By Henry Ojelu
Dr. Benjamin Olowojebutu is a gentle and compassionate man. But behind that amiable disposition is an unusual passion for putting smiles on the faces of people with life-threatening diseases. Through his foundation, BOF, Olowojebutu has performed free life-saving surgeries on thousands of patients in remote areas across the country. His effort has attracted local and foreign recognition. The medical doctor cum philanthropist shares how a near-death experience gave rise to his newfound mission.
I’m the first child of four siblings from two amazing parents. My parents had a hard time having children. I was told it was really a difficult period for them. Because of the problem, they started going for Baba Obadare’s Koseunti crusade in Akure where God eventually answered their prayers. They named me Oluwatosin (God is worthy to be worshipped) because of the difficulties they faced before I was born.
What were some of the challenges you faced growing up?
Growing up wasn’t very easy because my dad lost his job while I was in secondary school and so he didn’t have the capacity to provide all the things my siblings and I needed. We just managed to get by. But my mother was also encouraaging us. Of course we couldn’t afford to ride bicycles like our neighbours but my mother always insisted that I must read my books. In fact, she set a task for me to solve 16 mathematical questions everyday so that I can become the best mathematician in my school. So as at SS1, I had finished the Secondary School syllabus for Mathematics. After school, I would organize mathematics tutorials for my juniors in JSS1 and 2 for N5 per candidate. I used the money I got from the tutorial to support my father. I also remember that my siblings and I would trek from Irepodun Street in Ijeshatedo to Falolu Street in Surulere, Lagos every morning in order to save our transport fare in our pigeon hole to buy few textbooks. That didn’t deter us from being focused and determined to become great. My late father had favorite quotes that shaped my life. “Love is the greatest currency we spend. Money is just a perception.” “A good man will have good money but not all rich men are good men. To have good money you must give back to the community consciously.” Those two quotes shaped my life and destiny
What inspired your decision to become a medical doctor?
It’s a calling for me. I was health perfect in Primary School. I remember back then in Victoria Children School Imam Shuaib Ijeshatedo, anytime there was an injury when my friends were playing football, I would run to them and start giving them first aid. I was very passionate about helping them that sometimes I cried with them because of the pain they are going through. I didn’t like to see people sick. I would always want to give a helping hand. By the grace of God, I am a medical doctor today with post-graduate training in family medicine and focus on maternal and child health.
How was your experience in medical school?
Things were really difficult for me in medical school. The books were very expensive, so also the training. Like I said earlier, my parents weren’t doing too well. They tried extremely well but I had to augment. In my first three years in pre-clinical school, I was teaching Mathematics, Physics, Further Mathematics and Chemistry every evening from 5pm to 8pm. I was then nicknamed Efico because of that. I did that for three years and saved the funds I made and this helped me in my clinical years.
Tell us about your foundation and the vision behind it?
On the 6th of November 2016, few months after I lost my father and mentor, I was on my way home after work at about 10.15 PM, when this drunken driver left this lane and was in very high speed and hit my car. It was a head-on collision. He broke my right leg in three places and I was dragged out of the car. My car was beyond repair. I was rushed to a teaching hospital in Lagos and on getting there.
I was abandoned on the floor for three and half hours. No one attended to me. No vital signs checked, no analgesics. All I was hearing in that pain was, “No bed! No bed! In that pool of blood when I was about passing out, my wife put a notice on the WhatsApp group of my classmates in medical school that I was dying. It was at the point that some of them came to my rescue and I was then attended to. In the midst of that pain and lifelessness, I got a divine instruction to turn my pain into helping poor people in the rural areas in Nigeria and Africa. It dawned on me that if as a doctor, I can go through such ordeal, what would happen to folks in the rural areas without access to good healthcare?
Share a little bit of what your foundation has done so far?
BOF kicked-off on August 2018. Our key focus is the treatment of diseases such as Fibroid, Lipomas, Breast lumps, Hydrocele and hernia. So far, we have covered nine states where we have performed over 1,500 free life transforming surgeries on indigent folks. Some of the states we have covered include, Lagos, Abia, Benue, Imo, Cross River, Akwa Ibom , Rivers, Ondo and Edo state. The mission is to reach as many people as possible especially in the hinterlands where medical services and access to basic health care facilities is low. It has not been easy but what keeps us going is when people with over 15 years problem can smile again. Our next set of outreach will commences in a few weeks in Imo state then to Delta, Oyo and Ogun states. We are also planning our first international mission in Kuleva, Uganda where we hope to also do minimum of 150 surgeries.
What challenges have you faced on this mission?
Our major challenge is funding and support. It’s been very difficult getting support from corporate organizations and government. The project is currently funded with personal funds and savings from my team and families members. Each of the surgeries we perform cost about N200, 000. Multiply that by about 1500 patients. That is about N300million. We are hoping that in the near future, some individuals, corporate organizations and perhaps even government will support our effort. Until then, we will continue to do the best we can.
What are your biggest concerns for the Nigerian health sector?
My biggest worry is access to quality and affordable health by every person living in Nigeria. We need the political will to galvanize the decay in the health sector. There must be genuine love for the people by our leaders. That love will transform the health sector by placing the right people in the right places.
If you had the opportunity, what major changes will effect in the health sector?
Universal Health coverage will be on my front burner. I will also do a proper re-evaluation of training for medical professionals. My focus will also be on the establishment of community health insurance schemes in the local government areas to assist the downtrodden in our communities.
Your advice for youths
Stay true to your dreams. Be passionate about hard work. This country will be very great again so be part of the process, not only the product.