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  • Features
  • Updated: December 04, 2021

#WeekendWithNigerianInDiaspora: Meet Medical Doctor Who Started Off As A Carpenter

Dreams do come through. Gabriel Oyelayo's story is one more reason to believe. Oyelayo's background and economic struggle was the push he needed to follow his dreams.

The carpenter-turned-medical doctor's story is summarised in one of his favourite African proverbs, 'one who nobody expects could build a tent ends up building a mansion'.

"Even though in this part of the world, a story like mine is quite common, I am grateful that I got lucky to have successfully graduated as a Medical Doctor.

"Ultimately, I am lucky to have gotten out of Nigeria because if I had remained here, I would probably still be struggling with finance," Oyelola said.

From working as a carpenter with his father in peri-urban Oyo Town to practising medicine in the United Kingdom (UK), Gabriel Oyelayo’s tale is a fascinating one.

In this exclusive chat with AllNews Nigeria's Bolanle Akinlade, Oyelayo talks about breaking barriers, rising beyond limits and boundaries and life as a Nigerian in the diaspora.

Gabriel Akanji Oyelayo was born 33 years ago in Oyo Town, Oyo State, Nigeria.

Gabriel OyelayoAbout Gabriel Oyelayo

I grew up in a family of four. I lost my mom at a very young age, leaving me with my dad and two siblings.

I am the eldest child and it was not easy for my dad to raise us.

Growing up in Oyo

I grew up in Oyo town in poverty. In Nigeria, poverty is prevalent and my family happens to be one of those who live below the poverty line.

While my dad never got any formal education, my mom had a bit of it but she died when we were young.

Dad was a skilled carpenter who was allowed to freelance in Federal Government Girls' College, Oyo.

I started going with him to assist with work at the school and it exposed me to quite a lot of things completely different from what I was used to.

I met a lot of educated people like teachers, nurses, doctors, engineers and others who were doing well for themselves. It was at that point my aspiration to be one of them started. 

Carpentry, Engineering or Medicine?

My decision to eventually study medicine was born out of the fact that I needed to choose a career path that would put food on the table for me and my family.

I decided I didn't want to graduate and still struggle to gain meaningful employment. I wanted a career that would pay well enough to look after my family.

Luckily for me, it was easy to work towards my goals because I'm quite intelligent and good in the core science courses and mathematics.

Engineering was also an option I considered but I opted for medicine because engineering is not that lucrative in Nigeria.

Charcoal for tuition

I attended public primary and secondary schools in Oyo town. I attended Baptist Primary School Oyo and proceeded to Ansar Ud Deen High School, Oyo.

I finished high school in 2004 and worked between 2004 and 2006. I was working as a carpenter and engaging in other menial jobs such as bricklaying and farming to saveup for school.

In those two years, I was able to get enough money for my first year of tuition. I also had enough to get myself a phone. 

I gained admission to study medicine at the prestigious Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife, Osun State.

In my subsequent years, I didn't struggle to pay my tuition since it was quite affordable. I however struggled to pay for accommodation because my dad did not have a regular income.

In addition to my accommodation struggle, I had challenges with feeding, clothing and textbooks.

Focusing on my studies became difficult because I had to worry about finance.

I had to look for a way out by selling charcoal. Doing this, I had to travel from school to Igbo-Ora, Oyo State to buy charcoal to sell in Lagos.

I did this for almost a year until I realised I was getting distracted in my studies.

Photo of Doctor Oyelayo at the school library almost got carried away by the money I was making to sustain myself and my family. I had to stop focusing on my studies.

Thankfully, I graduated with no extra year to further prolong the financial strain.

My background, my fuel after School 

Even though in this part of the world, a story like mine is not uncommon, I am however grateful that I got lucky to have successfully studied medicine. 

Ultimately, I am lucky to have gotten out of Nigeria because if I had remained in Nigeria, I would probably still be struggling with my finance. 

Gabriel Oyelayo as a medical doctor in NigeriaI am not where I want to be yet, but I'm happy where I am now, because there is progress.

My background was the drive I had for the successes I have attained so far in life and I am now grateful for it.

Medical practice in Nigeria

Before my relocation, I practised medicine in Nigeria for about 6 years. I moved to the United Kingdom in 2019.

I practised general medicine in Nigeria for 6 years after graduating in 2013.

I attempted to specialise but could not get any placement after applying across teaching hospitals in Nigeria. 

I had never been so frustrated in my life.

Relocation, the tough decision

My relocation to the UK in 2019 was not an easy decision for me to make, however, I am happy I chose this path because my dad is proud of me.

