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Nigerians in History: Elizabeth Abimbola Awoliyi

Elizabeth Abimbola Awoliyi…a woman that is known for women empowerment and the first woman to practice medicine in Nigeria.


Elizabeth Abimbola Awoliyi, MBE, OFR (née Akerele), was born in Lagos to the family of David and Rufina Akerele in 1910. She commenced her education at St. Mary’s Catholic School, Lagos from where she proceeded to Queen’s College, Lagos. She earned her medical degree in 1938 from the University of Dublin, Cafreys College. She graduated from Dublin with first-class honours, including a medal in Medicine and distinction in Anatomy.

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Awoliyi: From a Graduate to a Primer

But more than just being a graduate, she was to become a primer in so many ways. For example, she was the first female physician to practice in Nigeria. She was also the first West African woman to earn a license of Royal Surgeon in Dublin. In 1938, Elizabeth Awoliyi became the second West African woman to qualify as an orthodox-medicine trained physician after Agnes Yewande Savage who graduated from medical school in 1929. She was the second president of the National Council of Women’s Societies of Nigeria from 1964 until her death in 1971. She was also a member of the Royal College of Physicians (United Kingdom) and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecology and a Diplomate of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.

She returned to Nigeria and became a gynaecologist and junior medical officer at the Massey Street Hospital Lagos. She later became a chief consultant and Medical Director at that hospital, holding the latter position from 1960 through 1969. Also, the Federal Ministry of Health in Nigeria appointed her as a senior specialist gynaecologist and obstetrician in 1962. Some of her awards are:

  • Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE)
  • Iya Abiye of Lagos, Iyalaje of Oyo Empire
  • Nigerian National Honor – Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic (OFR).

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Awoliyi has at least, the following to her name:

  • A novel, Return to Life by her son Tunji Awoliyi, which is dedicated to her.
  • Special mention in the sixth chapter of the Nigerian Heroines of the 20th Century, a book on Nigerian heroes and heroines; as well as other issues in citizenship education by Godwin Chukwuemeka Ezeh.
  • A hospital, ‘Dr. Abimbola Awoliyi Memorial Hospital’, which is located in Lagos Island, Lagos, Nigeria.

Philanthropy, Business and National Council of Women Societies

Elizabeth Awoliyi was the pioneer president of the Lagos branch of the National Council of Women Societies and a member of the national committee of the organization. As a member, she contributed to various policies and activities of the women’s organization. She negotiated for the gift of a national headquarters located at Tafawa Balewa Square and was a consultant to the organization’s family planning clinic which later became the planned parenthood federation of Nigeria. She succeeded Kofo Ademola as the second president of the NCWS in 1964.

Elizabeth Awoliyi also dabbled in private enterprise – owning a 27- acre poultry and orange farm in Agege, Lagos and becoming director of the commercial medical store in Lagos.

With regards to leadership and philanthropy, she was very active in the Holy Cross Cathedral Lagos, where she became the first president of the Holy Cross Parish Women Council. Others include:

  • Motherless babies Home Governing Council
  • Business and Professional Women’s Association (president)
  • Child Care Voluntary Association (President)
  • Lagos Colony Red Cross
  • National Council of Women’s Society (Also became the first President of the Lagos branch)

Later Life

Dr Elizabeth Abimbola Awoliyi died on 14 September 1971, she was 61 years old.


Godwin Chukwuemeka Ezeh (2004). Nigerian heroes and heroines: and other issues in citizenship education. Mike Social Press, 2004. p. 97.

 Tabitha Admin (12 March 2015). “Celebrating African Women in Medicine”. Tabitha Medical Center.

 “Return to Life – Tunji Awoliyi – Google Books”.

“Nigerian heroes and heroines: and other issues in citizenship education – Godwin Chukwuemeka Ezeh – Google Books”

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Jeremiah is a scholar and a poet. He has a keen eye for studying the world and is passionate about people. He tweets at @jeremiahaluwong.

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