On June 12, 2019, the cream of the society had convened at Rembrandt Hotel, Alausa, Ikeja, Lagos, for the posthumous 70th birthday celebration of the late Dr. Bamisayo Francis Oluwagbemi, who, until his death, was chairman, Occupational Health Safety and Empowerment Centre, a Non Governmental Organisation, NGO.
The occasion also doubled as the second colloquium in honour of the late Oluwagbemi, stood out as an unparalleled safety icon in his lifetime, hence, the theme of the day: “Legacy of Service and People Safety in Contemporary Nigeria.”
Family members in attendance were led by his widow, Chief Agnes Omolola Oluwagbemi. Coincidentally, June 12, was the couple’s 37th wedding anniversary, and the wife’s birthday. That made the occasion one of multiple celebrations, and that also explained the diversity of the guests at the occasion, who came from all walks of life, including relatives, members of professional bodies and institutions and government functionaries.
The specials guests included the likes of Mr. Babatunde Irukera, Director, Consumer Protection Council, Senator Babafemi Ojudu, former Adviser to the President on Political Matters, and Aderonke Olowoselu, the regent of Odo-Oro Ekiti.
Chairman on the occasion, Dr. Ayodeji Karim, MD, Winchester Farms (and formerly CEO, Costain West Africa Plc.) in his opening speech, dwelt on the state of safety awareness and practices in contemporary Nigeria, and how it affects productivity. He harped on the ideals of a society that is safety-conscious.
Senator Babafemi Ojudu, the chief speaker, eulogised the late safety icon, as “a man who tried to perfect his society” and devoted time to seeking and applying knowledge and passing it to the society, especially with regard to safety.
Various testimonies and biographical highlights underscored the fact that the late Dr. Francis Oluwagbemi was indeed Nigeria’s safety intellectual and icon.
The Odo-Oro Ekiti-native, who had his first degree in Occupational Hygiene from South Bank Polytechnic (now London South Bank University) went to the University of Dundee, Scotland, where in 1983 he obtained a Masters in Public Health, with emphasis on Occupational Health and Safety, and thus set his career direction and lifelong pursuit. Pioneering the then Institute of Occupation Health at the Oyo State Ministry of Health, Ibadan, he rose to become the Head of Institute of Occupational Health, Ibadan, and, for 10 years, starting from 1984, was a guest lecturer in Industrial Safety at Polyconsult, The Polytechnic, Ibadan.
He further widened his horizon when he founded SG Industrial Hygiene and Safety Consultants in 1990, which undoubtedly pioneered safety training and industrial assessment in the country. Retiring from the Oyo State Civil Service in 1994, he had conducted occupational hygiene surveys and assessment and occupational health and safety trainings for the private sector, servicing such companies, as Associated Match Nigeria Limited and Nigeria Brewery PLC, Nigeria National Petroleum Development Company (NNPC), Odu’a Group of Companies and Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited (SPDC), Warri, which he later joined to become a pioneer professional Occupational Hygienist in the oil industry in Nigeria, from 1994 till his second retirement in August 2008.
As guests on the occasion learned, he remained indefatigable even after retirement. Obtaining his doctorate degree in Occupational Health and Safety in 2010 at the age of 61. Oluwagbemi continued to make inputs into the growing broad awareness of safety concerns, as an associate lecturer at Department of Geology, Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), an honorary lecturer at Department of Environmental Health Sciences, Faculty of Public Health, College of Medicine, University of Ibadan, and a visiting lecturer at Occupational Health Nursing School, University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan.
He was also, among other roles, an external examiner, Institute of Petroleum Studies, Centre for Occupational Health, Safety and Environment, University of Port Harcourt and consultant to Lagos State Safety Commission on School Safety.
According to Mr. Jamiu Badmos, Director, Safety Advocate Group, Dr. Oluwagbemi had leveraged his various experiences to impact the institutionalisation of safety in the workplace and the development of safety associations in Nigeria.
Avowing that “safety is his second wife,” Badmos by anecdotes from his personal encounters with him, gave insights into the kind of passion and professionalism that drove the late Oluwagbemi. He gave examples of his efforts that led to the unification of different factions of safety associations.
Badmos concluded his speech with a direct appeal to Senator Ojodu to use his connection to kick start a national debate that would lead to the Safety Act legislation, a dream the late icon pursued till the end of his life.
As part of his credit as the leading figure in the growth of occupational health and safety in Nigeria, Dr. Oluwagbemi in his lifetime presented over 50 technical papers in conferences, seminars and workshops within and outside Nigeria.
As the first Nigerian to become a chartered member of the Institute of Occupational Health (UK), he went the extra mile by founding Vertext Media Limited, a publishing outfit that focused exclusively on publication of HSE books written by local authors.
He wrote the books, Basic Occupational Health and Themes and Issues in Occupational Health and Safety and also contributed to three other HSE books.