Friday, October 26, 2018 3:43 pm
By Jide Osuntokun
I first met the then young Dr Ladipo Akinkugbe in 1962, 56 years ago when he came to give a lecture on water borne diseases to students of Ibadan Grammar School during my Higher School Certificate course. My alma mater Christ’s school Ado Ekiti did not have HSC in Arts subjects then. Even some of my very brilliant colleagues in the sciences preferred to have different experience than the one we had in Christ’s School by going to such schools as Ibadan Grammar School, Oyo Baptist College and Government College Ibadan Abeokuta Grammar School etc. But quite a number swotted for the concessional entrance examination to the University of Ibadan rather than going through the circuitous route of the Advanced Level examination.
Akinkugbe comes from a patrician family of the Akinkugbe/Ladapo lineage in Ode-Ondo. By the way the only other place prefaced with “Ode” in Nigeria is Ode-Itshekiri or “big Warri” without going too much into history the people of the two places are linguistically related. Akinkugbe after his primary school in Ondo went to Government College Ibadan which distinguished itself by offering British type “public school” kind of education. Unlike Barewa College in the northern part of the country, its students intakes were usually the best selected after rigorous examination process. My brother, Edward Abiodun was a senior to Akinkugbe in Government College. One of Akinkugbe’s classmates was the Nobel laureate for literature Wole Soyinka (W.S). I must say if Akinkugbe had not studied medicine, he too would have made a mark in English literature judging from his mastery of the English language. One just has to listen or read his public lectures and auto biography “Footprints and Footnotes” to see the erudition that is native to the man.
Akinkugbe belonged to the class of medical students at the University of Ibadan who had to leave Nigeria to go to London University College to finish their clinical studies before graduating M.B. B.S. (London). Those who came after him to Ibadan which by then had one of the best teaching hospitals in the Commonwealth, the UCH, finished their medical education in Ibadan but continued to get degrees of London University until 1964 when the University of Ibadan regrettably severed its ties with the University of London. I was at the University of Ibadan at that time and many of the students who started earning degrees of Ibadan after 1964 were not very happy with being denied London degrees. Would we have lost anything if we had maintained academic ties with the University of London? The modern trend in higher education nowadays is that the great universities of the world viz Harvard, Yale, Oxford , Cambridge, London, University of California at Berkeley etc. are establishing overseas campuses in the Middle East, Malaysia, Singapore and China to offer opportunity for students overseas for their brand of quality education.
After graduating, Akinkugbe went to Oxford for advanced clinical studies earning a Ph.D. (Oxon) in the process. Fortified with this and membership of the Royal College of Physicians, Akinkugbe joined the teaching staff of the College of Medicine at the University of Ibadan. He rapidly rose through the ranks becoming a professor and dean of the faculty in his thirties. His rise to the top has been simply meteoric. During the expansion of tertiary institutions in Nigeria during the 1970s, he was asked to build initially a university college in Ilorin like the University of Ibadan, Jos campus established in 1971. He had hardly settled down there and laid out his plans when he was asked by the federal government to become the vice chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University, the bastion of northern Nigerian nationalism rooted in resentment of southern Nigeria’s advancement in western education.
The Obasanjo/Muhammed military government at that time in the late 1970s was driven by some kind of nationalist fervor and thought it could unify the country by making the nation’s elite work in areas far away from their ethnic homeland. For example, Professor Agodi Onwumechili was appointed vice chancellor of the University of Ife, J. C. Ezeilo was appointed vice chancellor of Bayero University, Kano and Umaru Shehu was appointed vice chancellor, University of Nigeria Nsukka. The experiment in nation-building nearly ended in tragedy for Akinkugbe and Ezeilo who had to be spirited out of Zaria and Kano following students and staff rebellion against them on the grounds of their ethnic and religious differences. If left alone in Ibadan, Akinkugbe would have adorned the vice chancellorship of the University of Ibadan with erudition, scholarship and refinement. He has however since his adventure in Zaria been called upon to chair as pro-chancellor, the governing councils of one or two universities in the country.
He is currently the pro-chancellor of Ondo State University of Medical Sciences, a controversial university established by Governor Segun Mimiko on the eve of the end of his eight year term as governor. This university is obviously a sop to the people of Ondo town who were complaining that their native son did nothing for their town in eight years. It will be a miracle if the university survives despite the awesome presence of Akinkugbe on its board. Ondo State before the establishment of the University of Medical Sciences still housed in Adeyemi College of Education, had two universities in Akungba and Okitipupa which were inadequately funded. It is a moot question whether what Ondo town needed was a university as a symbol of development. A functioning potable water scheme, regular electricity supply, good primary and secondary technical college and establishment of small scale industries and assistance to farmers and traders would have been money better utilized.
Akinkugbe of course could not have stopped the governor from establishing his pet project of a university. The Ibadan Hypertension Centre which Akinkugbe established and ran with his own funds is unfortunately closing down as the medical titan reaches 85. It is a pity that the government of Oyo or the federation cannot take over the centre and run it as a referral centre or as an adjunct to the University of Ibadan Teaching Hospital. Probably 50 percent of us Nigerians are hypertensive. This disease is a secret killer the management of which our governments have paid little attention. Akinkugbe on his own has pointed the way that we should go. It is a pity that our over politicized country pays little regard to things that are worthy and deserving of attention and emphasis.
Akinkugbe has paid his dues to Nigeria and to humanity. He has definitely earned his epaulettes as a distinguished professor of medicine. A grateful nation has accorded him the highest honour of the NNMA. He has been involved with credit the development of higher education in Nigeria. His advice may not have been listened to all the time by those in power but his contributions are on record and history will be kind to him. Sixty years of medical practice is worth celebrating. Kudos to you sir.