I would like to take some moments to reflect on the life and legacy of Dr. Onikepe Ijete (Nee Esuruoso) of the College of Medicine, University of Ibadan MBBS Graduating Class of 1991, a Specialty Psychiatrist in Forensic Psychiatry until her demise. Her story touched me in no small measure after our meeting at the Ibadan Medical Specialist Group (IMSG) United Kingdom, Fundraising Dinner and Dance in March, 2023. After the event, we had a florid of chat message exchanges on WhatsApp that showed what a remarkable woman she was.
I would like to highlight some of it below (the timeline was between March – June, 2023):
Dear Prof Omigbodun, what a lovely DP! It’s like the light of God just shines through you and your family…and I love the colours. Very well coordinated.
It was lovely to meet you on Saturday and thank you for representing women at the highest level.
Here are the photographs we took together.
She proceeded to send the different variations of the pictures below:
I was thankful for the pictures and then called her attention to a class picture she posted on the ICOMAA UK WhatsApp group:
I saw the photograph you posted on ICOMAA UK. Are you in the photograph? It would be great if you can give the names of those in the photo.
Below was her response to the referenced picture above:
Yes, I am!
I was group captain so I got to sit in the front with the Doctors 😀
I have red shoes on
I think we were 4th year medical students at the time and Banji was one of our house officers
I will get the names of the others in the group
Lol 😀 The other girl in front, Ebi…..!
I never even thought about it till now but you are right, I was a leader even from medical school.
It dawned on me rather quickly that Dr. Ijete was a very beautiful woman, in and out, who cherished the memories of her time as a student at our great College and was eager to tell her personal story to inspire anyone willing to listen. She was a loving mother who was deeply proud of her daughter’s medical and advocacy works across the world. I wanted to know more. So, she shared her picture and profile with me, and that of her daughter too. I have taken the liberty to share both here without any edits, just as it was forwarded to me.
Dr Onikepe Ijete
Dr Ijete trained as a medical doctor at the prestigious College of Medicine, University of Ibadan Nigeria and is now a Specialty doctor in the award-winning North London Forensic Service in Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health NHS Trust.
She was recognised by the RCPsych as the one of the "Faces of the College" in 2022. She has been celebrated further by RCPsych on International Day of People with Disabilities and by the Association of Black Psychiatrists on International Women’s Day for her activism, and by her own Trust for her high quality clinical work.
In 2015, she co-founded Inception, a free online peer support group to support Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic secondary school students, medical students and doctors in the UK and internationally on their medical journey. In 2019, they were invited to 10 Downing Street to discuss ways to increase the number of Black, Asian, and minority ethnic doctors working in the NHS and to help address health inequalities.
As a black, female, internationally trained SAS doctor, who is a wheelchair user, she has lived experience of these many intersectional issues. She uses this experience and her unfailing commitment to advocate for race, gender, disability, and “gradism” equality and inclusion. She is a highly sought-after speaker at regional and national level on these issues.
Her daughter’s picture and profile are shared below:
Dr Elohor Ijete
BSc Hons MBBS
Dr Elohor Ijete graduated as a medical doctor in June 2020 from Kings College London. Prior to medicine she achieved a 1st class in Biochemistry at Queen Mary University of London. She is currently taking an F3 year whilst she prepares to apply for core training in psychiatry.
Dr Ijete is a highly sought after speaker at regional and national level on issues pertaining to equality and inclusion.
As a medical student she was the winner of the 2018 medical student essay prize awarded by the British Society of rehabilitation medicine. The essay was titled ‘Disability Stigma, a Mark of Cain? and was published in the ACNR journal.
In February 2022, on International Day of Women and Girls in Science, she was invited by the Royal College of Psychiatrists to write an online blog post on the challenges that women in science face, and how girls can be encouraged to engage with STEM subjects.
In December 2022, on International Day of Persons with Disabilities, she was invited by the Royal College of Psychiatrists to write an online blog on “The hidden world of non-visible disabilities”.
Outside of medicine, she is the co-founder of Inception, a mentoring group for BAME secondary school students, medical students and doctors which was founded in 2015. In 2019, she was invited to No 10 Downing Street and led 14 medical students for a round table discussion with the Special Adviser to Theresa May, Prime Minister (2016 – 2019). She discussed ways to increase the number of BAME Doctors working within the NHS so that they can help address health inequalities.
Her interests include mentoring, poetry and Muay Thai.
As I reflect on some of the things Dr. Ijete shared with me during our conversation, I marvel at her exceptional strength and courage. She expressed gratitude and recounted our discussion within the ICOMAA group and private chat. Dr. Ijete was generous in sharing her personal journey with me. Like everyone else, her story began as a young girl full of dreams and ambitions. However, her path was marred by illness, disability, divorce, and the challenges of single parenthood in a foreign country without a support system.
Despite facing numerous adversities, Dr. Ijete refused to succumb to despair. She poured all her efforts into steering the turbulent waters as a doctor, ensuring her daughter had the best chance at success. She told me that the stigma associated with disability was one of her most formidable challenges, which somewhat overshadowed her achievements and subjected her to condescension and discrimination. It was a very emotional note. The hurdles didn't end there. She mentioned that attending the IMSG dinner was also a big challenge, highlighting the systemic issues of disability stigma. Dr. Ijete shared the struggles of using public transport, adapting her vehicle at a significant personal cost, and dealing with inaccessible hotel rooms and venues.
Let me quote verbatim her words from that chat:
Of all the challenges I have faced in this country, disability stigma is the worst because it erases all of one’s achievements, even visible ones and all people focus on is the stereotype.
