The Nigeria’s First Professor of Medicine, Theophilus Ogunlesi, Dies at age 99 the first to be so appointed in the University of Ibadan medicine department, taking after pioneer professors Alexander Brown and three others who were seconded from Britain when Ibadan was to host an annex of the University College of London in 1948.
Ogunlesi was inspired into the medical profession by R.L. Oluwole, son of Bishop Oluwole, who recommended him for scholarship after completing a program at the Yaba Higher College in 1942. Thus, Ogunlesi, son of a blacksmith father in Sagamu was set in the path of the medical profession in 1947, through the Yaba Medical School. To improve on medical qualification obtained in Nigeria, Ogunlesi went to the University of London in 1953. Subsequently, he qualified as a medical officer in Britain and was registered in England. He became a professor in 1965, four years after joining the University of Ibadan Department of Medicine. Adebayo Ogunlesi, a member of American president, Donald Trump’s short-lived Economic think-tank is his son.
The Daniel Ogunlesi family of 30, Agbowa Street, in Sagamu, Remo area of Ogun State from where Theophilus Ogunlesi originated is one of the three prominent Ogunlesi families of the Makun clan whose section is known as Ogunlesi Alagbede.
Places of Growth
Ogunlesi was born July 12, 1923 in Sagamu, Remo, Ogun state. While a child growing up in this Ijebu Remo town, the grand image of the medical profession was impressed in his mind with weekly visits of a doctor from Ijebu Ode whose arrival was usually heralded by the ringing of church bells. By the age of 13 he proceeded to school in Lagos.
Ogunlesi was born to parents of little means who endeavoured however, to pay for his secondary education at the CMS Grammar School, after his primary education at St. Paul’s Primary School, Sagamu. His expedited primary education was attributed to his brilliance by him and subsequent examinations, including the 1940 Senior Cambridge, which he took one year earlier than his mates showed him to be a child of remarkable gift. In 1941, the colonial government promulgated a policy to train local students to become assistants to university graduates. Ogunlesi was listed among pupils from different secondary schools who pioneered the Yaba High School. Although his school principal, L.J. Lewis who got him a place at the Yaba Higher College intended him for the Arts and a career in teaching, Ogunlesi opted for being a doctor.
The Diploma in Medicine, L.S.M. (Licentiate of the School of Medicine of Nigeria) obtained by Ogunlesi from the Yaba Medical School was insufficient. There was a need for him to travel abroad, a Nigerian school of higher medical study being not in existence. Ogunlesi arrived in England in 1953 and returned to his home country in 1958, having bagged a post-graduate medical degree. He would be in the United States for a period of one year nine years after, for study at Minneapolis, U.S.A.
Ogunlesi was born to Christian parents who esteemed education, hence sponsored their kids to school in spite of their meagre income. His father belonged to one of three prominent Ogunlesi families in Makun, among which was Joseph Ogunlesi who founded in 1949 the first renowned chemist and druggists in Nigeria, the Broadway Chemists. From the same family is Mrs. Victoria Abimbola Onofowokan, a renowned educationist who worked in the old Western region and later in Lagos. Theophilus Ogunlesi married Susan Olorunfemi Peters in 1950. He has five sons and two daughters.
Ogunlesi tutored Isaac Adewole (professor), who was appointed Minister of Health by President Buhari in 2015. Many Nigerian professors and medical experts were trained by him.
Solomon Odunnaiya Odutola started acting as principal of the CMS Grammar School the same year Ogunlesi entered the school. The substantive principal after him, Leonard John Lewis, got him admitted at the completion of his secondary education to the Yaba Higher College without him writing a placement examination. Lewis, a British educationist had wanted Ogunlesi to learn the Arts and return as a teacher. Oladele Adebayo Ajose, who later became Vice Chancellor of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife (1961-66), was a lecturer during Ogunlesi’s studentship. He joined the Civil service of the Western region with headquarters in Ibadan in 1950, few years before Folayegbe Akintunde, who was renowned and celebrated as an accomplished female in her time. When ownership of the hospital at Adeoyo was returned to state in 1952, Ogunlesi took over from Alexander Brown who was the first professor of medicine to work in Nigeria. Ogunlesi worked with the Ogun state military administration of Oladipo Diya as head of the Civil Service Commission.
Ogunlesi went to St. Paul’s Primary School, Sagamu; 1931-35, CMS Grammar School in Lagos; 1936-40, Higher College Yaba; 1941-42, and Yaba Medical School; 1942-47. He was in the University of London for a medical degree in 1953 and went to a Post graduate medical school 1957-58. Ogunlesi was in the University of Minnesota Minneapolis, Minesotta U.S.A. 1967-68.
From the position of an Assistant to full Medical Officer in the Nigerian Medical Department in 1947-1956, Ogunlesi moved to London where he served briefly as House Physician in Hammersmith Hospital of Ducane Road. He was also Registrar in the Hospital for Tropical Diseases, University College Hospital, London, in the subsequent year for a period of seven months. Ogunlesi returned to Nigeria in 1958 to join the Western Nigerian Civil Service Ibadan as a Specialist Physician, a position which he held till 1961.
The University College Ibadan temporary Teaching Hospital at Ade Oyo was denied accreditation by its London University affiliate in 1952, necessitating the return of Ade Oyo to its former status. The Premier of the Western region, Obafemi Awolowo, wanting the administration of the hospital to pass into indigenous hands, retained Ogunlesi and due to his qualification, had him promoted to the rank of a specialist. In 1961, Ogunlesi answered an opening at the University and was appointed a senior lecturer, attaining professorship within four years. After his retirement from the University in 1984, Ogunlesi was invited by the government of Ogun state to chair the State Civil Service Commission in Abeokuta.
According to his account, the prestige of the medical profession as may have been impressed in his mind with the visit of a physician from Ijebu Ode during his childhood, served to motivate him. Also, Dr. Oluwole who took special interest in his students with the aim of mentoring the best. Ogunlesi grew up in a Christian home, with a life centred around the Church of England Remo Diocese. He plays table tennis and enjoy walking.
Ogunlesi is the first Nigerian Head of the Department of Medicine in the then University College Hospital, now University of Ibadan, a position which he held form 1969 to 1972. Since 1953, he had been a Local Secretary of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. Ogunlesi is a member of the Royal College of Physicians in London and in Edinburg. He is a foundational fellow of the Nigerian Academy of Science and member of the International Society for Hypertension.
Ogunlesi has been honoured with the traditional title of the Baasegun of Ibarapa, Oyo State and the Baasegun of Ijebu Remo in Ogun State. He was awarded Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic (OFR) in 1983. His publications include monographs in national and international scientific and professional journals. In 2003, Ogunlesi published an autobiography titled Medicine: My Passport