One of the most illustrious sons of Nigeria in contemporary history, Emeritus Professor Oladipo Olujimi Akinkugbe was laid to rest recently in a hail of glory with a modest crowd of the high and mighty in various walks of life in attendance at his home town in Ondo, Ondo State, Nigeria.
The homily as delivered by the charismatic preacher Most Revd Joseph Akinfenwa of Ibadan Diocese,Church of Nigeria Anglican Communion,was electrifying.
Professor Akinkugbe was somebody I respected and revered so much as a great man in every sense. He was an accomplished personality whose prowess reverberated globally not only in the field of medicine, his professional calling, but also in other areas particularly in administration and statesmanship.
I recall the day I received the news of his demise in my Abuja domain. It hit me like a dagger penetrating my heart and soul. The information came through a text message from my younger brother Toye Akinrinlola, the spokesman of the University College Hospital,Ibadan through a text message . I wiped my eyes several times to be sure I was not dreaming.
When I regained my consciousness, I put a call to Toye who reconfirmed it and immediately I went blank again. I felt a void in my heart.Though Prof Akinkugbe was advanced in age, I could not imagine him leaving this terestial plane now because each time I met him or spoke with him he was always full of life .
I began to recall some memories of him. I was still trying to come to grips with the information as I was seeing a vision of Professor Akinkugbe in his usual calm smiling face intoning on seeing me ‘ Foluuu’. When I finally came to reality of his death, tears started running down my cheeks.
Then I began to think. How would I get to Ibadan. Here I am on lockdown in Abuja. No flight. And to travel by road now is like signing your death warrant with the high level of insecurity as a result of the operations of bandits, kidnappers and the likes on the highway. I resolved to mourn at Abuja, praying for the soul of the elder statesman whom I regarded as my father, mentor, friend and confidant to find eternal rest in peace.
From the time I met Professor Akinkugbe during my days in the Tribune newspapers till his death, he was very dear to my heart. He took special interest in me. He cared so much about my wellbeing, my family and my career progression. He told me he had watched me from the sidelines for 32 years how tenaciously I was carrying out my duties as a reporter, editor to becoming an executive director of the company. “ For a young man like you to have 100 percent loyalty to your employers is commendable”, he said.
That was the beginning of a symbiotic relationship between Professor Akinkugbe and me. He took me as his son and I took him as my father. First, he started looking after my health for free at his clinic . He made sure I did not develop any high blood pressure complications due to the nature of my work. He was equally supportive of my career progression. During my ups and downs at the Tribune, he was always there to counsel me with words of wisdom and encouragement.
After I retired from the Tribune, the bond between us grew thicker. He showed more interest in my wellbeing particularly my future endeavors. I let him know my plans as I didn’t want to retire into a state of poverty. No pension when you work in a private company. Soon I approached him to be the chairman of a telecommunications company which I co-founded with a brother. We needed his wealth of experience and wise counsel. He did not hesitate to say yes.
Pa Akinkugbe encouraged and supported us all the way. He committed his energy and precious time into the project in spite of his very busy schedule of national and international engagements. He went as far as to represent the company in London at his own expense on several occasions. He assisted us in setting up some of the relevant structures for the success of the project. And when our foreign partners visited Nigeria, he facilitated their meeting with the then President Olusegun Obasanjo.
I learned a lot of things about life from Professor Akinkugbe. Despite his global fame, he lived a spartan life and always found a place in his heart to accommodate the interest of other people for their upliftment. He was a very organized and highly disciplined man. He planned his day with properly scheduled appointments. Though he was accessible, you couldn’t just wake up to visit him unannounced. A phone call or a prior meeting would give access. And he kept his appointments.
He was highly cerebral, blessed with wisdom to see ahead of others. He could assess situations to know the right step to take and when to take it. When he was planning a ceremony to hang his stethoscope, he invited me for a chat. He wanted to discuss the state of the nation. We discussed on various issues ranging from the political situation in the country to the economy, social and religious issues. I spent two hours with him at his clinic. As I was about to take my leave, he intoned “ Folu, am giving up this place for a lease”. I just nodded because if he was hanging his stethoscope, he must have thought of giving up the clinic too. As I recalled that meeting after his demise, it now dawned on me that he was preparing for his exit.
I always looked forward to every opportunity to see him. Whenever I was at Ibadan briefly, usually on weekends, I knew I would see him on Sunday at the 7 am holy communion service at the All Saints Church, Jericho, Ibadan. That would never be again. His usual seat in the church where he used to sit in front of me with his dear Professor wife will always bring back memory of him. My experiences with him and the knowledge he imparted in me will always remain evergreen in my heart.
Regrettably, I missed the opportunity of speaking with him a week before he passed on. I missed his call and I saw it hours after. I was wondering why Papa would call at the wee hours of the day. Later I called back repeatedly but there was no response. How I wish I was awake to pick what was his last call to me.
Professor Akinkugbe impacted my life in a way that cannot be quantified. And I know that several people around the world have similar story to tell about him. I would miss him sorely but my consolation is that the Lord has taken him to the place of glory where angels sing gloriously at the feet of Jesus.
Folu Olamiti, a media consultant, writes from Abuja.
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