My conversations with Oladipo Olujimi Akinkugbe (1933-2020)


By Idowu Olayinka

My last physical meeting with him

Emeritus Professor Oladipo Olujimi Akinkugbe invited me, through Debo Adeosun, the Director, University Advancement Centre, to see him on 28th April 2020. Debo had earlier in the day visited Professor Akinkugbe and he told me of so many glowing things our highly respected academic father said about me, and how he has had to settle some disagreements involving ranking officers of the University and their Vice-Chancellor

So, it was that I had to race to The Little Summit at Iyanganku to honour the invitation. I met Professor Akinkugbe in his bedroom and he was apparently unwell. As I entered and prostrated to greet him, he started to shower encomia on me.

He spoke about university governance in general and expressed his sadness at the ongoing strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). In one of our earlier discussions on the matter I had requested him to contact the Chief of Staff to the President on possible ways of arriving at a truce between the Federal Government and ASUU.

He informed me of the likelihood of an overseas trip to either South Africa or Germany to seek medical attention. He further informed me that he had total confidence in the medical personnel at the University College Hospital Ibadan but that they are handicapped in terms of facilities. I must have spent about an hour of good quality time with Prof Aakinjugbe before leaving.

How I received news of his transition

I am yet to come to terms with the grim reality that the special one I respectfully called Baba Akinkugbe is no more, four weeks after his transition to eternity.

My last telephone conversation with him was exactly 10 days before his demise; he had called me to inform me of his safe arrival back in Nigeria after a short trip outside the country.

He told me he was still recuperating in Lagos and that he would return to Ibadan the following week and that he would let me know. I eagerly looked forward to hearing back from him.

Unfortunately that was not to be. I received an enquiry from a senior academic of the University of Ibadan mid-afternoon of Monday 15th June 2020 asking me whether I have heard about the transition of Baba Akinkugbe.

I dismissed the satanic news but had to put a phone call to Professor Isaac Adewole, a protégé and former student of Professor Akinkugbe. He informed me that he too was unaware of such a development but he promised to inquire.

He reverted soon after only to confirm the sad and most unfortunate bad news. Spontaneously, I broke into tears which conveyed the depth of my anguish.

I later went to the Department of Anatomy where Baba Akinkugbe’s remains were to be deposited. I met members of the Akinkugbe nuclear family and some senior colleagues there, including Professor Isaac Adewole, Professor Temitayo Shokunbi and Professor Abiodun Ilesanmi, and the Head of Anatomy, my friend, Dr Olatunde Owoeye.

Meanwhile, the social media was already awash with the news of the transition of Professor Oladipo Olujimi Akinkugbe, without waiting for an official announcement by the family. It was indeed the end of an era.

A humane person with a keen sense of justice and fairness

I was a candidate for the position of Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ibadan in 2015. I was advised to contact Emeritus Professor Akinkugbe to give me a reference letter. I was hitherto aware that he had performed the same role for at least three former Vice-Chancellors of the University of Ibadan at one time or the other in the past.

I booked an appointment to see him at home one Thursday morning in March 2015 to lay my humble request before him. He accepted to do the recommendation instantly.

We had a very friendly and robust discussion lasting nearly two hours. He told me that he was highly impressed about my pedigree, especially during my five year tenure as the Head of the Department of Geology, two-term stint as Dean of the Postgraduate School, and two-term tenure as Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic).

He had apparently been following my career closely without my knowledge. He claimed, perhaps not without justification, that only very few academics within the Nigerian University System were more experienced than my humble self. I felt very proud of this ringing endorsement.

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He told me further that in the interest of justice and fairness it would be nice for someone from the Faculty of Science of the University to be given a chance to serve at the level of the Vice-Chancellor. He was very dramatic the way he put it: that of the three foundation Faculties at Ibadan at inception in 1948, namely Arts, Science and Medicine- only Science had not produced the Vice-Chancellor; that rather the Vice-Chancellorship had been a near monopoly of Medicine and the Department of History!

Indeed, Medicine had produced five Vice-Chancellors for Ibadan namely the celebrated psychiatrist Professor Adeoye Lambo, the pioneering Surgeon Professor Horatio Oritsejolomi-Thomas, the distinguished Public Health Physician Professor Allen Bankole O. O. Oyediran, the erudite Cardiologist Emeritus Professor Ayodele Falase and the then out-going Vice-Chancellor and widely acclaimed Obstetrician and Gynaecologist Professor Isaac Folorunso Adewole, immediate past Minister of Health, Federal Republic of Nigeria.

The three notable Professors from the famed Ibadan School of History that Professor Akinkugbe referred to obliquely who had been Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ibadan were Professor Kenneth Dike, Emeritus Professor Tekena Tamuno (who had the distinction of being the first Alumnus Vice-Chancellor, 1975-1979) and Professor Omoniyi Adewoye (former Federal Commissioner (Minister) for Economic Development).

