Oladipo Akinkugbe, often referred to as ‘Prof’ or ‘Baba’ (father), was a distinguished professor of medicine at the University of Ibadan and a pioneer in the specialty of hypertension and nephrology in Nigeria and across Africa.
He was born in Ondo in southwestern Nigeria to Chief David Akinkugbe and Chief Grace Akinkugbe. He attended Government College in Ibadan, Nigeria, and then studied medicine at University College, Ibadan and at the London Hospital Medical School. He gained his MB BS in 1958 and a diploma in tropical medicine and hygiene from the University of Liverpool in 1960.
His internship was at King’s College Hospital, with subsequent training rotations in and around London. He earned a DPhil from the University of Oxford in 1964 for his work on ‘Angiotensin and the kidney’ with Sir George Pickering and further consolidated his learning with a fellowship from the Rockefeller Foundation.
His return to Nigeria coincided with some of the bloodiest years in its history due to the Nigerian Civil (Biafran) war (from 1967 to 1970). This however did not detour his determination and resilience; he was a professor at 35 and became dean of the faculty of medicine at the University of Ibadan at 37.
Oladipo is best known for his pioneering work in the specialty of hypertension and nephrology in Nigeria and across Africa – translating his laboratory findings and epidemiological knowledge into clinical applications relevant to African people. His awareness of the continent made him realise that an understanding of conditions such as infections and hypertension, common causes of renal disease in the developing world, were essential in tackling kidney disease in Africa (‘World epidemiology of hypertension in blacks.’ J Clin Hypertens. 1987 Sep;3[3 Suppl]:1S-8S). One of his early studies reported on the phenotypes associated with hypertension in indigenous black Africans, including urban and rural differences in prevalence (‘Arterial pressures in rural and urban populations in Nigeria.’ Br Med J 1969 Apr 26;2:222-4). Additionally, he was responsible for establishing the use of acute peritoneal dialysis in Nigeria before haemodialysis became available (‘Peritoneal dialysis in acute renal failure.’ W Afr Med J. 1967; 16:165-8).
He contributed to the medical literature on kidney disease and hypertension and had over 100 publications in notable peer-reviewed journals, as well as being a journal editor. He was often sought after to contribute to textbooks and published or contributed chapters to several books on medicine, nephrology and administration.
In the area of medical education, he had a major impact on the careers and training of physicians in Nigeria. He trained the first generation of indigenously trained nephrologists, who have become leading figures in nephrology in Nigeria and internationally.
He also helped to develop and govern several universities and medical schools. Among other posts, he was principal and foundation vice chancellor of the University of Ilorin, vice chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, pro chancellor and chairman of the governing board of the University of Port Harcourt, chairman of the management board of University College Hospital, Ibadan, and chairman of the planning committees for Ondo State and Abuja universities. A key role, which shaped the university admission process, was as foundation chairman of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, a body that conducts admission examinations to all Nigerian universities. He also lobbied various governments to establish and improve support for teaching hospitals in developing countries (‘Role of teaching hospitals in a developing country.’ Br Med J 1973 Feb 24;1:474-6).
He helped establish renal medicine as a specialty in Nigeria as foundation president of the Nigerian Association of Nephrology (NAN) and Nigerian Hypertension Society, then as chairman of the board of trustees of NAN for six years. He was awarded the highest honour of NAN – a distinguished fellowship – in 2018. He was also a foundation member of the African Association of Nephrology.
He was pivotal in evolving hypertension and renal disease management across Africa and served on expert advisory panels for the World Health Organization. He was a Rockefeller visiting fellow at Johns Hopkins, Yale and Washington, and a visiting professor at Harvard.
He was awarded with honorary DSc degrees from four universities, including the University of Ibadan and was an honorary fellow of Balliol College, Oxford. A combination of his clinical and scientific work led to him being honoured with the Searle Distinguished Research award (in 1989) and the Boehringer Ingelheim award of the International Society of Hypertension (in 2004). Oladipo also received the International Society of Nephrology’s pioneer award, conferred in February 2020 in Ibadan.
Beyond his work in academia and medicine, he was a recipient of multiple national honours in Nigeria, including the National Order of Merit, the Commander of the Order of Niger and the Commander of the Federal Republic. He was honoured with Yoruba traditional chieftaincy titles from kings of five major cities and was physician to the Royal Household of Ile-Ife for over a decade. He was also a recipient of a national honour from Ivory Coast – the Officier de l’Ordre Nationale de la Republique de Cote D’Ivoire.
His erudite approach to life showed in his love for philosophy, theology, golf, gardening and birdwatching. He was a philanthropist, holding leadership roles and supporting the Rotary Club and the Obafemi Awolowo Foundation. He was a dedicated Christian and a founding member of All Saints’ Church Jericho, Ibadan. His fluidity across cultures and self-deprecating humility, despite outstanding achievements, made him noteworthy in Nigeria and beyond. More of his story, personal life, contributions to medicine, science, education and service were shared by Oladipo in his autobiography Footprints and footnotes (AMV Publishing Services, 2011).
He was survived by his widow Folashade M Akinkugbe (née Dina), two sons, Olumide and Olukayode, and three granddaughters.
[University of Ibadan Obituary: Professor Emeritus Oladipo Olujimi Akinkugbe www.ui.edu.ng/news/obituary-professor-emeritus-oladipo-olujimi-akinkugbe – accessed 12 October 2020; Pharmanews Professor of Medicine, Oladipo Akinkugbe, Dies at 87 https://www.pharmanewsonline.com/professor-of-medicine-oladipo-akinkugbe-dies-at-87/ – accessed 12 October 2020; The Nation 26 June 2020 https://thenationonlineng.net/adieu-oladipo-akinkugbe-1933-2020/ – accessed 12 October 2020; Nigerian Association of Nephrology Oladipo Olujimi Akinkugbe www.nanephrology.org/oladipo-olujimi-akinkugbe.html – accessed 12 October 2020; Kidney International 2020 98 800-1 www.kidney-international.org/article/S0085-2538(20)30909-1/fulltext – accessed 12 October 2020]