Documenting Unsung Heroes

Documenting Unsung Heroes



By Yinka Olatunbosun

The name Dr. Oluyombo Awojobi may not be familiar except you’ve just viewed a recent documentary screened at Freedom Park in Lagos last weekend where he was featured. At the June edition of i-Rep monthly documentary film screening, history is preserved while great values are celebrated in the movie titled, Uncommon Service. In the person of Dr. Awojobi, the 25-minute documentary, directed by Deji Adesanya, is centered on the great attributes possessed by one man who lived his life to change the lives of others positively. A medical doctor, Dr. Awojobi gave up material pursuit and personal gratification to add value to his immediate society and humanity at large. He obtained his medical degree from the University College Hospital, Ibadan, in 1975 where he earned the Adeola Odutola prize for the best final-year medical student. As, a young doctor observing the mandatory one-year National Youth Service Corps in Eruwa, a community in Oyo State, he discovered that many rural dwellers would die without access to primary health care system. After the completion of the service, he decided to stay back and devote his time and resources to the preservation of human lives.
Set in Ibadan, precisely in Eruwa community, the documentary movie has the central figure as the guide that takes the viewers through the travails of this young doctor. In the 1960s, the Ibarapa community health care scheme was established with little funding from the government. There was no ambulance, no syringes nor were there medical personnel to attend to the health care needs of the rural dwellers. Awojobi inadvertently became the saviour of the common people. In 1980, he did his bid in health care reform. That led to the founding of the renowned Awojobi Clinic Eruwa (ACE) in 1986. With support from community leaders and contributions from the locals and his personal savings, Dr. Awojobi set up a health care facility that would later be the attraction of adjoining communities.
Often regarded as Nigeria’s foremost rural surgeon, he got 25 acres of land as gift from the traditional rulers in the Eruwa community as an incentive for the humanitarian work he spearheaded. He began to develop technological solutions that would aid the health care sector. First, he invented a tricycle ambulance to convey demobilised patients to the clinic. He produced a centrifuge that would prove useful in examining blood components and volume. In addition, he fabricated a distiller that would produce saline solution at an affordable price. The resultant effect of this brilliant innovation was that other hospitals placed order for these items produced and the system became a self-sustaining one.
Naturally, the medical practice in any part of the country is very much threatened by the lack of power supply. It is even worse in outskirts like Eruwa. Dr. Awojobi developed his own inverters from wet and dry batteries to power equipment that would be used in the theatre during surgical procedures. It was clear from the narration that it was not an attempt at self-exultation.
Some of his patients who were interviewed shared their varying perspectives on the man from an onlooker’s stand point. One elderly woman who had an eye disease remarked that Dr. Awojobi was not a quack doctor. She recalled how she suffered a recurrent case of tumour that affected her left eye and had been treated without results by several doctors before she finally learnt about ACE. There she was treated and the tumour stopped growing.
Other patients interviewed in the documentary commented largely on the manner of treatment received from Dr. Awojobi. For a doctor whose patients were so numerous, he was not mechanical in his approach to his patients. He was described as compassionate, selfless and dutiful. He would leave his meal to attend to patients and hardly took time off to rest.
He has received awards including the Oyo State Merit Award for rural medical practice, the National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure Prize and the College of Medicine Award from the University of Ibadan for his contribution to the Ibarapa Community Health Project.
His compelling character became the interest of a young film maker who entered the documentary piece of Dr. Awojobi in fulfillment of the call for entries by the organisation named Communication for Change. In memory of Late Mrs. Ogunbanjo, the documentary was accepted as worthy of being ushered into the reel industry as his contribution to the preservation of national and cultural values alongside the celebration of humanity, all of which Late Mrs Ogunbanjo, a veteran journalist stood for.
The documentary is indeed steeped in existentialism as well as subject matter of managing minimal resources to achieve maximum public good.

(culled from THISDAY newspaper)