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Nostalgia, Commitment as UI Trained Doctors in US Raise $18G in one sitting to save UCH

by Laolu Akande

Jul 11, 2003



It was truly a superlative fellowship. A day in Chicago that brought nostalgic sentiments, backslapping among teachers and their old students. The day evoked inspiration in both categories to rise to the aid of the school and its restoration as large sums of money were raised for the University of Ibadan and its famous College of Medicine. Although it was largely a day of euphoric conviviality, it was also a day of talk, long and serious speeches.

No less than 150 UI-trained medical doctors who are now based in the United States converged at the 5-star Renaissance Hotel in the heart of the windy city in the evening of Friday, July 4, America\'s Independence Day. They came to spare a thought for their alma mater. They came to recall the college\'s days of renown. They also had to lament its present state of want, but did not leave without doing something to restore its glory.

At the end of the 2-part one-day event, no less than $18,000 US dollars had been raised by the alumni of the UI College of Medicine in the US.
It was done in the presence of the Vice Chancellor of the university, Professor Ayodele Falase, Provost College of Medicine, Professor Isaac Folorunsho Adewole, and the man who many called the legend of the Ibadan school of medicine and hypertension studies in Nigeria, Emeritus Professor Oladipo Akinkugbe.

Akinkugbe wore several hats at the event. He is the Worldwide President of the Ibadan College of Medicine Alumni Association, ICOMAA, the chairman of the Management Board of the University College Hospital and also the keynote speaker. All of the dignitaries from Ibadan were themselves graduates of the UI College of Medicine

There were also in attendance senior Ibadan professors of medicine like Professors Abiodun Johnson, aka AOK, and Temitayo Sokunbi, both of whom were former provosts of the College, Professor (Mrs) Falusi and Professor Funso Famuyiwa. All of who came from Ibadan, with the exception of Johnson and Famuyiwa, who are US-based.

The Chairman of the Planning Committee Dr. Olakunle Akinboboye, a professor of medicine at the State University of New York, at Stonybrook and also a top-notch nuclear cardiologist was himself overwhelmed that the program turned out so successfully. Professor Akinkugbe had noted during his address that Akinboboye, who he described as \"a remarkable young man\" had called him over 20 times in Nigeria to make sure to attend the event. According to Akinkugbe, \"he spoke Ondo to me when I was lagging.\"-

The US based members of the ICOMAA themselves number no less than 150, that is about 150 graduates of the college of medicine present at the Chicago event. The ICOMAA show took place just as the Association of Nigerian Physicians in the Americas, ANPA, was holding its annual scientific assembly in the same hotel. In deed, ANPA President, Dr. Olusegun Salako was also at the ICOMAA event and donated $1000 to the cause of the UI trained doctors in the US.

Sokunbi Salako was the very first speaker at the event and he used the occasion to welcome everyone to the ANPA assembly. He said the idea of ICOMAA trying to give back is one that would also benefit ANPA and encouraged all ANPA members to give something back.

When Salako stepped down having announced his $1000 donation, co-master of ceremony Dr. Toks Owo, a Texas- based medical doctor, who also ran in the AD House of Representatives primaries in Osun State enthused gladly that \"it\'s going to be a good night.\" Owo\'s \"gymnastics,\" as Akinkugbe was to later put it, was clearly one of the highlights of the event. The doctor-turned MBA, turned politician was issuing out jokes sending the audience on several laughing sprees. He was only beaten in the game of amusement, when at the tail end of the event, Professor Akinkugbe also unleashed his own age-old bag of humor.

For instance when it was time to make the votes of thanks, Owo prostrated flat in front of Akinkugbe, Falase, Adewole, Shokunbi and others who traveled from Ibadan to grace the event, which was also the official inauguration of ICOMAA in North America.

The other time that the audience reeled longer in laughter was when Akinkugbe, was delivering his keynote address on \"The Vagaries of Hypertension in sub-Saharan African, \" a very serious issue. You will wonder how such an otherwise dry intellectual discourse like that would draw any humor. Such is the underestimation of anyone not familiar with Akinkugbe\'s public speaking and entertaining skills.

When the Emeritus Professor was delivering his paper, he recalled his days at Government College Ibadan, GCI. \"Few mischievous boys were in my class, Wole Soyinka, Olumuyiwa Awe, Abel Guobadia (current INEC chair), Christopher Kolade among others. Akin Deko was our house-master, \" he recalled with gusto and nostalgia

Then Akinkugbe who is turning 70 in about a week from now went on to delight the audience with a story of how during each meal, Akin Deko would go through the same prayer routine. The routine went like this: \' O Lord, we are thank thee that we have food to eat and can eat it, there are those who have but cannot eat, and those who can eat but don\'t have food.\'
He said on one occasion, Soyinka was so fed up with the same prayer line. So while the meal was served and Akin Deko started the same prayer, Soyinka slipped him a note. In the note, Soyinka, 1986 Nobel laureate for Literature, wrote something like this: Why can\'t this bloody man just say \"O Lord, ditto!\" and the audience sprawled in a thrilling laughter.

