The Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Aro, Abeokuta, Nigeria, came into existence in 1954; but its progenitor, then an asylum, now called Lantoro Annex, came into existence on the 13th of April, 1944. This was when 13 health attendants were transferred from the Yaba Asylum, Lagos, to open the Lantoro Institution with five mentally ill patients. These were Niegrian soldiers repatriated from the Burma war front during the Second World War. Lantoro was a former Local Government Prison which was taken over, first by the Military, and later by the then Colonial Medical Department.
In January 1946, the first civilian patients were admitted into Lantoro. Later on in the same year, criminal patients who were adjudged to be mentally ill were also admitted into Lantoro, on the order of the courts in accord with the Lunancy Ordinance. The Lantoro Institution soon became over populated and a decision was taken to establish a well-equipped hospital for mental and nervous diseases.
In 1948, through an arrangement made by the late Dr. (Later Sir) Samuel Manuwa, Deputy Director of Medical Services, Western Provinces of Nigeria, the present site of Aro Neuropsychiatric Hospital, sitting on an expansive 732 acres of land was acquired with the assistance of the then Alake of Egbaland, Abeokuta, the late Oba (Sir) Oladapo Ademola II.
Though, as far back as the late 1930’s, the present site of Aro Neuropsychiatric Hospital had been labeled “Site for Mental Hospital”, it was not until 1954 that the Aro Complex, the main hospital which is about 18 kilometers from Lantoro Annex, was begun by the doyen of psychiatry in Nigeria and Africa, the late Professor Thomas Adeoye Lambo (OFR), upon his return to Nigeria, having completed his course of study in psychiatry at the University of Birmingham. He worked alongside Mr. Leonard Oliver, the then Chief Nursing Superintendent, and other nurses like Mr. Owodimilehin, Mr. Sodunke and so on.
The defunct Western Region of Nigeria managed the hospital until 1976, when the region was split into three, namely, Ogun, Ondo and Oyo States. The Federal Government took over the hospital and set up a board to oversee it, along with two other psychiatric hospitals at the time, namely: Psychiatric Hospital, Yaba, Lagos and Psychiatric Hospital, Uselu, Benin City. Decree 92 of 1979 was promulgated in October 1979 to back the Board. The same decree formally declared Aro Complex as an affiliate of the University College Hospital, the teaching hospital of the University of Ibadan, Ibadan.
This hospital, then known as an asylum, was first administered by the late Dr. Cameron, who was designated as the “Hospital Superintendent”. After him, other heads of the institution since inception include:
- Professor T. A. Lambo (1954 - 1963)
- Professor T. Asuni (1963 - 1976)
- Dr. J. A. Oluwole (1976-1978)
- Professor J. C. Ebie (1981-1983)
- Professor B. O. Osuntokun (1983-1985)
- Professor M. O. Akindele (1985-1993)
- Professor O. A. Sijuwola (1993-2001)
- Dr. (Mrs.) T. A. Adamson (2001-2009)
- Dr A.O Ogunlesi (2009-2013)
- Dr A.O Akinhanmi (2014-till date).
Came into Limelight in the 1960s'
The world recognition of the hospital came about during the pioneering efforts of the late Professor Thomas Adeoye Lambo (OFR), when he innovated, way back in 1960s, the 'Aro Village System' of treating the mentally ill. The thrust of this system was a community participatory system of treatment of the mentally ill that involved psychiatric professionals, patients' relatives and co-tenants, neighbours and the community where the patients were admitted.
This treatment paradigm was achieved by creating the “Aro Village System” a few kilometers from Aro Hospital, where patients were admitted into “normal” houses with other tenants living alongside patients and their relatives. The principle of the village system was subsequently adapted all over the world and virtually opened the hitherto locked gates of psychiatric hospitals all over the world.
Filling a Gap in the late 1970s'
In 1978, a visiting team of the World Health Organization (WHO) Consultants recommended the development of the Aro Neuropsychiatric Hospital Complex as the headquarters of a national and regional centre for research and training in mental health, neuro-psychiatry, psychiatric nursing, clinical psychology and related disciplines in bio-behavioural sciences. The premises for this recommendation were that there was a need for a focal strategy that will seek both African and external resources to permit the immediate development of the high level facilities, necessary to make accelerated impact on training of health personnel, conduct of research and clinical services delivery.
The development of Aro as a national and regional mental health resource centre was supported by the Federal Military Government headed by General Olusegun Obasanjo (GCFR), as being entirely consistent with national health priorities and Nigeria’s policy to play a leadership role in Africa, the then focus of Nigerian’s foreign policy.
WHO Collaborating Centre in 1979
In August 1979, following the consent of the Board and the Federal Ministry of Health, the WHO designated the Aro Complex as a Collaborating Centre for Research and Training in Mental Health. With assistance from the WHO, a team of expert consultants in neuro-psychiatry, psychology, sociology, anthropology and psychiatric nursing visited Nigeria in 1980 and, in collaboration with Nigerian colleagues, recommended a detailed plan of work for the Aro Complex.
This included the setting up of a national Neuro-Psychiatric Institute, which will initially serve as an integral part of the Aro Complex, but eventually will serve as a structure to incorporate other centres of significance in the mental health specialty elsewhere in Nigeria, and in other African countries. The plan of work was accepted by the Federal Government which rapidly moved to initiate the development of the Aro Complex, especially the hospital part to provide high level clinical services which are required in an institution designed for advanced training and research on mental health and related disciplines.
TREATNET Resource Centre
In 2006, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), in collaboration with the European Union, designated the Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Aro as its TREATNET Resource Centre, for Nigeria and the West African Sub-region. Our Drug Abuse Treatment, Education and Research (DATER) Unit provides drug treatment and rehabilitation services, using a treatment model based on 'Complete Abstinence' from all mood altering drugs.
We provide a comprehensive and multi-disciplinary service for the assessment, treatment and rehabilitation of drug dependent persons. We also provide training opportunities for all cadres of professionals involved in drug abuse treatment and rehabilitation. The unit is also actively involved in research especially aimed at improving service delivery.
The title, ‘Provost’, was recommended by the WHO to reflect the status of Aro Complex as an “Institute of Psychiatry”, training of health personnel and research activities as primary functions. The development of the 'institute status' of the complex has, however, been hampered by insufficient funding. And this led to the establishment of the Aro Endowment Fund, which was launched April 14, 1984, by the then Provost and Medical Director, Professor B. O. Osuntokun (NNMA, OFR), in a campaign for extra-governmental budgetary funds, to enable Aro maximally perform its tripartite functions of research, training and clinical service, as spelt out in the plan of work for the Aro Complex. The formal launch had as its Chief Launcher, the late Chief MKO Abiola, with the Alake of Egbaland, Oba Oyebade Lipede I, as Chairman.
At present, there are still ongoing efforts to steadily and assiduously develop the planned “Institute” status of the complex.