Dr Olusegun Adeoye, a 2005 graduate of the University of Ibadan medical school and currently a public health specialist with the West African Health Organisation in Burkina Faso, was a classmate of Terhemen Anongo, 43, who ended up as a porter, pushing a wheelbarrow in Benue State after dropping out of the medical school a year before graduation. In this interview with OLADIMEJI RAMON, Adeoye remembers Anongo as one of the best students in the class
What is your name and occupation?
My name is Olusegun Adeoye. I am a medical doctor – a public health specialist. I work in a regional organisation of ECOWAS, called WAHO (West African Health Organisation).
Where is your current workplace?
I am in Burkina Faso.
Which medical school did you go to; and what was the period that you were in medical school?
I went to the University of Ibadan and I did my clinical studies at the University College Hospital, Ibadan. Clinical studies started from 400 Level till the final year. I entered medical school in the late 1995 and I graduated early 2005 – that was 10 years for a six-year course. The reason for that was a combination of lecturers’ strike actions and some academic setbacks.
Do you know anyone by the name Terhemen Anongo in your class back then?
Yes, I know him. We called him Bob Corner when we were in school. He was a very intelligent young man; he was one of those that did well in class; he was very articulate; and in fact, he was somebody to always admire.
What other things do you remember about him, for instance, his social life back then?
In the early days his social life was very normal. But, you see, the pressure in the medical school made people to manifest a lot of different coping mechanisms, which, as students, was difficult for us to recognise as mental health issues. I will give you an example – in the process of trying to survive, to have academic success, people manifested or exhibited selfish personalities; some person might want to be the only one to have extra lesson or they wanted to be the only one to attend a class so that they could get the mark. People manifested all sorts of coping mechanisms and it was difficult to conclude that somebody was having a mental health issue then. It was same for Bob Corner as it was for everyone else in the class.
Were you aware that he dropped out in 500 Level?
Honestly, in 500 Level, I was not categorically aware that he dropped out. At that point it was survival of the fittest and I’m not sure if anybody was aware that people dropped out, because when you cross into the clinical school, you are a doctor until proven otherwise. What I mean is that it is only your graduation or death – or mental health issue, as in Bob Corner’s case – that can separate you from the school. So, if you didn’t see anybody at that stage, it was easy to just conclude that the person had moved on with life. It was not something you could just read meaning into.
So you can’t tell the circumstances in which he left?
No, but one thing I can tell you is that there are some triggers. The academic system in Nigeria needs to be more humane in their disposition, especially towards mental health. Many of the things that students are being subjected to have become very obsolete. In a bid to get the best out of students, most of the time, people’s self-esteem is being eroded, personalities are being destroyed. For example, when we were in medical school, if we wanted to write exams, some lecturers might sit us down for one hour and began to tell us how we were a failure and how, because our class was large, we could not succeed; they could just tell someone he did not have the kind of disposition they expected of a medical student; they gave up on the person and began to give him reasons why he would never succeed. But I am thankful to God today, they (the lecturers) were all wrong. Except in isolated cases like that of Corner, where we could say he couldn’t pull through (most of us have gone on to do well); but I can tell you that the experience had a damaging effect on most of us.
Some of us might have coped and finished from school because it toughened us and has, perhaps, made us to be the best, but the question is: must people suffer to be the best? I think this was what Corner went through that he couldn’t cope with. We all coped in different ways but I can tell you that Corner’s story could have been the story of anyone of us. Reading his interview, I was seeing my own reflection in him. The only difference was that we have different outcomes. That support mechanism for students, especially medical students, is lacking almost 100 per cent in the University of Ibadan and I am sure that it is the same in a lot of other medical schools in Nigeria.
We are talking of situations where lecturers fail three quarters of the class population in an exam. What do you expect the students to think? It means you are building a failure mindset in three quarters of the class. Do you expect them to feel good with themselves? And at the end of the day, it brings us to asking ourselves: Is it that this thing (medical training) is difficult or you are a bad teacher? That is a question that institutions need to support their students to be able to answer successfully.
YOU MAY ALSO LIKE: 10 signs of mental illness you shouldn’t ignore
In the Nigerian university system, there is no assessment for lecturers. I did my Master’s in the UK and after every course, I evaluated my lecturer and if majority of us had the same complaint about a lecturer, we were sure not to see that lecturer again. But in Nigeria, a lecturer, as soon as employed, is on his way to becoming a professor with or without positive character. These are issues that need to be addressed.
In UCH, there is a psychiatric department, they can work with their psychiatrists to help develop a framework to support students on how to cope; they can also develop a framework to equally teach their colleagues on how best to handle students. The human mind is very frail and it is one part of the body that when it falls sick society finds it difficult to forgive and embrace the victim. You embrace people when they have malaria, you embrace people when they have typhoid or hypertension but the society we live in finds it hard to embrace people when they have mental health issues. Meanwhile, mental health issues can cost people a lot; it can cost people their career, it can cost them relationships.
Anongo described UCH as an unfriendly environment. From what you have said, you seem to agree with him.
I agree with him 100 per cent. I was his classmate and I understood where he must have snapped. We just developed coping mechanisms but he couldn’t cope, so he snapped. I am telling you, his story could have been that of any of us, it could have been mine. I could have been the one talking in that interview instead of being where I am today, happily married with children.
But his mother thinks his problem is spiritual?
You cannot separate the mother from her environment; you cannot separate her from her social and religious beliefs. In a situation of hopelessness, where people cannot find help, they find an explanation to justify whatever is on the ground. I am not saying there is no spirituality – I am also a pastor – what I am trying to say is that even if there is spirituality, let us work on the factors that are within our control, which include providing adequate support for students in the university. In a university where they have a psychiatric department, they should be able to assist, and come up with a “coping” framework to support the students to achieve the best in their training.
You must have been very shocked to learn that Anongo ended up as a porter, pushing a wheelbarrow in Benue State.
I was shocked because there are many options available for a medical school dropout. Most of my colleagues that failed in pre-clinicals went to different departments to complete their studies and they finished with First Class honours. So, there are many other options.
But he (Anongo) also mentioned parental factor; they (his parents) imposed the course on him and I faced a similar situation too. The truth is that sometimes one may not be able to cope but people keep pushing so as not to fail their parents or family. So, there are multiple contributing factors, including parental pressure like he mentioned. Even though I chose to study Medicine, while I was studying Medicine, my dad was very rigid about me becoming a doctor. It got a point that while I was at home, my dad would tell me, “You don’t ‘tuck in’ your shirt and you want to become a doctor.” It was that serious. I understand that parents want the best for their children but if care is not taken, that approach can have damaging effects. So, it is a lesson for all of us that are parents.
Is there anything you, his classmates, can do to help him?
We have established a forum where all of us are trying to do our best to support him and harmonise all efforts; we have a classmate, our representative who is talking to him; he’s a radiologist. When we see anybody that has a form of support for him, we want to pull our efforts together so we can draw up a plan to support him. The first thing he needs now is medical rehabilitation. He needs to have a psychiatric assessment done; after that we will develop a treatment plan and when he gets a clearance for his mental health, we will then start talking about social rehabilitation, which first has to do with what he wants to do next. Does he want to complete his university education? It may not be Medicine. You know that in Nigeria, no matter how brilliant you are, education is seen as the main foundation for success. So, we will look at that; we will then also look at rehabilitation in the area of livelihood. These are the holistic things we are looking into and we are working together as a class. If other people want to join us, they are free or they can help him individually. We just want the best for Bob; that is what matters to us now.
All rights reserved. This material, and other digital content on this website, may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or in part without prior express written permission from PUNCH.
p style="text-align: justify;">