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Salako at 60: Tough trip to the top

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[FILE PHOTO] Professor Babatunde Lawal Salako, Director General of the Nigerian Institute Of Medical Research, NIMR.

We all need resilience to live a fulfilling life. With resilience, you’ll be more prepared to take on challenges, to develop your talents, skills and abilities so that you can live with more purpose and joy”. These were the words of the 56th Governor of Missouri in the United States of America, Eric Greitens. These philosophical perspectives vividly capture the life’s trajectory of the current Director General, Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), Prof. Babatunde Lawal Salako who turns 60 years old today, having being born on 23rd July, 1959.

Prof. Salako who is the last born of 18 children from a polygamous family has indeed, without doubt, displayed a high level of resilience and determination before attaining the present enviable status. His story, which is very instructive to the present generation of “microwave mentality” is better captured, a tough trip to the top, indicating that even if one’s road is rough as advocated by the legendary Tai Solarin, difficulties are not meant to destroy us, but rather designed to rouse us and develop our spirit. In other words, with resilience and determination, there is no excuse that is tenable for failure. From childhood, Salako who is today fondly addressed as “BLS” is intensely motivated, doggedly driven, relentlessly inventive and remorselessly tenacious, thus, becoming the Senior Prefect in his final year and graduated in grade 1 with aggregate 16, the best result in Ansar–ud-deen College Offa, in 1979 where he finished his secondary school education.

Interestingly, it is still the same spirit of resilience, relentlessness and tenacy that has gripped him from his early stage that keeps possessing him up till today. He is a workaholic, thus justifying Colin Powel’s assertion that “a dream doesn’t become reality through magic; rather, it takes sweat, determination and hard work”. I have come across so many people who complained that the reason they didn’t go to school was because they are from polygamous families where the father’s resources must be shared on a rotational basis. Such people had better come and learn from Prof. Salako who went through tough times to get to the top.

However, besides his resilience and iron-cast determination attributes, Prof. Salako represents Yoruba cultural concept called “Omoluabi”. What is “Omoluabi”? This is a person of honour who believes in hard work, respects the rights of others and gives to the community in deeds and in action. An “Omoluabi” is a person of integrity who is celebrated for his virtues and values.

All the ingredients of this concept of “Omoluabi” are inherently visible in the life of today’s celebrant who is regarded as an irredeemable bibliomaniac by some of his friends. In examining his trip to triumph, one discovers that “BLS” who is rather described as a scientist with social conscience is a man of courage, conduct and class. His huge intellectual savvy, uncompromising sense of justice and steely grit in defence of justice are amazing. Considering the lowly background from whence he emerged, one comes away with an impression that, in addition to the fact that providence is always in action in his life, BLS does his job with managerial panache with an uncanny capacity to dream and dare. Yet, he comports himself in a way that conforms to the tenets of civilized conduct.

In celebrating him, therefore, a guest lecturer from the University of Cape Town, South Africa, Prof.  Ikechi Okpechi, a Professor of Medicine, will be in Ibadan to speak on “Cutting Edge Research in Non-Communicable Disease in Low and Medium Income countries : Raising the bar” under the Chairmanship of immediate past Health Minister, Prof. Isaac Folorunso Adewole, his mentor. Besides, there will be a book launch in his honour. The title of the book is “An Encounter with BLS: Tributes and Autobiography of an Icon at 60”. The Royal Father of the Day is Lanlege Ekun 11, Olota of Ota, Prof. Abdulkabir Adeyemi Obalanlege. The ceremony promises to be colourful.

However, I had first encounter with Prof. Salako in 2014 when he was the Provost of College of Medicine. A friend of mine wanted medicine admission for his daughter. Prof. Salako, in his usual respect for people took his time to explain the process of admission, the difficulties and challenges and why he could not assist our request. We left his office happier than we came despite the fact that our request was not granted because of his friendliness and amiability. Since then, I became one of his admirers and followers as his intellectual heftiness, the street wisdom, the personality, impressed me to no end.

