OBITUARY: Professor B. O. Osuntokun

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The Independent Online
When the history of medicine in the post-colonial era in West Africa is written, the name of B. O. Osuntokun will figure large, as a man of great talent, of prodigious application and as a tireless advocate of the study of neurology in the tropics.

In a recent project, Osuntokun spent time in Indianapolis and Cambridge, in 1990-91, developing an international collaboration on the comparative epidemiology of the dementias between the Yoruba of Ibadan and an African- American population in Indianapolis. This had risen from his earlier clinical observation of the relative rarity of Alzheimer's disease in his practice, in Nigeria. The research has been received with acclaim by the scientific community world-wide and the preliminary data confirm intriguing differences between the two populations.

Benjamin Oluwakayode Osuntokun was born in 1935 and grew up in the former Western Region of Nigeria, in Ekiti. Christ's School, Ado-Ekiti, one of the country's best secondary schools, honed his gifts and produced the classical all-rounder, sportsman and academic, who graduated with honours from University College, Ibadan, in 1961. Kayode Osuntokun's was the second batch of students to qualify in medicine from what was Nigeria's first and deservedly renowned medical school.

The college was still, in those confident early years of national independence, under University College London. It nurtured those with talent and Osuntokun was chosen in 1963 to join Harold Scarborough's Medical Unit in Cardiff. Scarborough had himself developed an interest in Nigeria and its people after a short sabbatical in Ibadan. He recognised Osuntokun's formidable ability. In Cardiff, Osuntokun received a superb training, developed a lifelong admiration for British medicine and made close and lasting friendships.

Osuntokun was now committed to neurology and the next step, in 1965, was the medical school at Newcastle upon Tyne University, to be trained by the great neurologist Henry Miller. After an apprenticeship at the National Hospital, Queen Square, in London, he returned to Ibadan. The professor of medicine at Ibadan was Sandy Brown, a Scotsman of wisdom and foresight, and in 1966 Osuntokun was appointed consultant neurologist to University College Hospital, Ibadan, only five years after graduation. A personal Chair followed in 1970, and Osuntokun was the obvious successor to Oladipo Akinkugbe as Dean of the Faculty in 1974.

This was a difficult time: the military rulers demanded rapid expansion of the medical schools. The Dean had to manage the metamorphosis from small and select classes to hundreds of vocal and often pressing students. Such experience was a rich training for Osuntokun's subsequent senior posts in Nigeria and missions overseas, whether as a member of a WHO expert committee or as a consultant to other organisations.

In 1978-79 Osuntokun spent a year as Commonwealth Visiting Professor at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School, at Hammersmith Hospital, west London, refining the methodology for neuro-epidemiology and community control of common tropical neurological diseases. This was his principal and enduring research interest. In 1985, he was made Chief Medical Director and Chief Executive of University College Hospital, Ibadan.

Throughout these years of remarkable public service, Kayode Osuntokun remained fore- most a clinical neurologist, investigator and teacher. His early work among communities near the Nigerian coast, who were afflicted with the tropical ataxic neuropathy, largely through their monotonous diet of poorly processed cassava, showed that he was ready and glad to complement hospital studies with carefully planned fieldwork.

Over the years many gifted Nigerians have been propelled into the international organisations, or have sought economic refuge overseas. But although Osuntokun was well known in many overseas universities, his work and his commitment were firmly in Ibadan.

Those of us who knew Osuntokun from the early student days at Ibadan, where he was as alert and able on the tennis court as in the clinic, through his time in Cardiff to the final chapter in Cambridge (in Britain he was known to his friends as Ben), will remember a man of great warmth and humour, a true friend and an exemplary ambassador - for Ado-Ekiti, for the University of Ibadan and for Nigeria. In all this he was beautifully complemented by the gifts of Bopo, his wife, who graduated with him at Ibadan and who now holds the chair of Ophthalmology there.

In the early years he came to Britain to learn; later it was our turn to learn from him.

Eldryd Parry

and Keith Peters

Benjamin Oluwakayode Osuntokun, neurologist: born Okemesi Ekiti, Nigeria 6 January 1935; Consultant Neurologist, University College Hospital, University College Hospital, Ibadan 1966-95; Professor of Medicine (Neurology), University of Ibadan 1970-95; married 1961 Olabopo Cameron-Cole (three sons, two daughters); died Cambridge 22 September 1995.