The first generation of architects belongs to about 30 indigenous architects according to NIA/ARCON register. The number one to which 001 is ascribed in the Nigeria Institute of Architects is – Architect Michael Olutusen Onafowokan. He is not just number one on this table as the first Nigerian Architect, but he was the first on the list of Town Planners to be the doyen of both professions.
To appreciate this fit, I will quote the former National President of the Nigerian Institute of Town Planners (Dr S.A. Olateru Olagbegi) on August 24″ 1991 as follows: Chief Michael Olutusen Onafowokan, you were: – The 1′ African Architect and automatically the 1″ Nigerian Architect; The 1 President of Nigerian Institute of Architect; The 1″ Fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Architects A Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects; A member of the Commonwealth Board of Architectural Education from 1966-1971.
A Pioneer Town Planner in Nigeria and Africa. Therefore, the 1″ President of Nigerian Institute of Town Planners, as well as 1′ Fellow of the Institute; The 1 government registered Town Planner in Nigeria and a member of the Royal Town Planning Institute, London; The President of Ibadan Tennis Club (1957-58 and 1960-1961), The 1 President of the Methodist Boys High School, Lagos; Representative of Nigeria at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (1957-1960).
THE MAN (LATE PA SIR ARC. M.O. ONAFOWOKAN) was born on Sunday, 1 December 1912 at Ikorodu. He attended many primary schools in Lagos and Ikorodu but most importantly Methodist Primary school, Ita Elewa, Ikorodu and St. Peter’s Primary school, Fiji-Ajele Street, Lagos. For his secondary school education, he attended Methodist Boys High School, Lagos from May 1930 and passed the Junior Cambridge in 1932.
Between 1933-and 1937 (5 years) he was in the Public Works Department (PWD) Technical School Lagos. After this, it was in 1938 that he was awarded a Civil Engineering Diploma. This paved way for him to start his modest working career as a junior technical officer in Public Works Department in Lagos. He was initially in the Drawing and Quantity Surveying Section of PWD from 1937-to 1939 before being moved to the Works and Building Section of the Ministry from 1939-to 1946.
“This is the peak of colonialism when no one believed that Nigerians were capable of understanding professional courses involving the highest level of technology and creativity, a contribution of science, art, sheer imagination directiveness. He also served in many other provinces in Nigeria and Cameroon as a Junior Technical Staff before going for further studies abroad between 1937-and 1942.
While working here (PwD) he attended the University Evening Classes in Lagos from 1942-to 1945 which assisted him in passing the University of London Matriculation Examination in 1940 He entered the Royal Technical College in 1946 to study Architecture and as a result of his brilliance, he was transferred to the University of Glasgow in 1947 for a degree course.
He got a Bachelor of Science in Architecture in 1952 (7 years).
In December 1953 he also got Post Graduate Diploma in Town Planning from Royal Technical College in Glasgow and was soon awarded MBE. During his student days, he supplemented his limited financial allowance and practical experience by working part-time in an architectural office between 1947-and 1950 (4 years).
This is an expression of determination and hard work which he combined to get a flying colour performance at school and thereafter in practice. He returned to Nigeria in December 1953 to start work in the Old Western Region of Nigeria (currently part of Lagos State, Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ekiti, Ondo, Edo and Delta States) as a Town Planning Officer. In 1954, he was in the Ministry of Lands and Housing in Ibadan and later at the Ministry of Transport. He retired on November 30, 1968, as the Regional Chief Architect with arousing thanksgiving service on 1st December 1968 which also marked his 56 birthday.
Later he went into practice in the name of ONAFOWOKAN CITYSCAPE GROUP That OCG survives to date, almost 30 years after his passing, is a testament to the pedigree of the business venture that he established more than fifty years ago.
He is deeply religious and holds firmly to his Methodist Christian faith to the end, and was awarded Knight of John Wesley in 2021
(Post Humus). He was happily married to Late Chief (Mrs.) Jonna Adetola Onafowokan with children, one of which is the Principal Architect of the Onafowokan CityScape Group till this day (Arc. Ayokunle Onafowokan) and is in the process of being passed to the third generation of Onafowokans.
Professionally, Chief Onafowokan achieved more than many people can achieve, given several lifetimes. As the first Nigerian architect, many buildings and projects bear the imprint of his design. These are too numerous to be mentioned here.
Most significant of his professional achievements that many of us here can easily relate to is the role he played in the construction of lkorodu Road. There are no official figures to tell us what the daily vehicular and human traffic on Ikorodu Road is. but one thing that no one can dispute is the doggedness and determination of the individual who ensured that the road was built, Chief M O Onafowokan. The idea to build the road was mooted by a group of patriotic Ikorodu citizens when the lagoon tragedy of 1942 took the lives of hundreds of people.
In a tribute to Nigeria’s first architect on the occasion of his 70th birthday, the late Chief S I Gbadamosi dwelt at length and in great detail about how Chief Onafowokan led the charge; and this was even before he went abroad to study. He recalled that MO, as they called him, organised and led the team that did the first rough exploration of the 13 odd miles between Ikorodu and Yaba, by foot! In Chief Gbadamosi’s words, “The team started at Yaba about 7 am, passing through the snake-infested bush and dangerous swamp. He was relentless until we arrived at Ikorodu at about 3 pm. He plotted and arranged for the rooting of the entire length of the road.
