On Friday, June 30, 2017, the State of Osun was again before the world stage with the graduation of 50 Medical Students and the triumph of one of them as the overall best student of V.N Karazin Kharkiv National University, Kharkiv, Ukraine at its 2017 Convocation. KEHINDE AYANTUNJI in this piece reflects on the turbulent journey of the stranded medical doctors, and the outstanding success of the 2017 Kharkiv University champion, Dr Oyeleye Lateefah Abiola.
Kharkiv, Northern part of Ukraine is the second largest city of the Europe country. It is a major cultural, scientific, educational, transport and industrial centre of Ukraine, with over 60 scientific institutes, over 30 universities and higher institutions, 6 museums, 7 theatres and 80 libraries. Kharkiv was the first capital of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, from December 1919 to January 1934, after which the capital relocated to Kiev.
Kharkiv is the hosting V.N Karazin Kharkiv National University, Ukraine where 50 medical students of Osun State University recently graduated as medical doctors. 87 of them are currently on the state government scholarship but others are expected to graduate next year.
It is second oldest university in the Ukraine, second only to the University of Lviv, Ukraine. The university has produced at least three Nobel Prize laureates. They include Ilie Mechnikov (Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine); Simon Kuznet (1971 Nobel Prize in Economics); and Lev Landau (Physics). It was founded in November 1804, on the initiative of the prominent educator, V.N. Karazin and in accordance with the charter of Tsar Alexander I.
In 2012 when the state government decided to transferred the 98 students of the Osun State University who were stranded over non-availability of Teaching Hospital for Clinical training from 400 to 700 level to Ukraine, it was a very hard decision for Governor Rauf Aregbesola with stiff opposition to the decision move the students to the Southern Europe .
Among those who fervently opposed the transfer was the then National University Commission (NUC) Executive Secretary, Professor Julius Amioba Okojie, who without any hesitation downplayed the genuineness of the government and frantically ridiculed the Ukraine National University as substandard.
Although, the state government refused to spare him from deserved response, his utterances were considered political, rather than academic, inspite his position as the head of the esteemed universities regulatory body in Nigeria. The university Okojie described as substandard has never moved below 2,000 in world ranking since its 200 years of its existence and has occupied the centre stage in Medical, Astrology, and Space Science Research in Europe. Ironically, none of the over 100 universities that Okojie was superintending and accrediting as at 2012 in Nigeria has moved closed to the first 5000 in the world ranking. Okojie was challenged to provide any empirical evidence for his claim, instead, the former NUC boss navigated his criticism to cost effectiveness of sponsoring 100 students in foreign university when such amount could develop a teaching hospital in Nigeria.
The opposition political parties were not left out with all manner of assumptions and allegations against the governor. There was a time he was alleged to have held a share in the university and only wanted to rob the state through the foreign education trip to a country that formed part of the former Soviet Union.
Before the option of the Karazin University was adopted, the state government had in 2011 proposed to upgrade the State Hospital at Asubiaro, Osogbo, to a teaching hospital, but with the visibility study then, it would not cost less than N5 Billion to procure the necessary equipment and upgrade the facilities at the state hospital. As at then, government open up that it could not afford such, as it was a period that the state introduced what it termed “Financial Engineering” by restructuring the N18.6 billion United Bank of Africa (UBA) inherited loan and source for bond to execute some capital project without hindering smooth payment of workers salary which was N3.6 billion as at the time. Another bottleneck that crippled the accreditation was personnel. One of the three major critical factors on which the question of adequacy or otherwise of the standard of training in any medical school depend is the availability of physical facilities in the form of buildings and equipment, both in terms of capital as well as recurrent costs. The other factor being availability of teachers, and the quantity of students selected. Without clear evidence of the existence, and availability of the aforementioned facilities, Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria scheduled with the responsibility of accrediting and monitoring medical colleges will not approve such college. For instance, it took the pioneer medical students of Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, LAUTECH, 10 years to graduate owning to accreditation challenges.
Obviously, as at that period, no matter what the state government may invest, it may not meet the expectations of the medical students who were already in 300 level, the medical students were stagnated for about two years as a result of non-availability of a teaching hospital for the university. All efforts made to get them admitted to tertiary institutions like Obafemi Awolowo University, OAU, Ile-Ife; University of Ibadan, UI; University of Lagos, UNILAG; Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, LAUTECH, for their clinical courses failed. The reality was that the population of the affected student outnumbered the maximum quota approved for those universities clinical year.
Having tried locally, the government spread the tentacles outside Nigeria to the United State (US), United Kingdom (UK), Belarus and Cuba. The costs of tuition for the training in those countries were astronomical and subsequently considered the Karazin University of Ukraine to sponsor the 87 students on scholarship. It was the most reasonable option available despite the meagre resources of the state. Aregbesola was of the strong conviction that neglecting the students amounted to sheer irresponsibility and gross recklessness with the lives of the promising young medical doctors.
In 2013, Governor Aregbesola Constituted Transfer Committee headed by Dr Simon Afolayan to conclude all necessary arrangement with the university in Ukraine after the approval of N162 million second tranche for the scholarship.
Presenting the report of the committee, the Chairman, Dr. Afolayan commended the governor for the huge amount spent to keep the hope of the students alive and reported that the students were enjoying their studies in a conducive atmosphere with best global facilities, saying, “Despite the fact that not all the students are of Osun State origin, Aregbesola’s government, in its magnanimity sponsored the students without any string attached. This means that the students did not sign any bond with the government.
