Akinkugbe, The Man

Late Prof. Oladipo Akinkugbe

I am truly delighted to be here today, to join in celebrating the transition of Dr. Ladipo Akinkugbe from Professor of Medicine to Professor r-t-d., otherwise often called Professor Emeritus. I must say a special ‘thank you’ to Professor Osotimehin and his colleagues who seemed determined, from the first, that I should participate in this event, even if Ladipo himself occasionally had second thoughts, not knowing what I might be tempted to reveal’ Let me hasten to assure our Man of Honour that all what I shall say here shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth — as I know it! If his own recall of events differs from mine in any way, he should remember that I have always had questions as to the accuracy of his memory.

For example, when Ladipo Akinkugbe and I first met almost fifty-one years ago, a little incident occurred. He had arrived in school — Government College, Ibadan - as a new boy, a week or so after the rest of us in the class. Much to his good fortune, he was assigned to Swanston House, and his place in the dormitory was next to mine. Now, his version of the story is that I proceeded to order him about immediately, taking advantage of my seven days’ seniority to perpetrate something which was not easily distinguishable from “fagging”. He was very compliant, as every new boy should be who looked forward to a future of livable existence in a community of boys, the majority of whom were mainly bigger than himself. Imagine his shock and anger, I think — when he found me and himself in the same class on Monday morning! And, at that point, I was not even different in size from him!

Now, as I say, that is Ladipo Aldnkugbe’s version of the story The Christopher Kolade narration which, you will appreciate, is closer to remembered truth, goes like this:

There was this new boy, looking rather frail and lost, who arrived late, and was clearly in need of assistance. With the benefit of the vast experience which I had painstakingly (and, sometimes, painfully) collected in the week before he came, I proceeded to help him find his way, making sure that I impressed upon him the fact that respect for senior boys was a required element of a happy life in GCI. I actually allowed him to practise on me, thereby making sure that he would have no trouble with the real senior boys. That beneficent act of magnanimous altruism helped to launch our Professor on his distinguished way.

There is a popular belief that, just as the morning shows the day, so also boyhood gives a good indication of what the man will turn out to be. I am bound to acknowledge that, in Professor Akinkugbe’s case, this is probably true. It was always possible that he would become a professor of something, as long as it was not Physical Education. For those who have worked with him these many years, if he has told you any story with himself as the star of some athletic event or other, consider all such claims debunked, with immediate effect! He and I, and one or two others like Wole Soyinka, could easily have competed annually for the title of “Least Athletic Member” of our class between 1946 and 1951. Ladipo Akinkugbe would have won that title more often than I, mainly because I finally did a few significant things in the swimming pool, a place which held the fascination of pure terror for my friend for many years.

Still, the morning did show his day, and he always looked as if he might turn out to be a professor. GCI was a place where one could win genuine respect only on two grounds - real prowess on the sports field, and excellence of performance in the classroom. Akinkugbe showed early good sense by concentrating on the latter, and his versatility was absolutely impressive. Here was a boy who appeared to feel completely at home in every subject of academic study. Not for him the unequal struggle with either Arts or Science subjects — he had talent, and achieved a good track record, in both. Some of us in the class found this really amazing, and some-what unfair. Why should anyone feel equally comfortable in fields as far apart as History and Chemistry? Still, there it was; there was no denying the fellow’s multi-faceted academic capability.

I suppose, that one of the reasons for Professor Akinkugbe’s intellectual eminence is the studious curiosity which has been the hallmark of his attitude since I first knew him. He seemed to be ever on the prowl for information which had the potential of earning impressive marks in some test or the other. If you thought that it was some time since you last heard Ladipo Akinkugbe’s voice in one of our endless displays of noisy boyish exuberance, pause and look around — he had probably withdrawn into an isolation of his own contriving, soaking up some productive text in geography or biology! I have a vivid picture of him, neck craned forward, listening avidly to some exchange of information from which it was possible to derive knowledge. Indeed, second only to his valiant but ineffective commotion at swimming, the memory which has stayed with me is his quiet and effective absorption and re- presentation of intellectual matter. Those who have read or heard his papers or speeches in the last thirty years or so would readily agree that Professor Akinkugbe has developed and improved his versatility, becoming not only a world authority in the field of Medicine, but also a most articulate and adroit communicator of ideas in the English language.

