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‘At 90, i still do my exercises’

Life could not be sweeter at 90 than it is for the first African Physiotherapist and father of physiotherapy in Nigeria, Dr. Thompson Abayomi Oshin.


Life could not be sweeter at 90 than it is for the first African Physiotherapist and father of physiotherapy in Nigeria, Dr. Thompson Abayomi Oshin.

Blessed with a measure of good health, Oshin hardly looks his age. Even at 90, his appearance, voice and posture remain naturally appealing and balanced.

Born on July 30, 1926 to the family of Emmanuel and Susana Oshin in Ijebu Ode, Ogun State, Pa Oshin is the first son and third child of his family.

While his father was a trader and renowned transporter in northern Nigeria, where the Oshins were based, his mother specialised in trading in guinea eggs, shuttling between Kano and Lagos.

The family was originally based in Lagos where his father worked at the then Railway.

His father, a specialist on English dresses, in search of greener pastures, relocated his young family to Kano, where he delved into transportation business, after “he discovered that it was booming in Kano.”

His lorries transported groundnut to the nook and crannies of Kano, Kaduna, Zaria and Sokoto, while his taxis serviced Kano Township.

From the business, the family realised enough financial proceeds to acquire properties in Kano.

“My father had about three houses in Kano and our family lived in one of my father’s houses in the city,” the nonagenarian revealed.

Oshin, who was the first secretary general of the African Physiotherapy Organisation, attended Holy Trinity School, Kano from 1932 to 1940. But as Oshin was preparing to enter secondary school, his cousin, Mrs Victoria Demuren, came from Lagos to request that he should live with her.

His parents had no problem with the request, a scenario that saw him relocating from Kano to Lagos to start a new life.

In Lagos, the co-founder of Poliomyelitis Club of Nigeria lived with his cousin and her husband. Together with her son, Tunde, he attended Baptist Academy from 1941 to 1946.

He wrote and passed the very competitive Senior Cambridge Examination and London Matriculation Examination, and armed with the two certificates, he joined the labour market, thinking that getting a job would be easy.

To his disappointment, the market was competitive as it is today, because employers preferred discharged soldiers who had fought in Burma to employing young school leavers.

But fortune smiled on Oshin, as he secured a job with the Land and Survey Department of Lagos as a draughtsman, with his job description including interpretation of surveying coordinates into drawings.

Although his salary of eight pounds was a motivating factor for the job, Oshin knew that his calling was in the medical field, given that the two reigning professions in the country then were Medicine and Law.

However, a London friend, one Ms Powell, an elderly lady he met through correspondence while visiting the British Council Library and the United States Information Service (USIS) library in Lagos, introduced him to the physiotherapy profession.

After sending several brochures and mails across to Oshin from Britain, Powell was able to convince him to take an interest in the profession. And he grabbed the idea without hesitation.

Physiotherapy, as a course of study, was being studied then in the United Kingdom (UK) as Nigerians had hardly heard of the profession.

With his little savings, Oshin got the British Empire passport through his friend to travel out of Nigeria to study Physiotherapy. Before relocating oversees, he knew he needed the blessing and approval of his parents in Kano and sought that.

According to him, his father, who had planned for him to study Law, was “very bitter” over his choice, saying “he did not want to waste his money for Oshin to study a course nobody knew the benefit.”

So, he had to stay back in Kano for two weeks to convince his parents. With his mother on his side, he was able to convince his father that his interest was not misplaced.

Once he got the approval of his parents to study in London, Oshin left Kano for Lagos to make preparations. He boarded a ship on March 14, 1950 from Lagos and arrived at Liverpool after 14 days of sailing on the high sea, from where he took a train to London.

Behold Tunde, who had been living in London, was on hand to receive him and shelter him away from the British discriminatory practices against blacks.

Powell helped him to get a placement at the School of Physiotherapy in London and for three years, Oshin immersed himself in the study, passed his final examinations in 1954 and became a member of the prestigious Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, London.

The former council member of the University of Benin (UNIBEN) thus became the first African physiotherapist.

When the Colonial Office in London heard of his feat, it marvelled and immediately made arrangements with the British Broadcasting Service (BBC) for him to broadcast the value of his new-found profession to West Africa, “and to educate those who will be interested in the profession.”

Oshin, a Justice of Peace (JP), started practising at St. Nicholas Hospital, London, where he solely ran the evening clinics for years.

As he was making waves in London, the University Teaching Hospital (UCH), London heard of him and made a mouth-watery offer for him to work at the UCH, Ibadan, which was then being developed. Oshin accepted the offer and returned to Nigeria.

He resumed as a physiotherapist at UCH on January 10, 1955 and became the only black person among Europeans working in the renowned hospital.

Alongside his colleagues, he treated patients of polio, tuberculosis and tetanus diseases.

Between 1958 and 1959, the US government engaged the doyen of physiotherapy in an exchange programme to visit 12 states, hospitals, universities and physiotherapy training institutions in America.

As soon as he returned to Nigeria, UCH planned to start training physiotherapists at diploma level, but the University of Ibadan (UI) would have none of that, as the university authorities preferred to offer the course at a degree level.

“Eventually, UCH gave up the fight and UI took over the programme at a degree level,” Oshin recalled.

He was then invited to develop the curriculum for the Bachelor of Science in Physiotherapy. Having taught the course at King’s Hospital College in London from 1963 to 1965, Oshin overcame the challenge and singlehandedly developed syllabus for Physiotherapy at UI.

At the onset, the department had just two students, but by the time he retired in 1990, after spending 35 years, he had helped to graduate over 300 physiotherapists from the university.

A former External Examiner of Physiotherapy at the University of Zimbabwe, Oshin later obtained a Bachelor of Physical Therapy from the University of Manitoba, Canada; Master of Philosophy and Doctor of Philosophy in Physiotherapy at the UI.

He went on to establish the Nigeria Society of Physiotherapy (NSP), alongside Christopher Agbola, in 1959.

Married to former Miss Victoria Adepeju Oluwafunmilayo Ogunwo, a nurse he met while schooling in London, Oshin is blessed with children, including Segun, Toyin, Enitan and Wole, and 13 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Two of his children are successful medical doctors, while the others studied Law and Actuary Science.

In spite of his achievement in the world of Physiotherapy, none of his children chose his line of profession.

“It is the most painful thing to happen,” Oshin said, adding: “I do not want go into it.”

At 90, the former President of NSP appeared hearty as he celebrated in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital.

Asked what has been his secret, he replied: “People link Physiotherapy to my longevity. I say partly because I carry out daily exercise. Before I go to the bathroom, I often exercise. I walk around my home four times every evening, just to keep my blood circulating properly.

“At 90, I still do my exercises.”

He added: “My diet has also helped me. People wonder how I still take three meals a day. I do not eat meat since I was 80; I eat only fish, liver, kidney and chicken.

“I take a lot of vegetables and fruits. And more importantly, I do not take soft drinks and alcoholic drinks; I take only water.

“Above all, God has helped me.”

He is satisfied to see the phenomenal growth of the profession he assisted to build in the country some decades ago.

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