Nigeria Health Watch

Tribute to Dr. Oluyombo Adetilewa Awojobi

by Shima K Gyoh


As we prepare for our conference “The Future of Health“, we also reflect on some of our heroes that have challenged conventional wisdom on the state of affairs of the sector. Dr. Oluyombo Awojobi lived a life of uncommon service and ignited a movement to surgery for the masses, using what we had to do what needed to be done, with incredible success. In the early days of this blog, one of our speakers Femi Sunmonu wrote this fascinating piece when he visited Dr. Awojobi’s hospital in Eruwa. Today, another of our speakers Professor Shima Gyoh  offers this moving tribute to his friend and colleague.


The death of Dr. Awojobi on 17 April 2015 was a great and irreplaceable loss to his family, to the Association of Rural Surgical Practitioners of Nigeria (ARSPON), to Nigeria and to the world. For years, Nigeria had been under the control of people who lacked decent social conscience. Widespread indiscipline, misappropriation of public funds and all manner of corruption became the character of the country. We just complained to one another while the boot-lickers sang the praises of the corrupt and broadcast lies about their achievements. Death became the way to silence any significant criticism. The population was thoroughly intimidated.

Dr. Awojobi with his wife (photo credit:

The Tiv say that the horse, an animal physically much more powerful than man, volunteers his back for men to ride on. This is the way activists think. They feel that if the public said “no”, dictators and corrupt people would not be able to have such a field day as they having in Nigeria. Activists do not complain behind closed doors. They do not wait for others to initiate action. They feel it is their personal responsibility to save society. They feel they must be the nucleus on which crystallisation can start. They get impatient with people who seem to function within a corrupt system without taking any steps to correct the system. Activists taunt. They offer themselves to be arrested and prosecuted so that they can have a wider audience to expose corruption, sleaze, and all the ills of the society. They challenge every inadequacy around them. Activists are born restless and cannot be repressed.

Those who know Dr. Oluyombo Adetilewa Awojobi have recognised him in this description. He was born an activist, and those of us old enough will remember his elder brother, Ayodele Awojobi, the Professor of Engineering who constantly battled with and sued successive military governments for tyranny and tramping on the rights of ordinary Nigerians. Others of recent memory in this rare family of activists are Gani Fawhinmi and Tai Solarin. Activism obviously runs in the Awojobi family.

Yombo lived an exemplary life. He cared for the common man, and chose to serve the rural people by locating his clinic at Eruwa. He catalysed the formation of ARSPON, which organises free surgical treatment for the poor. To overcome the complaints of numerous shortages in the rural setting, he innovated and invented several locally adapted solutions. He organised local welders, carpenters and other artisans to manufacture medical and working equipment. He designed many useful items, from motorised concrete mixers, washing machines to surgical operating tables, pyrogen-free intravenous fluids, and his famous haematocrit measuring machine using a bicycle wheel. He used his ingenuity to harvest rain and surface water to ensure good, all year supply to his hospital. His hospital was using energy saving bulbs. He ensured availability of electricity at the institution on a 24/7 basis. He designed an efficient furnace that used discarded maize cobs as fuel.

One of the self-assembled machines at Dr. Awojobi’s hospital (photo credit:

Restless Yombo no doubt had brushes with many people. Like he felt we behaved like chicken, looking on the ground and pecking for grains and worms, but he knew we were eagles and that we should look up into the sky and soar! We should change Nigeria by immediately rejecting any mediocrity around us. It is a great pity that he departed when Nigeria seems to be poised for making great changes. We can do him honour by taking up the gauntlet and fighting the battle for excellence in whatever modest way each of us can.

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