For completeness, the three other UI Vice-Chancellors from outside of the College of Medicine – History axes were Professor Olajuwon Olayide (Agriculture- Agricultural Economics), Emeritus Professor Ayo Banjo (Arts-English) and Professor Olufemi Adebisi Bamiro (Technology- Mechanical Engineering).

I gave Professor Akinkugbe a copy of my Curriculum Vitae and the newspaper advertorial for the vacant position. He promised to submit the reference letter directly to the Registrar in a few days time. I took leave of him with very high spirits.

Blessed are the peace makers

There is a Yoruba proverb which roughly translates to “we cannot have elders in the community while the youths are disagreeable” (Ágba kii wa loja ki ori omo tun tun wo’).

Emeritus Prof Akinkugbe was a peace maker, a conciliator and an arbitrator per excellence. On at least one occasion when there was a heated argument and disagreement on policy issues between this Vice-Chancellor and one of his top aides, he had to summon me to his Little Summit home at Iyaganku Government Reservation Area.

He equally brought on board to that meeting two other eminent, highly respected and deservedly referred natives of the University of Ibadan, namely Emeritus Professor Ayo Banjo, our longest serving Vice-Chancellor and Emeritus Professor Oluwole Akande, foundation Provost of our College of Medicine.

Happily, the areas of contention were amicably sorted out as there was no victor, no vanguished.

By the way, there is nothing little about Baba Akinkugbe’s Little Summit. If anything this private residence is palatial by any standard and highly befitting of an academic giant, an illustrious son of Africa and a citizen of the world. President Olusegun Obasanjo, a long-standing friend and confidant of the Akinkugbes for the past six decades is among the regular visitors to the Little Summit.

Always putting others first

Sometime in 2019, Professor Akinkugbe invited me to his house. The topic of our discussion centred on how the University of Ibadan could honour one of its former Vice-Chancellors, the late Professor Adeoye Lambo, a psychiatrist of immense stature who served as Vice-Chancellor from 1968 till 1971.

The truth is that as at the time Lambo left as the Vice-Chancellor of Ibadan I was just in Form Two at Ilesa Grammar School. It was only expected that in the circumstance, I could only have relied on Professor Akinkugbe’s good judgment as to his performance in office.

He alluded to the pioneering efforts of Professor Lambo as a psychiatrist long before he was appointed Vice-Chancellor. I had no difficulty in UI honouring anyone who is eminently deserving of a high honour.

Both Professor Akinkugbe and my humble self agreed that a post-humous honorary degree, which in any case UI hardly confers, might not be a good idea nor have any salutary effect. I pleaded that Baba Akinkugbe should give me some time to ponder over his proposal.

I thought that the Senate Chamber of the University could be named after Professor Lambo. I made some informal consultations and the general impression was that it was well deserved a honour.

I then reverted to Professor Akinkugbe about this humble proposal. He felt it was an excellent decision. He wrote a glowing recommendation in that respect and he asked the Department of Psychiatry to support him in this regard.

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The then Head of Psychiatry, Professor Olayinka Omigbodun was overtly excited to accede to this request. She wrote a very beautiful testimonial indicating in the process that she is always very proud anytime she sees the picture of the late Professor Lambo adorning the walls of the board room at the headquarters of the World Health Organisation in Geneva, Switzerland, where Professor Lambo held court as Deputy Director-General after leaving Ibadan.

The request to name the Senate Chamber after Professor Adeoye Lambo was unanimously approved by both the Senate and Council of the University.

Professor Akinkugbe’s joy knew no bounds when I conveyed this news to him subsequently. The engraving of Professor Adeoye Lambo on the Senate Chamber has since been done while the unveiling would hold during the next (physical) meeting of the Council.

His Vice-Chancellorship years

Emeritus Professor Akinkugbe was a very good story teller. He once told me that he was one of the candidates for the position of the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ibadan in 1975.

He was ranked the overall second best candidate while Professor Tekena Tamuno came first. As at that time, Tamuno was serving as the pioneer Principal of the University College Ilorin, as a College of the University of Ibadan and he had to be recalled to come back to Ibadan to assume the Vice-Chancellorship.

Akinkugbe was asked to proceed to Ilorin as Principal and he soon became the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ilorin.

As a pioneer it was his lot to recruit outstanding scholars with good potentials as lecturers and he organised staff development programme overseas for them.

Baba Akinkugbe told me that Medicine was not supposed to be one of the programmes in the Phase I of the development of his brand new University. But how could he, a notable Professor of Medicine and former Dean of Medicine preside over a University not offering Medicine.

He had to use the leverage he had with the Governor of Kwara State to persuade the Federal Government to allow him start a Faculty of Medicine.

He was later moved to Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, as Vice-Chancellor. He vividly remembered how some of his students who are now ranking politicians as State Governors (past and present) rioted against his administration. He later returned to Ibadan in 1979.

Professor Akinkugbe gave UI of his treasures, talents and time

One of Professor Akinkugbe’s last wishes was to see the Akinkugbe Kidney Centre become an enduring legacy and to his credit, necessary protocol and structure has been put in place while he ensured measures to make it a Centre of Excellence was documented for this generation of scholars and administrators charged with its preservation.

