WHEN Oladipo Olujimi Akinkugbe, Emeritus Professor of Medicine, breathed his last recently, it was undoubtedly the end of an era. A consummate intellectual and seasoned administrator, Akinkugbe more than paid his dues. His was the passing on of a giant, and the nation took notice. Indubitably, Akinkugbe impacted the lives of many people and left indelible imprints on the Nigerian state. Clearly, he belonged to the group of Nigerians who, since independence in 1960, had made tremendous contributions to the progress of the country. At only 35, he was admitted to the chair of medicine at the University of Ibadan, the first person to be so appointed in Africa.
Born to the aristocratic family of Akinkugbe of Ondo town on July 17 1933, the young Oladipo grew up in a Christian home. His father, a chemist, served as the people’s warden at St. Stephen’s Church and was a delegate to the synod of the Anglican Church for years. His days as a young boy were filled with lots of activities, including the usual juvenile frolic that sometimes came with dire consequences. In 1944, young Oladipo gained admission to Ondo Boys High School where science subjects then weren’t strongly on offer. Seeing the science notes of a contemporary inspired Akinkugbe to change his school and that was the point at which Government College, Ibadan (GCI), came up for serious consideration. The competition was keen and it was fortuitous that one of the admitted pupils could not pay immediately and Oladipo had to be taken off the waiting list and given admission.
It was however smooth sailing from then on at the GCI where he established himself as the undisputed leader in science subjects, conceding the English language and literature class to Wole Soyinka and Christopher Kolade. After successfully completing his secondary school education, he sat and passed the entrance exam into the University College, Ibadan, to study medicine. Here, he once again proved to be a serious student, combining academics and extra-curricular activities with excellence. On completing the second degree, Akinkugbe was posted to the University of London ( Royal College) for his clinical studies, where he graduated MBBS in 1958 after a six-month internship.
Akinkugbe went on to expand his knowledge and experience, taking a diploma in tropical medicine from the University of Liverpool, before returning home in 1961 to the Government Specialist Hospital Adeoyo, Ibadan, understandably because he was a Western Region Government scholar. He later that year returned to the United Kingdom for the D.Phil programme, which he successfully completed, then returned home to take up a lecturing appointment at the College of Medicine, University of Ibadan, in January 1968. Thus began a brilliant academic career from which there was no looking back until he hung up his stethoscope in 2018 after an epic career spanning decades of mentorship and training of doctors.
Professor Akinkugbe was the principal and pioneer Vice Chancellor of the University of Ilorin, Kwara State; foundation chairman of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB); and Vice Chancellor, Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria. He also served, among many other engagements, as Chairman, Planning Committee of the Ondo State University. In his twilight years, as is usual with members of his generation, he might have been dismayed by the inglorious twists and turns in the medical profession, with young doctors escaping from the frustrations in the profession and seeking professional fulfilment and exposure outside the shores of the country.
To say the least, Akinkugbe’s life epitomised the pursuit of excellence. Its significance did not derive not from his pedigree, awesome and intimidating as that was, but from the integrity and sense of purpose which he brought to bear in the performance of his duties in the public offices where he was privileged to work and display his expertise. He was certainly was a great role model for generations of young Nigerian doctors and indeed other professionals.
Good night, Professor Oladipo Olujimi Akinkugbe.
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