Teens Connect: Soliloquy! The Winning Word that Put the Crown on Master Sheriff, as Best Speller in Africa

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Teens Connect with Nkechi Ibeneme; teensconnectmag@gmail.com; 08142358958 (text only)

Soliloquy is not just any word to Master Sheriff Muhammad. It is a crown winning word. After series of word battles against his peers in Nigeria, Sheriff qualified alongside four other teenagers to represent Nigeria in far away South Africa, where they locked horns in a word bout against an equally battle ready representatives from 12 other African countries. In the end of a long taxing grand finale, Sheriff emerged Champion by spelling that one last word, Soliloquy!   The 15year old African Spelling Champion is in SS3 and the current Vice School Captain (Academics) of Kings College Lagos. For winning the coveted crown, Sheriff got a full scholarship to Monash South Africa worth $20, 000, Cash prizes and bags of branded gifts from sponsors of the competition.  In this chat with Nkechi Ibeneme, the Champ lets us into his world and thoughts for the future

About the contest, what was the warm up like?
At first, it was a little bit terrifying that I was about to compete with people from different countries, but, there was a shift and I trained well enough for the competition.

Have you taken part in a similar or any other educational competition before then?
Yes, I’ve taken part in some previous spelling competitions, some I won, and some I lost…I’ve also indulged in other educational competitions; debates, chess competition and essay competitions.

How many stages did you have to scale through to qualify for the finals?
There were 3 tough competitive stages.

How many of you represented Nigeria?
We were five in all; three for the senior category, and two for the junior category.

When you met the other finalists were you not intimidated?
Trust me, I was. But, it died off after some interactive sessions.

What was the final like?
The finals was intriguing; I was the last contestant so I always got to see so many people fail, then, I’d be terrified, but then, I kept on spelling my words correctly till the very last word.
It was full of enthusiasm at all stages, and the five minutes breaks that came in after every round were moments of anxiety for all the contestants.

Which word gave you the winning edge?
It was SOLILOQUY. I smiled before spelling this word because I was the last man standing and I was indeed happy that it was a word I knew.

How long did you prepare for the contest?
Let’s say, one week active preparation before the trip to South Africa, then, I practiced three hours daily before the competition.

How did you prepare?
I prepared simply by going through different wordlists from so many diverse sources such as the internet, the dictionary, previous competition wordlists, and I made it feel like a hobby. I remember using basketball to train, I’d always take a shot at an imaginary net before spelling a word (while I was practicing), and this brought fun to the whole practice process. I also wrote down my words as I practiced them, writing them down helped me remember them.

Which of the stages was the most difficult for you?
The national finals, I guess.

How eager are you to take up the offer at Monash South Africa?
I’m totally eager and anxious to want to study at Monash, but, I’m totally open to a lot more interesting offers and opportunities at Ivy League universities such as Harvard, Oxford, Yale and others, to broaden my horizons.

What course do you intend to study and why?
I would love to study Business Administration and Management because I’ve developed a passion for entrepreneurship and I’d like to run chains of businesses in future.

After the contest, did you get the opportunity to visit any tourist destinations in South Africa? If yes, where and where did you visit?
We visited Cradle of Humankind Sterkfontein cave and we also went to one of their big shopping malls.

Which of those places visited made the most impact on you and why?
The Sterkfontein cave amazed me more because it was my first time in a cave. Also, I was startled by the way they displayed different forms of nature. The Sterkfontein cave has some myth that had some strings relating to our forefathers. It was really impactful and you could see it is well managed.

Do you think the Nigerian government is doing enough to develop Nigeria compared to what you saw in South Africa?
No! I don’t think so. The Nigerian government didn’t even appreciate us (the representatives). Other governments are a lot more serious about this competition than the Nigerian government. People do say Nigeria is the giant of Africa, I think they need to visit South Africa because it’s a lot more developed than Nigeria.

What do you think they should do more?
They should learn to appreciate their Ambassadors a lot more. The Nigerian government should also pay more attention to the youths. A scheme where teenagers will feel more empowered should be initiated because there are lots of teenagers out there with potentials and our dear country will kill these potentials if the government and other agencies don’t realise this sooner.

Who is your role model and why?
I have lots of role models; each according to my different passions. For my chess life, my role model is Magnus Carlsen.
For my public speaking life, my role model is Barack Obama.
And, from a general view, my role model is Warren Buffett; I want to be a great investor like him.

When you are not learning new words, how do you relax?
I play Chess, Football and I watch movies.

What advice do you have for fellow teenagers out there?
There are lots of admonitions I could give, but most importantly, I’d say that all teenagers should discover their niche or passion, set upright goals, work towards it with synergy and energy , obviously with the assistance of God and they shouldn’t depend on government for assistance, because, they are likely to be disappointed. However, teens should be steadfast with their goals at heart and they should work towards it with an unquenchable determination.