The University of Ibadan is committed to ensuring that the Centre lives up to the deceased’s expectation as a World-Class Centre of Excellence for research, diagnosis and cure of Kidney diseases and related ailments. He got a generous donation from General Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma Foundation to the tune of Three Hundred and Twenty Four Million Naira to support this centre.’

He led my humble self, the Dean of Clinical Sciences, Professor Mayowa Owolabi and the Director of the University Advancement Centre to pay a thank you visit to General Danjuma at his office in Lagos on 18 December 2019.

Professor Akinkugbe donated his library to the Kenneth Dike Library, University of Ibadan, in February 2020. This, today, stands as the Akinkugbe Corner in the Postgraduate Reference Section of the library.

The Corner is the first in the history of the University Library System that would be set aside for donated collections of one of the living legends of the University in his time. It houses the generous print donations of Professor Akinkugbe.

Some of the collections which are not related to Medicine donated by Professor Akinkugbe are biographies, Elliot, Asquith and Ashby Commission Reports on Higher Education in Nigeria, Ibadan University Calendars from 1948, Philosophy, Economics, Political Science and Sociology.

Others include Religions, Travel, Gardening, Essential Fiction and Contemporary Titles as well as Reference Works. He also donated a bronze statue of Hippocrates (469-399BC).

The collection which Professor Akinkugbe donated is what professional librarians will tag rare or prized books consisting of a potpourri of ancient and modern, medical and non-medical books which Baba had acquired over several decades.

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Speaking at that event, Professor Akinkugbe recalled that his association with the UI dated back to 1951 when he was admitted as first-year undergraduate of the University College, then in special relationship with the University of London, stressing that the only way to appreciate the university was to give back to the university that made him.

He disclosed that he was under immense pressure from other universities to donate the collection to them, saying ‘this ceremony is a consummation of my preference for the University of Ibadan’.

A lover of university tradition

The most conservative institutions in the world are the church and the university, for which reason they have been able to survive many civilisations. Professor Akinkugbe would always request for and peruse the draft manuscript and critique the University of Ibadan Calendar on at least two counts.

First, he told us that his University of Oxford, which was founded many centuries before Ibadan still publishes her Calendar annually. So he could not understand why Ibadan publishes her own every other year.

Second, that our Calendar is often too bulky, the most recent edition being a hefty 531 pages.

Similarly, he would complain that our Order of Proceedings is also too bulky. The 2019 edition had a total of 468 pages. I had once complained too about the size of this document wondering, for example why it is necessary to include the title of PhD theses in the publication.

Ever so proud of his Government College, Ibadan roots

Professor Akinkugbe was exceedingly proud of Government College which he attended before coming to Ibadan. He would always mention some of his extremely brilliant classmates like Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, Dr Christopher Kolade, the late Dr Abel Guobadia, and the late Emeritus Professor Olumuyiwa Awe who earned a double First Class in Physics at University College Ibadan. The great mathematician Governor Dr Victor Omololu Olunloyo was one or two years behind Professor Akinkugbe.

He would tease his verygood friend Emeritus Professor Ayo Banjo that although his (Banjo’s) Igbobi College Yaba Lagos is very famous, the School is yet to produce a Nobel prize winner. The other party would also respond that Professor Akinkugbe attended Apata Ganga High School.

Old Students of the prestigious Igbobi College greet one another by saying “Up IC”. Baba Akinkugbe would tease his friends who are Igbobians that is it Imade College (IC) or Igbobi College (IC)?

Just banters; all in a lighter mood.

In closing

We commiserate with Professor Folasade Akinkugbe, Professor Akinkugbe’s wife of 55 years, their lovely children, grandchildren, the entire Akinkugbe Family over the irreparable.

He would remain for ever in our hearts. While alive, he gave of his treasures, time and talents to the University of Ibadan. we wish Prof O. O. Akinkugbe eternal rest.

Last line

In his 1998 Convocation Lecture of the University of Ibadan, Professor Akinkugbe enjoined the nation as follows:
“Central to decay and desecration is funding and it does not need a gift of prophetic wisdom to surmise that unless this is addressed positively and aggressively there can be no turnaround in the status of Nigerian universities”.

The greatest tribute we can pay this illustrious son of Africa and eminent citizen of the world is to heed his advice of the need for a significant improvement in funding education (and health) in Nigeria post the COVID-19 pandemic.

I had always thought, albeit naively, that Emeritus Professor O O Akinkugbe, my benefactor and godfather, would live for ever. It was unthinkable that we would some day have to cope without his wise counsel.

Nonetheless, to live in the heart of those we loved is not to die. You will live in our hearts for ever. It was a thing of pride to be counted as one of your numerous academic sons, many of whom are established academic giants and notable professionals in their own rights.

Good night, Sir, the most special one we fondly called Baba Akinkugbe, the famous Melanbite, a distinguished UIte.

Idowu Olayinka is the Vice-Chancellor, University of Ibadan

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