WITH a great sense of fulfillment, Founder of First City Diagnosis, Dr. Iyke Odikpo explains how he rose from a young doctor, who drove cabs to become the owner of an upscale medical facility in Lagos, a successful entrepreneur and philanthropist.
Dr. Iyke Odikpo
On childhood: I was quite heady when I was young because I knew what I wanted in life. My parents made me what I am today. I inherited traits like stubbornness, kindness, and calmness from my father. I took my mother’s fearless and dogged nature. Mummy could stand up to anybody. I was born into a family of teachers. My father, Mr. Michael Azuka Odikpo was a school Principal. My mother, Mrs. Angelina Agiliga Odikpo retired as a Headmistress. She was a very strict and beautiful woman. She was one person that helped curtail my excesses in life. If anybody wanted me to do anything, the person had to negotiate with me. Anyone that tried to bully me when I was a child met a brick wall.
Having come from such a background, I am not surprised that I am a true reflection of my parental background.
Order to change my choice
I studied Medicine because my father insisted. I wanted to be an economist. I had an uncle, late Dr. Nwani, who had a Ph.D. in Economics from America. I wanted to be like him. I loved Economics and did well in it. My understanding then was that the world was all about economics, but on the eve of the closure of Joint Admission Matriculation Board, JAMB, registration, my father came to my school to see my Principal. I was called to my Principal’s office where my father was seated beside my Principal and I was ordered to change my choice of Economics to Medicine. I had to sign a new set of forms. I was very angry about it to the extent of saying that I was not going to sit for the examination. But the fact that I did not want to fail an examination made me start reading a night to the examination. To the glory of God, I scored the required points for Medicine and got admitted to University of Jos Medical School in 1979 at the age of 16.
Capacity and tenacity:
If I did not have the capacity and tenacity, it would not have been easy to have the kind of grades needed to study Medicine. Studying Medicine was not easy but it was fun and exciting. Till date, it gladdens my heart to introduce myself as a medical doctor. Some people sometimes think I no longer practice because I veered into politics and business, but I am still in practice. I veered into politics because if good people stay out of politics, bad people will make bad laws and people will be compelled to obey. That is why people like me are in politics to see how best we can influence the affairs of the society. I have learnt to understand that arguing with government is difficult because government is like a big masquerade. It is a lot easier to influence things when one is in government.
From childhood, I knew I had to belong to a profession where I will apply my skills. And as kids we looked at doctors as next to God. So I am glad to be one. It gives me joy that we make what people consider a big issue to be a non-issue after listening to patients. Imagine the joy in me whenever I revive unconscious patients. This has happened three times on flights. One was on an Aero flight while it happened twice on international flights.
Coming to Lagos
Creating a niche for myself is a product of perseverance, hard work and focus because it was not easy when I got to Lagos. As a young doctor, I moved into the large Lagos market where I worked in two medical centres before I met Dr. Yomi Finnih, who smoothened my rough edges in the medical profession. I worked with him for four years before I set up my own practice. Being given the right advice helped a lot because Lagos was a huge and established market for a young boy to just make it without encountering hurdles. I was only trying to survive then and support my siblings. I attribute my success to God, doing the right things, working hard and getting the right advice. The combination of these, helped me to become established in Lagos. As a young doctor, I worked around the clock and played hard too.
Fresh in my mind
I remember an incident that happened at a local hospital where I was working that remains fresh in my mind. There was a night I was called to attend to a woman. She had a cesarean section that got infected and resulted in burst abdomen. I looked at her and found out that she appeared dead. I told them that if I referred the woman to a General Hospital she will not survive because of the long process of transporting her to the hospital and the procedures of admission. It was at a place called Ikotun Egbe and the nearest General Hospital at that time was Ikeja. It was a journey of one hour on bad roads at that time. I took a risk but I told them I was not promising anything. I did a surgery called Total Hysterectomy with the assistance of an auxiliary nurse. There was no anesthesia. At the time I was stitching the skin she started moving her legs and I was happy she survived. Unfortunately, the family did not have money to pay me when I finished the surgery. I was very angry as a young man. Sometimes when things work out for me, I feel that some of those things I did in the past were being repaid. They offered me family land but I was naive and refused to take it. I wish I had taken it. I told the husband that she will not be able to have a child again because the womb was removed. After telling my former boss, Dr. Finnih, he was marveled but warned me to be careful.
