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Journey to Opobo: Return of a Great Surgeon

TO the doctor who performed miracles with his hands. To the father who performed miracles with his heart and dedication. To the brother who performed miracles with his love. To the professor who performed miracles with his words. To the uncle who performed miracles with his smiles. To the survivor who showed miracles in his testimony…

  1. M Soki Benibo wrote those poetic lines for the late Professor Difini Datubo-Brown who died on Thursday, January 7, 2016.

Those in the medical profession may not worry so much about literary finesse, but they appreciate the soft side of human beings. This much can be gleaned from the assessment of Professor Christie Mato, the Provost, College of Health Sciences, University of Port Harcourt, who remembers the late Professor Difini Datubo-Brown more for his humour.

According to the Provost, late Prof. Datubo-Brown’s wonderful sense of humour never left him even at very challenging times in his life. “At the last Part IV MB, BS examination he participated in (he had struggled up the stairs to that second floor seminar room), his humorous self showed up with a ringtone on his phone that got us all cracking up in the middle of some debate in the Department of Surgery Seminar room,” Prof Mato said.

Hilarious  ringtone

The hilarious ringtone which got the surgeons rocking with laughter goes thus: “Junior wetin you go drink? … I want to drink small stout…” The owner of this comical ringtone was Prof. Datubo-Brown, who was buried on Saturday February 13, 2016, after solemn prayers in two churches in Port Harcourt and Opobo. The other striking feature of Prof Datubo-Brown was his good looks. Prof Mato said in his tribute: “In the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital in those days, Prof was what our nursing colleagues referred to as ‘fine boy, no pimple’; some wondered and aloud too, how a man could be so good looking and concluded that the Almighty must have taken time after the Sabbath rest to create him.”

The Provost said further: “As the fifth Provost of the College of Health Sciences, he led the college to new levels of scholarship and productivity. He was an erudite scholar, a pioneer in the field of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, and a gentleman; we consider it an honour to have known and worked with such a great man.” The Anglican Communion, Niger Delta Diocese spared no efforts in setting the spiritual tone for the homeward journey of the fine gentleman, who was also very religious. The ceremonies started with a commendation service at Our Saviour’s Chapel, University of Port Harcourt. In his sermon at the service, Most Rev. Dr. Ignatius Kattey, the Archbishop Province of the Niger Delta and Bishop of Niger Delta North, said that the late Prof Datubo-Brown was committed and dedicated in his service to God and humanity.

Bishop Kattey urged the congregation to reflect on how they would want to be remembered when they must have left this earthly life, noting that people were only remembered by what they did while they were alive.  He said that when the late Prof Datubo-Brown lost his wife, he once asked him why people take care of widows but fail to do same for widowers. He said that the only explanation he could offer him was that men were usually better equipped to take care of themselves.

The commendation service opened the floodgates of tributes from family members and colleagues in the medical profession. One of his nieces, who enjoyed a special relationship with him was Mrs. Ibim Semenitari, the Acting Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC. She described her uncle as handsome and brilliant. “My uncle DD, my pride, standing tall and dignified, unbowed by grief, unbowed by pain, unbowed by suffering, undefeated by sickness. Yes, my uncle DD, my miracle worker, my valiant soldier. I know heaven stood up as you entered,” she declared. Dr. Christie Toby, the big sister to the late Prof Datubo-Brown said this of her brother: “Difini, you always stood out. You stood out easily because you were so handsome, well behaved, brilliant and God-fearing. It was a thing of joy and pride to be called Difini’s sister, to which I always proudly added, senior.”

Presence of  a gentle soul

A second sister to the late Prof. Datubo-Brown, Mrs. Furo Batubo, captured the gentle mien of their only brother. She wrote: “Your gentle nature was so perfectly moulded from heaven that no matter how much I tried, I could not get you to climb trees with me. You would rather search for long “ogugu” to pluck your fruits long after I had mounted the trees and plucked the fruits that were rightly yours.” When the remains of Prof Datubo-Brown arrived the main entrance of the University of Port Harcourt, it was as if some heavenly beings ordered everyone to be silent. Even the patients in the hospital wards seemed to have noticed the presence of a gentle soul that once managed the affairs of the hospital. It was in that somber mood that another round of tributes came pouring in, prompting tears to well up in the eyes of many who loved the departed surgeon.

Prof. A Ojule, the Chief Medical Director of the teaching hospital, laid a wreath on the casket bearing the body of Prof Datubo-Brown, before giving a tribute on behalf of the hospital. He said: “Prof. D D Datubo-Brown was a pioneer medical staff of the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital, UPTH. He was appointed a Consultant Plastic/Reconstructive Surgeon of the hospital in 1983, and had been the Head of the Burns and Plastic Unit until he retired from service. He was also appointed Head of Surgery Department in March 1994.”

