Nigeria: Reminiscences With Dr Amuda Aluko

25 August 2019
interview

Ilorin — Dr Amuda Aluko, the Tafilda Ilorin, said that according to his parents, he was born in October 1935. In this interview, the renowned medical doctor, who hails from the Apabiekun family in Ilorin West Local Government Area of Kwara State, shared his experiences in the medical world, early days in life and more.

How did your journey of life start?

Let me say here that I don't know my real age, but I was told that I was born in October 1935. I attended so many schools, starting from Ilorin Middle School in 1949. After that, I went to Barewa College, Zaria. From Zaria I went to the School of Hygiene in Kano for two years. When the Northern Region decided to have a medical school, I was privileged to be one of the foundation students. We were many who started at the medical school, but it will interest you to know that only four of us were able to make it.

I had the opportunity of going to London for further studies as an internal student. I was at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in 1968. I was lucky, and I thank my God that I did so well that I was given a World Health Organisation (WHO) Fellowship, which took me to Egypt. I was there for three months.

In Egypt, one Dr Sanir Binawir was attached to me and we went to the eleventh governorates, just like we have states here in Nigeria, to study Medical and Health Services. I came back to Nigeria after the three-month Fellowship in 1968. My first place of call was Okene.

How was your experience in Okene?

In fact, I forgot to tell you that I served the Northern Regional Government in many capacities before states were created. I was in Sokoto General Hospital, Birni Kebbi General Hospital, Katsina General Hospital, Kafanchan General Hospital. I also served in Ilorin General Hospital under the regional government in 1963. There were only three doctors before the creation of the state. I happened to be the only black man among the three doctors. Majority didn't even believe that I was an indigene of Ilorin, except those who were with me and ate Iya Alabi's eba together in the middle school, such as Alpha Belgore, Saka Opobiyi, Oba Shiiru, and so on.

I was also privileged to be the principal medical doctor in charge of Jos division. From Jos, I was moved to Maiduguri, and from there to Makurdi. I was the one distributing drugs to all the hospitals. I had four 911 Mercedes lorries.

I had many seniors, but for reasons best known to the authorities, they asked me to handle that division. Probably, they believed I could handle it better than my seniors. Dr Parker was a consultant surgeon in Jos while Dr Morry, the man I took over from, was the first doctor I served under in Sokoto. When they were mentioning names during his send off and mine was mentioned, he told them that they could not make a better choice.

I started my career at Okene General Hospital, under the Kwara State Government, where there was no water, no electricity and I had to provide myself with a small generating set I bought from Ikare. I was in Okene for about two months when I was posted again to Lokoja. It was in Lokoja that I decided that enough was enough. By virtue of my exposure, I decided to quit government service and build a hospital so that I would run it the way I felt a hospital should be run. I got in touch with a friend of mine who was the governor of Kano State then, Alhaji Audu Bako. He said I should come to Kano and head medical services for him.

It was in the course of getting all the papers documented for the inter-state transfer that I was transferred from Lokoja to Ilorin General Hospital. The mother of one Dr Shaman, an Indian chap, who was a consultant surgeon, died and they were looking for somebody to take over from him. By level of qualification, I am not a surgeon, I am a consultant family physician, but I have been so much exposed. In my life, it's only few human parts that I have not put my knife successfully.

On getting to Ilorin, while waiting for the papers to be completed for the inter-state transfer, I was posted to Patigi, where I spent only one night before I was recalled to Ilorin because of what happened to Dr Shaman. And I enjoyed it. While taking over from Dr Shaman, I was waiting seriously to get all my documents ready for my own hospital. While waiting, the doctor in Idah left for the United Kingdom to study Ophthalmology and since I was in Lokoja, and the doctor there, B.S Yusuf, couldn't carry out surgery, there were so many people waiting to be opened up. I learnt that the doctor in Okene was sick and he was taken to the University College Hospital, Ibadan. In a nutshell, there was no doctor in that axis. And there were all sorts of delay and tricks because they didn't want me to leave Kwara State. They felt I should not be allowed to go because of my exposure. The late David Bamgboye, who happened to be my junior in Barewa College, was the governor of the state. I got on very well with the shakers and movers of the state. I told my permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health and they became embarrassed that Lokoja, Okene and Idah didn't have any doctor. And I had made up my mind to go, whether the inter-state transfer materialised or not. I told Mike Hitcher, the permanent secretary that Nigerians generally believed in a doctor who could enter a theatre and come out successfully. So I requested for the opportunity to go to Okene, Lokoja and Idah. I wanted to go to Idah before quitting government service. I had served there before, so I knew the terrain.

