So I was almost always in the library, reading and not understanding whatever I read. Thankfully, I was introduced by my SHS Senior (Conrad Wedam Kogyapwah) to his friend, Prosper Batariwah, who was then in level 200 (he also made a first class last year). I ran to him whenever I needed help. He never turned me down. He was and still is so selfless and helpful. I remember so vividly that the night before my first law exam (Legal System), he sat me down and went through some past questions with me and guided me on how to answer questions. I am eternally grateful to him.

As fate would have it, I was elected to represent my class at the Senate of the Law Students’ Union in my first year. At my first Senate meeting, I was asked to introduce myself. I said I was Frederick Agaaya Aba-arigigma Adongo. The name Aba-arigigma caught the attention of the senators who were present. They asked me to tell them its meaning. I did. That made me a popular figure in the house. Then one day, a guy who was then in level 400 (by name Albert popularly known as Abortion) who was also a member of Senate met me at the library and asked me how the law was. I didn’t lie. I said it was difficult. I added that it was particularly hard since I had no laptop and the phone I used was next to a yam, with no sufficient space to contain even 50 cases. I virtually made the library my second home. Then Albert promised me that he’d give me his spare laptop. He did! That laptop helped me in my studies in the first year, and by the end of my first year I had already made a GPA of 3.6 (the minimum threshold for first class), which qualified me for an award by the Lebanese Government in Collaboration with the Lebanese Business Community in Ghana for outstanding academic performance.

First year was not easy. I well remember my very first lecture in the Law School. It was a Monday morning and at 9:30am, we had Constitutional Law. Dr. Peter Atudiwe Atupare came and introduced us to case briefs. Then he gave an assignment thereafter, as was the custom at Law School. We were tasked to brief Tuffour v. Attorney General, one of the simplest and easiest to digest constitutional cases. I read the case over 10 times and couldn’t pick even the minutest and most glaring legal principle from it. How then do I prepare a case brief of what I didn’t even understand? So I went to my mentor, Prosper Batariwah for assistance, He explained the case to me and further guided me as to how to prepare a case brief. I went back and read the case again and I immediately understood it. With that understanding, I prepared my case brief, thinking I had done a great job. When the assignment was marked, I had 2/10. The highest was 2.5 or so. I almost despaired. But our seniors intimated that it was normal. So I took it in good faith.

Throughout my stay in Law School, there were devastating moments. There were papers I wrote and expected nothing save an A, but it never happened. Sometimes I got a B+ instead, with a few Bs (5 Bs, mainly in UGRC courses). Then in level 300, the worst happened in Environmental Law II. I was awarded a C+ in that paper, but I strongly believe I deserved a better grade. A ‘C+’ in level 300?!! What a devastating effect that can have! The thought of this almost depressed me. I couldn’t eat. There were times I bought banku two cedis and couldn’t eat a quarter of it. All attempts to have my script remarked were futile. So I gave up on the remarking and focused on what was ahead.

Being perceived of as a good student, I deemed it a moral obligation to help whoever came my way seeking assistance, academically, as I benefited from other persons. I did that to the best of my ability, expecting nothing in return. In fact, I spent more time assisting others than I did on my personal studies. Sometimes, especially during revision and exam weeks, I get overwhelmed with messages from people needing assistance, law students and non-law students alike. Occasionally, I conceived the idea of deleting my WhatsApp so I could enjoy my peace and focus on my own exam. But there always was a mild, calm and soothing voice saying to me: “young man, don’t be selfish. People need your help. Help them when you can.” Thankfully, that voice always reigned triumphant and I didn’t do what I was sometimes tempted to do. My WhatsApp is flooded with numberless voice notes I sent to my colleagues and juniors, guiding them on what they needed assistance with. Students of other faculties were willing to pay 100s of cedis for me to do assignments for them. I declined all their offers, because I had no time to do that. But I was willing to spend my time helping those who needed assistance at the UGSoL, although I did that for no consideration.

On entering Law School, the popular Mr. K.K.K Ampofo, a lecturer, told us that as a law student, one should spend no time on any thing but studies, else one is bound for failure. He jokingly said there is even no time for answering nature’s call regularly and that we should ease our bowels once in a week. But I begged to differ.

From first year, I identified myself with the International Movement of Catholic Students (IMCS) Pax Romana. I became a very active member and attended almost all of its programmes. In Pax, I was a member of the Legion of Mary and the Lectors Ministry. I almost never missed a meeting of any of these groups, until recently. I became Vice President of the Legion of Mary in Level 100, President of Legion of Mary in Level 200, and Pax General Secretary in Level 300 (while still acting as Legion of Mary President, since the then President had travelled abroad for studies). I was awarded the most outstanding male Lector in the 2018/2019 academic year. I was the first awardee of the Pamela Suglo Most Hardworking member of the year in the 2018/2019 academic year, awarded by Pax alumni.

Aside Pax, I was an active member of the BONABOTO Students’ Union (students from Bolgatannga, Nangodi, Bongo, Tongo and their environs). I became its Organiser in level 200 and its Vice President in Level 300. I was an active member also of the Northern Students’ Union (NSU) where I became its Legal Advisor. I faithfully attended the meetings and programmes of these and all groups that I belonged to.

In student politics, I was not altogether left out. I was a member of Akuafo JCR Judicial Board for two years. I served as Legal Advisor to the UG Chapter of the Ghana Veterinary Medical Students’ Association (GVMSA), Family and Consumer Science Students’ Association (FACSSA), the Law Students’ Union and others that I can’t recall. In all of these capacities, I had duties to perform. I also took part in some campus litigation in Level 400, which also ‘stole’ a chunk of my time.

