By Loretta Oduware Ogboro-Okor
Where are we going Daddy? This road is on a steep hill”.
“Sheffield is full of hills my daughter and we are going to visit the second doctor to become a Neurosurgeon in Nigeria”.
“Why is he in Sheffield?”
“Good question…. when we get there, you can ask him.”
“If he is the second Neurosurgeon in Nigeria, where is the first Neurosurgeon?”
“The first Neurosurgeon was Professor Odeku”.
“Oh… Daddy, is that your friend Uncle Odeku in Benin City?”
“No, my dear daughter, Professor Olatunde Emmanuel Odeku, is here with us in England as well. Alas, he lies in a church yard Cemetery in Burnham. He died at forty-seven years of age from complications of Diabetes”.
“That is sad Daddy. This second Neurosurgeon Professor, was he friends with the first Neurosurgeon?”
“Yes….my little madam. They were good friends and great workers for the Nigerian cause”.
“So what position are you in the list of Nigerian Neurosurgeons Daddy?”
“Hahahahaha…….to tell you the truth, I really do not know and it does not matter. What matters to me is that we all come together and turn Nigeria into the hub of Neurosurgical Care Provision in Sub-Saharan Africa!”
I was happy when we pulled into the driveway and all this conversation between father and daughter ended. The door was opened by a pretty lady who had a broad smile on her face.
“Come in, come in…. I hope our hill was not too steep for you to navigate. Daddy is expecting you!”
She was leading us into a living room, but we were met halfway by a handsome man, who bore his age well with afro white hair that added more mystic to his presence. Interestingly, he stooped down and shook hands with our daughter. Then, he turned to my husband and I and gave us a most humbling welcome. He shook my husband with both hands as one would welcome his own son.
He settled us into the living room, where a guitar graced a strategic corner of the room and requested his daughter to make refreshments available for us. Then our learning began. This man was a walking moving body of knowledge. He told us how he used to go to the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield back in the day, which is where my husband was training at the time. We laughed at how the bus routes were still the same after all those years.
He told us of his very humble beginnings and how he was born in Ikole-Ekiti, in Ekiti State, Nigeria. His father who he described as a very smart mind and local inventor, was not rich. To pay his school fees in high school was a challenge in those early years. However, because of the community effort of caring people, he made his way through high school. Subsequently, he got into University College, Ibadan on scholarship. He told us how he was in the first set of University College, Ibadan medical students to complete the entire six years of their training in Nigeria. “I was the baby of the 1960 class. In those days, University was for men and women and not boys and girls oo…. I was the youngest one in my class”.
“Why are you in Sheffield?” our curious daughter asked him.
“Because I have a house here too. You can see my daughter here. I come here to rest when I need to and to teach the students in the University of Sheffield.”
“You know what, actually, I should give you some presents”. He left us and came back with two books which he carefully autographed and handed over to my daughter. “I know you can read…. so young lady, read these books and tell your Daddy what is in the books. He is too busy being a Neurosurgical registrar to read anything else.” Our nine-year-old daughter at the time, grabbed both books with enthusiasm and I knew that I had just acquired myself many nights of bedtime reading.
The Professor told us about his sojourn in the United Kingdom, America, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Malawi amongst others. It was like listening to real life versions of “Stories from an Arabian Night” or an “African Night’s Entertainment”. This was the authentic thing and no fairy tale. He told us of his struggles, his gains, and the stubborn streak never to give up. Thus, when we first met this sage, one hour became two, then three and four – we were very content to continue gathering first-hand knowledge at the foot of this Master. We were glued. This man was a versatile historian. There was not a subject under the sun he did not have an idea of. What struck me, was the sparkle in his eyes each time he spoke about Nigeria. He told us about the first Neurosurgeon in Nigeria and how they worked to teach the world about Adeloye-Odeku Disease (Congenital dermoid cyst of the anterior fontanelle) in 1971.
It was a beautiful sight for me to watch him, my husband and daughter swap the stories of their experiences. Like the true teacher he was, he carried the curious nine-year-old who had so many questions for him along. His language was simple. The accent had no frills or trimmings to it. He asked her to tell him of her experiences in her school. He offered her advice to her simple questions with all the neurological-surgical seriousness in him.
Then he turned to her father and asked, “You are sure you really want to go back to Nigeria when you are done here in the United Kingdom?”
“Yes Prof, a hundred and ten percent I am returning”.
“Madam, will you let him?” He asked, turning to me. “Yes Professor, he will return. He said so when I first met him in medical school. Till date, he says that every Nigerian patient deserves the very best hands Neurosurgery has to offer.”
“Youngman, today, you have made my day. The road will be long. The challenges will be many but the joy in your heart will be huge when you see the works of your hand and heart, change the lives of our people. Madam, I thank you for the support”.
We left his house late that night, more energised than ever. Suddenly, no obstacle existed after the time we spent with Professor Emeritus of Neurosurgery, University of Ibadan Adelola Adeloye. On our way home, our daughter said something that none of us have forgotten till this day. She said, “some people are famous but not interested in riches”.
She very simply, at nine years of age, summarised one of the humblest men I had the rare privilege of meeting. When we learnt of his passing on the 6th of April 2021, we asked our daughter if she remembered the man from all those years ago who was famous but not rich? “The one who told me never to let anyone stop me? And then he gave us those two books with stories about how he went to school and all those other doctors? Yes mummy, I never forgot his white hair”.
If only the “rulers” (not leaders) of Nigeria today, can just imbibe half of the patriotism, selflessness, and humility of men like this Master of Neurosurgery, our country will be better for it. We join not just the Nigerian Neurosurgical community but the entire world body of Neurosurgeons to say Rest in Peace, great son of Ikole-Ekiti. May the family you have left behind and all the great works of your hands be blessed. It is people like you who utterly understood and epitomise (he lives on in his work hence the present tense herein) the mantra #thenigerianpatientsareworthit. The rest of us will in the words of google scholar “continue to stand on the shoulders of giants” like you.
Loretta Oduware Ogboro-Okor is author of the book, My Father’s Daughter.