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Adeloye: Life of a neurosurgeon, writer, footballer, guitarist

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Emeritus Professor Ademola Adeloye, who was 85 years old recently, is one of the foremost neurosurgeons in the country with over 400 publications and a stint in almost all the continents of the world.

One of the finest and brilliant minds, he recalled: “I did my postgraduate work in England, some of my experimental work in America, started the medical school in Malawi, practiced in Uganda, was in West Indies to lecture and examine students and had a stint in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

“When there was a problem in Kuwait, I gathered all Nigerians there and all Africans who were in the Nigeria House, because African countries didn’t have embassy in Kuwait then, and evacuated them to Baghdad. We escaped and we went to Jordan.”

He wrote a book on that experience and even at old age, he is still writing books on the life and times of some medical practitioners who died unsung in Nigeria, despite sacrifices they made for others to live.

He has written over over 400 publications and still working. Some of his colleagues are dead, but he remains thankful to God for keeping him till date.

For him, studying medicine was by providence, as he never heard of the course or seen/had contact with a medical doctor as a secondary school, but was told of the profession by an elderly man in Ado Ekiti who had seen doctors in their white apparel and thought Adeloye, who had engineering in mind, because his father was a village mechanic in Ilesa, should study that instead.

He reminisced: “The late Oyebode from Ikole-Ekiti, father of Prof. Akin Oyebode, asked why I wanted to study engineering, saying my father had done everything in mechanical engineering. He asked: ‘Why can’t you do something else?’ I asked like what and he looked and said: ‘I just came back from Ibadan and I went to the hospital and saw Dr. Olapade wearing a white clothe with telescope round his neck, looking very smart. That is how I want you to be. You must study medicine.’ I asked if we could do it and he said yes.

“I never did Physics and Chemistry at school, but he said with Additional Mathematics, I could do anything and should be able to do Physics and Chemistry. I came to Ibadan after school certificate, bought some books and I started reading them. 

“I told one Dr. Adebusoye, who was at the old site of the University of Ibadan at Eleyele and was in year one that I had changed my course to medicine. He encouraged me to come and be reading his notes. So, I would trek from Yemetu to Sabo to the old site to read Adebusoye’s notes.

“Gradually, I began to enjoy science subjects, particularly Chemistry. I had the entrance examination to the then University College of London (now University of Ibadan). They discovered some flaws with that examination. Our result came on June 1953, but some were protesting that that there was something wrong with the examination.

“Those of us who they said passed the examination were asked to come for a special examination. They put all of us in Mellanby Hall, Hall One, which was a new hall and everything was clean and we did the exam. That was in September 1953.

“All the old students of Christ School passed the examination, including Olugbohungbe, Ajibola Taylor and myself. That was how I started at Mellanby Hall, Room A 67.”

Adeloye said brain drain is not a new phenomenon, recalling that he had to travel to Saudi Arabia in the early 1970s to make ends meet, explaining that the only difference in what obtains today is that when doctors went abroad for a short service in those days, they returned after some time, unlike now when they do not come back to Nigeria.

He stated: “We were very prolific, but what they were paying us then in 1972 as a professor was like N7, 200 yearly. Divide that by 12 and it will come to N600. And then they would take tax at the source, but would add something else, so that at the end, it would remain N500 per month.

“That was why people decided to travel to Saudi Arabia, which didn’t have that manpower then, but had money. I went there for three months and within that short period, the money they gave me was what I used to pay for my daughter who was going to read Law in Oxford University. I was in charge of neurosurgery. They asked me to stay, but I refused and had to come back.

“Brain drain was not as bad at our time as now, because we came back. People go out now and don’t come back.”
Adeloye recalled how only three neurosurgeons in Nigerians worked round the clock to save lives of war victims and even provided food for them from their personal income, noting: “In fact, two of us- myself and Odeku first, then Dr. Colin da Silva in Lagos was brought from Switzerland. He had not finished his training, but as a gift to Nigeria, they assumed that he had passed the exam.

“But today, I am told that there are up to about 64 neurosurgeons in Nigeria. It ought to be more than that, but it is better than then.

“Odeku and myself set up the University Teaching Hospital (UCH) as a base hospital for the management of patients and we operated from morning till evening. They had to take them from warfront through riverine areas and Benue to UCH.

“There would be no food and no water for them and we used our money to feed our patients, because you must make them fit before you operate them. We learnt certain things in school about scalp; when we closed it, we closed it in two layers. But during the war, we devised ways of closing it in one layer.

“I did more work because Odeku became dean and we got Da Silva in Lagos to write a book. We published the book, which they financed and I was so pleased with that.”

Speaking on the development of neurosurgery in Nigeria, Adeloye said: “It has not developed to the stage it has reached in other countries. My area of neurosurgery is very technical; we deal with brains, which is different from abdomen, where you can make a big incision through where you can push the liver this way and push the intestines that way. You cannot do that to the head.

“We have not reached that level we are supposed to reach, but we are not far from it. We have to have the manpower and the technology. The late Prof. Latunde Odeku was the first to practise in Nigeria.”

While dispelling insinuations that orthodox medical practitioners don’t believe in traditional medicine, Adeloye stressed: “We do! If they bring someone with psychiatry, my first step will not be to go for traditional medicine. In most cases, they had tried it before coming to orthodox medicine.

“The late Prof. Thomas Adeloye Lambo made his name from what he did to his patients using traditional medicine. Like ‘don’t put them in a special room, Let them be walking out.’ ‘Don’t treat him like a disorder person, treat him like someone who is normal.’

“Village psychiatry became popular, so much more that the World Health Organisation (WHO) accepted it and spread it to other parts of the world. That is the most important contribution Lambo made.

“Currently, physicians are trying to resuscitate traditional medicine. In 1976, Oyebola wrote a lot of things on it, and I put it on my latest book on the practice of medicine. In 1976, WHO accepted that this should be taken to underdeveloped countries, because there are some places where whatever happens to them, their first point of call is the home of the native doctor. Then, they use plants, roots, pawpaw and many other things.

“It is quite a subject now, so much that they are even suggesting that they should merge native and orthodox medicine. So, they have not pushed it aside.

“Sapara was very popular for research on traditional medicine. Unfortunately, he left very few records and they are very scarce. I did some research on it, even Obadiah Johnson wrote his thesis on traditional medicine. They seem to be coming together now.”

He is proud of recording many successes as a neurosurgeon, but he was quick to remember a case he would never forget that claimed the life of his patient, recalling: “The difficult one was when we didn’t have angiogram. If you don’t have the proper investigation to know the exact place where it is, that can be very dangerous. I remember we lost one 36-year-old woman in the 1960s to the swelling of the vessels.” Adeloye, a guitarist and fan of Manchester United, was the captain for the Dalemo House in Christ School in 1952.


In this article:
Ademola Adeloye
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