One of the few people whom I will forever be grateful to God for the opportunity of meeting, relating with and ultimately, be under his mentorship, was Emeritus Professor of Medicine, O. O Akinkugbe.
My fortuitous meeting with this legendary man of expansive knowledge came in the course of my medical practice at Mona Clinic, here in Ondo, in the mid-1980s: Pa Jimoh Akinfolarin, an older cousin of Prof. and my father’s close friend, was a patient of mine, receiving treatment for some cardiac related ailments.
Pa Akinfolarin was made to seek Prof’s advice on the course of treatment he was undergoing in Ondo, given that the latter was the country’s foremost authority in cardiology and hypertension. When Prof. called for Pa Akinfolarin’s medical files from Mona Clinic and went through them, he assured his cousin that he, himself, could not have offered any better course of treatment. That, simply saying, was the mark of a most humble man. Prof. Akinkugbe, impressed with the quality of care, expressed a desire to meet with the young doctor who was diligent and knowledgeable enough to give such quality of medical care! It was my utmost honour to meet the titan of medical practice!
The relationship blossomed and I, a young medical doctor with a passion for politics and several years of participating in state government, subsequently got tremendous assistance from Prof. Akinkugbe in my quest to be a minister in the cabinet of his friend, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, the then president of Nigeria in 2005. The rest, like they say, is history.
The catapult, from the domain of State politics to the realm of nation-wide name recognition made possible by the ministerial exposure, was because a mentor had trusted in the ability of a much younger mentee, and had parlayed his integrity and good name to the highest stakes of national political appointment on behalf of the latter.
That I neither disappointed him as a minister nor subsequently, as a governor of Ondo State, (by the way, I got his nod before I resigned as minister to contest for governor) was made manifest in his unrestrained embrace of the many flagship projects of our administration, and his acceptance — despite an initial decision to retire from academia and ivory tower positions — to be the very first Chairman of the Governing Council of Nigeria’s first wholly medical university, the fledging University of Medical Science, Ondo, at its inception in 2015. If that was an avuncular exertion most memorable on the part of the titan, his Lecture titled “Of Stated Goals and Proven Performance,” delivered on the occasion of the 3rd anniversary of the Mimiko Administration on the 22nd of February, 2012, captured the man’s colossal stride over diverse specialism of knowledge. It was a lecture that was suffused with the philosophy of Rene Descartes and Aristotle, as much as it was steeped in Prof’s own statistical comparisons in maternal mortality, demographic information on growth and insightful analysis of states’ sectoral budgetary allocations.
Said Prof. O.O Akinkugbe during the lecture:
“Fortunately for this Sunshine State, a tradition is being developed to assess progress using measurable parameters. This will then convince even the most circumspect or cynical that there are vast differences between leaders and dealers, between trash and treasure, between bullets and ballots, between slogans and substance and between boom and bust…. let’s borrow Cicero’s dictum, ‘Salus populi, suprima estlex.’ (The welfare of the people is the ultimate law)”
Prof. Akinkugbe, shorn of all the paraphernalia of distinctions he wore virtually throughout life, was basically a nice man with an uncommon intellectual wit who was adored for his caring nature by many who came across him. If he did not mention them, nobody would know he had been the Dean of Medicine of the University of Ibadan, 1970-1974; foundation Vice Chancellor of the University of Ilorin 1975-1978; Vice Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University, 1978-1979; pioneer Chairman of Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board JAMB; Pro-Chancellor of the University of Port Harcourt 1986-1990; and Chairman of the Governing Council of University of Medical Science, Ondo, 2015-2016.
He was a recipient of the prestigious National Order of Merit Award (NNOM)for distinguished academics. How different from the situation of the day when even less accomplished fellas would readily mount the high horse for obscene self-adulation.
The passing of such an avatar of knowledge is not only a loss to Nigeria, but also, to the Academy of Global Physicians, of which be was a prominent member. Prof. lived to cultivate excellence and surrounded himself with the very best in every sphere of knowledge. Being a member of the Government College, Ibadan, class of 1946 that included such global icons as late Prof Muyiwa Awe, Abel Guobadia, Christopher Kolade and Wole Soyinka, it should not occasion any surprise that Prof. Akinkugbe belonged to an early generation of Nigerians whose secondary education became the catalyst for scaling transcendent heights of achievements in later life.
It is debatable whether what passes as high schools in today’s Nigeria are still capable of producing such global icons. This underscores how much work governments in our clime need do, not just in our educational system for our effective participation in the evolving global knowledge economy, but indeed, in all aspects of our public life.
I seize this opportunity to pay my heartfelt gratitude to the mentoring culture of Professor Akinkugbe, which has, among the innumerable younger ones that have passed through it, my humble self. I also wish to condole with the Akinkugbe/Oladapo family of Ondo Kingdom. I am sure that our loss of this man of many parts from this earthly realm must be heaven’s gain.
Continue to rest in peace, my big brother, father-figure and mentor.