I am extremely proud to be Col. Victor Banjo’s daughter —Prof. Yinka Omigbodun

•It’s sad how our trained medical personnel are abandoning the country •Govt. must realise there’s an emergency in the health sector

Professor Olayinka Olusola Omigbodun is the new Provost of the College of Medicine, University of Ibadan. She is, in fact, the first female to occupy that position in the history of the university. In this interview by Tribune’s Science Editor, SADE OGUNTOLA, Prof. Omigbodun, who is also a daughter of the late Colonel Victor Banjo (who was killed in the Biafran war), speaks on her feats as the first Nigerian female professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, her new position and on her late father. Excerpt:

 

Brain drain in the health sector is a big issue. Nigeria trains quite much and it is like we are training for the betterment of other countries. As the incoming provost of the College of Medicine, University of Ibadan, how can Nigeria ensure that our product stays to help maintain our health system?

Well, it is like a mother, you raise your children; you invest in them and you do everything to ensure that they are properly developed. Now, when they have grown and are useful, then somebody else comes and takes them away to another place. It is really an unfortunate thing happening in our countrywhere education in public universities is almost free. The school fees students pay is very little. There is no arrangement for students to obtain loans and education is virtually free. Students’ in top colleges in the US pay at least 60,000 US dollars but here in Nigeria, students in public universities, pay an equivalent of 100 dollars or less for a year. The government subsidises education, even though what the government provides is grossly insufficient to ensure a world-class education in public universities.

And then when universities have trained students, then somebody else comes and takes the finished product. It is like you are sowing seed and nurturing the plant to full bloom but when it is times to eat and enjoy the ripe fruit; somebody else harvests and eats this.

It is very sad, and I will expect that the government will realise that this is an emergency because we are training doctors and the doctors are not staying in the country. Somebody else is enjoying them, so in essence, why do we bother to continue when we are not enjoying the benefit of our work? I will expect that at this point in time, the government will reflect and urgently put together a committee; an emergency committee to see how they can address this issue urgently of doctors, nurses and other health professionals leaving the country.

Currently, the UK has a lot of vacancies, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic.  This is because some of their health professionals died; some of them took early retirement, some have gone part-time while many of them had moved to other countries where there are better conditions of service like Australia and Canada.

So there is a huge vacancy and they were going to take as many of our doctors, nurses and health professionals as possible. They even prefer them to those that come from Eastern Europe, because those that come from Eastern European countries don’t speak good English. But our own doctors are trained and communicate well in English; they have gone through rigorous training programmes. So they are ready to take them.

Our doctors see that salaries in these countries are much better; their children can go to better schools; there is safety of life, they have access to basic facilities like water and electricity and they have free access to first-class healthcare and are sure of their retirement benefits at least for now. Most of the doctors who are going, when I ask them why, they say they are leaving to ensure that their children can have a good education. . They are worried about the primary and secondary education systems in place and also the tertiary educational system. One of the major issues with the public universities are the incessant strikes. So it is like a lot of these young people are losing faith in the system.  So, the first thing that we need to do is to put together a committee that will carry out a rapid needs assessment of what is going on and why they are leaving and then they put a mechanism in place to prevent healthcare professionals from leaving.

My own vision for a good vibrant healthcare delivery system in this country is that every primary healthcare centre should have at least one doctor who is trained as a family physician or community physician. That is the only way we can have good healthcare delivery in this country, that is what happens in a place like the UK.

In all their primary healthcare centres, they have family physicians, whomthey call general practitioners. These are doctors that have the knowledge of a bit of all key specialities in medicine. You can be sure that if a woman comes in labour, she is going to have the very best opportunity. Then, the other thing is, many of these health centres are in rural areas. So their government needs to give incentives to doctors and other health professionals who opt to work in rural areas with fewer amenities.

I believe that if a specialist agrees to be posted to a rural area, he/she should receive allowances for this; they should give incentives tohealth professionalsto go to rural areas and areas where nobody wants to go. And then they also need to provide basic amenities, including good schools, water and electricity as well in our rural areas.

Enough is enough. In 1960, along with Singapore and Malaysia, we were at the same level in terms of development. Singapore is now afirst world country. In Nigeria, we have the human resource; we have the good brains, but we fail to develop.

I finished from Ibadan medical School in 1985. I can tell you that about 90 per cent of my classmates are either in Australia, UK or USA. There are very few of us left in Nigeria.

 

Cases of child abuse, assault, rape, sexual violence and so on are on the rise in Nigeria. As a child psychiatrist, a mother and someone that can influence appropriate policy change, what is the way out?

