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My contribution to relocation of Nigeria’s capital to Abuja hasn’t been recognised – 90-year-old Lawal

My contribution to relocation of Nigeria’s capital to Abuja hasn’t been recognised – 90-year-old Lawal

My contribution to relocation of Nigeria’s capital to Abuja hasn’t been recognised – 90-year-old Lawal image

A former Chairman, Oyo State Hospitals Management Board, Dr Wahab Lawal, tells OLUFEMI OLANIYI about his educational background and why he voluntarily joined the Nigerian Army during the civil war, among sundry other issues

When were you born?

I was told that I was born on June 10, 1931 in Ibadan.

What type of family were you born into?

I was born into a polygamous family. Everybody was trying to be something but God helped me. I later went to Oduduwa College, Ile-Ife where I met the Sijuwades, Omisore and others. We became friends and we were in close contact. The late Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuwade, who was my friend at Oduduwa College, came to this my house during my 80th birthday to celebrate with me.

Which primary school did you attend?

I attended Apostolic Church School, Ita Olugbode and Oniyanrin between 1939 and 1946. I moved to Oduduwa College and I was there between 1947 and 1952.

Which sport did you do in school? (adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

I was on the school’s football team but my favourite was sport was hurdles race.

Were you born into a rich family?

I will describe my family as an average family but my father was educated. My father had five wives and out of the seven children my mother gave birth to, I am the only one that really resembles my father. The resemblance is very striking. My mother was from the Olugbode area in Ita Baale in Ibadan. I will continue to say that I have been enjoying God’s favour, I cannot say I am very religious but God has been helping me. I go to both mosque and church.

Do you practise the two religions?

I am a Muslim. But I am accepted everywhere.

How was your growing up like?

God picked me from the crowd and made me successful. That is why I am still alive till today. Many of my age mates have died; those older have died and some of those younger than me have left the world. God is still standing by me.

After you left Oduduwa College, which school did you attend?

I worked first (before furthering my education).

Where did you work?

I worked with P &T Lagos – the post office. I was an inspector and later I worked at the post office in Mapo before I went abroad to further my education.

Which country did you travel?

I attended Northern Polytechnic, Holloway, London and that was from 1957 to 1959. I later went to University of Leipzig, Germany where I trained as a medical doctor from 1960 to 1966. I had my MBBS equivalent in March 1966 at the university.  I also got my master’s from the same University of Leipzig in November 1967.

In 1974 I had a Diploma in Gynaecology and Obstetrics from the University of Dublin, Ireland. I had a specialist certificate in Obstetrics and Gynaecology from the University of Leipzig in 1974.

In 1982, I became a Fellow of West African College of Surgeons and a Fellow of the Nigerian Medical College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in 1983.

How did you cope with language barrier while studying in Germany?

I speak English, German and Yoruba languages. My wife is a German.

How old is your wife now?

She is 82 years old now.

How did you meet your wife?

I met her when I was in the college. Although she was not in the college, I met her in the town.

What’s her name?


Did she help you to learn German language fast?

No. I went to the language school. As a foreign student, you can’t go to a German university without attending the language school. You must learn the language first before attending their schools. Sam Olupitan, Dehinde Williams and I were in the same class learning German. We also graduated as medical doctors together in the same set.

Where were you during Nigeria’s independence in 1960 and how did you celebrate it?

I was in Germany but I can’t remember if there was anything spectacular because I was also working and running my medical programme. I was a private student, nobody sent me abroad.

Did you return to Nigeria immediately after you completed your medical programme?

I worked in some hospitals in both Germany and the United Kingdom as a junior doctor between 1966 and 1968. I went back in 1972 for further studies. I returned to Nigeria and I was a senior House Officer at the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, Kaduna. I was a member of the first batch of academic staff there in 1968.  I served voluntarily in the Nigerian Army during the civil war.

Did you fight at the war front?

No. I was in their hospitals and I was moving from place to place.  I didn’t stay long there and I left immediately after the war. I left as a captain.  I was in Kaduna, Abagana  and Enugu.

Were you afraid that the Biafrans could win the war?

That thought did not come to my mind. Every soldier wants his side to win in any war. So, I wanted Nigeria to win.

Why did you join the army when many were running away from being conscripted?

I think patriotism made me to join the army. I was not jobless. I had many places where I could work. In fact, unemployment was not a problem then.  I chose to join and I left immediately after the war.

When did you get married?

I got married in 1968 in Germany. I came home and later went back to bring my wife to Nigeria.

Your wife is a German and she has stayed in Nigeria despite the sharp differences in the cultures and even the weather.  What is the secret of your happy home?

It is God. She is also lucky because many of her age mates have died but she is alive. She is old, I am old too and we are together. It is the grace of God and not because of anything we do.

What kind of food do both of you like to eat?

We eat everything. We eat eba, amala, sausage, fish, meat. We are not restricted to any particular food up till now. We go out together to buy foodstuffs but we also buy food from restaurants at times. We can’t cook every time, though we have a home help.

How many children do you have and where are they?

We have four children.  They are abroad. They are married. But there are many children here who have had no way of getting up in life.

Are those ones your biological children too?

No. They are children of relatives and people I know in society. We have to help those ones. People call me for help from time to time. Even this morning, I have received calls from people who need financial help. But some are used to getting free money and they will tell all manner of lies to get money from you. I am a retiree; there is a limit to the help I can render. Some persons are just too fraudulent.