Outside academics also, I had the opportunity to do other things: I was privileged to be a research assistant to Prof. Raymond Atuguba (Dean of the UG School of Law) for a short while, since I had some work doing at the time for Dr. Dominic Ayine, former Deputy Attorney General and Minister of Justice, whom I occasionally assist with research. I was also a research assistant to Mr. Courage Asabagna, a lecturer at the Law School and Dr. Yvonne Idun (former lecturer at the Law School). I also assisted Ms. Natalie Appiah-Dwomoh, a UK-based Ghanaian lawyer with research. I was also privileged to have helped, in 2020, the UG School of Law with research in the recent Democratic Vigilance Project (DVP) which was aimed at addressing issues on democratic decision making in the midst of pandemics. Again, I have authored numerous articles on diverse areas of law in the Legally Speakin Blog of the Law Students’ Union. I am glad to add, also, that I have a long essay to my credit, which was based on a critique of the modern purposive approach to interpretation and the decision of the Supreme Court in the case of Dr. Dominic Ayine v Attorney General (the Special Prosecutor Case).

In addition, I was and I’m part of a lot of groups where we share mischievous stories about each other for fun. Ever heard of Allo Kingdom? Yes, that is one of them where the likes of Akpara, Redeemer, Tasty Tom, Mawutor, Vincent Obiri Korang, Silas Kaleo, Ebenezer, Rune, Herbert Navele and others are. There is yet another, CODE, It is in this pot that the mischievous words of the likes of Selikem Donkor, Prince-Obed, Mawuli and Richmond are cooked. So I am almost always online, teasing my friends for fun. I enjoyed it. Then Patience Asabagna (Mrs.) [who has been tremendously supportive too] has been a thorn in my flesh in spreading mischief about me. Vincent Obeng is yet another, and many others inexhaustible to enumerate. It was all fun, and I enjoyed every bit of it. I had time for all of that! Then there was Seth Doe (who also made a first class in law last year) always advising me on relationship issues. Seth and I could spend hours on these things.

Meanwhile, I went through my educational journey from Primary 5 till now as the victim of an almost broken home. While I was in Primary 5, my dad got married to a second wife. This resulted in a lot of family issues which almost broke me down and these were the root causes of some of my woes. I put all of these in my heart and pondered over them deeply. Most of these are of a nature that I wouldn’t want to share publicly, so that I wouldn’t be seen to be soiling the reputation of another person.

From the foregoing, I guess my colleagues would now understand what I meant whenever I described myself as a struggling law student.

I went through, and did, all of these, yet God has been faithful to me. I ended up as a First Class LLB graduate, with a Final Grade Point Average (FGPA) of 3.73 out of a possible 4.0. That seems impressive, doesn’t it? In percentile terms, that represents about 93% of the possible highest FGPA that one can get.

Then the nagging question presents itself: how did I combine all these with studies and was able to maintain a good class? First, it is the grace of God. Second, I know myself and I managed my time accordingly. Actually, owing to the training I received in SHS, when I first came to UG, I was unable to learn beyond 10pm. In Notre Dame, it was a crime to learn after preps (which ended at 10:30pm). But upon getting to UG, I had to adjust and could learn till late night or dawn, whenever necessary. Again, I knew what to do at what time, and I did just that. All of these, I believe, were helpful.

My advice to all my juniors is this. Learn hard, but also pray hard. If anyone tells you prayer doesn’t work, the person must be a liar! Now let me share with you a most recent incident in that regard. All through my life in Law School, I had passion for courses that are philosophical and theoretical in nature – Jurisprudence, International Law, Criminal Law, Constitutional Law etc. I never had interest in Contract Law, Torts Law, Commercial Law and related ones.

Law of Taxation, a Level 400 course, is one of those I never had interest in. I understood it whenever I learnt, it but I never liked learning it because nothing motivated me to. Particularly for the second semester part of Taxation, I never learnt it until I had to prepare for an Interim Assessment (IA). It was then that I started learning it. I was able write the IA. While preparing for the final end of semester exams, I was also working on my long essay which I was so passionate about. Per the schedule with my supervisor, I was supposed to submit my fifth chapter for review on the day I was to write Taxation II. I spent my time on my long essay, to the utter disregard of Taxation. Then the day before the Tax paper, I was so tensed. I was unable to learn. When I read, I understood nothing. I spent my whole day in the library, but couldn’t understand even the simplest of topics in Taxation II – free zones and investment promotion. So in the evening, I went to the Adoration Chapel at the St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church. I sat there for some time, praying the rosary (my favourite prayer). After saying my prayer, I went back to my hall and
started learning. I understood with unimaginable ease that which I hitherto struggled to grasp. I learnt the whole course the night before the paper and went to write the exam the next morning. And I found the paper easy. And by the grace of God, I made an A in Taxation II.

Rather, the course that has been my all-time favourite ,Jurisprudence , disappointed me. I preferred to read about legal theories from the authors themselves. In respect of legal interpretivist jurisprudence, I tried to abreast myself with the works of Ronald Dworkin such as Law’s Empire, Taking Rights Seriously and A Matter of Principle, instead of relying on textbook summaries. The exam, undoubtedly, was easy for me.  This was an easy A, I thought to myself. I used the first 11 pages of the 12-page answer booklet to answer one question. But when I requested for a supplementary answer booklet, none was available in the exam hall. I waited for over 15 minutes before I got one, by which time there was not enough time to write. That fear made me lose my train of thoughts and that left me wallowing in a welter of unfathomable confusion as I tried to speed up to beat time. I ended up getting a B+ in my favourite course.

With prayer, I was able to make an A in a course I never learnt in a whole semester, but failing to get that in a course I had spent the bulk of time reading. So prayer does wonders!

Ladies and gentlemen, this is a gist of my story. I hope you learn a thing or two from it. Thank you!