Jeremiah Olatunji Otegbeye, A Tribute
OUR beloved father, Dr Jeremiah Olatunji Otegbeye was born to the late Pa Jacob Otegbeye and the late Mrs. Adepeju Otegbeye (nee Akinola) on July 14, 1925 in Ilaro, Ogun State. He attended Christ Church Primary School, Ilaro, and the prestigious Government College Ibadan (GCI), from 1942 to 1947. In GCI, he was as brilliant as many that attended the great school; he was also a rascal and a truant. For some reasons, I recollect him being proud of those traits.
His childhood experiences under the colonial system built his character and molded him into a revolutionary. He started his political activities during his student days as a member of the University College Ibadan (UCI) Students Council and the President of the Progressive Party, UCI.
He proceeded to UCI as one of the pioneer students in 1948 and completed his medical education at Middlesex Hospital in London, where he graduated in 1956. He married my mom, Bolajoko Otegbeye (nee Solanke) in London in 1955.
While in London, he was a frequent speaker in Hyde Park corner, which is known for its anti-government speakers. He was very active in the Nigerian Union and West African Students Union. He was the secretary of the Nigeria Union of Great Britain and Ireland from 1953 to 1954. He was the Vice President of the West African Students Union from 1954 to 1955 and a member of the Kenya Committee during the Mau-Manu Era (1952 – 1956).
He played a major role in helping to forge the identity of the Nigerian Union in the UK, which became a formidable organisation that achieved better welfare scheme for the students and put forth the struggle for Nigerian independence.
After his return to Nigeria in 1957, he spent a short time at University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, and the Public Health Department at the Lagos Town Council. He soon figured out that he could not fit into the straight jacket of civil service bureaucracy nor could he survive in any institution that hindered freedom of expression. Both features exemplified the Town Council back in his days.
He ventured into private practice and started Ireti Hospital at 60, Patey Street in 1960. This became the bedrock of his medical and political career. He grew the lreti Hospital Group into one of the largest, best and well-known hospital groups in Lagos in the 1960s to 80s. He took care of the rich and the poor with special emphasis on the needy. He never discriminated and treated many who could not pay. His motto was always to “love your neighbor as yourself.”
He was most known for his political career and rightfully so. He emerged from England as a full-blown Pan-Africanist, an internationalist and a revolutionary. He was instrumental in the formation of the Nigerian Youth Congress (NYC) in the early 60s. He was a member of the Kenya Committee during the Mau-Manu Era–1952 to 1956. He was the president of the Nigerian Youth Congress from 1960 to 1963. He was the prime mover and indomitable leader of the NYC.
At the local level, he had great love for the Yewa people and used his resources for the development of human capital among our Yewa indigenes. Just as he advocated for the masses, he felt that Yewa people were marginalised in the state. He was a strong advocate for the next governor of Ogun State to be a Yewa indigene.
His interest in his people was not without consequences and personal scars, which he bore with pride as a price he had to pay for the emancipation of his people.
We recollect numerous house searches and interrogations by the guys from Alagbon (Police) and many journeys to detention including but not limited to Ikoyi prisons in 1963 for reported possession of secret documents, Ikoyi prison in 1965 for reported treasonable felony and a 13-month stretch in Maiduguri prison in 1971.
Our mum, who is the mother of all his seven children and his pillar of support during the “Humble Beginning and Turbulent Decades” left when I was in my teens because he was adamant about continuing the struggle after a 13-month stint in detention. He had a second marriage, which was a period in the wilderness, but he never deviated from his ideals.
His third marriage was to Bolaji Otegbeye who was his wife till he passed away. This marriage was the prelude to the “The Restoration”, the title of the conclusion of his autobiography which he was writing at the time of his demise.
He did not die a rich man but his legacies are more than material wealth. He touched many lives. He made exemplary personal sacrifices and risked his life to fight for a just and an egalitarian society. As a man of indomitable will, he believed that one of the hallmarks of true leadership was not to run away when confronted by difficulties but to face such squarely and try to overcome them.
Daddy is larger in death because he has left an enviable track record of service to his people. He worked sacrificially and in so doing has been able to give many a chance, to reach their potential.
We will miss him sorely but we know that he is resting and smiling on the right hand of the Almighty. He did all he could and we believe the crown of glory is his portion in the heavenly home. His children will carry his legacy forward.
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