“She has a disability and she is a wheelchair user. She is dependent on others for her needs, like the blind beggar in front of the beautiful gate in the bible.
Therefore, that gives us the right to disrespect her and treat her in a condescending manner, attempt to take control away from her, discriminate against her”
Attending the IMSG dinner was a huge challenge! I can’t use public transport because not all stations have step-free access (because the government does not prioritise this - an example of systemic disability stigma) so I drove down in a wheelchair accessible vehicle which I had to pay out of my own pocket for the adaptations. It cost almost £20,000.00. And then, staying in a hotel. In their accessible room, the bed was too low and the toilet was too low. So I couldn’t use either. Experience has taught us to carry our commode with us, just in case otherwise, I would not have had a toilet to use. As for the bed, we took with us something called elephant feet to raise the height of the bed. Not ideal but better than nothing. It was either that or sleeping in my wheelchair. And then, there was the venue to consider. Would I get somewhere to park? If I can’t park, I can’t go in and would the venue be wheelchair accessible? Would they have disabled toilets? All of these were enough to put me off going and indeed, I wasn’t going to attend but friends convinced me, to represent the disabled alumni (even if it was just me there) and show that I’m still standing!
Ellie's talk will shed some light on how disability stigma impacts access to healthcare. She will also talk about steps we can take to reduce this. It’s important for everyone to attend so they can gain a better understanding of how disability stigma impacts every aspect of a disabled person's life and the implications of that for them (anyone can develop a disability. Say one has a stroke or something) the workforce and their patients.
Despite all these apparent obstacles she shared with me, she chose to attend, representing, like she said, the disabled alumni, with such enviable resilience. Her commitment to shedding light on disability stigma's impact on healthcare access is commendable. Dr. Ijete emphasizes the importance of understanding these issues, as they can affect anyone, and the potential repercussions are far-reaching. Her advocacy extends to encouraging medical students and doctors with disabilities to come forward and fostering better support for them.
It was as though she realized the power of her own story as a catalyst for changing attitudes toward supporting people with disabilities. I am personally wowed at the impact of her talent, and I can only envision the collective strength of a bigger impact if more talents were given to individuals like her.
I have been reading her message and our exchanges from last year all day, and I couldn't help but be moved by the strength and resilience encapsulated in her story and now I wish it was one I had told earlier. I read her penultimate message to me:
Prof, I am still reeling from my encounter with you!
Would you believe that when you sent this message,
“Blessings dear Dr. Ijete... don't forget the story... make it short and share links to your great word. Just arrived in Lagos”
It took a few minutes for me to understand my brief. And then it came to me.
My story is what will make people change their attitudes towards supporting people with disabilities. Look what I have done with the one talent that I was given. Imagine if I was given 10 talents, what would I do with it!
Imagine if you gave 10 people like me 1 talent each. What would we all do with it?
And now, suddenly everything is clear!
I have already completed a draft which I will send to you shortly.
Wishing you a restful day after all the travels
I need to create a website, page on Facebook.
But she never got around to doing that. Our last conversation exchanges were in June, 2023. However, this is what she had to say about herself:
In brief, I have overcome barriers and challenges associated with disability to remain in full time employment. My daughter has excelled academically and is now a doctor has been my carer since the age of 10.
Together, we are supporting other families on their journey through medicine through our free online peer support group - inception.
This year, one of our members got into medical school in Cambridge!
In recognition of this, the Royal College of Psychiatrists interviewed me on International Day for People with Disabilities 2021 and since then, I have become the poster girl for inspiration for everyone (disabled and nondisabled) and have been invited to speak at medical (and nonmedical) conferences and I am a part of the Royal College of Psychiatrists task and finish group on disability. One of our objectives is to call on employing organisations to make reasonable adjustments so disabled employees can remain in employment.
It all feels like the start of something even bigger and I feel like I’m being called upon to use my experiences of overcoming these obstacles and barriers to promote a change in attitudes in order to aid equality and inclusion of people with disabilities.
I feel I might be able to put some of this knowledge, skills and experience I’ve gained over the years to use in the College to help support people in a similar situation to mine and perhaps give them hope?
Below are links to some of her works:
One of her final words to me was this: I watched a film recently. There was a saying in it/Embrace your weakness, don’t fight it, look to make it your strength/That’s all I’ve done.
Oh, what a great woman! She didn’t fight her weaknesses but made them her strength. That’s all she did. That’s all we should do too!
I celebrate this great woman, not just because she is an alumna of our great institution, but because her story is a powerful testament to the indomitable human spirit, an inspiration for all who encounter the challenges life throws their way. This is how I choose to remember her - a great woman who stood tall, fighting against the odds, and shining a path of resilience, so that all who encounter difficult life challenges can hope for a greater future too.
I pray the Lord keeps her daughter whom she loved dearly and preserves her memory for generations to come. Amen.
Sleep well, dear Dr. Onikepe Ijete!
Livestream for the Service of Songs on 24.01.24 and Funeral events on 26.01.24
24.01.24 – Service of Songs (7pm-9pm)
26.01.24 – Funeral Service (10am to 11:30am) and Burial (12:30pm)
26.01.24 – Celebration of Life Reception (3:30pm)
One final thought…
Today, I reflect deeply and sadly too… I reflect on the happenings in my Nation Nigeria and my City Ibadan, the unbelievable happenings powered by corruption and extreme cruelty. I reflect on my working space and the barriers it has to persons with disabilities. I think about the barriers, the stigma, the lack of basic amenities, and lack of access to healthcare and social support for the majority. When will we ever embrace each other for our common good?
But you and I need to keep the hope alive.
Professor of Psychiatry &
Provost, College of Medicine, University of Ibadan