To him, anything less than a total commitment to excellence is an acceptance of mediocrity. His sterling strides are remarkably distinguished as he holds himself to best practices and international standards. Yet, he remains humble. Prof. Salako certainly knows much more than he says, thinks more than he speaks and notices more than people realize, still, he speaks ill of no man, and speaks the good he knows of everybody.

Asked to assess him, the NIMR Director of Administration, Alhaji Yunusa Zauzzau said, “Prof. Salako is a man of humility and deep respect for others. He calls me his boss despite the fact that he is my boss. I have worked with four Director-Generals, Prof. Salako is the best. He is above everybody. He is too nice to a fault. He is Godly. He has changed the operational processes and methodologies from what it used to be to a better one. He will give you what is yours. He does not take bribes. I have told him that once he leaves, I am leaving”.

In the same vein, Mr. Monzur Olohungbede who has been so close to him, described Prof. Salako as a prophet, mentor and motivator. According to Mr. Olohungbede, “In the past, we told him to seek greener pastures overseas just as his peers were travelling out of the country. He refused, saying he will stay in UCH and from there he will be going to different parts of the world. That has happened and that is why I described him as a prophet. He has also refused to send his children abroad for education. He argued that with hard work, they could achieve any level of success in Nigeria”.

“Prof. Salako would not bear down on you unnecessarily. He is a man of peace who will allow you to move at your pace. If he tells you that he wants to write a paper, you should know that he has gone half-way. He does not joke with his work, “Olohungbede added. This man, whose worldview is shaped by both cultural and Islamic influences, always gives his time, treasures and talents to any task at hand. At the NIMR where he is currently holding the ace, is forging ahead with steely determination and singleness of purpose in order to leave lasting legacies.

There are two major components that make a leader: character and competence. These are the virtues that are always at play in the life of Prof. Salako. He is a leader who has an uncanny ability to see far deeper and larger and longer than the ordinary man. He has an habbit of creating treasure out of trash. Yet, he does not brag, bluff, or boast about any achievement. You will expect him to beat his chest in triumphal acclamation of how his intellectual sagacity has helped him to the zenith of his profession, but no, not BLS, rather, he ascribes his fame and fortune to God.

Today as he attains a sexagenarian status, tributes, like torrential rain will be fulsome as the celebration of this icon shall literally turn to a festschrift, given his positive attributes that have endeared him to the throng of friends, well-wishers and admirers.

Born on 23rd July 1959 to Alhaji and Alhaja Ibathllahi Lawal Salako of Oke Oyinbo Quarters Ota, Ogun State. Prof. Salako attended Ansar-ud-deen practicing school Ota, between 1968 and 1973, Ansar-ud-deen Secondary Modern School Ota, from 1973-1975. He also attended Ansar-ud-deen College Offa from 1975-197.

He attended the then Kwara State College of Technology Ilorin, for his basic studies 1979-1981 and graduated from the University of Ibadan with MBBS degree in 1986. Dr. Salako did housemanship with the Lagos State Health Management Board between 1986 and 1987 at the Lagos Island General Hospital, Mercy Street Hospital and Island Maternity Hospital, Lagos Island.

He served the mandatory one year NYSC service at the Isiala-ngwa Local Government Area of Imo State.

The then Dr. Salako joined the UCH in April 1990 for Residency training in the Department of Medicine and obtained the Fellowship of the West African College of Physician. He was subsequently appointed a lecturer and consultant nephrologist in the Department in March 1996 and by this appointment, he became an honorary Consultant Physician & Nephrologist to the UCH. He rose through the ranks to become senior lecturer in 1999, Reader in 2003 and Professor in October 2006. Professor Salako also did a number of management and certificate courses at the prestigious Lagos Business School in 2010 and was elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh September 2014 and the Royal College of Physicians of London in May 2016.

Prof. Salako has made significant contributions to the field of hypertension and kidney disease. His community efforts have been rewarded with meritorious awards by a number of bodies and associations including the Brownite of Honor award by the students of Alexander Brown Hall of the UI in 2004.  As he celebrates his diamond anniversary, one can only pray for more years of quality service to humanity. Happy birthday sir, our own amiable BLS.

Saanu is Media Assistant to the Vice Chancellor, University of Ibadan


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