Anyone who questions my assertion here should obtain and read a copy of “SWIRLING CURRENTS’ SWOLLEN STREAMS”, Professor Akinkugbe’s valedictory lecture delivered about a year ago in Ibadan. It is a piece which confirms that this man is no ‘ordinary’, run-of-the-mill professor of medicine.

I have devoted quite a bit of attention to the tune which Professor Akinkugbe and I shared in school because that was where it all began. He is probably wondering how much else I propose to share with this audience. To calm the fluttering of his heart, I tell him now that I will give no further information about that period; I intend to “keep our secrets truly secrets”! In any case, having shown some aspects of Akinkugbe, the boy, I must take a shot at my real subject — Akinkugbe, the man. Here, I have struck a substantial bit of real good luck.

Some years after we left school, I had the singular good fortune of becoming acquainted with, first, Ladipo Akinkugbe’s older sister, and then, his older brother. I hope they will both forgive me for being terribly presumptuous, but, in a way, the initial advantage of my acquaintance with Mrs. Ifaturoti and Chief Olu Akinkugbe was the chance it gave me to explain and rationalise Ladipo Akinkugbe. My conclusion is that our Professor of Honours comes from such eminently excellent stock that he “had it made”, as the saying goes, before he came under the doubtful influence of some of us. Blessed with the examples of his older siblings, Ladipo has proved true to his natural antecedents; he has maintained the sterling traditions of qualitative character for which a good upbringing is an indispensable foundation.

Forgive me for appearing to belabour the point, but we live in an age in which it has become increasingly fashionable for young men and women to make a show of cutting themselves away from what they perceive as the conservatism of their “up-country” origins as they acclimatise in the customs and practices of the ‘modem and enlightened’ ways of the jet age. In direct consequence, many family and societal values are decaying, before our very eyes, in today’s Nigeria. So, when a Ladipo Akinkugbe comes along, proving true to the lessons that he learnt as a child, and to the respectable example of his senior siblings, we must not allow the fact to wash past us unnoticed. Everyone in the business world in our country acknowledges the elder Akinkugbe as a total gentleman.

I would have said the same of classmate, Akinkugbe the younger, if he had not gone away to become a Professor of Medicine! I think it was Cardinal Newman who said, “it is almost a definition of a gentleman to say that he is one who never inflicts pain.” Now, how can a physician avoid inflicting some kind of pain now and then? I don’t think that Akinkugbe the younger would qualify to be called a gentleman in Newman’s definition: we will have to make do with acknowledging that this Professor is a gentle person, a gentle man — two words!

Gentle in every way, and also honourable and dignified in his expression and total comportment. Everyone has to agree that there must be something special about a man who has registered a public service career in Nigeria of the post-independence era, covering multiple stints as Principal, Vice-Chancellor, Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council, Chairman and member of several Commissions, founding Chairman of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, and many other things besides. He has not only survived this veritable minefield of variegated public service experience, he has emerged from it all without one stain on his reputation or his conscience. In fact, perhaps the only thing missing in this rash of public appointments is the title of “Hon. Minister” or “Hon. Commissioner”. Does that explain it, I wonder?

No, everyone who knows Professor Akinkugbe knows that he is entitled to the appellation, “honourable”, as a natural, personal right, and not via any appointment to public office. He himself tells the story of the occasion when he found himself occupying — by accident — three positions in the university, one of them in an acting capacity All the jobs reported to each other in carrying out important decision- making responsibilities. The clear unfairness of this anomalous situation gave him a pang of conscience, and first, he voluntarily relinquished one of the positions; then he proceeded, with his successor, to push through a piece of legislative convention which would prevent the possibility of such conflict for future generations.

