Orisadipe Obasa was the last of eight Nigerians who qualified in medicine in the nineteenth century. His career may be characterized by the amount of time he spent in private practice as opposed to working in the employ of the colonial medical services. Chief among his achievements though is the role he played as co-founder, alongside Dr. John Randle, of Nigeria’s first political party: the People’s Union.
Early Life and Education
Prince Obasa was born in Freetown, Sierra Leone, in January 1863. His father was the son of Elekole of Ikole-Ekiti and his mother came from the royal family of Ikija in Abeokuta. Obasa came to Lagos in his youth and entered the newly opened Wesleyan Boys High School, Lagos, in 1878 as the Senior Foundation Scholar. At the end of 1879 when Governor Moloney distributed the school prizes, Obasa topped the list of the sixteen prize-winners. In 1883, he was sent to England by his parents to study medicine. He first entered King's College, Taunton, where, once more, he was frequently at the top of his class. Thereafter, Obasa enrolled as a medical student at St. Thomas's Hospital Medical School, London, where he gained the Membership of the Royal College of Surgeons (MRCS) and the Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians (LRCP) in 1891.
Obasa returned to Lagos in 1892 to commence private practice. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, Obasa accompanied the contingent of the Lagos Constabulary to the Gold Coast (Ghana) during the Ashanti War. He won a medal for his outstanding services on that expedition, an achievement that helped him to gain a position as Assistant Colonial Surgeon in the medical services of Lagos in 1900. Dr. Obasa took a leading part in public health campaigns in Lagos colony and in other districts of Southern Nigeria. His most notable participation was his special visit in 1903 to Ekiti, the district of his origin, in connexion with the smallpox vaccination scheme launched by Governor Macgregor.
In 1902, he had married Charlotte Olajumoke, the daughter of Richard Blaize, a wealthy merchant of old Lagos. His wife could not tolerate the long absences of her husband. Money was plentiful in the family; Richard Blaize had given the Obasas a comfortable house in Lagos as a wedding present, and with his passionate relish for public life, it took very little to persuade Dr. Obasa to resign his appointment as colonial surgeon in 1904 and resumed his private medical practice.
It soon became apparent that politics was Obasa’s paramount preoccupation. With his bold articulate tongue and powerful pen, the social advantages of his marriage and his capacity for work and friendship, Obasa launched himself into the political life of Lagos. Both he and Dr. Randle formed the first political party in Nigeria - People's Union - in 1908, with Randle as president and Obasa as secretary. For almost a decade, they kept alive the people's opposition to the water rate levy, during which, in slow degrees, the agitation burnt itself out until its final collapse in 1916. Obasa, Randle and the People's Union fell out of favour with the electorate; even a change of name to Reform Club did not revive the declining Union. The final blow to Obasa's party was the appearance on the political stage of Lagos of the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP), a new and more virile political party, led by Herbert Macaulay.
Nonetheless, Obasa became a nominated member of the Nigerian Legislative Council in 1921 and served creditably on several committees. However, the moment of truth came in September 1923, when the first parliamentary elections to the Legislative Council were held. Obasa was defeated. With the death of Randle in 1928, Obasa became the accredited leader of the People's Union.
Death and Legacy
Two years earlier, Obasa had contracted Parkinson's disease, which progressively incapacitated him. After fourteen years, he died on 15 April 1940 at his residence in Lagos.
Professor Adelola Adeloye, “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 (NCBI)
Daily Times, Nigeria, 17 April 1940.
Nigerian National Archives, Ibadan, C.S.O. 1 February 1963, Macgregor to Chamberlain, 21 November 1900. See n.1
Herbert Macaulay, 'Nigerian Public Affairs. Comments on the views of Dr. John
Randle', Lagos, 24 October 1922
igerian Pioneer, 2 November 1923