You mean you still engage in philanthropic activities at your age?

I have to do that with the little resources I have, although my pension is not much. I donated a multi-million naira medical equipment to the Muslim Hospital, Mosfala in Ibadan in the past. I was given the chieftaincy title of Maiye Baasegun of Ibadanland in August 1983 by the late Olubadan of Ibadan, Oba Yesufu Oloyede Asanike, in recognition of some of my contributions to society.  In the same 1983, I bagged the Oyo State Government merit award for excellent job performance.

Was your wife given a chieftaincy title too?

No, I was the only one.  I was appointed Justice of the Peace of Oyo State in 1990. But between 1976 and 1980, I was the head of the state hospital in Oyo. I later served as the Chairman, Oyo State Hospitals Management Board. After that, I became a member of the Oyo State Civil Service Commission; and the Sole Administrator, Oyo State Hospitals Management Board.

But when I returned from overseas, I joined the Western Region as a socialist gynaecologist and the first place I worked was the State Hospital Abeokuta. I worked at the State Hospital Oyo, I was the Chief Consultant in charge at Adeoyo State Hospital until 1983 and from 1983 to 1987, I held the same position at the Jericho Maternity Hospital, Ibadan and I later became the Chief Medical Director, Adeoyo State Hospital, Ibadan.

Corruption was not as prevalent while you were growing up as it is now.  What do you think is responsible for this?

The level of corruption in the country now is very bad. I read newspapers, I listen to radio and watch television, everything is about corruption and it makes one sick. You hear of stealing every day, rape, ritual killings and things that are unthinkable, such as a father defining their daughters, and so many nauseating stories. It is appalling.

So, how can these practices be curbed?

The government and the people must be ready to stop corruption. There should be enlightenment on the effects of corruption and the people must be ready to change. We all have to be involved to curb it. Government must serve the people and the people must hold them accountable. Roads are not good, school in some places are bad and students don’t have chairs. We (residents) are paving a road that leads here by ourselves. This is the work of the government but it is left undone. There are so many things that need to be changed. We should honour those who have done well because giving recognition will help to spur others and the coming generations to do more.

I wrote an article and said that Nigeria’s capital should be moved upward. I published that long before the Akinola Aguda panel made that recommendation but no recognition has been given to me up till today.

When and where did you publish the article?

I predicted the coming of Abuja long before the Akinola Aguda panel made the recommendation in 1976.

Are you also a geographer or how did you know that Abuja is equidistant from the farthest parts of the country?

I am not a geographer but I have travelled to some countries and they don’t situate their capital cities by the coast. It is only in Africa that capitals are close to the sea. That is not safe. The capital can be easily attacked if it is by the seaside and the whole nation will be in trouble because that is where headquarters of corporations and important institutions are usually sited.

I published the article in the Sunday Times of May 3, 1970. I argued that the capital should be moved from Lagos, which is a coastal area, to the interior for security reasons. I did not mention Abuja precisely but I said the capital should be relocated to the interior, which is safer and which people can spend the same number of hours to get there from the farthest places. I also gave economic reasons for it, to help bring about development to other parts. I knew that Lagos would no longer be suitable as the nation’s capital from between 10 and 20 years from that time.

Did you envisage any attack on Lagos then?

I said in the article that Lagos, like other African capital cities along the coast, would not survive even a five-minute attack from the modern deadly weapons in case of an attack from the sea. We must think like that. We should also note that none of the developed countries has its capital situated along the coast.

In fact, we ought to have changed the capital from Lagos immediately after the independence in 1960. Lagos would still remain the commercial capital but the administrative seat would be somewhere in the interior and development would be faster.  My recommendation was picked by the panel that was later set up by the government but no reference was made to me. That shouldn’t be. I desire some recognition.

How do you want to be recognised?

I am not asking government to give me money or contract. I am an old man but honour should be given to whom honour is due. I made the first recorded campaign for the relocation of the nation’s capital to the interior. I did not mention Abuja, I can’t lie; the records are there.  The committee set up by the government on the relocation of the nation’s capital, either by omission or deliberately, failed to make mention of my contribution despite that I initiated the campaign for the relocation. I want the government to correct this, it won’t cost them anything.

In 2015, the  Nigerian Medical Association, Oyo State branch wrote to the National Honours Award Committee and nominated me to be honoured. I still have a copy of the letter and I am still hopeful that I will get the deserved recognition in my lifetime. They nominated me because of the prediction of relocation of the nation’s capital and also for my voluntary service in the army to keep Nigeria united, as well as my philanthropic gestures. Nothing has come out of it since then.

I wrote a letter to the Presidency when former President Olusegun Obasanjo came to power in 1999 concerning my prediction. The Presidency replied me to acknowledge the receipt of the letter but no recognition followed that.

Apart from my prediction on the relocation of the nation’s capital, I also published an article after I performed Hajj in 1971 that the Federal Welfare Mission should at least triple its number of doctors and increase the number of nurses. There were just five medical doctors to attend to 35,000 pilgrims to Saudi Arabia that year and this was grossly inadequate. Doctors were overworked and they also became sick. So, when I came back I published an article in the Daily Sketch of August 17, 1971, arguing  that the number of medical workers accompanying pilgrims should increase and that the state Pilgrim Board should be created.

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