Prof Onaiwu Ogbomo: On Leprosy, Missionaries and the Colonialist Mindset

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Prof Onaiwu Wilson Ogbomo of the Africana Studies programme at Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, gave a seminar on the topic ‘Leprosy Control in Colonial Nigeria: A Social History’ on Tuesday, January 17, 2017 at Drapers Hall.

Under the Chairmanship of Prof  A.O. Olutayo of the Department of Sociology, University of Ibadan, attendance at the seminar was drawn from a broad range of departments in the University, including medicine, sociology, history, as well as archaeology and anthropology.
The topicality of Prof Ogbomo’s lecture in the light of the current epidemiological challenges posed by Ebola and Lassa fever made for an insightful discussion.


During the colonial period in Nigeria, leprosy was a dreaded disease. Leprosy patients for a long time could not find a solution to their illness. In the face of this dim reality, missionary groups came to the rescue of the patients. Missionaries were drawn into leprosy control owing to both the negligence of the colonial authorities and the demands by leprosy patients that missionaries attend to their afflictions.

This research paper explores the factors which prompted the establishment of a leprosy control program in colonial Nigeria. The nature of the colonial mindset and the contributions of missionary groups are explored. The paper also explores the reaction of Africans to the medical policies of missionaries and colonial officials. Medical staff, local leaders, leprosy sufferers and their families and friends, negotiated a new set of understandings of local and regional space, as well as ownership of healthcare resources, in order to help leprosy patients.

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