Prof. Ojule did not fail to remark that Prof. Datubo-Brown was one of the finest gentlemen that he ever met. “His good works will continue to speak for him.” For Emeritus Prof. Dagogo Fubara,  Prof. Datubo-Brown blazed a trail like a shooting star in the firmament of our Milky way Galaxy.

He said: “The real essence of life is to live, learn, love and leave a legacy. You were accomplished in learning and hence you became the first Consultant Plastic Surgeon and Professor of Plastic Surgery of South-South Nigeria geopolitical zone extraction. Yet you were humble, quiet and unassuming as a Christian, born by parents of distinction, you loved people, touched many lives and mentored several human beings. This is monumental legacy. The true measure of your success is the difference you made for good in human hearts in your lifetime.”

Long convoy of  cars and buses

After the ceremonies at UPTH, the doctors lined up to bid a final farewell to their former colleague. They were evidently sorrowful as the hearse carrying the remains of Datubo-Brown made its way out of the hospital premises. It was time to go home to his ancestors in Opobo Kingdom of Opobo/Nkoro Local Government Area, lying in the southern part of Rivers State. The journey to Opobo was dignified as a long convoy of cars and buses snaked through the Port Harcourt traffic from the East-West Road, through Rumuokoro, Eleme junction, Refinery junction down to Saakpaenwa Junction in Ogoni land. Finally, at Kono Waterside, all the vehicles had to park for the journey to continue on water.

At the jetty, several small boats were already stationed for the 20 minutes cruise to the ancient Opobo kingdom. For the sons of the soil, as the indigenes were often referred to, the boat ride was normal and nothing to be excited about. But for the “Johnny just come” among the travellers, it was an experience that holds both excitement and trepidation. As one of the speed boats, carrying 10 passengers pulled out from the jetty, the engine roared to life and the mourners checked to confirm that their life jackets were firmly tied to their bodies. Initially, the movement was smooth and even exciting. However, the boat ride became progressively bumpy as the boats meandered through the creeks. Even that did not spoil the feeling of swimming in the womb of nature.

Undulating  bulges

The sight of green-coloured waters, hedged by mangrove shrubs was soothing. But as soon as the boats entered the open waters, the bumps turned into violent thuds that lifted passengers off their benches. At this point, the waves swayed in undulating bulges as the convoy of small boats made their way towards the Opobo jetty.

On landing at the jetty, everyone, at least first time visitors, heaved a big sigh of relief. The remains of Prof. Datubo-Brown, accompanied by two of his sons, also came into the jetty to a rousing welcome by a brass band. The band celebrated the arrival of a worthy son of Opobo and the pall bearers lifted the casket and danced with it as if they were performing a ritual for the water spirits. They exhibited beautiful dance steps and gyrated so much that one was tempted to think that they were more interested in entertaining than in mourning with the bereaved family. Stepping into Opobo was an opportunity to come face-to-face with the historic sites that beckon on tourists.

It was a chance to see the old colonial court halls used by King Jaja and his compatriots; King Jaja Monument Square and colonial bells. It was obvious that Opobo Kingdom, which comprises coastal communities that were involved in colonial trade and nationalist struggle, has abundant sites and relics to show case to tourists.

Before the spirit of adventure could take over, the visitors joined the procession to the church for yet another funeral service at the St. Paul Church, Opobo Town.

The old church building hugged the waterfront, giving it a serene atmosphere that can only be pleasing to the Almighty Father in his heavenly abode. Here, the worth of the late Prof. Datubo-Brown was again made manifest as a galaxy of who-is-who in Nigeria gathered to say goodbye to him.

The preacher, Venerable S. T. Ngbete, pitched his sermon on the theme: “The anatomy of the Godless.” He emphasized the need for the enthronement of justice in the affairs of our country, stating that the Almighty Father is a God of justice and righteousness.

He lamented that there was so much wickedness in the world and stressed the need for all men to return to God.

Reconciling the  irreconcilable

Ven Ngbete decried the sexual perversion that was currently choking the world and subverting the Christian faith, with men marrying men and women marrying their fellow women. He said that some priests who support this perversion seem to be confused as they were often caught in the web of the contradictions that surround gay marriage.

He cited an instance where a priest who was joining two men in marriage got entangled in the mess of reconciling the irreconcilable.

According to him, the priest did not know what to say when it got to the point where he would say: “I declare you man and wife.”   “Not knowing how to describe the union, the confused priest said, I declare you Man United”.

The church roared in laughter and Ven. Ngbete reminded the congregation that he did not mean to ridicule the fans of Manchester United in the English Premier league.


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