That done, he used his influence to interest his boss, the Deputy Director of Works, Major Walker in the project. Major Walker was then instrumental in getting the Commissioner of the Colony to accompany the team on an inspection of the route which culminated in the Federal Government constructing lkorodu Road.
Needless to say, the construction of lkorodu Road, apart from connecting Lagos, a port city and a centre of commerce to the rest of the South-West of the country. Arc. M.O Onafowokan (as a man) was humble, kind, humane, generous almost to a fault. He demanded not less than high standards in all (either at the administrative or practice level).
He was a great administrator dedicated to duty with untiring interest. He was awarded the National Honour of the Order of the Niger (0ON) in 1982 in recognition of his meritorious services and selfless contributions to the country-Nigeria.
The diligence with which he served the Institute is always recounted by the many who benefitted first-hand from his wisdom and his expert steering of the Institute when he served as its first president, first fellow and life member of the Architects Registration Council of Nigeria. He left us big shoes to fill, but as a good leader and mentor, he trained us well. We will honour his legacy.
His legacy is legendary in the architectural profession in Nigeria. He was a pacifist, a father to all and sundry with inexhaustible wisdom and loyalty to his noble professions. He was a dedicated leader who inspired and led by example; a man of principles good and frank adviser. It was in this strength that he was called “Baba” by all (professional colleagues, national and internationally). He died in 1991 at the age of 79 years.
THE PRACTICE OF LATE PA SIR ARC. M.O. ONAFOWOKAN
The training of this legend from draught man to pupil architect and finally to Architect was rooted in civil engineering, quantity surveying, town planning, land surveying in addition to the act of designing; prepared him for the multiple sides he played in the practice of architecture in Nigeria. He spent five (5) years in the PWD training school, another seven (7) in Glasgow study architecture and one (1) year for postgraduate studies in Town Planning. Eight (8) years of jobs in PND (1938-1945) and four (4) years on part-time jobs (1947-1950).
This lengthy academic practice, interwoven with inter-disciplinary practices built-up the solid foundation of Arc i. of Onafowokan’s architectural practice. Therefore, in the practice, he belonged to the blocks of Old architect-administrator and architect-designer. The first part will cover the years he spent at Western Region Service (1953-1968 i.e. 15 years) while the second part will be on the practice through communal efforts to provide linkage from Ikorodu to Lagos, He with another member of the ijebu Road Construction committee trekked through the 13-mile swamp route and by construction put this route into usage for pedestrians and motorcyclists before it was taken over by Federal Government.
The 1942 Owolowo Motor launch disasters were the motivating strength of this legend In this communal service It is on record that before 1942 and until 1952, the only linkage between Ikorodu and Lagos was by water transport, (Canoe or Motor launch).
THE MONUMENTS OF THE PRACTICE
As an architectural administrator, Western Regional Secretariat Ibadan, Cocoa House in Ibadan and some blocks at Obafemi Awolowo University at file Ife should be regarded as monuments. As an architect designed the works of art in some Methodist Churches at lkorodu, Agbeni (lbadan), Ogbomosho, Otapete (lesha), Holy Trinity Church at Aiyepe, African Bethel Church at Irene Road Ikorodu should be regarded as the monument. The religious affirmative of this legend might have brought out the best of him in course of the design of these churches.
Communal services as an architect, Lagos-Ikorodu road remains the monument of that part of the practice. The development of Town and Country planning laws, the establishment of Town Planning Authorities at the Local government level as well as development schemes such as for Ibadan, Ikenne, Ikeja, Epe, Akure, Sapele, Warri, Alesha Oru, Okigwe, Oguta, Afikpo and Ohafia are monuments. He was very meticulous in detailing drawing boards. These can be seen in the production drawings of the Ikeja General Hospital, lkorodu General Hospital and the O & T Buildings.
The artistic language of this legend is purely functionalism of the British brand i.e. “forms follow function optimum of every usable space. Moreover, the usage of vertical concrete fins as a sunshade (functionally) and as a tectonic element in the architectural composition is the personal fingerprint he left in the architectural development in Nigeria.
This can be seen in most of the churches building his office on Lagos Road at Ikorodu and in Obafemi Awolowo University Ife practice of this legend, the need for a functional space goes beyond the two-dimension but also into three-dimensional as the length, breadth and heights allocated for any architectural space were justified.
In-office and residential spaces, the module 3 metres headroom was common while in congregation halls as in the case of Ikorodu town Hall and Johnson Memorial Methodist Church at Ita-Elewa in Ikorodu, they were in double or more modules of 3 metres. The compositional development of this designed object often blends with the site.
The shape of the Methodist church at Ita-Elewa is a witness to this fact. The multiple levels of the blocks in lkorodu General Hospital form multiple levels due to the topography of the site being a product of blending his two professions (planning and design) in architectural composition. he is a fund of asymmetry compositions. The tower as in the churches at Ita-Elewa Aiyepe and Ikorodu Town Hall was used to break the symmetry.