Celebrating Ameyo Adadevoh
By Femi Olugbile
You were in the middle of your morning exercise that day when the phone rang.
‘I am Dr Adedevoh’ came the voice from the other end.
Her name was boldly displayed on the iphone screen, ‘Good morning’.
Four months after leaving the office of Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, you were still getting calls from people who wanted one thing or another.
She wanted the phone number of the Professor who ran the virology laboratory in LUTH. Her reason immediately startled you. She had, she thought, a case of Ebola on her hands.
Alarm bells were jangling everywhere.
No, the place to call was not the laboratory but Disease Control at the Ministry. You furnished the number.
The events that would follow would be the most dramatic, and heroic, in the nation’s public health history. They would be celebrated in a Hollywood film – 93 Days, which would capture some of the drama, if not the salient details.
You would never get to speak with Ameyo Adadevoh again.
On Saturday, 22nd May, 2021, at an Event Centre in Lagos, a crowd of eminent persons, suitably masked, socially distanced, braved the tail-end of the COVID19 pandemic and the risk of yet-to-be-completed vaccination to honour Ameyo Adadevoh, and raise funds for the construction of a monument in her name at her alma mater – Queens School, Ibadan.
The host was Taiwo Adamson, the beautiful ‘Iron Lady’ of Nigerian Psychiatry and President of Queens School Ibadan/Ede Old Girls’ Association.
It was a ritzy, carefully choreographed affair, manned by the Old Girls themselves. They were mostly accomplished figures in Nigeria now, big names n Law, in Medicine, and in all the different spheres of life. The serious aspects of the proceedings were interspersed with songs reminiscent of their school days and reflecting the friendly tribal loyalties and rivalries between the different ‘Houses’ in the school – from ‘Baobab’ to ‘Casuarina’, to ‘Palm’ and ‘Almond’. The target of the fund-raising was two hundred and fifty million naira, and the plan of the ‘girls’ was to build an Ameyo Adadevoh Multipurpose edifice.
Folusho Philips – Management guru, was chairman of the occasion. He spoke of the double cap he wore, as the designated chairman and as husband of an Old Girl of the institution.
A member of the Adadevoh family spoke about a Foundation they had established in the name of ‘Aunty Ameyo’, which was doing good work helping to build human resources to deal with infectious diseases in different parts of the country.
Yemi Ogun, outgoing Medical Director of the Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Yaba represented the Honourable Minister for Health.
Winsome Shade Jaji, Secretary to the Government, represented the Governor of Lagos State. The Commissioner for Education, Lagos State, herself also an Old Girl of Queens School, gave a thought-provoking Guest Lecture that stressed the importance of instilling Values in Education. The nurturing environment of Queens School had provided Ameyo and countless others not just with literacy but with spine and a strong sense of right and wrong.
Memories of bits and fragments of the Ebola story swirled around as the proceedings went on. They whole panoply of State and National epidemic response swinging into action to contain and localize the virus that had been brought into Nigeria by one Patrick Sawyer, a Liberian national.
The index case succumbing.
Ameyo and a few of her medical colleagues, who had played interference and staunched the spread, despite the risks, becoming themselves infected and being ferried to the Isolation and Treatment centre across town. The human angle story of a particularly traumatized paediatrician friend of Ameyo’s hanging around in the forbidden precincts of the Isolation Centre as Ameyo struggled for life, mumbling encouragement to her friend to ‘fight on’, reminding her how ‘the girls’ had promised to go on a world cruise ‘soon’ and allow themselves to forget about the rigours of saving lives for a month or two.
Then Ameyo died.
After a struggle with a leakage here and there, Ebola was contained in Nigeria. The Lagos, and Nigerian, response, became a case study for Business School and Public Health study groups in blue chip institutions across the world.
Olorogun Sonny Kuku spoke on how he had been mentored in Endocrinology by Ameyo’s father, Prof Kwaku Adadevoh, and how he, in turn, had mentored Ameyo in the field.
The mention of Ameyo’s father evoked in you memories of a different kind – a meeting with him at his well-appointed office on Ahmadu Bello Way, facing the Atlantic Ocean. He ran a publishing house, as part of his many involvements after his tenure as Vice Chancellor of UNILAG. You had given him a compilation of your Mental Health column – ‘A Life In The Day of A Psychiatrist’, to publish as a book. He liked it, he confessed. However, his professional reviewer had a few issues, including a reference to the great Sigmund Freud as ‘a neurotic Austrian Jew’.
But that was who Freud was, you protested to Adadevoh. You had the uncompromising certainty of youth in those days.
Adedovoh shook his head and smiled sadly. The book was not published.
You would never forget how impressive he looked, with his powerful dome fringed with greying hair. He was the grandson of Herbert Heelas Macaulay, father of Nigerian nationalism. This was the stock Ameyo came from.
Taiwo Adamson moved pertly between the guests, thanking them for their donations, and for honouring Ameyo. Another lady of beauty and grit, you thought, remembering watching Taiwo in her heyday as she stood up for herself in the daunting presence of the great Adeoye Lambo, father of Nigerian Psychiatry, in whose presence many mortals simply wilted.
Ameyo Adedevoh, as a person and a symbol, deserves far greater honour than she has been accorded so far by her country Nigeria. The Old Girls of Queen’s School have set the tone. Government, and society at large, should see the need to follow suit.