They were very happy at the ministry and organised a Land Rover vehicle for me because of the bad road then. I spent two days in Okene, attended to all the surgical cases and moved to Lokoja. It was easy for me because I was used to all the two places. I got to Idah around 12noon and I didn't leave the theatre until 2am the following day. It was free medical treatment; so many cases were brought from the Edo side that was close to Kogi. The late Attah Igala sent and prayed for me, saying he wanted me to come to Idah on posting, even if it would be for six months. I told him that I was already on my way out of the state service and he was shocked. I came back to Ilorin after a week in Idah.

The present Magaji Aare of Ilorin was my theatre nurse. We were used to each other. In fact, when I was in London, he was also doing an administrative course. When I came back to Ilorin, I applied for annual leave and it was granted because of my service in Lokoja, Okene and Idah. Nobody was ready to go there because they called that side of the state Kwara overseas before they moved them to Kogi State.

Two days later, I went with my letter of resignation, but my HR was angry. I remember that it was in 1971, the same day the foundation for Kwara Hotels was laid. I was also invited, so I left my HR and went to attend the foundation laying occasion. The late Emir of Ilorin, Sulu Gambari, the father of the present emir and David Bamgboye were talking and I knew they must be talking about me. David must have been told that I was resigning and that the emir should try and convince me not to do so. Publicly, the emir called me and said my letter of resignation had been brought before him but he tore it, so I could not go anywhere. On my way home, I went to the post office, registered the same letter at the Civil Service Commission since I was on leave.

I did not go anywhere.

There was a plan to open a lace factory in New Bussa, so I decided to go there. On my way back to Ilorin, I decided to visit the Nigerian sugar company in Bacita because I had seen some of their patients come to the hospital. I met one Mr Mo, the general manager who was excited to see me. He said to me, "You know our doctor, an expatriate, would be going on leave, can you get us a Nigerian who can take over from him?" I said, "If you can afford to pay my salary I will come. He did not know that I had resigned my appointment with the state government. By the time I went round the factory, a letter of appointment was already on my table in Ilorin because I told him that I would come if he gave me an intimidating offer. He thought I was joking and he gave me a good offer. The salary was more than that of the state government. I was given a brand new Volvo car and a three-bedroom house. The state government begged me, but I said I had to go. I left, but I was there for only eight months and started the plan for what is today known as Geri Alimi Hospital.

Would you say it was challenging to establish Geri Alimi Hospital?

When I was at Bacita I went to see my friend, Audu Bako in Kano. I told him about my plan to build a hospital but I didn't have money. I asked him to be my guarantor and he agreed. We went to see Babaduna, who was the general manager of the Bank of the North. Immediately the manager saw Audu Bako, he got up and said, "Hope there's no problem?" Bako introduced me to the manager and said I was interested in building a hospital but I did not have the money. He asked if they could come to my aid. The manager didn't say a word; he just went inside and brought a piece of paper for me to write whatever I wanted. By 10:30 the following morning, approval had already been given to their branch in Kano and it was ready for my collection. On the second day of the approval, Audu Bako brought out a car and asked me to enter. He sat beside the driver and took me to the old airport road in Kano and gave me four plots of land for my proposed hospital.

I came back to Ilorin, happy. I told the late Justice Saidu Kawu, who was the only high court judge in Ilorin then, about my plans. He pleaded with me until I was convinced that if I went to Kano I would make a lot of money but I and my children would still be regarded as second class citizens. He said I should not go to Kano and I accepted.

I started my practice in Ilorin. I must say here that I have no regrets, in the sense that I started private medical practice in 1973 and got a house near the emir's market, which I used to establish Geri Alimi Hospital.

Naturally, when you practise in your home town it is not always good. I had to buy drugs. Some of my friends didn't know that I had become a different person from who they used to know in the general hospital. God has been kind to me. As far back as 1973 I have been in government.

General Gowon, who was head of state, decided to open the University of Nigeria, Nsukka after the civil war, and he wanted somebody from Kwara to be a member of the Provisional Council of the university. Ahmed Jordan, who was a super permanent secretary in Lagos, got in touch with the late Amuda Gobir, who was also a super permanent secretary, saying they needed somebody from Ilorin. Three names were given, including mine, but the moment the names got to Jordan, he didn't even consider others and picked my name. I spent a year as a member of the Provisional Council and six years as a member of the Governing Council of the university, four years as a member of the University of Lagos Governing Council and chairman of Scholarship Board. I just discovered that I had to play a role.

