Dr Olukayode Segun Adeyanju could have stayed back in the United States to practice after spending two years in Houston, Texas, when he went there to improve his expertise and be exposed to technology and surgical techniques in the field of dentistry, which he studied at the Obafemi Awolowo University and graduated in 1990. Dr. Adeyanju is a born-again Christian and evangelist with a passion for teaching people why it is important to maintain good oral care.
In an interview, he goes down memory lane, to recall how his dental practice, which is marking its 20th anniversary, survived turbulence in its early years, to get to the point where it has clinics in Victoria-Island, Ikorodu, Isolo and an exclusive clinic (DDH Deluxe) for upper class patients, all in Lagos-Nigeria.
I studied dentistry at the Obafemi Awolowo University and graduated in 1990. Then I spent one year at General Hospital, Lagos, for the housemanship. I stayed back for the national youth service. After the service ended, I was offered appointment to join the team which was supposed to establish a clinic in Epe area of Lagos. We were supposed to go there about two or three times a week. I did not go, because what I experienced during the housemanship and the service year at General Hospital left me disillusioned. So I turned down the offer. I simply did not like the setting.
What was wrong with the setting?
For a young man who graduated, burning with passion and had strong expectations in a profession that you are trying to explore, there were too many odds that didn’t make working at the hospital a promising situation. At that time, four dentists were sharing one dental chair; it was like having four drives to a car. The ideal thing for anyone who has passion for dentistry is to have a dental chair to render service to patients in need. For me, sharing one dental chair with three other colleagues was in itself demoralising. From my personal paradigm or world view, I strive for excellence. So I knew that I would not achieve excellence in service in that setting. Such things as drugs and consumables required to render dental care services were out of stock. Often hearing that we could not work because the generator was not working was simply frustrating – several dental care tools require electricity, because it is a surgical process.
So, I quit and practiced under late Dr. Frances Kuboye (Fela’s niece), whose husband owned the popular Jazz 38 night club. I worked with her briefly, and then went over to Ikoyi Dental Clinic. I also worked briefly for myself. Then I travelled to the United States after winning US Green Card Lottery in 1997.
Before I left for the U.S, I had a strong leading of the Holy Spirit (I am a born again Christian) not to relocate out of Nigeria. So I took my trip to the US as a case of going for postgraduate studies. So I did a combination of formal and informal studies. Having a green card allowed me to work. I wrote to organisations, that I had worked in Nigeria as a dentist and came to America to broaden and deepen my knowledge and expertise in the profession, and that opened doors for me. I got work in some places where I had opportunity to learn new techniques and get exposed to current technology as well as benefit from the transfer of knowledge. They paid me little money, which was just enough to cover my meagre needs, and I also diligently saved. In addition, I registered for short term courses at the University of Houston, Texas and attended several scientific conferences in the field. I spent two years and returned to Nigeria.
When did you set up the practice after your return?
I registered Divine Dental Home (DDH) in 2001. It was a herculean task setting up a private practice, in terms of finance. The cost of renting space for the clinic was quite high. Again, getting the required equipment was a huge problem. But I was lucky to some extent because I brought equipment from when I was returning from USA. Really it was difficult getting other equipments in Nigeria, and creating the right ambience in the clinic. Moreover, various problems in the polity were also affecting the process in a way.
How were you able to cope given that most Nigerians do not readily seek dental care?
I would say that I had enjoyed a lot of grace in the United States. I had management training on how to run a dental practice. I was told, ‘You are to be a businessman practicing dentistry. You are not a dentist trying to be a businessman.’ So, I studied marketing, human resources management, accounting and finance, budgeting and public relations. The knowledge and experience I gained in America really helped me a lot. So, I am not a typical dentist, I had a lot of American flavour in my mix when I started, which gave me an edge. Whoever came across me, I would make you so comfortable that you’d want to come back to my clinic, and also stay with me.
In fact, I started my practice when the Sun Newspaper had just been birthed. I was privileged to be connected with Mr. Femi Adesina, who gave me opportunity to write a column in the news paper, to educate Nigerians about oral care. I was one of the pioneer columnists. The column became hugely successful. I used to get calls all over Nigeria from readers who needed advice on dental problems. The column helped to create awareness about the need for oral care.
Did the column really make impact?
Of course it did! A great deal! You see, at that time people had a fear of seeking dental care. The tone of the column and the easy-to-digest way information was given out made people begin to take greater interest in oral care beyond just brushing their teeth. For me, writing that column was a way of making positive impact on the health-seeking community in Nigeria. I remember that I got patients who had special dental problems, coming all the way to Lagos from Abuja, Kano, and Calabar. When they came, they did not mind that my clinic was small at the time. They were more interested in my expertise, warm disposition and ability to solve their problems. That is why I feel that having spent 20 years in practice in Nigeria and built a pedigree, I believe that I should revive the column and start talking again to Nigerians.
How were you able to weather the storms of running a dental practice in Nigeria?
It is said that if any venture will survive, it is in the first five years. At the beginning 20 years ago, the rent for our small clinic in Victoria Island was N250,000 per annum. The landlord increased the rent every year, and now it runs into millions. After the first year, we couldn’t sustain the rent. I pleaded for a little time to pay and met a brick wall. Eventually, I went to a finance house, which was a subsidiary of Wema Bank, I took a loan of N1 million. I didn’t know anybody there; I had grace and just walked into the place and introduced myself and discussed my problem. I used my father’s house as a collateral for the loan. I was supposed to pay in 18 months. When the 18 months passed, I could not fully pay back the loan. The bank threatened to sell the house. Miraculously, I got help from the managing director of mortgage bank who was my patient. He bought over the loan because we had a collateral. That gave us two to three years of struggle to find our feet. Essentially, we operated on deficit for five to six years.
In the heat of that, the landlord slammed another huge increase in our rent. Each time I thought I had survived, the rent would go up again. (Chuckling) This happened every year for the first five years. By the sixth year, I was like a car with five flat tyres (including the spare tyre) and very little fuel in the tank.
Were you able to sleep during those years?
(Laughs for long) That time was very turbulent and quite challenging. It was just the grace of God that sustained us. It got to a point where we almost close to deciding to relocate to the mainland, like Surulere or other place. That was also when we had divine intervention. Somebody just took interest in the clinic and decided to invest some money into the practice. He said that he had observed that I was striving to exhibit excellence in my practice. He said he wanted to support the clinic so that we could have peace of mind to serve the public with some ease. That investment was a very soft loan from an angel. People in the equity finance business refer to that kind of person as an “angel investor.” That investment enabled us to expand from one room to three rooms in the same complex where we have been for 20 years. About that time too, God opened a door for me at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Healthcare. The company was trying to re-launch Macleans toothpaste, which had been off the shelf. They were looking for a dentist with reputation, name recognition and expertise. God just fitted me into the profile they needed. They approached me to anchor a public awareness programme on Radio Nigeria FM. The money they paid me greatly helped to stabilise the clinic. Today, we have clinics in Ikorodu and Isolo. And to mark our 20th anniversary, we have just set up an exclusive clinic for our upper class patients who need a bit of privacy, to access dental services and oral care. The exclusive clinic is located in the same complex where we have been for the past 20 years.
I remain committed to educating the public on the benefits of accessing regular oral care. A lot of systemic problems that could prove fatal can be prevented early through proper oral care. That is we keep advising that Nigerians should see a dentist regularly. Don’t wait till you have pain in your mouth or teeth. Visit dentist regularly, don’t go to quacks.