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Manuwa: An effigy of national “heroes past” forgotten

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When The Guardian columnist and former Editor, Mr. Martins Oloja, wrote his contextual reporting in (his column, Inside Stuff) on the nexus between the neglect of Nigeria’ s Teaching Hospitals and Dr. Samuel Manuwa and the ailing Presidents treatment in UK for more than 100 days, little did he know that the impact would be so far reaching on the family and kith of Nigeria’s first specialised Medical Doctor, Sir. Dr. Samuel Manuwa.

The masterpiece snowballed into the First Sir Samuel Manuwa Memorial Lecture on the September 16, 2017, organised by Ilaje Medical Doctors Association (IMDA), titled: Delivering comprehensive health care to difficult to reach communities, Ilaje as a case study, which attracted a convergence of dignitaries from all walks of life, which also informed that Manuwa served as the Governor-General during colonial era.

Despite the huge footprints left behind by Manuwa, the first consultant physician and surgeon ever produced in Nigeria, as well as the African Continent, his shadows were left so dim on the walls of reckoning till his indelible worth, which live forever on the lips of men found expression through the pen of Oloja 42 years after his demise.

Late Sir Manuwa was born in 1903 to the family of late Rev. Benjamin Ilowo Manuwa and Mrs Matilda Aderinsola Manuwa, nee Thomas, who hailed from the Thomas family of Ondo city.

He is the grandson of Oba Kuehin of Itebu-Manuwa, a community that used to be in the present day Ilaje Local Government Area of Ondo State and formerly Old Ondo Province, but now ceded by colonial government and military fiat to Ogun State. 

He attended the University of Edinburgh where he bagged a Bachelor of Chemistry and Medicine degree in 1926 at a tender age of 23 years through medical training that was acquired on borrowed funds, and eventually became a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh. 

The celebrity was appointed the Director of Medical Services in 1951 and his efforts led to the establishment of the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan and became fully involved in the Nigerian Public Service in 1954. He was also the first Nigerian Commissioner of the Federal Civil Service Commissioner of the Federal Civil Service Commission on colonial appointment.
 
Borne out of his unique wealth of experience that was often on demand, he became a member of the Privy Council of the nation and eventually the President of the Association of Surgeons and Physicians in West Africa.

But the event turned an “Elegy in the Graveyard” as Manuwa, despite his effortless services to the nation, Black Race and humanity at large, was abandoned and forgotten as said by the general public while political buccaneers and thieves of their kind, who plunder the commonwealth of the nations, are always celebrated with pomp and pageantry.

Like over 10,000 public officials and employees that were sacked in the 1975 unpopular civil service purge by the Muritala/Obasanjo military junta with the flimsy excuse to break link with the Gowon regime, the first consultant physician and surgeon in Africa suffered humiliation, molestation and abandonment from the Nigerian government, even in death.

The historical civil service purge by the military, till today, still pulls dark shroud over the rays of excellence, dedication and hard work in public service; as the seeds of favouritism, nepotism, bribery and other attendant evils planted in 1975 still germinate and breed fruits of incompetence and noncommittal attitudes in the Nigerian Civil Service system.

The Chief Consultant, Family Physician of University of Calabar Teaching Hospital (UCTH), where Manuwa worked for years, Prof. Ndifreke Udonwa, said though he only heard about his good works and had seen him in pictures, his excellent services to advance medicine and public health live on till eternity.
 
According to him, his official residence in the defunct St. Margaret Hospital, calabar, where he toiled day and night, had served as an administrative building when UCTH was established and reserved as a historical monument.

While recounting his numerous impacts on medicine, Udonwa, who is also the Deputy Vice Chancellor (Administration) of the university, disclosed that he designed a surgical scalpel for excision of the edges of tropical ulcer for the rapid action of the adjuvant medical therapy, which aided the fast healing process.

“This ingenuity added to the ultimate quick successful surgical management of that dreaded diseases. He operated on tens of thousands in his 18 years career as a pioneering surgeon. Sought and worked for the improvement of basic health services in the rural areas of Nigeria. 

“Made resources available to fight tuberculosis, which was then an African epidemic neglected by colonialists; and his support and leadership won Nigeria the fight against tuberculosis in the 1950s and early 1960s,” he added. 

He summed his unequal leadership style on meritocracy and excellence, which he averred, has become the benchmark for the medical profession and practice, adding that as Deputy Director of Medical Services in 1948, Manuwa lifted embargo on administrative positions to allow other Nigerians climb to higher positions of responsibility in the government service.

The Professor of Family Medicine on Social, Behavioural and Rural health, Udonwa, like others identifying the discrimination against Manuwa by the cabals in government on the pedestal of ethnicity, lamented that “Despite his having been the first Nigerian Commissioner in the Federal Civil Service, he later humbly served under Alhaji Sule Katagum as Deputy Chief after Nigerian became independent in 1960.”

Narrating the untold hardship and inhumane treatment meted on the medical legend, Dr Aderonke Manuwa-Olumide, one of the daughters, said her father and the entire family were forcefully ejected out of the government quarters where they lived in Ikoyi, Lagos State immediately the military government retired him arbitrarily. 

Manuwa-Olumide revealed that the father could not raise money to rent a house due to the abrupt ultimatum given to them to evacuate the quarters, while all entreaties to his friends and top government functionaries for consideration or waiver fell on deaf ears.

