Oye Gureje: Tribute to the King of Psychiatry at 70

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Whenever we were looking for the best of our brightest minds, Oye Gureje’s name naturally came up. He led the team that produced the “University of Ibadan Policy on the Authorship of Scholarly Publications”, and served on numerous occasions in organising Workshops on planning and writing Grant-Winning Proposals.”

*Photo: Professor Oye Gureje*

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By Idowu Olayinka

Dr Oye Gureje (as he then was) started his academic career at the University of Ibadan in March 1989 and was elevated to the grade of Professor effective 1st October 1995.  However, I did not get close to him until 1999 while I was the Sub-Dean of the Postgraduate School of the University. I used to see him regularly very early in the morning while both of us were doing school run at the University Staff School.

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He later informed me that he was a candidate for the higher doctorate degree of Doctor of Science (D.Sc) in Psychiatry by examination. Up till that time the University of Ibadan had only conferred one such degree, to the world-acclaimed Geochemist, Professor Jerome Nriagu, a 1962 Ibadan Alumnus and one of the most cited scientists in the world in the fields of Environmental Studies and Ecology.

It was later to be my duty to process Professor Gureje’s application when I became the Dean of the Postgraduate School in 2002. In spite of my enthusiasm, processing of his dossier was, however, not without some drama. One of the eminent Professors I sent Professor Gureje’s publications to for assessment promptly returned the package to me without assessment.

A few years later the Professor attended a Communion Service at the Chapel of the Resurrection on the University Campus and I accosted him and introduced myself to him. I complained to him that I once sent a document for him for assessment which he politely declined to do. He apologised but he told me that it was nigh impossible for him to peruse the too many publications of candidate Oye Gureje; hence the reason for returning my document back to the sender.

Eventually, the other assessors, both local and foreign, promptly did justice to the assignment and recommended that he was deserving of the degree and this was subsequently approved by both the Board of the Postgraduate School and the Senate, thus becoming the second person ever to receive a D.Sc by examination from Ibadan.

Oye Gureje delivered a Special Interdisciplinary Discourse of the Postgraduate School in November 2004, as part of the Convocation programme of the University for that year. The title of his discourse was ‘The de facto health status of Nigerians’.

Among his numerous contributions to the University of Ibadan, Professor Oye Gureje presented the first Matriculation Lecture of the University of Ibadan with the title ‘Priorities and the challenges of choice’ (February 2012).

He was regularly called upon to make his wealth of experience available to other scholars within the University since charity begins at home.

Whenever we were looking for the best of our brightest minds, Oye Gureje’s name naturally came up. He led the team that produced the “University of Ibadan Policy on the Authorship of Scholarly Publications”, and served on numerous occasions in organising Workshops on planning and writing Grant-Winning Proposals.

As far as I was aware, Professor Oye Gureje remained largely apolitical throughout his career at the University of Ibadan. He never ran for the position of Dean, Provost or Vice-Chancellor all of which he is eminently qualified as a highly distinguished scholar of immense repute.

Nonetheless he once had to come out of his shell to air a ‘political’ view. There was a re-run election on 25th November 2020 for the election of the two representatives of Senate on the ‘Joint Council and Senate Selection Board on the Appointment of a Vice-Chancellor’. Some elements within the university community who were against the perceived front runner in the Vice-Chancellorship race apparently influenced some Non-Academic Staff to disrupt the process at the Trenchard Hall, venue of the election.

The objective comments which could hardly be faulted by any logic were made and widely circulated on many WhatsApp platforms on the campus by a member of Senate, Professor Oye Gureje, who by his well-known antecedents ordinarily cared less about the local politics on the campus.

His message is reproduced below verbatim:
“I have just unsuccessfully tried to vote for my choices as Senate Representatives on the interview panel for the selection of the VC. Unsuccessful, because some people have disrupted the process. I was eager to vote because this is not a “new” election. Candidates had canvassed for votes for several days prior to the electronic election. So they are well known and nothing new is on the ballot. I believe that this is a legitimate election seeking to respond to perceived or alleged problems with the electronic election.

