By Dare Babarinsa
Rotimi Ireti Akinola is my friend. He is one of the few Nigerians who look trouble in the face and match boldly forward to embrace it. Akinola is a teacher of doctors. He is one of Africa’s leading gynaecologists and obstetricians and he is currently leading a national campaign to stem the tide of cervical cancer. Akinola is also a professor at the Lagos State University College of Medicine as well as a specialist gynaecologist at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, LASUTH, Ikeja. Of course, Adeyanju, his wife and closest collaborator is also a professor.
I wonder even now why Akinola decided to join Idile Oodua, the Yoruba revolutionary group that was one of the underground movements against military rule during the General Sani Abacha dictatorship. He took the risk despite his position as a medical practitioner in the full employment of the Lagos State government. He took the risk, like many others, that our country must be free from military dictatorship so that we can have what American President Abraham Lincoln called the “government of the people, by the people and for the people.” Whether we have succeeded in having that now is open to debate. The truth is that many of those who participated in that epochal struggle against the military dictatorship was not among the ones who took the rein of power after the battle was won.
Akinola’s interest in social engineering reminds one of the exploits of medics like Dr. Michael Okpara of Nigeria who succeeded Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe as the Premier of the defunct Eastern Region and Dr. Antonio Agostinho Neto, the first President of Angola. His background must have affected his social conscience and his willingness to take a personal risk in the pursuit of social justice. His father, a surveyor, had sent him to Comprehensive High School, Aiyetoro, in Ogun State where he made distinctions in his school certificate examination. He was offered a scholarship by the Federal Government to study medicine in Russia, where he attended the Lvov University, one of the oldest medical institutions in Europe. He later attended the State Medical Institute, Kiev and bagged his Doctor of Medicine degree in 1981.
Akinola is one of the leaders of Nigerian warriors fighting on the frontline against the COVID-19 pandemic. Suddenly we now realised that our leaders cannot leave the rest of us on the battlefield and flee to better hospitals in Europe and the United States. We are here together and whether we like it or not, it is bringing the best out of those on the frontline. We now know that our doctors, nurses, medical laboratory scientists, paramedics and other on the frontline are equal to the task. They are the miracle workers of this era and when the war against COVID-19 is won, these outstanding people would be our heroes.
While we stay home with our children and taking the opportunity of the lockdown to eat like termites, the medicals are on the frontline. Every morning, afternoon, evening and night, they are going out on shifts to confront the enemy. I have no doubt that this challenge would bring out the best in us. Already, the Nigerian Army Medical Corps has developed cheaper ventilators that would be used in the Intensive Care Units, ICU, by COVID-19 patients. They said they could produce at least 100 of those machines every month.
Hundreds of Nigerian scientists are spending days and nights in their laboratories to help find what Chief Olusegun Obasanjo would have called “home-grown” solution to this challenge. Indeed, some Nigerian leaders, led by His Imperial Majesty, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, has advised that we should also look at the other side of epistemology and tap from the abundant knowledge of our people in herbal medicine. Some traditional doctors have claimed they could provide cure to the pandemic. Whether this claim has been put to test I am not sure. However, Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State, who was a COVID-19 patient, said he survived the ordeal partly by generous application of Yoruba traditional medicine.
What is clear is that we have a corps of men and women who are ready to prosecute this war on behalf of the Nigerian people. Like all warriors, the warriors in white overalls are also at risk. Many doctors and nurses have already fallen to the pandemic. Among the first victims in Lagos was a medical doctor who unknowing was made to treat a COVID-19 patient. As of now, the brave medics who treated the Ekiti State index case are also fighting the infection. They too have become victims.
We remember with painful nostalgic the heroism of Dr. Ameyo Adadevoh, daughter of our late Vice-Chancellor, Professor Kwaku Adadevoh of the University of Lagos. Dr. Adadevoh was also a descendant of the great Bishop Ajayi Crowther and Herbert Macaulay, the father of Nigerian nationalism. She was the one who stood guard at the gate and did not allow the Ebola epidemic to cross into the market place. Without her heroism and that of her colleagues, Ebola would have wreaked untold havoc in Nigeria. I hope when this pandemic is over, the Nigerian government would give the expected and rightful honour to the memory of Adadevoh so that future generations would take inspirations from her deeds.
Nigerian doctors are noted for their stamina and heroism all over the world. In an era past, many world leaders use to come to the University College of Hospital, UCH, Ibadan, for their regular medical check-up and treatments. One of those coming to UCH was King Faisal of Saudi Arabia. His personal doctor was the late Professor Kayode Osuntokun, the world-famous neurologist. Later King Faisal built a state of the art hospital in Riyadh, capital of Saudi Arabia and invited Osuntokun to come and help run. Osuntokun, however, declined, saying he would prefer to stay in Ibadan, helping Nigeria to train generations of medical doctors.
Those medical doctors trained in Ibadan, Ife, Zaria, Ilorin and other Nigerian universities are proving their worth all over the world. One of them, Dr. Oluyinka Olutoye, who was trained at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, led a team 21 doctors to perform a marathon operation on a 23-week old fetus, to remove a large tumor. After the operation, the baby was again returned to its mother’s womb and then was born again on its ninth month. It was the first of its kind in the world and Olutoye received universal applause for his feet. A children hospital is now named in his honour in Texas, United States.
In 2010, my cousin, Fakorede Ajayi, was referred to an Indian Hospital for a complicated orthopaedic surgery necessitated by an earlier accident on the line of duty as a top official of the Department of State Security, DSS. The cost was enormous and he needed help. We later met Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State (during his first term) who decided to help. Ajayi was preparing to travel to India only for him to be told that the leading consultant for his kind of operation in India was a Nigerian! The man was in high demand all over the world including in Saudi Arabia, Dubai and Germany. In the end, the great Dr. Nasir, a neuro-surgeon, led the team to perform the operation on Ajayi at the Usmanu Dan Fodiyo Teaching Hospital, Sokoto.
It is good that Nigerians are building hospitals of world standard and equipping old ones to meet modern challenges. The COVID-19 is making our leaders experience our hospitals and subject themselves to treatment at the home front. In the past, they prefer to be treated in Europe and America. For them, Nigeria was only good enough as their burial place. Now two outstanding medical practitioners, Osagie Ehanire, the Minister of Health and Olorunnimbe Mamora, the Minister of State, have the opportunity to prove the case for better recognition for Nigerian doctors and other practitioners of the art of healing. They are our warriors in white overall and without their effort, our great country would lie prostrate at this time of the angry and rampaging COVID-19 pandemic.
It is a notorious fact that knowledge has no native country. Anyone who cultivates it would be rewarded. It is time our leaders realise that knowledge is the weapon of the present and the future. If you are in doubt think of Rotimi Akinola.
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