Akeredolu… Arch Klumph giver paying it forward
Long before he joined the Rotary International (in 2005), Dr. Olajide Akeredolu has built a distinguished profile of being a care giver. In fact, giving appears to be engraved in the DNA of the Owo, Ondo State indigene. His birthday anniversary celebration (from 1997 when he clocked 40) became the suitable platform to spread generosity among the needy, especially inmates of orphanage homes in Ikeja and Surulere. But when the medical practitioner joined Rotary, he saw a bigger window to reach out to a larger crowd. And he has impacted greatly on the international humanitarian group.
Recently, Dr. Akeredolu was inaugurated as the District Governor (DG), Rotary International, District 9110, Nigeria, for 2019-20 Rotary year. His jurisdiction covers all Rotary clubs in Lagos and Ogun states. His reign runs till June 30, 2020.
But there is a cultural and historical narrative to his kind-hearted spirit. “My first job, after graduation from medical school, as a house officer, fetched me N327 per month; that was in 1979. But there’s a culture peculiar to Owo indigenes that your first salary is not yours; it belongs to all the people that contributed to bringing you up to that stage. So, when I got the money, I took it home and my mother and everybody was happy in the village; they slaughtered chicken and called all the neighbours for a celebration.”Done with the party, young Jide put the money in a small bag and handed over to his parents as tradition demands.
“They said to me, ‘we are not going to take any money from you; we will give it to you back. But who is this woman?’ I said, “she’s my mum.’ Then, they said, ‘from today, you must make sure you give some bit of your income to her every month.’ I was doing it religiously every month. Sometimes, two to three months, I would gather all the money and pay into her account. I remember after she died, I had developed that culture; the money was deducted and paid into the account, the money was accumulating,” he recalled.
On his 40th birthday, he resolved to withdraw all the money and shared to charities; that was the beginning of his humanitarian life.Akeredolu now uses the Rotary platform to touch lives. However, his kindness still reaches those orphanage homes regularly. “My club has actually adopted two girls from one of those orphanages and they are sponsoring them with money from Rotary Foundation. We are able to do it the better way; we pay their school fees and we intend to actually build them up and probably be the persons to give them to their husbands when they become older. So, it’s a much more pleasurable way to actually do your charity work and see the impact; I get reports from Rotary Foundation on how the funds given is working,” he noted.He recalled how Rotarian Olawale Cole introduced him to the international club of care givers and the elevation to District Governor’s stool. “When I joined Rotary, I gave a thousand dollars; I became a Paul Harris Fellow the very day I joined Rotary,” he noted.
Paul Harris was the founder of Rotary; he founded the club in 1905. Those, who have been able to make a donation up to one thousand dollars, are called Paul Harris Fellows.However, there’s a much more exclusive group of individuals called the Arch Klumph Society. Arch Klumph is the past president of Rotary International, who founded the Rotary Foundation in 1917 and that society is named after him. The members are people, who have made the donation of a minimum of USD 250,000 to the foundation.
Though very few in number, they form an exclusive group within the club and Dr Akeredolu is a member.“It’s a kind of elitist group, just about 250 members worldwide. Incidentally, there are four members of District 9110, who belong to the Arch Klumph society; I’m one of them.”He continued: “In Rotary, you have a subset of the organisations that takes care of the finances of Rotary, which is called the Rotary Foundation.
The Foundation raises fund from all over the world for projects in various districts all over the world. So, money is pulled centrally and then disbursed to whatever club that needs them. Those, who contribute to the Rotary Foundation, are the main supporters, the main backbone of the foundation,” he said.
As a medical practitioner, Akeredolu believes his profession has been of great advantage in his service to humanity through Rotary.“It’s quite interesting because you grow up in your profession saving lives, curing people of diseases. The bulk of what you do in medicine is actually humanitarian; it’s now that medicine is looked at as a business. I’ve seen a lot of people I’ve had to treat, they don’t have a kobo, but you still save their lives and they are grateful. In a way, they talk well about you; the benefits now come back in different ways. So, being a doctor makes it easier for me to really key into the ideals of Rotary.”
As the District Governor, Akeredolu started out by setting quite very challenging target for his team in membership drive, support for rotary foundation and also in service projects. For membership, he plans to increase membership by at least 500.“I met membership strength of 2864; we’ve been building on that. We formed one more club and as at yesterday, we’ve increased the membership by 188. We are now 3055 members; we are on target to actually surpass even that number,” he said.