But Akinkugbe was not finished. According to him, Akin Deko caught the note and asked him-Akinkugbe to read it out, which he had to do. \"He gave Soyinka six of the best, and me three of the best,\" Akinkugbe said referring to strokes of the cane.
Years later, Akinkugbe said he then asked Akin Deko why he had to include him in the punishment since he was only a recipient of the note. Akin Deko told him that he should have closed his eyes during prayers, Akinkugbe said he wondered how the house-master himself saw him!

But it was the College of Medicine Provost, Professor Isaac Adewole who spoke first among the university dignitaries from Ibadan. He recalled the days when the College was the best in the commonwealth. He said the quality of education that was imparted then was very high, until funding became \"a political issue.\" But he acknowledged that there has been some impressive improvement in recent times citing a N950M federal grant to the UCH courtesy of Akinkugbe, the chair of UCH board, who is believed to have the ears of the President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Adewole lamented that the National Universities Commission, NUC ratings place the College very low in terms of funding and infrastructure, but noted that in spite of that the College won more than half of the capacity-building award grants in the University, a proof that the quality of personnel remains among the topmost.

In order to cut its coat according to its size, Adewole disclosed that the College have had to cut its admission quota from an unwieldy 500 to 90 even if that has made the college officials unpopular. He added that in a new assessment policy of the College, students are now empowered to also assess their lecturers, a move that is clearly in line with international standards of higher education especially in the US.

\"We want to restore Ibadan to where we were years back in research projects and products…we want Ibadan to be all over the place in quality and quantity,\" Adewole stated.

He said the days when \"we thought we could manage alone\" were now gone, \"we need particularly doctors abroad, we don\'t want you to come back, we have no place to put you, but you have resources, you have money.\" The provost promised that the university would be transparent in handling the money and would be accountable.

Disclosing that a Canadian just recently donated 100 computers to the College, Adewole said US based doctors could arrange to bring some of the equipments that are no longer fashionable here to Ibadan, \"in Ibadan we still need them.\" He said journals are also needed. According to him, the College has laboratories that has to be retooled, new structures that have to be built, and old ones needing repair.

Quoting World Health Organisation, WHO sources, the provost said, there are about 10,000 Nigerian doctors abroad and at least 6000 of them, he argued would be Ibadan graduates. Adewole rounded up his speech assuring the US based doctors that their colleagues in Nigeria including himself \"will try and match you at home, but not dollar for dollar,\" to the amusement of the audience.

Sometimes later during the programme, the past provost of the College of Medicine, Professor Temitayo Sokunbi was called upon by the Vice Chancellor to also present a summary of a strategic plan of the university. The plan highlighted the problem areas, new initiatives including the refurbishing of the halls of residence, how the university hopes to proceed in the near future in generating funds, and how to generate awareness to its needs. The plan also touched on how UI hopes to become more responsive to the needs of the country, other universities and that of the country, and reinvigorating the university.

From Adewole the microphone passed to former provost of the College of Medicine and former Chief Medical Director of UCH, Professor Abiodun O.K. Johnson, aka AOK. A very senior professor of medicine, Johnson is one of the advisers of ICOMAA in the US, with an interesting story. Johnson was the CMD of UCH/Provost of the College in 1985 when the Nigeria Medical Association went on a nationwide strike. During the strike, the then tyrannical government of Buhari-Idiagbon sought to humiliate the striking doctors of UCH and asked Johnson to compile the names of doctors on strike.

Johnson asked his heads of departments to furnish him with the situation of things. The HODs returned a verdict that the doctors were at their posts and that was the information that Johnson forwarded to the Federal Military Government.
However, the military dictators wanted Johnson to personally identify the doctors on strike so that they can be dealt with but he refused. He was sacked unceremoniously and he ended up in the US since then as a professor of pediatrics. The notable development was that Johnson has since grown in fame and favor among his students, and many of them at the Chicago event applauded him recalling the injustice that he suffered in the hands of the military. He himself promised to tell the story of his summary dismissal in full details soon.

