Coming from humble origins, Dr John Randle would go on to become one of the most financially successful doctors of his time. He established an extensive private practice in Lagos which served both the indigenous population and the agents of several European firms. Celebrated for his unrelenting austerity, Randle never owned a car but rode a bicycle even up to the age of seventy. He passionately encouraged many Africans to pursue extensive learning and to his lasting credit, he was at the vanguard of the movement which led to the launching in Lagos in 1908 of Nigeria's first political party, the People's Union, of which he became Life President.
Early Life and Education
Randle was born on February 1, 1855 in Regent, a village situated at the foot of the Sugar Loaf Mountains in Sierra Leone. His father, a liberated slave named Thomas Randle, came from an Oyo village in Western Nigeria. Randle began his education at the village school in Regent, from which he went on to the Grammar School in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone.
In 1874, he enrolled as a student dispenser at the Colonial Hospital in Freetown, and qualified as a professional in 1877. He left Sierra Leone for the Gold Coast (modern-day Ghana) where he was involved in many public health programmes, including a society-wide smallpox vaccination campaign. Impressing his superiors with his unusual diligence and enthusiasm, they would go on to help him achieve his ambition of studying medicine. Known for his frugality, Randle was said to have saved almost every penny he had in order to finance his studies, which began at the University of Edinburgh in 1884 and were successfully completed in 1888 when he graduated with Bachelor of Medicine and Master of Surgery degrees and gained the gold medal in materia medica.
Randle came to Lagos in December 1888 to work as an assistant colonial surgeon at the Lagos Colonial Hospital. Almost at once, Randle encountered a discriminatory policy in the medical service against which he naturally and forcefully revolted. He won the support of Dr Jeans, the European Acting Colonial Surgeon, who wondered why Randle "who passed out of Edinburgh with much credit to himself and is therefore on an equal footing as regards medical education with Europeans” should receive no more than half of the salary his European colleagues drew. It was to be a hopeless battle and in 1893, Randle refused to continue to do tours of duty at Ijebu Ode, Ogun where a small peace-keeping band of British troops had been stationed by Governor Gilbert Carter in 1892; as a result, Randle was dismissed from his post in September 1893.
Although he did not compose a medical thesis, Randle was able to contribute substantially to modern medicine within the limitations of his circumstances.
His article on guinea worm was a review of the various current methods of treatment, with emphasis on those that he found to be effective. He unequivocally discouraged the use of the spice asafoetida (in sharp contrast to the recommendations ofJames Horton) as during twenty years of observation, he had found that it did not treat this particular illness effectively. He recommended that it should be reserved for treating psychiatric disorders. Efficient drug treatment of guinea worm is now available, but the principles of treatment enunciated by Randle in 1894 are still true today.
Randle's article on the incidence of cancer among Africans was his response to a paper by Dr W. Renner on the incidence of malignant diseases among the Africans attending the Colonial Hospital of Freetown. Renner, an African Creole "colonial surgeon" who later Africanised his name to Awunor-Renner, noted that in the last thirty years of the nineteenth century there were twenty cases of malignant diseases whereas from 1901 to 1909, he encountered twenty-two cases. Although consciously refraining from making definite conclusions, Renner implied that the observed increase of malignant diseases among the Creoles arose from the 'influence of [Western] civilisation' which had altered their traditional mode of living. Randle's article challenged the validity of Renner's statistics and gave another explanation for Renner's observation. Randle cited examples of malignant diseases that he encountered among the Ijebus in Southern Nigeria, cases that would not have been known had he not been posted to work there. His reason for the low incidence of cancer that Renner reported towards the end of the nineteenth century was because the Africans did not come to hospital. Randle's suggestion about the reported infrequency of cancer among Africans complemented, but did not negate Renner's thesis of the influence of environment and way of life.
Following his exit from the colonial medical service, Randle had more time to indulge his political interests and soon became one of the most "authoritative exponents of native public opinion in Lagos." In 1899, Randle had a brief taste of politics when Governor Sir William Macgregor brought him into the Legislative Council as a "provisional member". Shortly after the turn of the century, Randle launched a union to champion the cause of the people of Lagos. In 1908, Randle and fellow medical practitioner Orisadipe Obasa formed the People's Union, Nigeria's first political party. For almost a decade, they kept alive the people's opposition to the water rate levy. Unfortunately Randle, Obasa and the People's Union fell out of favour with the electorate; even a change of name to the 'Reform Club' did not revive the declining party. The final blow came with the establishment of the Nigerian Democratic Party, a new and more virile political party led by Herbert Macaulay.
In November 1890, he married Victoria Matilda Davies, the eldest daughter of James Labulo and Sarah Forbes Bonetta Davies, the Yoruba slave girl who was adopted and educated at the personal expense of Queen Victoria.
Death and Legacy
Randle died on February 27, 1928. Despite all of the setbacks he faced in life, Randle remained a fighter from the first to the last, ever resolute and courageous, and always aspiring not only to master his own fate but also to mould the destiny of others. In 1940 his remains were moved from the rear to the front of the Ikoyi Cemetery in Lagos, a symbolic gesture in recognition of his achievements.
Sources and References
The above was compiled using the following:
- Professor Adelola Adeloye's - Some Early Nigerian Doctors and Their Contribution to Modern Medicine in West Africa” Medical History, 1974, vol. 18, p. 274-293.
- National Center for Biotechnology Information
- Herbert Macaulay, 'Nigerian Public Affairs. Comments on the views of Dr. John Randle', Lagos, 24 October 1922
- Nigerian Spectator, 3 March 1928.
- P.R.O., C.O. 147, 73, Jeans to Under-Secretary of State, 16 May 1890.
- Nigerian Gazette, No. 19, 30 December 1893, p. 605.
P.R.O., C.O. 147, 85, Carter to Lord Knutsford, 7 July 1892.
- J. Randle, 'The treatment of guinea worm', Lancet, 1894, i: 143
- J. Randle, 'Cancer among the African Creoles', Br. med. J., 1910, M: 1193-1194
- J. A. B. Horton, Guinea-worm or Dracunculus: its symptoms and progress, causes, pathological anatomy, results and radical cure, London, Churchill, 1868, pp. 48-50
- T. Sollman, A Manual of Pharmacology, London, W. B. Saunders, 1957, pp. 166-167
- W. Renner, 'The spread of cancer among the descendants of the liberated Africans or Creoles of Sierra Leone', Br. med. J., 1910, fi: 587-589
- C. Fyfe, A history of Sierra Leone, London, Oxford University Press, 1962, p.423 See n.1
- 'How Queen Victoria adopted a black girl', The Drum, August 1971. See n.2