By Stephen Kekeghe
In every sane and forward looking society, the progenitors and harbingers of different traditions and social innovations are celebrated. Such honour is meant to motivate more productive thoughts, which are capable of stimulating inventive ideas that will impact positively on the socioeconomic and academic domains of any society.
Pioneers or ground-breakers are heroes, in their own rights; and must be accorded the celebratory utterance, meant for champions. It is on this premise that this write-up is woven as a form of homage for Emmanuel Babatunde Omobowale, the first Professor of Literature and Medicine, in Nigeria. This tribute is timely, as it also heralds Professor Omobowale’s inaugural lecture titled ‘Literature and the Quest to Humanise Medicine in Nigeria’, coming up on November 1, 2018, at the University of Ibadan, where he started his academic career in 1995.
In 2011, I arrived in the sprawling and magnificent campus of the University of Ibadan, my dream university since childhood, for a Master’s degree in Literature. Though I had passed through the Delta State University, Abraka, where I was academically developed by seasoned scholars like Professor G.G. Darah and Professor Sunny Awhefeada, my cravings to be in the First and the Best was unquenchable! My contacts with Professor G. G. Darah and Professor Sunny Awhefeada in Abraka, intensified my longing for the Premier University.
These two gentlemen are great scholars, thinkers and motivators, trained in Ibadan.When I arrived at Nigeria’s premier University, I was enthralled by the research aptitude and the scholastic aura that pervaded the University as an academic climate. At the Department of English, one of the courses that I registered for was called Literature and Medicine. Though I was exposed to other fascinating elective courses like Literature and the New Media and Literature and the Mind, it was Literature and Medicine that topped my list of courses that I found fascinating.
One of the things which stunned me was the synergy and points of correlation that existed between these two seemingly disparate disciplines, Literature and Medicine.With regards to the person who was going to teach the course, I had imagined a highly bearded man of the Soyinkan generation, as the lecturer.
Behold, the amiable and sociable Professor Omobowale, who was in his early 40s, was the lecturer. Unlike many impatient, autocratic and temperamental teachers I had encountered, Professor Omobowale appeared calm, neat, calculated and humane.
He often harped on the importance of integrity and the need for each of his students to develop a sense of purpose and direction. He introduced us to different areas of Literature and Medicine – ethical issues, the narratives of diseases and healing as well as psychotherapy. I saw a mutual mentor in him, from the first instance, and I sustained this relationship which has now blossomed into fruition.
Thus, I was extremely happy when he was appointed as the supervisor of my M.A. project which was in the area of Bibliotherapy. Professor Omobowale also supervised my Ph.D thesis which looked at the portrayal of mental disorders in selected literary texts from the different regions of Nigeria.
Professor Omobowale, a native of Erin Oke, in Osun State, was born in Ibadan. Between November 2012 and August 2017, he served as the Head of Department of English, University of Ibadan. Professor Omobowale’s intellectual profundity is not in doubt. From the beginning of his career, he had distinguished himself as a great scholar, an innovative thinker and a very insightful administrator, who would, at specific instances, employ redemptive scholarship as well as administrative dexterity and ingenuity to humanise power and leadership.
Omobowale attended Omolewa Nursery and Primary School, Oritamefa, Ibadan, for his primary school education. Between 1979 and 1984, he was at various times, a student at Government College, Ibadan, and Loyola College, Ibadan. In September 1984, he enrolled for his A’ Levels at Government College, Ibadan.
After finishing Lower Six, in 1985, he gained admission to the University of Ibadan as an undergraduate student in the Department of English. Omobowale graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English from the University of Ibadan, in 1989, with a Second Class Upper.
The young Omobowale won the Departmental Prize and the First Heinemann Prize for Literature as the best graduating student in the Department of English, University of Ibadan. He was also nominated for the Faculty of Arts Prize for the best graduating student in the Faculty. Omobowale returned to the University of Ibadan, in 1991 and earned an M.A. in Literature in English, in 1992. He was also awarded a PhD degree in Literature and Medicine in 2001 by the University of Ibadan. Later, he proceeded to Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, USA, where he obtained another M.A in Bioethics in 2003.
The Bioethics postgraduate degree helped to broaden his knowledge on different aspects of the ethics of medicine. When Omobowale started his academic career at the University of Ibadan in 1995, after a stint with the Heinemann Educational Books as an editor, I was sitting for my First School Leaving Certificate Examination in Baba-Ido Primary School, in Okwagbe. Similarly, when Omobowale was defending his Ph.D in 2001, I was sitting for my SSCE in St. Vincent’s College, Okwagbe in Delta State. These two episodes, to me, are not mere flukes – they significantly highlight the divine relationship between a mentor and his mentee!
Literature and Medicine, a discipline pioneered by Joanne Trautmann-Banks, in Pennsylvania State University, in 1972, was introduced to the Nigerian academic landscape by Professor Omobowale in 2001. Omobowale’s thesis, ‘Literature and Medicine: a Study of Selected Creative Works of Nigerian Physicians’ (2001) remains a ground-breaking study in Nigeria on what Literature and Medicine entails.
As a pioneer scholar on the interaction between the medical and literary disciplines in Nigeria, Omobowale’s thesis and research scope have inspired other scholars, who have also domiciled their research compass within the ambits of Literature and Medicine. Sola Owonibi’s ‘Patient-Writers’ Portrayal of Disease and Psychological Trauma’ (2010) and Stephen Kekeghe’s ‘Psychiatric Conditions in Selected Nigerian Literary Texts’ (2018) are doctoral theses motivated by Omobowale’s pioneering academic activities. Joseph Mayaki, another of Omobowale’s doctoral student, is currently carrying out a study on scriptotherapy.