I had an accident in 1996 when I was a member of the National Reconciliation Committee and we toured the whole of Nigeria. I left Abuja on a Friday and we had an audience with the governor and members of the executive in Lokoja, Kogi State. I finished with my assignment in Kogi and I decided to come to Ilorin to see the governor and members of the executive on Monday. That same Friday, I said I was going to Ilorin and the governor was not happy. He never knew that Ilorin was my base. God wanted me to have that accident. Petrol was very scarce and I bought some litres inside the jerry-can. After Edidi, we were looking at Oro when a car overtook us, my driver lost control and the car crashed. I could not leave my seat because I got a fracture of the spine. There was not a drop of petrol from the container, but I heard a voice that said, "I am not ready to kill you now." I was able to get up from my seat to the side of the car, but I could not use any of my legs. I knew it had happened. As a medical doctor, I knew it could lead to a wheel- chair. It happened around 8pm and we did not get to Ilorin until 12midnight. The driver who helped us wanted to drop me at the general hospital, but I told him to take me to Geri Alimi Hospital because those I would find at the general hospital would be house officers and junior ones, and I didn't want my problem to be mismanaged. So I went to my hospital because we got orthopedic beds.

General Abacha got the information and the governor of Kwara State couldn't sleep because the Federal Government felt I was on their assignment when it happened. Professor Fakeye, a chief medical director, couldn't sleep as well. Professor Agaja, an orthopedic surgeon in the general hospital came to see me because I couldn't pass urine. Before he came we had taken x-ray and there was no pressure on the cord, but I could see a crack. That was what I guarded against. They brought a plane to take me to Germany but I refused because it is in the cause of moving me that they may put pressure on the cord. Suddenly, after so many weeks I just felt like passing urine on my own and I was able to get up. People were surprised and were watching. I felt very well and was discharged. They said what happened was a miracle.

When I got back to Abuja, General Abacha was away, and I was part of those who went to the airport to welcome him. When he saw me he was shocked.

At the medical school where only four of you graduated, how many of you started the programme?

About 100 of us started the programme. At the end of each examination, people were dropped. Dr M.O Natural was one of us; we graduated the same day. We also had Dr Adeoye, Brigadier-General Simkaye, Brigadier-General Oyekola, Brigadier Amadi Rimi, Dr Moorefin, Bayo Durosinlohun, who are all late. Moorefin became Secretary to the State Government in Plateau State.

Can you remember some of your classmates in Barewa College?

Yes, I remember Saka Opobiyi. In those days they hardly picked more than two people from a state for a class. Oba Shiiru was our junior, Hamidu Erubu was our senior, as well as Adebayo Malete. They all held very responsible positions in the past.

How would you describe your experience during your schooldays? At what point did things go wrong in Nigeria that people no longer enjoy what you enjoyed during your time?

Before the coup in 1966 when Gowon became the head of state, particularly in the North, everything was completely free, starting from uniforms, feeding and books. We were given pocket money every Friday. Who would ask you to pay? Today, you know how much you pay? Even at the hospital then, feeding, drugs and treatment were free. Nearly everything was free.

Major General Rimi was a qualified pharmacist before coming into the medical school. Today, as a qualify pharmacist, would go into any other profession without earning more. You know that won't be possible; nobody will ever do that.

It is quite unfortunate that things have changed and I don't know what we can do. Only the Almighty God can get it straightened out. People are too anxious to have money; and money is not the end of the road. I don't know why people are greedy for money. A good name is better than gold and silver. I was in government for many years and held several positions and I have never been found wanting. When I was the chairman of Scholarship Board I went to see all our students where they were all over the world. Things have really changed and I hope that people would understand that whether we like it or not, a day is coming when we will be answerable to God.

Can you compare the medical school of those days to what we have now, especially considering the number of unqualified doctors?

What you just asked affects all professions in Nigeria. You would discover that some consultants who are supposed to be their lecturers have private clinics. It is only the Almighty God that can be in two places at the same time. I am not saying they are not teaching their students, but they don't spend much time with them. They need to constantly teach the students.

What is the way out?

In those days, there was a law that prohibited private practice in the public sector, but I don't know the government that can enforce it. It was during the government of Ibrahim Babangida that the practice was normalised. Even lawyers in government services still own private law firms because they feel they are not well paid. If

you think you are not well paid as a medical doctor and you are interested in private practice, why not resign and get your own hospital. There is no profession today that doesn't allow private practice.

How did you survive as a medical doctor in Okene, where there were no light and water?

Even in the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital, you won't see light at night, except in few places. That is not good.

As a former chairman of the Scholarship Board, why do you think students no longer get those benefits you enjoyed during your schooldays?

