Obituary: Adeyemo Elebute; surgeon, academic, entrepreneur

Elebute

On 23, February, renowned surgeon, medical elder, distinguished academic and exemplary entrepreneur, Professor Adeyemo Emmanuel Elebute breathed his last. He was 86 years old. The family announcement did not detail the cause of death.

A colossus in the field of medicine as well as in the boardroom, Elebute was a nation builder who distinguished himself in several facets of his working life. After retiring from the University of Lagos as a Professor of Surgery, Elebute and his wife, Oyinade, a professor of Physiology, set up the Lagoon Hospitals and Clinics, a provider of integrated healthcare services. Established in 1984 but commencing core operations two years later, Lagoon Hospitals is presently the largest private healthcare services group in Nigeria with six healthcare facilities in the Ikoyi, Ikeja, Victoria Island and Apapa areas of Lagos state.

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While commiserating with the family, President Muhammadu Buhari, through his spokesman Femi Adesina, paid tribute to Elebute’s championing roles in health education, medical research and development evidenced by various leadership positions in the health sector. According to President Buhari, ‘’Elebute leaves an impressive legacy in the field of sciences, healthcare development and delivery in Nigeria, for others to emulate and build upon.”

Built to last

Countless medical practitioners have made the transition from academic clinical medicine to private practice but the success that the Elebutes recorded with Lagoon Hospitals has been quite unprecedented. Between them, they built a verifiable institution synonymous with quality, if pricey health care delivery. One that has since scaled beyond the founders’ modest beginnings and is now managed under a consortium of investors from the Netherlands, Switzerland and Mauritius.

The key to the durability of Lagoon Hospitals was the management’s decision to embed the startup under Hygeia group, one that also spun off a Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) named for the Greek goddess of health. According to Elebute, the name encompassed a wide idea of healthcare as well as the word class standards that matched the ambitions of the founders.

As a HMO, Hygeia has since 1986 provided health insurance to a wide net of individuals and companies and has become a multi-award winning industry leader with the widest coverage of providers and largest numbers of plans in Nigeria across various income groups. The Hygeia Community Health Plan provides health insurance for low-income groups in collaboration with Health Insurance Fund and PharmAccess of Netherlands.

The entire health insurance architecture would later fall into a crisis of confidence with reports of fraudulent practices culminating in an announcement in 2018 by the Health Insurance Scheme Governing Council that only one out of 57 HMOs had fully met the criteria for accreditation.

In 2001, in recognition of his contributions to the development of healthcare in Nigeria, Elebute was conferred the national honor of Commander of the Order of the Niger (C.O.N.) by the federal government of Nigeria.

Born 15, September 1932 in Lagos, Elebute was educated at the CMS Grammar School in Lagos between 1941 and 1948. Subsequently, he moved to Trinity College, Dublin, where he graduated with a BA, MB, BC.h., BAO in 1956. He was conferred the Master of Arts degree and the Doctor of Medicine degree (by thesis) by the same University in 1967.

He wanted to be a clergyman but a chance encounter with the life and career of the pioneering surgeon and administrator, Sir Samuel Manuwa while in school, convinced him otherwise.

Post qualification, Elebute worked in some of the biggest hospitals in the United Kingdom, including the Birmingham Accident Hospital, the Midland Centre for Neurosurgery, Royal Postgraduate Medical School, Hammersmith and the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, Stanmore. In Nigeria, he worked at University College Hospital Ibadan till 1962 when he was invited to join the pioneer staff of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital.

Serving meritoriously in Lagos, Elebute became Professor of Surgery only seven years later, in 1969, and rose through the ranks to become Provost of the College of Medicine from 1977 to 1980. He combined this duty with the position of Chief Medical Director at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital from 1978 to 1980. Elebute was responsible for training hundreds of students who would go on to achieve renown both in the field of Medicine and in other spheres of life.

Senate President, Bukola Saraki in his eulogy, took ownership of Professor Elebute as a “mentor and personal example,’’ and described his contributions to the health sector in Nigeria as “immeasurable.’’ During a valedictory service held at UNILAG’s College of Medicine, several of Elebute’s mentees and former students in the academia spoke about his towering achievements and of the personal relationships he shared with them while alive. “An iconic man of many parts, a brilliant academician, a disciplined master of the surgical craft, a true friend and a wonderful family man” were the words of Professor Afolabi Lesi, the Provost of the University’s College of Medicine.

Professor Elebute maintained a full professional life, serving on many professional organizations. He was secretary of the Association of Surgeons of West Africa (later converted to the West African College of Surgeons) from 1967 to 1971) and president of the Nigeria Medical Association from 1968 to 1970.

Other responsibilities include working as a member of the executive Committee of the International Federation of Surgical Colleges, member of Executive Council of Societe International de Chirugie (1979-1983), Member of the Council of the UK-based Association for the Study of Medical Education and member of the National Universities Commission of Nigeria. Elebute authored research papers and was a member of the editorial board of the British Journal of Surgery and World Journal of Surgery.

He made the inevitable shift from clinical and academic medicine to matters of public health and administrative importance, serving as chair of the World Health Organization’s task force on the development of appropriate technology for health in the field of laboratory equipment. Elebute also worked in the World Health Organization Committee of Heads of Medical Schools in the Africa region. He was president of the National Postgraduate Medical College of Nigeria (NPMCN), which later nominated him a Distinguished Fellow and in 1997, he chaired the Health Group of the Vision 2010 Committee set up by the Nigerian Economic Summit Group.

In business and in the boardroom, Elebute was an active player with his role as chairman of GlaxoSmithKline (Pharma) Nigeria Ltd. Appointed in 1981, Elebute remained in that position till 2001 when he retired voluntarily. Over this twenty year period, Elebute oversaw the mergers that kept the company in business and in the forefront.

He is the author of the titles, Worthy in Character and Learning, A new face of private health care: The Hygeia Nigeria story, (cowritten with his wife, Oyinade) and The Life of James Pinson Labulo Davies, the biography of the eminent pre-Nigerian merchant and statesman.

Apart from his wife, Elebute is also survived by their four children- Adekunle Elebute, chairman of KPMG Africa, Modupe Odunsi, Adebimpe Nkontchou and Folasade Laoye, a chartered accountant who serves on the board of Lagoon Hospitals- and grandchildren.

He was by all accounts a distinguished Nigerian.

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