If philanthropy were to be a career, then Dr. David Olugbenga Akinpelu is doing a good job at it, and he is deserving of a medal for meritorious service. After listening for a few minutes to his discourse on the anatomy of doing good for humanity, and you might be inspired to write a poem about “he from whom flows the milk of human kindness.”
It might be argued, that doing good is second nature to him because doctors are among the most empathetic beings on earth; true, but his altruism, knows no bound.
A multifaceted doctor––obstetrician, gynaecologist, physiotherapist––and a lawyer, he has his hands full running his New Merit Hospital, Oko-Oba, Lagos, where he is the Chief Medical Director. Over a two-decade of private practice, he effortlessly built a rock-solid reputation as a first-class physician and earned himself an accolade as an uncommon humanitarian into the bargain.
In this interview, he tells CSR Reporters’ AYODELE OSHIKOKHAI the philosophy behind his charity, the secret he knew about the act of giving which turned him into a serial philanthropist and his plan of giving back to the village where he hails from.
When did philanthropy become an integral part of your life?
We have to look at it from two perspectives: As an individual and from the corporate angle. As I speak to you, I sponsor over twenty individuals that are either about to graduate or have graduated from various universities in Nigeria. They are not my biological children. They are not related to me either. Why I had to do what I am doing arise from my personal experience––for me to go to school, it took the grace of God.
I started my education from Primary School before going to Modern School. I used to be the best pupil in my primary school days and also in the Modern School, but unfortunately, I had to drop out of school at Modern 2 because of lack of money. I came from a poor family. My parents could not afford the then school fee. So it was inevitable that I dropped out. After, I decided to learn a trade, because I did not want to be idle––an idle man is a devil’s workshop. I apprenticed for three years as a bricklayer. But my zeal for education did not die. I was yearning to complete my education. So with the little money I got from the odd job of bricklaying, I went back to Modern School, after a five-year hiatus, to complete my education so I could go to Teachers Training College. I started Form II in secondary school and despite my advanced age, I was one of the best graduating students in the whole of my local government area. During my secondary school days, I was representing the state in competition at the national level.
How did you end up in medicine?
Something happened that changed my life. I was living in Mushin, Lagos, during those formative years when I was trying to make my life meaningful. One day, some hoodlums suddenly invaded our house and made away with the bag that contained my certificates and statement of result. When I came out of the bathroom, I was dazed that my bag which contained all my credentials was gone. I really could not figure out what had happened to me, whether I was dreaming or not. But then my landlord at the time, a retired staff of WAEC, gave me a note to the Registrar who then helped me out with the result. At the point of seeing my result, the man asked me what I was doing with my life. I told him I was studying Building Technology at the University of Ife. He told me I could study Medicine in lieu of Building Technology. To sway me, he told me the anecdote of what happened after the Second World War, when there was a reconstruction boom in the post-war period, but soon after, most young people who studied architecture, building construction and designing became jobless after the era. He then made the point that no matter what happens doctors will still remain relevant, even during the war. And he concluded thus: “As a doctor, you may not be rich, but you would live a comfortable life.”
How did you begin your philanthropy?
One day, a young boy just walked into my office with all his credentials and said to me: “Daddy, we are from the same compound in the village.” He introduced himself and showed me his credentials. In fact, he was the best graduating student in his set and had won many prizes.
I, then, asked the poor boy what he was doing to which he said his father had no money to enable him to sit for JAMB. I told him of a pre-degree course and I gave him N25, 000 to obtain the form. The boy still lives with me till date. He will graduate as a medical doctor next year.
Another interesting case was a young boy whose father was a typist when I was doing my housemanship in the General Hospital. I sponsored his education and today, he has completed his national youth service. He still lives with me. I like giving back to society in my own little way. And now, you should know why––because of my background. I can say with all honesty that I have sponsored over twenty people that are not related to me, some of them have graduated while others are about to graduate, from different universities. It is not by my power that I do all those things; it is by the power of the Almighty God that keeps me in a position to help humanity. The Bible is quite clear on this: If God does not build a house the builders are just building in vain. That is on a personal level. On a corporate level, any time a patient walks into my hospital, this is what I tell my staff: “If the patient cannot pay let’s save life first.” A certain woman was in labour for five days before she was brought to the hospital and yet her relatives said they had no money to pay. What do we do? I said to the staff: “If we allow this woman to go, she could die on the way, and if she dies, God will hold us responsible for her death.” We all took steps to save her life.
Recently, a lady was brought to the hospital with ruptured intestine, but her people took her back home once they heard about the bill they were likely to pay. Three days later, they brought her back in a terrible condition. I called my staff and said to them: “Please, let’s do surgery for her and see if we can save her life.” We did the surgery, despite her terrible condition, and thankfully, she survived. Thereafter, I asked them to go, without asking them to pay. They couldn’t believe it.
Everyone tried to lend a hand during the Covid-19 lockdown. What did you do?
I did give palliatives in Lagos State and in my village, Edunabon, lfe North LGA, Osun State. What I did for my village was widely reported on the radio. I also recently gave some palliatives to some of my lecturers.
My ultimate plan for my village is to build a hospital where patients pay a token. It is going to be like a health centre. Any money they make there is just to pay the workers’ salary whilst we bear the burden of making it profitable. We will expand the place as it will be heavily supplied with drugs. The plan is in the pipeline, it may run like a foundation.
Why do you give back to society?
If God has blessed you and you do not bless others, He can take that blessing away from you. If God has given you something, don’t just hold on to it, believing you are the owner of that gift; instead, ask yourself: why is God just blessing me? It is not because you are worshipping God than others. Some people worship God than you do; some praise God more than you, but God continues to bless you; if that is the grace God has given to you, God will want to see how you use the grace. Today, I have received more than four text messages. “Doctor, give me food.” “Doctor I need money.” And that is what I do. If you ask me for a hundred thousand naira, I may give you twenty or thirty thousand naira; with this, you will not say I did not give you anything. There was somebody I gave money to and that person told another person, “I have collected my own, go and collect yours.” I don’t give to people because I want them to repay me; no, my reward is in heaven. Often, I tell my household that when I am old, they should not bother about how to feed me––I have sowed a lot to take care of my old age. What I give, I give freely; if you want to show appreciation, that is good; if you do not show it, it is left to you.
If someone is in difficulty, give to that person, no matter how small it is; that person will pray for you, and you will not know when God will answer the prayer. That is why God has continued to bless me. Givers never lack.