Nigeria’s medical world stood still for a moment when news of the death of Emeritus Professor Oladipo Akinkugbe was received on June 15, 2020. He was only one month short of his 87th birthday.
One year ago we celebrated his 86th birthday. It was a special ceremony that was tagged “hanging the stethoscope” – the formal announcement of his retirement from clinical practice. This was the first such event in Nigeria. The occasion also marked 60 years of his qualification as a doctor and 50 years of his professorship.
Emeritus Professor Akinkugbe had a daunting resumé. He was a distinguished and quintessential clinician. I was fascinated by his towering intellect and resounding achievements in various spheres of life as university administrator, teacher, researcher, public orator and mentor.
Professor Akinkugbe combined self-discipline, integrity, honesty, contentment and diligence with passion for excellence in his professional activities. He could be likened to a man with the Midas touch, and he undertook nothing without adorning it. He was very articulate and was aptly described by Dr Christopher Kolade, formerly Nigeria’s High Commissioner to the UK and his former classmate, as “an adroit communicator of ideas in English language”.
He was a role model par excellence and was simple and approachable. He had an uncanny ability for selecting the best brains for training and for administrative positions.
I knew him as a guru in the field of hypertension and tertiary education reforms. He fervently believed that a combination of present and past experiences would make for a better future in health and education, as echoed in his famous saying:
The present should not be the enemy of the past, otherwise the future will suffer.
Contributions to medicine
Professor Akinkugbe made significant contributions in hypertension and renal medicine research. He led a landmark survey on the burden and risk factors of non-communicable diseases in Nigeria. He was widely acclaimed as the authority on hypertension in African people.
He documented the rarer causes of hypertension in Ibadan and was the first to report the rarity of hypertensive retinopathy in Africans. His findings have stood the test of time.
He also carried out pioneering work on renal replacement therapy in Nigeria using peritoneal dialysis.
In a seminal article in the British Medical Journal in 1978, he defined the role of teaching hospitals in a developing country. He went on to make significant contributions to the revitalisation of the health sector through an initiative that equipped teaching hospitals.
His international recognition included serving on many World Health Organisation expert committees. These ranged from cardiovascular diseases and the development of health professions to the Global Advisory Committee on health research. He was a member of the advisory panel of the CIBA foundation in London and the University Grants Commission in Uganda.
He held positions on the councils of the International Society of Hypertension and World Heart Foundation. He held visiting professorial positions at prestigious universities such as Harvard (1974-1975), Oxford (1981-1982) and Cape Town (1997). In 1989, he received the Searle Distinguished Research Award for his contributions to hypertension in black populations. Earlier this year he received the Pioneer Award of the International Society of Nephrology.
How Professor Akinkugbe inspired me personally
I joined the academic staff in the College of Medicine, University of Ibadan in 1987 and got to know him well. Professor Akinkugbe was at that time the most senior academic staff member in the department. We all looked up to him and my mentor, Professor Benjamin Oluwakayode Osuntokun (1935-1995), for guidance and mentoring.
My calling is neurology. But I attended many continuing professional development programmes organised by Professor Akinkugbe in the department, and later at the Ibadan Hypertension Clinic as a resource person. He taught me discipline, simplicity and professionalism.
I emulated his lecturing style and always read through his published lectures before delivering any public lecture for historical content, ideas and anecdotes. Lastly, I was touched by his wise counsel whenever thorny issues arose. He was always at hand to proffer solutions that always worked.
Professor Akinkugbe will be remembered as the doyen of medicine in Ibadan, eloquent teacher, clinician, and a great motivator who lived a fulfilled life. He also served humanity to the best of his ability and accomplished a lot.
His generosity is legendary. He bequeathed the textbook “A Compendium of Clinical Medicine” that he co-authored with Professor Ayodele Falase, former Vice Chancellor of the University of Ibadan. And he donated books, journals, theses, research documents and memorabilia to the Kenneth Dike Library, University of Ibadan.
Professor Akinkugbe will be missed as an excellent scholar who touched many lives positively, an illustrious teacher, clinician, university administrator, mentor and family man. And a man who toiled for reforms in Nigeria’s health and tertiary education sectors.