Also, since 2005, more than 50 M.A projects, in the Department of English, University of Ibadan, have been inspired by Omobowale’s classes on the pedagogical relationship between literature and the medicine. Some of them, like Femi Eromosele and Shakiru Adebayo, are currently pursuing their PhD programmes in areas of studies that are closely aligned to Literature and Medicine in universities, abroad. Currently, Professor Omobowale is supervising 7 PhD students in the area of Literature and Medicine.
Professor Omobowale’s contributions to the growth of Literature and Medicine, in Nigeria, are evident in the many articles, essays, sponsored researches and creative works that he has published. His play, The President’s Physician, celebrates the ethics of medicine through the appropriation of incisive dialogues, socially convincing characters and situations. The play centers on Doctor Bituki Warunga, a personal physician to a fictional African dictator, General Kalunga Ntibantunganyah. Warunga finds himself in an ethical dilemma, as he ruminates on whether to kill or save the life of his autocratic and eccentric boss. Using the principles of medical ethics, as propounded by Hippocrates, as the basis of his ruminations, Warunga acknowledges that it would be unethical for him to exterminate General Kalunga Ntibantunganyah, on account of his draconian rule, since his duty, as the president’s physician, is to ensure that the President continues to stay healthy to discharge his official functions, either negatively or positively.
The play is anchored on the core tenets of medical ethics, which are: beneficence, patient autonomy, physician competence and responsible use of power. Also, Omobowale’s well-written short story, ‘Canadian Blues’, which is set in Canada and Nigeria, focuses on the health industry and on issues like the deployment of adequate manpower in healthcare institutions and infrastructural development that impact positively on medical practice. In all his creative works, Omobowale believes that literature is an instrument for positive social change. The Eagle Must Fly and Others Stories (1992), The Melting Pot (1993), Seasons of Rage (1997) An Eye for an Eye (2001) give an eloquent testimony to Omobowale’s socialist and redemptive vision.
Omobowale has received reputable awards and scholarships in recognition of his unrelenting efforts on the promotion of Literature and Medicine in Nigeria. Twice, in 2003 and 2010, Professor Omobowale was a recipient of the University of Ibadan’s Senate Research Grant. In 2002, he was awarded the Fogarty Fellowship, which facilitated his training as a Bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland.
Between 2006 and 2008, he was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Mclaughlin-Rotman Centre for Global Health, which was affiliated to the University of Toronto, Canada. He has also published extensively in several reputable journals. Given his intellectual depth and display of humane integrity, Professor Omobowale has served and continues to serve as an External Examiner for many Universities in Nigeria such as the University of Lagos, Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, Covenant University, Ota, Bowen University, Iwo, Redeemer’s University, Ede and the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.
Besides teaching, research and community service, Professor Omobowale has successfully supervised 10 doctoral students and over 80 masters’ students. The following are the doctoral students produced by Professor Omobowale, who are excelling in their respective careers: Dr. Sola Owonibi who is Associate Professor, Dr. Kayode Ogunleye, Dr. Kazeem Adebiyi-Adebalu, Dr. Solomon Edebor, Dr. Stephen Kekeghe, Dr. Mary Aiyetoro, Dr. Thomas-Michael Chukwumezie, Dr. Nureni Fadare, Dr. Charles Feghabo and Dr. Chukwuemeka Ekwuribe. Professor Omobowale, no doubts, is a mentor to many.
In addition to his intellectual achievements, Omobowale has served as the Timetable Representative, Examination Officer and Postgraduate Coordinator for the Department of English of the University of Ibadan. Professor Omobowale has also served the University of Ibadan as an Assistant Warden, Nnamdi Azikiwe Hall, 2004-2006, Chairman, Business Committee of Senate, 2014-2017, member, representing Senate, on the board of the Distant Learning Centre, 2013 to date, as well as member, representing Senate, on the Board of Health since 2016.
The robust feats which Professor Omobowale made as the Head of Department of English, University of Ibadan, attest to his humaneness and administrative adroitness. His tenure witnessed the recruitment of eight academic staff and four non-academic staff to strengthen the Department; the promotion of 24 academic and non-academic staff of the Department, to the next rank, including the appointment of ten Professors; the institution of an annual Departmental Bursary Scheme for indigent students; the establishment of an annual Book Subsidy Scheme for all academic staff; the award of research grants to all academic staff; the purchase of laptops for every newly recruited academic staff; a complete review of the Department’s undergraduate curriculum, which is now in use, since the beginning of the 2015/2016 session; the purchase of 22 executive furniture for all academic staff as well as solar panels and batteries for the Departmental office and all academic staff offices; the purchase of a 2013 Toyota Camry car for the official use of the Department; the purchase of a brand new Toyota Hiace Bus for the Department; the publication of seven different volumes of the departmental journal, Ibadan Journal of English; the successful nomination of Professor Emeritus Ayo Banjo and Distinguished Professor Niyi Osundare for the award of the honorary doctorate degrees of the University of Ibadan; the appointment of Distinguished Professor Niyi Osundare of the University of New Orleans, as a Visiting Scholar for two months by the University of Ibadan, and the successful examination of over 100 PhD theses between 2012 and 2017. These rare achievements of Professor Omobowale underscore his quest for fairness and his belief in purposeful and impactful leadership.
Professor Emmanuel Babatunde Omobowale is an Assistant Pastor at All Saints’ Evangelical Church, Ibadan. He is married to Mrs Eyitayo Damilola Omobowale, and the marriage is blessed with children.
Dr. Stephen Kekeghe teaches in the Department of English, College of Education, Warri.