These things have always been happening. There are different kinds of abuse of children; there is psychological abuse, physical, sexual abuse, and then there is what is called emotional neglect. All these things have been happening on a day to day basis; in our homes, in our communities, in our religious centres and so on. The reason why there was an escalation I believe of reporting is that people are becoming more aware and they are more likely to report, but secondly, during the lockdown period, we have many people living in crowded areas.

Can you imagine, Father, mother and 8 children living in one room in aface to face room apartment? So, let’s say that there are 10 rooms in that house, that is about 100 people in one floor of a face-to-face apartment. They are all queuing to use the same toilet and bathroom and same kitchen. You will find that this kind of environment is the right environment to breed violence; breed sexual assault. You are in one room, maybe the daughter is a bit grown, the father is observing she is changing her clothes, and then starts having sexual ideas. The children are at home, they are not in school, the neighbour has a young 14-year-old boy; he sees this three-year-old girl in the next house maybe the girl is left alone in the passage; he takes her to the backyard and sexually abuses her …so on.

When there is over-crowding, we are more likely to have violence. We are more likely to have people abused. We are more likely to have people that are frustrated. And then duringthisperiod, we don’t know how many people areusing alcohol and other psychoactive substances to relieve stress. People may be using all sorts of drugs and alcohol and then there was nowhere to go during the lockdown period.

Normally, maybe people would have gone out to play football and relieve their tension. Now, they can’t go out to play soccer, they can’tgo to the cinema, and they can’tgo anywhere because of the lockdown. They are just in the house and then even many times, there is even no electricity to watch movies, so people were frustrated and aggressive. Where people are living in slums in crowded places and then there is no money, there is the possibility that there is also no food. It is said that a hungry man is an angry man.

Before COVID-19, many fathers would just stay in their offices or workplace when there is no money or food, hoping that the mother will manage and look for a solution. But during the lockdown, there was no office to go to, so they were all crowded in these places and frustrated. So there was more domestic violence, fighting between husband and wife and the children too.

Also, a lot of people were depressed and anxious for various reasons.  When you are depressed, your mood is sad or irritable, your interest levels are low as well as low energy, and so on. So a lot of people had mental health problems during the lockdown period. There were no interventions put in place. No doubt, a lot went wrong during that period; it is very sad and very unfortunate. It was a very difficult period.

I know a lot of people who hadbeen living healthy lives but who became depressed during this period. They started having problems sleeping; they were tearful and many of them were even contemplating suicide because it was a very difficult period.  Also, it was also a period that a lot of places where people relievet ension like religious houses and social functions were closed. All that was off. So where do they go? They just sit in their house, with no money, no light, no water, crowded and so on. So you can understand. It was a rough time for a lot of families.

 

You are child psychiatrist. What informed your choice of profession?

Interestingly, when I was very little, I always thought that I would be an actress. I use to like to perform and act; I spoke well and so I thought I will be an actress or a singer. But then as time went on, my mum noticed that anytime anyone was ill in the house, I would be the one to go and look after the person; that if anybody had a little cut or wound, I wouldbe the one to go and treat the wound. She noticed that I generally cared for people who are sick compared to my siblings, so encouraged me to pursue a career in medicine. When I was in secondary school, I went to St Louis Grammar School, Mokola, Ibadan; the principal also recognised this and when she took girls to the hospital she would take me along with her because she also noticed that I was interested in helping people who were sick, recover. So that was the main influence.

 

Madam, why child psychiatry and not orthopaedic surgery?

I initially thought that I will do paediatrics until I had my first day in a paediatrics ward and  I discovered that I really could not cope with looking after children who were very sick. It was too traumatic. But when I did my posting in psychiatry,  I just fellin love with that speciality. I became fascinated with what brought about depression in people. I became very fascinated with people saying that they were hearing voices when no one was speaking.

And I also found out that in psychiatry, you don’t focus on a body part. Psychiatry looks at the whole man in a holistic manner. It is not just about giving our patients drugs, but giving them holistic care. I really found it interesting and then I was able to link up this to my love for children. That was how I ended up in child psychiatry.

Interestingly, one of my first mentors in psychiatry was Professor Michael Olatawura. He is Nigeria’s first child and adolescent psychiatrist. When I passed my examinations to start residency training in psychiatry he said,“Yinka, you must be a child and adolescent psychiatrist”, and it was just awesome because it was bringing my love for psychiatry together with my love for children.

 

You are the first female provost of Ibadan College of Medicine. How are you going to reconcile these roles, a mother and a wife?

God will help me. And now, there is something about seasons of life for a woman. When my biological children were very young, I would never aspire for this kind of position because my children would have needed me to give quality and quantity time. When my children were young, I needed to invest in their lives, spend time with them, do their homework with them, and spend quality and quantity time. My biological children are grown up now, and they have left home. It is just my husband and I in the house, and so I think that I should, by the grace of God, be able to devote time to my work.