For the Rotary Foundation, Akeredolu and his team has introduced a novel way to actually expand the donor base. “Many people find it difficult now with the economy to donate huge amounts of money; a thousand dollars is about N360,000. But we introduced what we called the Million Dollar Challenge; just give me five dollars. When you donate just five dollars to the Rotary Foundation, you will be given a raffle draw and you can win a lot of prizes; it has made it quite fun for little people, who may not be able to support the foundation before.”
For the service project, the team has given itself some challenging projects. “The first one, which is our star project, is the cervical cancer prevention project. Cervical cancer is the second commonest cancer in women after breast cancer. It’s a very deadly disease that kills 26 women everyday in Nigeria; that’s a terrible statistics from the WHO. That translates to one woman dying of cervical cancer every 55 minutes,” he noted.
According to Dr. Akerodolu, cervical cancer is one of the few cancers known that can be completely prevented by just vaccination and Rotary is looking in that direction.“We know that a virus called the human papilloma causes cancer and if somebody is vaccinated against that virus, she cannot have that infection. And because of that, they become immune to that virus; the immunity is life-long. I used to wonder why people have not thought about embarking on that project. If you see somebody die of cervical cancer, I’ve seen quite a few, it’s a slow, painful and agonising death. And you wonder if this person just had that shot at appropriate age, probably she would not have suffered it. Maybe it’s because the vaccine is a bit expensive; it costs about N11,000 for one dose and every girl needs two doses. That makes it N22,000 to save one girl from cervical cancer; I believe it’s a good investment and Rotary has decided to take up that challenge.”
Through the initiative, Rotary hopes to build a generation of women that would be completely immune to cervical cancer. “It’s a huge project, but just like we started polio in 1985 and people said it couldn’t be done, now we have eliminated polio from Nigeria; we just have two countries left in the world where there’s polio, Afghanistan and Pakistan. So, we are taking on cervical cancer the similar way. Slowly, steadily, one girl after the other, we will build that generation of women that will be completely immune to cervical cancer.”
The plan is to vaccinate at least 10,000 girls this Rotary year. However, it depends on how much the club could raise for the initiative.“We are reaching out to every person we can reach; corporate organisations, individuals, Rotary clubs, Lagos State, Ogun State, center for diseases control in Atlanta… all of them are keying into it. Together, we would start it. We have about 4,000,000 girls out there from my estimate that may need it. But if we can get enough funds that will give us more than 10,000, we will do, but at least, we are sure of taking care of 10,000 girls.”
The girls need to have two shots spaced at least six months apart and the ideal age is between the age of 10 and 14 year.“That’s when it has been shown scientifically that the vaccine has the best effect,” he said, adding, “ That happens to be the school age group and we intend to meet them at school. With the consent of their parents, we will give them the vaccine. It has not been done anywhere in Africa before, except Rwanda. So, we are going through uncharted territory. By the grace of God, we will make that impact,” he said.
The second project the club is doing is the congenital heart disease treatment project, another challenging area of medicine in Nigeria. Available statistics shows that about 2400 babies are born in Lagos State alone every year with congenital heart disease.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have any public facility that delivers open-heart surgery. So, many of these children, if they are lucky to have rich parents, they need to be flown abroad to have their open-heart surgery. Those, who cannot afford it, die slowly; they go from hospital to hospital until they perish. Many of them don’t go beyond the age of one; those who go beyond become stunted and short because the blood is not circulating properly.”
Meanwhile, Rotary has contacted an organisation known as Gift of Life International, who will be coming in the early months of 2020 to do open-heart surgery on as many babies as the club could gather. “They’ve given us a target to get 100,000 dollars to finance that mission. Once we can raise that amount, they are going to be coming so that we can give these people a new lease of life.”
On how he combines his Rotary work with his professional engagements, the plastic surgeon said, “I run two hospitals; it’s been quite challenging. A lot of patients are looking for me, but you just have to make that sacrifice for a year; one just phoned me now. Interestingly, I operate in the middle of the night now; normally, my operation starts 9am. So, we admit the patient the night before, I come in at 3am, we operate at 4am, by 7am to 8am, you’ve finished operations for the day and you face Rotary. It can get tiring sometimes, but it’s rewarding at the end of the day.”