Away from his university offices, he has enjoyed, among many of us, an enduring reputation as a good and completely reliable friend. The Bible makes passing reference to the man who would get up in the middle of the night to attend to the needs of a neighbour. It is obvious that Ladipo Akinkugbe has taken that part of the Bible to heart, for it is the usual experience that he would drop everything at the instance of a friend-in-need, and offer his best attention in that friend’s behalf until the need was taken care of. Available evidence confirms to us that he does not restrict his compassion and concern only to his friends — it takes in his “neighbour” as well, as defined by the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Professor Akinkugbe does everything which he does with enviable calm dignity. He looks like someone who has to be respected — and not only because of the evolution which has progressively and visibly altered the top part of his anatomy. Those in the know can trace that to many years of carrying his wooden box of personal possessions between the Ogunpa motor park and Apataganga’ But I refer to the respect which is earned from one’s peers because one is a good listener and a concerned and involved colleague; the respect which is won through a performance of consistent excellence; the respect which is willingly accorded to someone who is endowed with superior talent and skill, but does not throw his weight about; the respect which is the unclaimed right of a true leader.

I am aware of the fact that the subject of Leadership is one to which Ladipo Akinkugbe gives considerable attention. I have recently come across two pieces from a book of “Lessons from Chinese Master”, both of which remind me of my friend. I wonder if he sees himself in these two statements the way I do:

Sages do not dress or behave ostentatiously. They wear what no one looks at, do what no one watches, and say what no one disputes. In times of ease they are not extravagant; in times of hardship they are not fearful. They do not show off when successful and are not desperate in retirement. They are different but do not seem weird; they appear ordinary, but there is no way to name them. This is called great mastery*

And the second piece goes like this:

The reason one does not wear a leather coat in summer is not to spare the coat but because it is too warm. The reason one does not use a fan in winter is not disdain for fans but because it is too cool. Sages eat according to the size of their bellies and dress according to the size of their bodies, adjusting to the needs and no more — so how could a wind defiled by greed arise in them? Therefore, those who are capable of leading the world are those who have no ambition to rule the world; those who are capable of sustaining fame are those who do nothing excessive to seek it.*

The event in which we are all participating today suggests that Ladipo Akinkugbe has been a very successful Professor of Medicine. Would I go so far as to say that he is a very successful man? Not if you view it from the perspective of the anonymous writer who defines a successful man as “one who earns more money than his wife can spend”. Incidentally, the same writer says that a successful woman is” one who finds such a man”. I suspect that neither Professor Aldnkugbe the man, nor Professor Akinkugbe the lady, would qualify!

To delve into the reasons here would divert us into an unhappy discussion on the distorted perception and disabled management of our national educational system. Yet, I think it was Ralph Waldo Emerson who said — “I look on that man as happy who, when there is a question of success, looks to his work for a reply.” I am confident that everyone in this assembly agrees with me that, on the basis of Emerson’s thesis, we are, today, celebrating an eminently successful man, ably supported, as they say, by a truly successful wife!

To the question — Is Professor Oladipo Olujimi Akinkugbe, the Man, a success?, his work trumpets a resounding affirmative. A lifetime spent in Medicine must be a special experience, as observed by another writer, Sir David Osler, who says, “Medicine is the only profession that labours incessantly to destroy its reason for existence.” I suppose this is only another way of saying that doctors and their collaborators are constantly working to make people healthier, and, therefore, to make the world a better place than they found it.

Left to the likes of our Man of Honour of today, the world would, indeed, become a better place. However, since things are not likely to be left to the likes of him, let us luxuriate in the joy of this brief celebration, with gratitude to the Almighty that the bleakness of our wilderness is sometimes relieved by the timely and welcome intervention of a Ladipo Akinkugbe, a man whom I am very proud and grateful to call my friend — a man whom I am even more proud and more grateful to know, also regards me as his friend.

* From The Book of Leadership & Strategy — Lessons of the Chinese Masters tr. By T. Cleary Shambala Publications, 1990.

Christopher Kolade

Culled from 'A Festschrift in Honour of Professor O.O. Akinkugbe'

Submitted By: 

KOLADE Nathaniel Christopher
Design and Development by websesame.