David Olufemi Olaleye: The inevitable transmutation
Sunrise: 21 July 1954, Sunset: 27 July 2021. At about 10.14am on Thursday July 29, 2021 the remains of Professor David Olufemi Olaleye DVM PhD FAAS was lowered into the grave at the Anglican Cemetery, Ido, along Eruwa Road, in the presence of members of the family, close relatives and friends. He died on Tuesday 27th July. It is an understatement to say that he virtually worked himself to the end of his life as a virologist of national and international repute. I saw him last on Wednesday, 7th July in his office. He was hale and hearty. I had gone to request for a proper face mask that would protect me more securely in the plane as I travel to Abuja for the wedding of the son of a colleague of mine who he also knew very well. He had wanted to attend the wedding himself but he cancelled the trip because of the demands of COVID-19 and other challenges. As I was leaving his office with the face masks, he slipped into my hand some crisp Naira notes to augment the cost of my trip to Abuja. Professor Olaleye was ever generous and very considerate.
Our paths first crossed in May 1980 when he was in the penultimate class in the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Ibadan. I had gone to make enquiry about admission to the Faculty having just finished a Diploma programme in Animal Health School, Moore Plantation a year later. He was also an alumnus of the School which he attended, finishing in flying colours in 1975. That was the beginning of a long lasting relationship of over 40 years that was only rudely and cruelly terminated by death.
After the NYSC year, Professor Olaleye returned to the Faculty first to handle my class in practical demonstration in Veterinary Pathology and he thereafter became a staff of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital. He was a most diligent lieutenant of Professor Lekan Oyejide in the Immunopathology Laboratory where I did the long vacation SIWES in 1984/1985. I recall a mild drama during a simple Agar Gel precipitation test after we had set the Agar the previous day. After the necessary mixture of antigen and antibodies, Dr Olaleye (as he was then) asked me if I could observe any reactions in the holes. As if I was regurgitating textbook or lecture notes, I said yes, I saw antibody antigens; but when he asked what types of antibody antigens, I couldn’t answer!
By the time Prof Olaleye completed his MVSc degree of Veterinary Pathology in 1985, he was already reaching for the stars. His appointment at the Department of Virology, College of Medicine was seamless and his elevation to the pinnacle of his career as a scholar in 1995 was a tale foretold. Working under the tutelage of the finest virologists the nation could boast of (Professors David West, Fagbami, Fabiyi and Tomori), Olaleye firmly established himself. He spoke science through the viruses. He researched the nature and taxonomy of the viruses extensively: yellow fever, Rift Valley fever virus, Potiskum Newcastle disease, Respiratory Syncytial virus, Dengue, Rotavirus, Polio, Human Papiloma, Hepatitis B, C and E,
Ebola, HIV and COVID-19. Name it!
The title of his inaugural lecture, which he delivered in 2003, captured most succinctly his adventures in the world of viruses: “Finger Prints of a Monster: Message from the Dead to the Living”. He worked till his last days on earth. He was always in the laboratory till very late in the night. Sometimes I wondered if he had time to relax or if he ever indulged in any other pastimes. Be it as Head of Department, Dean of Faculty of Basic Medical Sciences or at Faculty, College and University Appointments and Promotions Committee meetings, his guiding principles were: truth, honesty, integrity and sound academic judgement. Some people certainly had difficulties coping with him. In his usual frank manner, he oftentimes explained to people that he was a human being and could also make mistakes and was ever ready for constructive engagement but he had no space or patience for sheer shenanigans or buccaneering.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought out the best in him as a scholar and coordinator. Together with Professor Georgina Odaibo, he rose to the challenges of COVID-19 since the early 2020 and, together, they gave their very best from actual diagnosis in the laboratory, isolation of patients at Olodo, as well as vaccination to advocacy on print and electronic media. Olaleye was a household name. On a particular day, he told me that he was in the Governor’s office till 1.00am! He was a responsible family man who brought up his children in the way of the Lord, to put it mildly.
Even in death, David Olaleye remains our common friend, brother, colleague, confidant and benefactor. Personally, I am yet to fully come up to terms with the reality of his departure from mother Earth. When he was alive, I stayed with him through thick and thin and I have no reason to betray our friendship for he never betrayed me in any way. He led a spartan life of dedication, forthrightness, honesty, integrity and dogged commitment to values and ethos. May his gentle soul find comfort and peace in the bossom of his Creator.
The world of science will miss this great man. May his redoubtable soul rest in perfect peace.
Dr Adeniran is of the Department of Veterinary Pathology, University of Ibadan.
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