Describing her father’s unquestionable characters: “the special, peculiar, unique combination of qualities that made him different from others, formed his character; shown by attitudes, expressed thoughts, feelings, interests and behaviour; a product of genetic disposition, social interaction.

“Discipline, a culture of excellence and perfection; hard work, industry, perseverance, integrity, probity, punctiliousness, humility, respect for elders, respect for tradition and love for Nigeria,” just to mention few, said all died with him due to the sudden shock caused by the Nigerian government treatment.

“My father had no money to rent a house at that time because he would neither take anything that did not belong to him nor steal government money; only his salary. I had to use the N6,500 I had wanted to use to buy a car to rent an apartment for my father in Surulere. 

“He was so disappointed, frustrated, crestfallen and depressed by how the government maltreated him. He said to me one day, ‘How I wished I served myself.‘ This ugly situation led to his death within one month,” she said.
  


Moreover, the President of Ilaje Medical Doctors Association, Dr. Elihu Medunoye, who crisply remarked that; “We are in a country that swallows her giant,” decried the ill-treatment meted on the late medical giant, attributing it to the collapse of the once vibrant, efficient, excellent and industrious civil and public service in the country.

Medunoye was quick to point out that the “non-accord of appropriate recognition to this man of timbre and calibre, a single tree that made a forest and medical juggernaut is metaphorical; and many more who by dint of hard work had laboured to make Nigeria great but also abandoned. He ascribed it to the significant failure in the system.

“Could this be one reason why nowadays many civil servants are not ready to commit themselves to the demands of their beats because no one would accord them honour after leaving office? 

“Could this be a reason why some office holders today are perceived to believe that their office is their fiefdom and thus any official funding coming to the office is counted as their own pecuniary gain?”

This attitude, he noted, is an antithesis of the Hippocratic Creed for doctors and the first stanza of the National Anthem, alluding to the latter that the dire abandonment now makes compatriots to feel giddy for Nigeria’s call to serve the fatherland. 

“How can anyone now serve with love, strength and faith, when the labour of our heroes past are allowed to waste and be in vain. Where does coming generations get the faith to serve with heart and might when mediocrity is celebrated over excellence?”

Nonetheless, he lauded the uncommon qualities and impeccable character of Manuwa, saying; “these attributes which today are fast disappearing from the country’s social and human space are timeless values that should be embraced by all Nigerians for national rebirth. This is more so as governments change mantra and anti-corruption war is heating up today.

“In spite of his numerous contributions to nation-building, it is indeed sad to note that the labours of this past hero have been largely forgotten and unappreciated by Nigeria. Time and again, his name has been embarrassingly and consciously omitted or missing from lists of persons to be honoured in the country.”

No wonder, a human right activist and lawyer, Femi Falana, kicked against former President Goodluck Jonathan for some “unlawful and criminal elements” among the 100 awardees given National Awards for the centenary celebration in 2014, urging Jonathan to apologize to Nigerians for the errors.

Similarly, Medunoye expressed bitterness that “In 2014, when 100 eminent Nigerians were honoured to mark the nation’s centenary, Sir Samuel Manuwa’s name was conspicuously absent. As a people, the Ilajes as a whole are baffled by this development.”

Though the association conferred a posthumous title of “Generalissimo of Orthodox Medicine in Black Africa” on him, it also demanded that “We as a segment of the Ilaje people hereby make another call for an urgent reversal of the highly undesirable state of things and call for an urgent posthumous National Award to Sir Samuel Manuwa in recognition of his enormous contributions to national development.”

Nevertheless, the Chairman of the event, Prof. Odunayo Oluwatosin Akinkugbe and the Minister for Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, the guest lecturer who delivered by proxy, noted that Manuwa deserved great honour more than what the country was giving him. 

Akinkugbe, however, assured that “Sir Samuel Manuwa is not forgotten. We still remember him in the University of Ibadan. We remember him in the West African colleges. It is only the beginning, we shall get there.”

Raising other fundamental national issue, the Ilaje people in Ondo State, who are kiths and kin of late Manuwa, implored the Federal Government to relocate Itebu-Manuwa from Ogun State to them, lamenting that it is negatively affecting the psyche of the Ilaje people in the entire South Senatorial District of the state. 
 
Medunoye described it as a costly great injustice done to the Ilaje people, while all efforts to rescind the injustice against the coastal communities proved abortive, adding that it has also contributed immensely to the non-recognition of the contributions of the legendary genius to the growth and development of Nigeria. 

“The psyche of the Ilaje people has been bitterly brutalized by the powers that be because of this monumental injustice. We also call for Itebu Manuwa to be returned to be returned to Ondo State so as to unite us with our kith and kins. After all, blood is thicker than water,” he said. 

Meanwhile, the state former Commissioner for Environment, Chief Sola Ebiseni, who was a delegate to the 2014 National Confab Abuja, said the issue was raised at the conference to reunite the Itebu-Manuwa with their kinsmen in Ondo.
 
Ebiseni, however, noted that the Itebu-Manuwa people failed to embark on self-independence opportunities they had like the Obinnehin, another Ondo riverine area carved out and delineated to Ogun State but went back to Ondo in 1991.

He added that the Imeri people in the Ondo North District, agitated for a reversion from Edo state back to Ondo in 1992; and the Sanbe people too left Ondo back to Edo State, while Itebu-Manuwa people were passive in their agitations.
   


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