When he’s not working, Akeredolu is playing lawn tennis.“I play a lot of lawn tennis; I was the silver medalist at NUGA Games in 1976. I played quite a good bit of tennis. I also do a lot of reading.”
BORN in Kaduna in 1957, as the seventh of eight children, to the late Anglican Bishop Jeremiah and Mrs. Margaret Akeredolu, Olajide hails from Ikare-Akoko, Ondo State. A prince from the Owalukare ruling house, he had his primary education at St. Michael’s Anglican Primary School, Kaduna, and in Owo at St Andrew’s Primary School, between 1962 and 1967. His secondary school education was at Imade College, Owo, from 1968 to 1972, graduating with grade one distinction at the WASC examination.
He had his Higher School Certificate studies at Oyemekun Grammar School, Akure between 1973 and 1974.
In October of the same year, his sterling academic achievements won him a Federal Government scholarship and admission to the Medical School of the University of Ibadan to study Medicine, though his original plan was to become an engineer. “That’s an interesting story, it’s been a long time ago; I’ve been a doctor now for 41 years,” he said, beaming with smiles. “Actually, I wanted to be an engineer when I was in school. I have my elder brother, who trained in England and came back as a doctor. He started work and his salary was 130 pounds; that was a lot of money then because an average graduate was earning 60 pounds. So, I was like, ‘why should I go and do engineering and earn 60 pounds per month, when I can just do two years extra and become a doctor?’ That was what changed my mind,” he recalled.
In those days, there was no JAMB, so, young Akeredolu did his conceptual exams and passed with a Federal Government scholarship. Though he got an admission into the University of Lagos, he had put in for Medicine at the University of Ibadan.“I packed my wooden box from my village and I was traveling down to Lagos to come and register for engineering. But I decided to branch in University of Ibadan and see whether I was even taken. Not only was I taken for Medicine, I was taken with an academic scholarship. So, I just stayed. My elder brother, who was in Lagos waiting for me, said, “we are waiting for you…” But I said, ‘No, I’m not coming to Lagos anymore; I’m staying in University of Ibadan.’ Quite an interesting story; that’s far back as 1973,” he enthused.
For the plastic surgeon, going to school with a Federal Government scholarship was a huge relief to the family. Upon graduation from medical school in 1979, Jide started his professional career as a House Officer at the State Hospital, Akure between 1979 and 1980. He had his National Youth Service Corps year at the Methodist Hospital, Amachara, Umuahia between 1980 and 1981, before he returned to the State Hospital, Akure, as a Medical Officer between 1981 and 1982.He later moved to the Ministry of Defence, Lagos, and was based at the Nigerian Navy Hospital, Apapa, and Navy Town. He started his postgraduate training in Surgery at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital as a Junior Resident Surgeon in 1983, becoming a Senior Resident Surgeon in 1985, and then the Chief Resident Surgeon in 1986.
In 1987, he moved to the United Kingdom for advanced Plastic Surgery training at the St. Andrew’s Hospital, Billericay, Essex, as an Honorary Clinical Assistant in Plastic Surgery and became a Fellow of the Nigerian Postgraduate Medical College in Surgery (FMCS) in 1988. Between 1988 and 1989, he was a Registrar in Plastic Surgery at the Frenchay Hospital, Bristol, South West England, and the Regional Clinical Fellow in Plastic Surgery for the South West Regional Health Authority covering the Bristol Royal Infirmary, the South Mead Hospital, and the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital in Exeter. Also in 1989, he underwent advanced Microsurgery training at the Royal College of Surgeons of Glasgow in Canneisburn, Glasgow, Scotland.
Before he returned to Nigeria in 1990 to join the Lagos State Government Health Service as a Consultant Surgeon at the General Hospital, Lagos, he had also served as a Senior Registrar and clinical instructor in Plastic Surgery, at the Derriford Hospital, Plymouth, in Cornwall, England. He later moved to General Hospital Gbagada in 1991.Between 1992 and 1994, he was the Senior Consultant in charge of Epe General Hospital. But went into private medical practice in 1994, establishing Inland Specialist Hospital group, where he’s the Chief Consultant Surgeon, and Chief Medical Director till date.
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