Another person, who helped me in becoming successful, was my late friend, Ifeanyi Nwuke. I used to write proposals about how I will set up my hospital and I was looking for money that I will use. He advised me to look for an estate to set up my hospital. He said that every estate has settlements of company workers. That was how I rented a duplex in Gowon Estate where I started with my small savings. My siblings and I were the carpenters and bricklayers, who worked on the new place. My boss assisted me with the first set of furniture for the hospital and advised that if it becomes too difficult I can come back and continue working for him. My boss said it was better I was starting my own, stating that the way things were in Nigeria at that time showed that it will be difficult for things to get better. Initially, when I said I was going, my boss thought it was because of my salary and he increased it to N3,500 from N1,500 per month. While I was with Finnih, I encountered Major Mustapha Jokolo, retd. I delivered his second daughter and we became friends. I also provided medical services to him. Major Jokolo, considered me an excellent doctor who knows his onions. He introduced me to business and I was able to support my siblings and retired parents not minding my small salary. I used to lie to my father that I was taking loans from banks.
When I started my first clinic in Gowon Estate, National Shipping Line which was functional at that time became my first major client. Thus, between 28 and 29, I made my first N1m as a doctor from National Shipping Line.
First City Hospital
I named my first hospital Aikland coined from Iyke and land. We grew from Gowon Estate and became more adventurous by moving to Victoria Island. I remember a certain Yoruba woman asking about my background and who my father was when I moved to the Island. She was surprised that an Igbo young man from Delta State could own a hospital in Victoria Island at that time. The right advice, right positioning, and perseverance made it possible. There were times when there were low moments but the successes kept coming. By the time I got to Victoria Island, I felt that the name, Aikland was not catchy enough. I had to register First City Hospital as a new name and later changed to First City Diagnosis because I met an elderly man, whose hospital was also known as First City Hospital. That is the story of First City Diagnosis that has given birth to so many success stories. Having made some money I started philanthropism in my village, Onicha-Olona. I have been partaking in the development of my village. I started playing politics during the Social Democratic Party , SDP, and National Republican Convention , NRC, era and got to the level of state delegate in NRC. In 2003, I left the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to run for the Senate on the platform of United Nigeria Peoples Party, UNPP. I moved from being a doctor to a businessman and politician. But all these were made possible by God because there were some, who had such dreams but could not make it as a result of natural processes like death.
particular stage in life, he needs the favour of God.
Drive cabs to argument earnings
It was not that there were no challenges, but sometimes when someone is telling his story, he needs to leave out some negative aspects and focus on the positive sides. For me, I prefer to remember the good things and remain positive in life. But there were also low moments but I am a dogged person who perseveres a lot. I don’t give up when I am on a course. I always believe that if people had done something and succeeded, Iyke could do it. Anybody listening to my story will think it was just a smooth story but as a young doctor, I had to drive cabs to argument my earnings. At that time a cousin of mine inherited a Peugeot Station Wagon from his father and we used to make some money with the car. He had accommodation problem and stayed with me. He added value with his car. I remember while doing the commercial transport, an old schoolmate saw me asked and asked what happened. I said nothing happened that I only needed money. Those were not good times. My father also had a rough experience that robed off on us because of what he believed in. At the time of National Party of Nigeria, NPN, and Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, he stuck to his gun over something he felt was not ideal for a civil servant to get involved in politics. And that earned him the retirement he did not bargain for. That was another incident that made me start thinking that I needed to support him so that he would not die. Another person who influenced my thinking was Chief Ebenezer Babatope, who I met as a final year medical student. It was when politicians were imprisoned and he was kept at Jos Teaching Hospital. He said from the way I behaved, it was better I work for myself instead of working for someone. Another person is the present National Chairman of All Progressives Party, APC, Chief John Oyegun. When I was pursuing a Commonwealth Scholarship as a young doctor, he advised that I should rather focus on making money, adding that I was already a doctor. He said I will get to a certain level and would no longer look for money. He had a fishing business and I was made a distributor with my cousin Lt Cmdr Onabu Rtd.
Also, I must acknowledge the support of my siblings, unfortunately, two are late. And the rest are Prisca my immediate junior, Maureen a nurse who ran the medical practice with me, Ngozi the accountant, Greg, Ugo and Angela the baby of the house. God gave me a wife that is a strong spiritual pillar and a mother of 5 lovely kids.
To succeed people should try to get good mentors, focus and be dogged. Nothing good comes easy