Of course, before now, I have held important positions of leadership outside the home. I was the president of the International Association for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Allied Professions (IACAPAP), an 85-year old organisation, from 2010 to 2014. I am the first and only African who had been president of this organisation. I have also been a Chief Examiner in the Faculty of Psychiatry in the West African College Physicians and that means during examinations, I will come back home late at night. As President of IACAPAP I did a lot of travelling.  I was always on the go. You know that when you are training to become a resident, you are usually busy and always on call. There are things that I have done over the years to help me cope such as bulk cooking,  getting help to clean the house, wearing braids and so on. All of these strategies, I will also be adopting to cope and carry out all my expected roles.

 

What is the College of Medicine going to look like post COVID- 19 for your students, lecturers of the faculty and the patients?

I don’t think physically it is going to look any different. But certainly, a lot of things will be a done online. We will need to be sure that all the lecturers are trained and able to deliver lectures online. Our student participation in ward rounds will be affected. In the past, you have 30 students in one ward round. Now, when ward round is going on; there will be few people. It will be recorded so that students can later watch for training. Of course, the patients will need to give consent for them to be recorded.

Aside from this, surgical operations, including dental extractions will have to be reorganised and learning will be in smaller groups and a lot done online. No doubt, we are going to start making a lot of videos, a lot of online learning resources so that students can have excellent education going ahead. That is one of the main things that we need to do.

 

There are challenges with the quality of internet services available in Nigeria. Also, there will be issues of funding, where will funds come from?

I agree but we have to look for the money; we will have to beg the government, alumni and philanthropists to support this going forward. We have to move to the online level, there is no going back. I believe that the FG will be responsive, they will recognise that need and they will do all they can. I am very hopeful.

 

What is your agenda for the College of medicine as you resume as its provost?

I have an agenda called the TOGETHER agenda. Each of the letters in TOGETHER stands for a different area offocus. T stands for Togetherness through Community Conversations and Collaboration. I want to see how we have greater collaboration and community working together and coming together. O stands for Optimizing Staff Productivity and Welfare and there are several strategic objectives to achieving this. G stands for Getting our Students Ready for the Global Stage. E stands for Espousing an International Outlook. We want to see how we can bring in international faculty as well as international students. This will help our ranking a lot. T stands for Teaming up with UCH and other parts of UI for Greater Impact. H stands for Harnessing the Power of our Alumni. E stands for Enlarging COMUI’s Financial Pocket. R stands for Reaching out to the Community. We want to reach out to the community around us; we want to be able to impart on schools, and places of work. I hope that we can look into domiciliary services; there are so many things that are possible as a College.

 

How does it feel to be daughter of famous Col. Victor Banjo? What memory of him do you have ma?

By the time I was born in 1963 my father was a Lieutenant Colonel, the commanding officer of the Apapa Infantry Division and a Mechanical Engineer, the first Nigerian Director of the Electrical and Mechanical Engineering Corps of the Army. I believe he felt very fulfilled with life at this time and that was why he named me ‘Olayinka’, which means honour and wealth surrounds me.

On 15 January 1966, there was a coup in Nigeria and on Monday 17 January 1966, my father was arrested and he never returned home.  This means that my father was removed from my life at about 4 weeks to my 3rdbirthday. I am not sure if the recollections I have of my father are as a result of my own memory or descriptions from my mother or older siblings because we visited him once while he was under house arrest in Enugu in March of 1967 when I was 4.

God is so merciful as even though I do not remember him, I got to know him very well and to know what he stood for, through the beautiful, instructive and romantic letters he wrote to my late mother from his prison room first in Ikot Ekpene and then in Enugu as he was moved around. I know that he was arrested unjustly and accused of a crime he never committed. I know that he loved Nigeria dearly and believed in one Nigeria, I know that he was a man of integrity and I know that he believed in me and that he loved me. I published his letters to my mother in a book titled, “A Gift of Sequins, letters to my wife”, to commemorate his 40th anniversary of passage from this world.

I used one of his quotes on leadership on the front page of my manifesto during my campaign to be elected provost, “A state, by virtue of its size and gigantic inertia is like a huge river which will flow downstream no matter what, leadership must always be ahead of it to carve out its paths, with purposeful decision, then it will flow in controlled paths….,” Victor Banjo August 29th1966

I have also used another of his quotes from the letters as my signature in correspondences.

‘I stand by truth, honour, loyalty, integrity, rulership by law & by consent’ – Victor Banjo, November 14th1966.

I am extremely proud to be the daughter of Victor Banjo.

 

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