Do you know that the first black neurosurgeon to be trained in the United States was a Nigerian? His name was EMMANUEL OLATUNDE OLANREWAJU ALABA ODEKU, the first professor of neurosurgery in Nigeria.
Born on the 29th of June 1927, to the Adubieye family of Awe, in Afijio Local Government in the then Oyo Province in Western Nigeria. He attended the St. John’s primary School in Aroloya, Lagos State in 1932 and Methodist Boys’ High School (MBHS) in 1945 then he left for America as a beneficiary of the New York Phelps-Stokes Fund Scholarship for Medical Education.
In April 1950, he came out top of his undergraduate class at the College of Liberal Arts in Howard University, Washington D.C, United States winning an $8,000 scholarship with which he completed medical school from 1950 to 1954 and he received his MD.
He worked as an intern Professor Edgar A. Kahn at the University of Michigan Medical Center, Ann Arbor (1954-55). After his internship, he was offered a residency position till 1960. He also majored in neuropathology under Professor Carl Vernon Weller, MD for his postgraduate internship
He later proceeded to the University of Western Ontario,Canada to gain a better understanding of tropical neurosurgery. He bagged the Licentiate of the Medical Council of Canada (LMCC) in 1955.
Professor Odeku turned down many American job offers and came back to Nigeria to become the first neurosurgeon in Nigeria. Leaving his first wife, Dr. Mrs Mary Gilda Marques who didn’t wanna come to Africa with him. By October 1962, he was already at the University of Ibadan as a lecturer in neurosurgery and later started the first department of neurosurgical in Nigeria. He became a Senior Lecturer in 1963.
He was so passionate, devoted and committed (especially to his patients) that within a short time, Professor Odeku had attained the status of a legend within the medical community that by November 1965, he was already a full professor of surgery.
He published not less than 100 scientific papers. He would send his earliest papers to local journals in a bid to spread the news of the new discipline of neurosurgery in Ibadan to all West Africans. He also published extensively in scientific journals abroad.
Professor Odeku made the move for the establishment of a Neurosurgical Unit in the Surgery Department of the College of Medicine, University of Ibadan by submitting a memorandum to that effect. With approval and help of the then-Vice Chancellor, Professor Kenneth Dike and Dean of Medical School, Professor J. C. Edozien, the neurosurgery unit was started in October 1962.
Professor Odeku was extremely humble and humane doctor. The E. Latunde Odeku Medical Library at the College of Medicine, University of Ibadan was named in his honour.
In June 1973, he was diagnosed of diabetes melitus and was admitted at the University College Hospital. He left for England in August 1974 for medical treatment. He died on the 20th of August 1974, aged 47. The brightest stars burn out the fastest they say.
He is survived by his second wife, Katherine Jill, a medical doctor. Their marriages produced two wonderful daughters and two adorable sons. In addition to one daughter and son (Lenora and Peter) born to him by his first wife.
He treated a lot of soldiers with head wounds during the Nigerian Civil war (1967-1970).
Professor Odeku was also a poet who wrote poems about diverse topics in his spare time. Senegal’s first President and his friend, Leopold Sedar Senghor (an accomplished poet too) praised him and his poetic talents, and even made a request for his poems to be translated into French.
Only a very few people know about this great man and that shouldn’t be so.
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