Emmanuel Olatunde Alaba Olanrewaju Odeku, (June 29, 1927 – August 20, 1974) was the first African-American neurosurgeon trained in the United States who also pioneered neurosurgery in Africa.
Born on the 29th of June 1927, to the Adubieye family of Awe, in Afijio Local Government in the then Oyo Province in Western Nigeria, Odeku attended the St. John’s Primary School in Aroloya, Lagos State in 1932 and Methodist Boys’ High School (MBHS) in 1945.
He later left for America as a beneficiary of the New York Phelps-Stokes Fund Scholarship for Medical Education. He had also passed the London Matriculation Examination in the same year leading the whole set in English, Geography, History, Chemistry, and Biology.
In April 1950, he came first in his undergraduate class at the College of Liberal Arts in Howard University, Washington D.C, United States, graduating summa cum laude (with the highest honour).
The $8,000 scholarship that he had won saw him through medical school from 1950 to 1954 when he received his MD. In his senior year at the Howard Medical School, he worked as an intern at the University of Michigan Medical Center, Ann Arbor (1954-55).
After his internship, he was offered a residency position until 1960. He also majored in neuropathology under Professor Carl Vernon Weller, MD, for his postgraduate internship.
Odeku later proceeded to the University of Western Ontario, Canada to gain a better understanding of tropical neurosurgery. He bagged the Licentiate of the Medical Council of Canada (LMCC) in 1955.
Professor Odeku turned down many American job offers and came back to Nigeria to become the first neurosurgeon in Nigeria leaving his first wife, Dr. (Mrs) Mary Gilda Marques who didn’t want to come to Africa with him.
By October 1962, he was already at the University of Ibadan as a lecturer in neurosurgery and later started the first department of neurosurgery in Nigeria. He became a Senior Lecturer in 1963 at the age of 36.
Odeku was so passionate, devoted, and committed (especially to his patients) that within a short time, the egghead had attained the status of a legend within the medical community that by November 1965, at 38, he was already a full professor of surgery.
As he was an outstanding teacher, he was also an excellent writer. He published not less than 100 scientific papers. He would send his earliest papers to local journals in a bid to spread the news of the new discipline of neurosurgery in Ibadan to all West Africans.
He also published extensively in scientific journals abroad. He was even on the editorial boards of the Journal of the Nigerian Medical Association, African Journal of Medical Sciences, West African Medical Journal, and the International Surgery Journal.
During the ruinous Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970), he treated a lot of soldiers who had sustained head injuries in battle.
He had married twice, and on both occasions, to white women.
His first marriage in 1957 to Dr. (Mrs) Mary Gilda Marques (MD, Howard University) produced one daughter and son (Lenora and Peter).
His first marriage hit the rocks because Mary Gilda Marques (also Howard-trained) refused to follow him to Nigeria in 1962 and they had to divorce. In short, Professor Odeku lost his first wife because of his obstinate patriotism, a quality that is so rare today.
His second marriage in 1971 was to Dr. (Mrs) Katherine Jill Adcock Odeku (MD, Royal Free Hospital Medical School, London) and it was also blessed with a son and daughter – Alan and Amanda. Kate would stay with him till the very end, and at his funeral, she was understandably the chief mourner. She was also working at the University College Hospital where they met.
In June 1973, he was diagnosed with diabetes mellitus and was admitted at the University College Hospital, Ibadan. He left for England in August 1974 for medical treatment but he died on the 20th of August, 1974. He was just 47.
The E. Latunde Odeku Medical Library at the College of Medicine, University of Ibadan was named in his honour. It is the oldest and largest hospital-based medical library in Nigeria. #HistoryVille