“For this gesture, posterity will not forget Aregbesola’s courage and magnanimity to the medical students of UNIOSUN.”
One of the parents of the beneficiaries who was then the chairman of the Parents’ Representatives, Dr. Ademola Ayodele thanked the governor for a rare expression of compassion shown to their wards, saying, the news of the transfer of the students to Ukraine first came to them as a dream, but with the courage, commitment and determination of government, the goal was achieved at the end.
While receiving the report of the committee, the governor said that his government facilitated the transfer of the students because it believes that a responsible government must fulfill its part of a pact it entered with the people irrespective of which person or party in power signed the agreement so far that governance is continuum.
He said, “I feel fulfilled that the students, who would have had their dreams aborted, would now realise their ambition of becoming a full time medical Doctor. We have kept faith with these children, their parents and guidance towards realising their life time ambitions. In couple of years from now, we will be celebrating their graduation as trained Medical Doctors.
“This government is promising that it will assuage the challenges that the students may be facing during their stay in Ukraine”, the governor told the gathering.
The government in sustaining the scholarship in the years 2012, 2013 and 2014 expended the sum of N60,647,2 00; N68,445,465, and N64,215,800 respectively. The Osun Government also in years 2015 and 2016 academic sessions spent N85,833,750 and N116,495,258.40, totaling N495,637,473.40. Besides the initial 87 students who then were in 300-500 levels, government also assisted a total of 29 other medical students who were in 100 and 200 levels to secure admission to the university and process their travelling documents, but were sponsored by their parents.
As whatever has a beginning will definitely has an end, the dream of the government came to reality with the graduation of the 50 students in July 1st, 2017. Beyond convocation ceremony, the whole Karazin University stood up for one of them who triumphed as the university overall best students, Oyeleye Latifah Abiola. Prof Mykola O. Azarenkov announced Latifah as the overall best graduating student from both the Faculty of Medicine and the entire university. She came out with a percentage score of 95.6% in the KROK 2 Exams which was the final examination for graduating students.
At the graduation ceremony attended by the State Deputy Governor, Otunba Grace Laoye Tomori; UNIOSUN Vice Chancellor, Professor Labo Poopoola; the Chairman House of Assembly Committee on Education, Hon Oladoyin Bamisayemi and State Commissioner for Innovation Science and Technology, Eng. Oluremi Omowaiye , parents among other dignitaries, Latifah took Osun to the fore on world map and justified the huge resources invested by the state government.
When she was called at the ceremony, for the congregation at university auditorium to rise for the champion, she was so excited and felt accomplished for the strangled journey that ended successfully in Europe with giant feet. She said “We are here today proud that from the loss of hope that we were plunged into, we have been raised with new vigour. We have seen in Osun a responsible government which would not let its citizens down. Words are not enough to celebrate our victory. We have won”, she told the crowd.
Lateefah was born in Ibadan, Oyo state, where she attended primary and secondary schools respectively. She was admitted to UNIOSUN in 2008 to study medicine and studied for 3 years before she got stagnated alongside other colleagues for the inability of the university to secure accreditation. The father of the Ukraine Champion is into transport business and her mother engages in buy and selling.
During an interview with Latifah, her vision in life was not really such good grades, but to become a great doctor and teacher of doctors. The effort of the government, presided over by Aregbesola, no doubt projected the extraordinary ability of the champion, but becoming overall best student in such world class university was an arduous task.
The feelings of Latifah at that stage were a beginning of other great things in her life with gratitude to God. She felt so happy because she had never been celebrated like that in her life with so much love and appreciation in the air. She was really overwhelmed. She recounted her mood when she was stagnated as a result of the accreditation crisis in UNIOSUN, saying “I felt really sad. I saw my dreams almost crashing down in front of me. I thought all hope was lost, but God came into the picture through the Osun state Government and I am very grateful for that”.
On why she opted for medicine, Latifah partly differed with the popular clichés that people studied medicine because they want to save lives. She said “No. in the beginning, teaching was my passion, but I didn’t just want to be a teacher; I wanted to be a teacher with a difference, I wanted to teach how to save lives, so I decided to study medicine, that way I will get to be a doctor and a teacher at the same time, which I still want to do, but over the years, I have come to fall in love with medicine, I want that instant gratification of treating a patient and seeing them get better right in front of me, I mean that is the definition of joy for me. So, I studied medicine because I wanted to have two established lifesaving careers, being a doctor and being a teacher.”
In pursuing her dream in Ukraine, one of the very first challenge she encountered as a medical student was coping with the large syllabus in a very short time with other accumulated responsibilities within short time. To confront the challenges, she learnt time management and positioned herself not to lag behind. Another challenge faced according to Latifah was remembering previous thoughts and ideas conceived through reading especially for a very long time. She had to constantly remember thoughts, readings and retrieving information from memory even when she does not need them and had to study with a lot of online teachers. All these challenges really helped her.
Latifah also with the help of her father invested in good books which gave her edge over others, saying, “I have my dad to thank”.
In the next 10 years, it is her wish to be a wife and mother to become a consultant cardiologist, a great lecturer and a professor. Latifah is also dreaming of establishing a chain of well-equipped diagnostic centres in Nigeria where people can do all sorts of investigations to improve Nigeria health system.