“This was an election of Senate Representatives and Senate has the inalienable right to decide how its representatives will be chosen. I believe that laid down rules are being followed in this process. The process may lead to a perception that the end result is known ahead of time. But they are the rules and this is not the first time those rules are being used. If we don’t like the way the rules are serving us, then we change the rules. Of course, you can’t change the rules in the middle of play. Once the current process is completed, those who have suggestions for a better set of rules should canvass it.  I am not naive to think that ANY of the candidates seeking to be on the interview panel is without a preferred candidate. So, I am not taken in by any charge of perceived “bias” against any of the candidates. Indeed, I was a referee for one of the candidates for VC who has not been shortlisted. I do not hold that against the system or anyone.

“This, in a sense, is a “political” process. Full of subjectivity. If we want to improve its objectivity, we change the rules. Perhaps giving primacy to blind external reviews. That could serve us in many ways, including discouraging in-breeding. But, until we do that, I will not cry “foul” and drag the name of the institution through the mud. That would be a Trumpian “Stop the count” cry! Unfortunately, it seems some of our colleagues have that Trumpian mindset, eager to employ might to achieve their goal. Their “Proud Boys” are always standing by.”
(Oye Gureje, Department of Psychiatry, College of Medicine, University of Ibadan, 25 November 2020).

Our honoree holds the degrees of MB, BS of the University of Benin, MSc in Psychiatry of the University of Manchester, UK and PhD in Psychiatry of the University of Ibadan. The title of his PhD thesis is “The nosological status of schizophrenia”. In 2004, he became the second person ever to obtain the degree of the Doctor of Science (D.Sc) of the University of Ibadan by examination.

Professor Gureje is a Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists (UK), Fellow of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, Fellow of the National Postgraduate Medical College and Fellow of the West African College of Physicians.

Oye Gureje has been teaching at the University of Ibadan as well as being a consultant psychiatrist at the University College Hospital since 1989. He was the Head of the Department of Psychiatry in both institutions in 1999 – 2003 and 2007 -2011.

  In 2010, he established the Mental Health Leadership and Advocacy Programme (mhLAP) in the institution. The pioneering programme has trained mental health specialists, service users and carers, leaders of civil society organizations as well policy makers from across 10 sub-Saharan Africa countries in mental health leadership and advocacy skills and helped to form advocacy groups for mental health service development in the five West African anglophone countries.

Gureje was President of the Association of Psychiatrists in Nigeria (2005 – 2009) and of the African Association of Psychiatrists and Allied Professions (2009 – 2014). He was the Zonal Representative for West and Central Africa of the World Psychiatric Association (2005 – 2008) and has been Chair of its Task Force on Brain Drain (2007 – 2008), a member of several committees. He is Senior Associate Editor of Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences, and Associate Editor of the International Journal of Epidemiology and of the International Review of Psychiatry.

He has received numerous awards. In 2007, he was conferred with the Osun State Merit Award. The following year, he was honored by President Umaru Yar Adua with the award of the Nigerian National Order of Merit for his contributions to medicine, the country’s highest award and recognition for academic excellence.
In 2011, the University of Ibadan College of Medicine Alumni Association conferred on him its Lifetime Achievement Award. He is a Fellow of the Nigerian Academy of Science, Fellow Nigerian Academy of Medicine, and Fellow Nigerian Academy of Medical Specialities, among many other honours and distinctions. He is an Honorary Member of the World Psychiatric Association.

Coming from a royal family in Ilesa, his first name Oyewusi connotes royalty. Through a dint of hard work, perseverance, creativity and innovativeness in the field of Medicine and numerous awards and recognition he has distinguished himself as one of the most notable scientists in the contemporary world.

Extraordinary Professor at the Department of Psychiatry, Stellenbosch University, South Africa. Oye Gureje has been listed, since 2004, in the “top 1% cited researchers in the area of psychiatry and psychology” and, according to Clarivate Analytics, he is one of the “most influential scientific minds”.

His publications have received 82, 785 citations with h-index of 116 on Goggle Scholar, as of 12:00 hours Lagos/West Central Africa Time on 2nd November 2022.

It is perhaps apt to describe Prof Oye Gureje as the King of Psychiatry.

Happy celebrations as we rejoice with your wife, Bola (beloved daughter of the former Governor of the old Western Region of blessed memory, the late Sir Odeleye Fadahunsi), the children and the entire family, your friends and associates all over the world.

Although you are retiring, we are rest assured that now is the time for you to re-fire. Your best is yet to come.

*Professor Idowu Olayinka is the Immediate Past Vice-Chancellor, University of Ibadan, Nigeria

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