Omooba Oladele Adebayo Ajose who died 25 years ago this July was a Prince of the Royal House of Lagos but he was much more than a prince. He had an air of authority about him that came from the profound knowledge of his field of medicine and his absolute integrity and honesty. He was eager and ever ready to use his professional knowledge to the advantage and benefit of the people.
The previous sentence could also have been written about the late Professor Olikoye Ransome-Kuti. Much of what was said about the Paediatrician, who was buried on June 20th 2003, reminded us of the late Professor Ajose whose medical specialty was Public Health.
Professor Ajose was also a family man. He married Beatrice Spencer Roberts in 1933 in Glasgow, Scotland where he studied at the University of Glasgow from 1927 to 1932.
Of the three daughters and one son they had, Ambassador Audrey Ajose and Professor Muriel Oyediran are left. The late Mrs. Beatrice Ajose returned to Nigeria with her husband in 1936 and was a familiar and a well known figure in Lagos society life and then also in Ibadan and Ife where she lived and fully supported her husband’s academic career.
In the early years of his professional life, Dr. Oladele Ajose worked first as the Assistant Medical Officer of Health for Lagos (1936-47) and he was then appointed Medical Officer for Health from 1947-48. He was also the Founder of the British Red Cross Society in Nigeria. which later became the Nigerian Red Cross Society and he also founded the Infectious Disease Hospital in Lagos (commonly referred to as the IDH) through his involvement in the control of tuberculosis in Lagos.
In 1948, Dr. Ajose left the civil service for his appointment as the first Black African Professor to be appointed to a full chair in Preventive and Social Medicine at the University College, Ibadan. Ibadan was at that time a College of the University of London.
Oladele was in fact the first proponent of primary health care in Nigeria. This was a revolutionary idea in those days.
He believed that the teaching of public health should take place outside the walls of the University as well as within the campus. He used the town of Ilora, now in Oyo State, and provided the community the opportunity to participate actively in determining their health needs and ensured that they were-a part of the decision making process.
The community was very grateful for this. They appreciated that it was as a result of his labours under the auspices of the United Nations that a prototype Fish farm was established to explore the feasibility of providing a cheap source of protein to the population. The transformation of the swamps around Ilora into fish ponds stocked with tilapia fish successfully provided a means of eradicating
Schistosomiaisis in Ilora as well as improving the diet and economy of the community.
This project also served as the basis for the worldwide establishment of fish ponds.
Professor Ajose was awarded the title of Chief Bada of Ilora in appreciation of his efforts.
After many years of splendid work at Ibadan, he was chosen and appointed as the first Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ife (now called the Obafemi Awolowo University), a post that he held until the first military coup in 1966. On his retirement from academic life Professor Ajose returned to his hometown Lagos.
In spite of all his achievements (and it has not been feasible to mention more than a few) he remained ever humble, never blowing his own trumpet, but ever ready to acknowledge the credit due to others.
The people of Lagos were justly proud of him. On his return from the U.K. at the successful conclusion of his studies, the Isale-Eko descendants represented by his fellow princes Adele, Dosunmu and Olusi and other notable Lagosians such as M.O. Glover, Bolade Kasumu and I. Ogunbiyi gave a reception in his honour in Islae Eko at which he was presented with a full skeleton.
He dedicated himself to serving the community at large. He had time for the Rotary Club, a club known for its services to humanity, both at Ibadan and Lagos. His altruism was also demonstrated in his concern for providing health care by founding medical clinics at Isale-Eko and Ibeshe.
It certainly was not in keeping with his character to be stand —offish! He felt so much a part of the people that it was a tremendous pride for him to have been chosen the Patron Egbe Omo-Ibile, of Idumagbo, Lagos. He contested for the Stool of Lagos under the Ogunye Family of Oba Ologunkutere. Professor Ajose and the late Oba Oyekan were the two final contestants for the Stool. After Oba Oyekan was selected, Professor Ajose continued to serve his people both in his public health and clinic activities. He was also appointed as the Chairman of the Lagos State Schools Service Board.
What was it that made him tick? The answer to this question is found in the fact that he was a Lay Preacher of the Wesleyan Methodist Church. A preacher seeks to share the "Joy of Life" with his listeners. Professor Ajose had a sense of reverence for human life.
Full well, he knew that the highest assessment that can be made of human life is to view it in the context of God’s Love. God cared so much that he gave his only son to redeem men.
We thank God for his life given in the service of his fellow men. Unfortunately we don’t know yet of any worthy memorial to mark his contribution to our society apart from the Oladele Ajose Institute of Public Health at the University College Hospital, University of Ibadan. Perhaps a street could be named after him or a well appointed statue in Lagos or Abuja.
As we reach the twenty fifth anniversary of his death we thank God for his life and work among us and hope it will inspire young Nigerians to have integrity and be incorruptible and to give of their best for God and their country without fear or favour.