In those days you didn't have greedy people. Money was made available; the record is still there. When I was appointed the chairman of Scholarship Board, Kogi was part of us. Kwara north and central were very backward educationally, so I told my secretary to calculate how much we would spend on people who were qualified in Kwara south and Kogi side. I defended it before the governor, Adamu Attah, saying we would not deny any of them scholarship. I said that those who applied from Kwara central and north and were qualified should be given overseas scholarship. I said money should be given to their local governments so that they would develop their educational standard.

You got a World Health Organisation Fellowship, what does that mean to you? How did it help your career?

I was just lucky to get the Fellowship because I passed my exams. Back at home, they knew the level I was before I left for studies. They wanted me to improve on my standard so that I would become more useful to them at home.

In fact, for my course, three of us came from Nigeria - one in Glasgow and the other one in Liverpool. They are both from the South-West while I was the only one from the North. Out of the three of us, only two made it. I was lucky because I did very well, plus I was the PMO in charge of Jos medical division when I got back to Nigeria, so I should get a more responsible position.

It is different from a Fellowship you acquire through academic exercise. I have a Fellowship from the National Postgraduate Medical College of Nigeria (MPGMCN). It is through one's academic experience that one would be given a Fellowship, but that of the WHO was an opportunity to be better when you get back home, having done well.

Why the choice of Geri Alimi as the name of your hospital?

I named the hospital Geri Alimi because of my love for the North. As a matter of fact, I see myself more as a northern, so I couldn't give it a typical Yoruba name. That location itself used to be known as Agbunbelewo. I am more used to the North, and because of my association with them, my children have citizenship certificates from the Gwandu Emirate.

At 85, looking at the passion you have for medical profession, do you still attend to patients?

I stopped operating about three years ago, but I did one six months ago. I have three fulltime doctors, but unfortunately, three of them don't have the passion for surgery, so I called somebody to come and do hernia surgery and he demanded N30, 000, but the patient said he could only afford N25, 000. I told the doctor and he was reluctant, so I went to the theatre and did it. God has always been on my side; I enjoy good health.

What is your take on the demand for police report by doctors before they attend to victims of gunshot, as well as the attitude of those who demand money before attending to patients?

It is most unfortunate. The society is rotten; and the police can make life unbearable for some individuals. That's why some doctors are always on their guard. Some years back, I saw an accident on my way to Offa, where people were confused. I got there and took the victim to Offa General Hospital because I worked in Offa. Some of them were able to recognise me. I asked them to call a doctor to attend to the victim, then went to the police station. Going by the way I was attended to, they will never forget what I told them. However, the DPO later came to apologise and I told them that even if I had knocked down the fellow myself, the first thing would have been to save life. Even if it was a self-accident, you are supposed to report to the police. Unfortunately, majority of them demand money.

Government has warned against that many times, but it is still the same thing. Ask any of my staff when you get to the Geri Alimi Hospital, even if it is not an accident, I told them to treat the patient first for 24 hours, after that, if he or she cannot afford to pay, he should be discharged. It is a law in my hospital. I only go to hospital to monitor them; and for the record, four of my biological children are medical doctors; so I am lucky.

What's your most challenging memory as a doctor?

I encountered challenges when I was a young medical officer in a hospital and there was no other doctor, so I could not ask for a second opinion. A Fulani man came to the hospital around midnight with half of his intestine hanging out on his stomach. He was in a state of shock and on his way out of this world and I was the only doctor there. Probably, the nearest hospital to get a second opinion was about 100km away from my own hospital, and the best within the environment. What I did was to open him up, resuscitate and get him fit for surgery. When I opened him up, I discovered that there were some holes in his intestine, so I dealt with that one first. Although I had seen it done, I never did it before then. It was challenging. And that was very common in those days. Things have changed now.

Is there anything you would have loved to do?

I shouldn't have decided to compete with the government by building a hospital of that size. The hospital was officially opened in 1978. In the wards we didn't have less than 50 patients daily, but today we will be lucky to have 8 or 10. And drugs are more expensive while members of staff are demanding higher pay. They are greedy. Yahoo-yahoo guys are everywhere. If I were to build that hospital now it would cost me millions of naira. The loan I got was for takeoff, what completed that place was goodwill.

The international airport runway was under construction, and with my exposure I was able to penetrate and got what they requested for my bill. I told them that I wanted to build a hospital, so they should give me cement and gravels when I needed them. It was supplied to me. Do you know that there is no block of the hospital, apart from the mortuary, that the foundation was not started the same day? If you look at the pillars of the airport and the ones at the hospital, you would see that they are the same. They brought all the pillars and concrete mixer. That saved a lot of money for me.

What would you like to be remembered for?

Truth is the greatest weapon I have. If you have the truth, then fairness, justice and equity won't be far away from you. Honestly, I have paid my dues and I have no cause to complain or regret.

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