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Obasanjo forced me out of public service

by YINKA FABOWALE - Daily Sun

Oct 17, 2008

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…Now I’m better for it- Toun Hospital CMD Friday, October 17, 2008

Nigerians who are discomfited by immediate past president, Olusegun Obasanjo’s actions may well be consoled by the fact that his penchant for unpopular policies did not start with his eight- year civil rule. Indeed, the former leader has been galling the hearts of many since his first term as a military head of state.

One of such unpopular policies which drained the public service, especially the medical corps of much talents and brains was a decree which prohibited health workers in government employment from engaging in private practice.

One of the victims of the law, Dr. Lani Sogbetun, the proprietor and Chief Medical Director of Toun Memorial Hospital, Ibadan, Oyo State, has, however, told of how this led to a professionally and fulfilling private medical practice for him.

The occasion was the third edition of the ‘Happy Hour’ of Ibadan College of Medicine Alumni Association (ICOMAA) held on Thursday, October 9, 2008 at the University College Hospital (UCH). This is a forum where old students of the University of Ibadan College of Medicine comprising medical doctors, nurses, biochemists, physiotherapists, nutritionists, surgeons and others interact and share reminiscences on their careers.

Usually, there is one or more mystery guests, who are often members with interesting tales to tell. But other members do not get to knowing the guests until they are unveiled during introductions. This has been a regular feature of the association, whose membership cuts across home and abroad, since it was recently revived. It has Dr.Benedictus Gboyega Ajayi an eye expert, as president.

At the latest edition of the programme, Sogbetun and a doyen of surgery, Dr. Raphael Bolanle Alade, were on the bill as guests to share their experiences with the house.
Sogbetun, who spoke after Alade, recalled the wonderful time he had as a student in the institution, when students and their lecturers all knew one another by names.
“The UCH environment was a classical western world prototype. Everything worked. If you were not here then, you can’t appreciate the beauty. Many of the structures here now were not there. The teaching environment was fantastic. The staff and students knew themselves on first name basis,” he recalled.

Sogbetun had actually planned to go abroad to read medicine, but was persuaded by his uncle, a judge, who was also his mentor to go to U.I. The uncle was also instrumental to his choice of area of specialization, which is medical microbiology, although he had wanted to study psychiatry. On a World Health organisation (WHO) fellowship, he went to Manchester, U.K to specialize in this field and later took a postgraduate Diploma in Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs).

Sogbetun did useful pioneering research on Types 1 and 2 herpes for his M.D in which he discovered that African (Nigerian) children have by far more anti-bodies against the disease, which was wreaking havoc among the white population. By 1979, he was already a Senior Lecturer in the Ibadan College of Medicine. Everything was going well for him, what with a private clinic he set up in a part of the city for secondary income.

Then, Obasanjo came and ‘poured sand into his gari’. He promulgated the decree, which on the face value was to check against divided interest, but which Sogbetun insisted was targeted at doctors.

‘That man,’ Sogbetun exclaimed twice at a point in his account, to a roar of laughter from his audience. He disclosed that he was forced to resign because he was making a profit of about N6,000 a month from his private clinic as against a paltry N500 he earned as salary. That was the birth of Toun Memorial Hospital, the parent of a chain of health institutions in Ibadan and its environs.

Sogbetun said although his superiors advised him to keep the two jobs, saying nobody was going to enforce such ‘stupid’ piece of legislation, he was not prepared to test the will of the military regime.
He counselled his colleagues to set goals for themselves and work at it, stressing that with the mercy of God, they would succeed.

Alade, who kick-started the session, narrated his odyssey from when he gained admission into the University College in 1950 to his days in Britain, where he eventually qualified at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital (1953-1957) and Royal College of Surgeons, Glasgow and Edinburgh, where he took a fellowship.

On return to Nigeria, he served with the Western Regional Government, criss crossing the zone- from Ijebu-Ode to Abeokuta, Ibadan to Aramoko, among many other communities. “It was an exciting period,” he reminisced, adding: “It was a useful and challenging experience. I helped to develop health centres from nothing to what they became. The roads were terrible. In Aramoko especially, people in the town came with drums and cutlasses to clear the site. As rural medical officers, we toured maternities in remote areas. We didn’t have bread. The only bread we got came from Ife.”

Alade also pioneered the treatment of hernia, using local anesthesia. This involved injecting patients to deadening cells in the affected part of the body where the operation was to be carried out. This method, which has since become popular was a child of necessity, occasioned by lack of requisite facilities, when he worked in the Ijebu division. He later taught at the University of College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan. During the civil war, Alade was commissioned a Lt. Colonel treating wounded federal troops.

The aged doctor also made foray into writing and have two books: A Broken Bridge and Wind of Change in South Africa.
Taking the floor after the two speakers, ICOMAA’s president, Ajayi, summed up the gains and the upbeat mood of the audience, when he said the session had indeed been a happy hour: “There is no greater thing in life then sharing. If you have all the money in the world and you do not share, you can’t be happy.”

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