According to him, referring to that incident, \"I was called upon to destroy the foundation from which we were all brought up…If a leader can\'t sacrifice himself for the flock, then he is not qualified to lead.\"

He went on: \"I am very proud of what I did, it will never be said that I spoilt anybody\'s career, my job is to build it.\"
Johnson then proposed the toast of the College. He flashed back to the days when the College was \"the only medical school in \"that region of Africa. Johnson who also wrote a short historical outline of the evolution of the College in the event\'s programme booklet stated proudly that there is \"no aspect of medicine that you don\'t find Ibadan graduates, it\'s a proud heritage.\"

When he first arrived in the US, he recalled, he was asked to assess medical professors for promotion, \" I was almost ostracized because I was judging the candidates here with UI standards.\" He noted that all those who passed through the College at that time were so well trained that \"if you were made a professor in Ibadan, you can make it anywhere.\"
Johnson, with his traditional bow-tie matched up in a light brown suit urged the doctors in the US not to forget to give back to the College and to also give back to the country. \"Israel wasn\'t built by people in Israel, it was those who were here, let us do the same thing for UI and for Nigeria,\" he concluded to a rousing applause.

By the time Dr Owo, the MC, took back the microphone, he said donations were already building up. Owo rallied all those present to give and joked that \"you are all on candid camera tonight, so drop your check and get mentioned.\" One of the doctors, who is also the VP of ICOMAA in the US, Dr. Ohwofiemu Nwariaku then jokingly warned the doctors making donations to be prepared because an IRS agent-(IRS is US Internal Revenue Service and taxation agency) was waiting at the door to collect due taxes from the donors!

Some of the donors included Dr Chika Gwan, $2000, and Dr. Preston Ukoli $5000 among others. Peter Eweje who donated equipment worth $9000 previously was also mentioned.

It was then the turn of the president of ICOMAA North America, Dr. Sola Olopade to address the gathering, which gathered first on the terrace of the hotel before proceeding inside to listen to Akinkugbe\'s lecture. Olopade, a professor of medicine at the University of Illinois put the feelings of most of the doctors in pungent words: \"Ibadan has brought us the American dream for next to nothing.\"

In a very instructive speech Olopade said \"every morning, especially in the past 10 years, I look out of my bedroom window. Often, my wife would ask, what are you starring at outside? And I would respond, nothing in particular, I am just admiring the beauty of the morning and thinking about how far we have come away from home in Nigeria.\"

The ICOMAA-NA president who is married to another Ibadan trained doctor noted that this daily chore reminded him \"of how my Ibadan Medical Certificate brought us the American dream.\"

He said every doctor trained at Ibadan would have such \"feeling of pride about the excellent education we received at Ibadan.\"

Olopade then threw a challenge to his audience: \"Do we love Nigeria enough to care?\" he asked rhetorically

In our country today, he continued, \"there is greed, corruption, selfishness, with no respect for life or property and people generally don\'t put Nigeria\'s interest first. For a country rich in natural resources and intellectual capital, how long can Nigeria remain bogged down in such an unprogressive and corrupt system? \"

Lamenting the lack of commitment to education and healthcare, Olopade observed that there is now a very limited infusion of the \"necessary support to uphold the long tradition of graduating future leaders and the finest health care professionals and scientists in the world.\" He said despite the number of knowledgeable Nigerians outside the country, \"our health care delivery system in Nigeria leaves so much to be desired, and is left to operate on a shoestring budget. Investment in research is not a priority and remains dismal to nonexistent.\"

He stated matter of fact that \" it is clear that the institution that we all love has not until now, made it a priority to stay in touch or welcome her Alums into the planning for the University. Similarly, we as Alums have not cared as much as we should or given much back to our Alma Mater.\"

According to the ICOMAA NA president \"those of us here tonight reaped great benefits from Ibadan. Many of us were paid to go to Medical School by the Federal Government or State Government through scholarships and bursary awards.\"
In a very unmistakable and frank manner Olopade compared how Nigerian doctors fared in getting medical education to their average colleagues in the US: \"Unlike many of our colleagues in the USA with an average loan of over $140,000, we graduated with no educational loans.\" That sounded so much like a powerful self-disclosure, which was capable of inspiring the audience made up of UI trained doctors to do something about the College of Medicine.

Olopade then made for the clincher calling on his colleagues that \"it is time to give back in more meaningful ways to a country that gave us so much. Let us make a commitment to use our knowledge, and experience, backed by our financial resources to bring about lasting and progressive change not only at our beloved Alma Mater, but also in our ailing country.\"

Looking at the total amount of money raised, Olopade\'s speech may have gone a long way. As a matter of fact, ICOMAA-NA was able to donate an initial N1 million naira to UI immediately after the event at a reception held later at Olopade\'s Chicago residence.

Gratitude also came from the University to the doctors as the VC and his team presented gifts of paintings to the first president of ICOMAA, Dr. Toks Owo and the current president Dr. Sola Olopade. In return ICOMAA Secretary, described as the engine of the association, Dr. Titilola George Brttto also presented packed gifts to the VC, the provost and former provosts and Emeritus Professor Akinkugbe, who had said jokingly earlier that he could use the donation of $5000 by Dr. Ukoli for his air ticket.!

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