I was unable to do much for him while I was in Nigeria because the money I was making wasn't a lot and it was mostly channelled into my relocation.

Besides, I was footing the bill of three other people in addition to my immediate family.

This year, I have been able to build him a four-bedroom house and a car. He is proud of all of his children.

I even told him to stop the carpentry work but old habits die hard.

In tribute to dad, I am still a carpenter 

Photo of Doctor Gabriel and his dadMy dad trained as a Carpenter with his uncle. He had no former education. I learned the skill from my dad and assisted him with his work.

I started following him to assist him when I was about 11 and started making money ever since then.

I am still in the carpentry business in partnership with my brother who is into building construction in Lagos, Nigeria.

I even constructed the furniture in my first house in Nigeria. I know quite a lot about building because of my background and exposure. 

Like I mentioned earlier, I know a lot about bricklaying as well as aluminium work. I always have my toolbox handy and do all the carpentry work in my home.

Living and working in the UK

Doctor Gabriel in the UKWorking in the UK has availed me the opportunity to do a lot more for my family. I am just grateful to God for the ability to do something substantial for my dad because of the numerous sacrifices he made for my siblings and me.

I'm currently undergoing a three-year postgraduate training called 'General Practice'.

The UK doctor Vs. The Nigerian doctor

Some of my classmates that are still in Nigeria are yet to get a residency placement to enable them to progress in their careers.

Honestly, there is not much going on in Nigeria. The environment is not just attractive.

Money is one thing, having the opportunity to progress in your career is another. Someone like me who has no connection whatsoever would find things difficult. 

My getting admitted to study medicine in OAU was definitely by God's grace and merit because I didn't know anyone then.

The difference between medical practice in the United Kingdom and Nigeria is very wide.

In terms of knowledge, Nigerian doctors are quite knowledgeable. Nigerian doctors are very sound. We know the stuff. To put what you know into practical use is where the issue is.

As a doctor, when you know that a patient has a heart attack, there are various treatment options but if you don't have the facilities to do this, you become helpless.

The lack of facilities in Nigeria is a major difference. This limits what doctors can do for their patients. For those who care about the health of their patients, you can get easily frustrated practising medicine in Nigeria.

Doctors go on strike almost every other month in Nigeria, which builds up the frustrations that they have with the system.

It is not only about the pay, but also about having a wide range of opportunities. You would see so many doctors who cannot get into residency training to specialize. They work for so many years with nothing to show for it. 

I don't want that for myself and also don't want to raise my children in poverty. The way things were going for me in Nigeria, there was almost no way I would have turned my life around.

I might sound pessimistic, but I saw no light at the end of the tunnel. Things were getting worse that I had to make the painful decision to leave my dear country.

There are loads of opportunities to explore here in the UK than at home. As mentioned earlier, I got into the residency training program within one year of my relocation to the United Kingdom. in another year, I will become a specialist in my desired field.

Most of my colleagues from Nigeria are also doing very well here.

Yet, there is no place like home, home is Nigeria

I miss Nigeria a lot. I miss my dad, my siblings and my friends.

About coming back home, there is indeed no place like home so I cannot rule out the possibility of coming back to Nigeria.

It's just that things we hear about Nigeria are so scary and a lot of people just want to stay where they are safe.

While a lot of Nigerians in the diaspora would like to return to invest in the country, the incessant issue of insecurity is discouraging.

If you have a pleasant life abroad, why would you want to go subject yourself to torture in Nigeria? 

Despite the above, I plan to visit Nigeria every now and then because of my family. Nigeria is always going to be my home.

What would you change about Nigeria

As a people, we need to change our mindset and attitude. Until we stop celebrating corruption, Nigeria isn't going to get any better.

People need to be held accountable for their actions and I wish that can happen.

Culture shocks for a Nigerian in the UK

I can spend days talking about my cultural shock.

The first thing that was shocking to me is how organized everything is here.

There is dignity in labour. I landed my first job in the Northern Island and my cab driver had his own house with two of his children in Cambridge University.

The most shocking thing for me is how people are comfortable with living in seclusion. You might not even know your neighbour.

On my second day at my first house here, I went around to introduce myself to my neighbours and there were mixed reactions from them.

Even though most people are generally nice, I notice that mostly, they don't want to be bothered. I am still not used to that yet.

At work, people are generally more careful about their job. Everyone is trying to avoid issues.

Personal life

I am currently married. I got married about six years ago fresh out of university.

I have three kids now. A six-year-old boy, a three-year-old daughter and a nine-month-old girl.

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Bolanle Akinlade
Bolanle Akinlade

I am a diligent, innovative, and detail-oriented individual, who thrives in dynamic environments.

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