Late Arc. Michael Olutusen Onafowokan was a legendary and well-seasoned Architect, Engineer, Surveyor, Urban Planner and Designer of all time.
He was the doyen of Architecture and the first Architect in Nigeria. His training from Draughtsman to Pupil Architect and finally to Architect was deeply rooted in Civil Engineering, Quantity Surveying, Town Planning, Land Surveying and Act of Designing, which prepared him for the multiple sides he played in the practice of Architecture in Nigeria.
Late Arc. Micheal Olusetan Onafowokan was born in Ikorodu on the 1st day of December, 1912. He began his early education at the Methodist Primary School, Ita Elewa, Ikorodu and completed his primary school career at the St. Peter’s Primary School, Faji-Ajele Street, Lagos.
He proceeded to Methodist Boys High School, Lagos for his Secondary School Education and then passed the Junior Cambridge in 1932. he attended the Public Works Department (PWD) Technical School Lagos between 1933-1937, after which he was awarded a Civil Engineering Diploma in 1938.
This paved way for him to start his modest working career as a junior technical officer in the Public Works Department in Lagos as he was initially in the Drawing and Quantity Surveying Section of PWD from 1937-1939 before he was moved to the Works and Building Section of the Ministry where he worked from 1939 – 1946.
While working in (PWD) he attended the University Evening Classes in Lagos from 1942-1945 which assisted him in passing the University of London Matriculation Examination in 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 and in restiveness”.
He also served in many other provinces in Nigeria and in Cameroon as a Junior Technical Staff before going for further studies abroad.
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 for a degree course. He earned himself a Bachelor of Science degree in Architecture in 1952.
In addition, he also got Post Graduate Diploma in Town Planning from Royal Technical College in Glasgow in December 1953.
During his days as a student, he supplemented his limited financial allowance and practical experience by working part time in an architectural office between 1947-1950.
This is an expression of determination and hardworking which he combined together to get a flying-color performance at school and thereafter in practice.
He returned back to Nigeria in December 1953 and resumed work in the Old Western Region of Nigeria as a Town Planning Officer and also worked at the Ministry of Lands and Housing in Ibadan and later at the Ministry of Transport.
As an architect-administrator in civil service, the bulk of his works were project management from drawing board to construction unto maintenance. As the Regional Chief Architect, (at the peak of his civil service career) and the most Senior Planning cum Architect officer in the region in the 1950’s and 1960’s, the achievement of the Western Regional Government in physical planning and development were not far from his input.
This includes Western Regional Secretariat in Ibadan (House of Parliament/Legislative Chambers, The Premier Office, Fire Station and Offices), the Cocoa House in Ibadan, Investment House in Lagos, the Housing cum Industrial Estates of Ilupeju, Ikeja, Bodija in Ibadan and many more.
He with some members of the “Ijebu Road Construction Committee” were responsible for the construction of the Ikorodu-Lagos Road before it was taken over by the Federal Government, as 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).
He was very meticulous in detailing at drawing boards. These can be seen in the production drawings of the Ikeja General Hospital, Ikorodu General Hospital and that of P & T Building 4.
Late Arc. Micheal Olusetan Onafowokan was the backbone of the Association of Nigerian Students of Architecture (ANSA) in London in the 1950’s before he returned home.
In 1958, he was again the backbone of the Nigerian Architects Study Group which organized the detailed planning for the formal launching of the Nigerian Institute of Architects (NIA) in 1960.
His activities at professional level deepened his practice. He was the President of this study group for 2 years and that of NIA for 6 consecutive years thereafter until 1966 when he stepped aside for others.
He represented NIA in many international professional conferences and seminars e.g. he was in Malta in 1965 in the first conference of the Commonwealth Association of Architects (CAA) and was active in subsequent conferences of the CAA in New Delhi, India (1967), Lagos (1969), Sydney, Australia (1971), Ottawa, Canada (1973), York, England (1976) and so on.
He served on the Commonwealth Board of Architectural Education (CBAE) for many years. He was so dedicated to the course of the Institute that in all the 8 years he was returned unopposed as the President at every annual election.
Thereafter, he remained an active member of the Council of NIA and willingly served on many Committees of the Institute (a rare commodity thereafter).
At professional level, he contributed immensely to the development of architectural education in Nigeria. He served as one of the first two external examiners whom NIA sent to the premier school of architecture in Nigeria (Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria).
As at 1991 when the legend passed on, not less than 15 schools of architecture were in place (both in Universities and Polytechnics). His influence through the Institute in addition to the Civil Service and his personal practice were felt by many who came in contact with him either directly or indirectly.
He retired on November 30, 1968 as the Regional Chief Architect with a rousing thanksgiving service on 1st December 1968 which also marked his 56th birthday and later went into practice with the name ONAFOWOKAN CITYSCAPE GROUP.
As architect-designer in private practice, the bulk of his work were conceptualization, preparation of drawings, co-ordination of other professional, site management of projects etc.
Arc. Micheal Olutusen Onafowokan (as a man) was humble, kind, humane, generous almost to a fault. He demanded not less than high standards in all (either at administrative or practice level). He was a great administrator dedicated to duty with untiring interest.
He was awarded the National honor of the Order of the Niger (OON) in 1982 in recognition of his meritorious services and selfless contributions to the country – Nigeria. He was deeply religious and holds firmly to his Methodist Christian faith to the end.
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).
He was 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, a good and frank adviser.
It was in his strength that he was called “Baba” by all (professional colleagues, nationally and internationally).
He died in 1991 at the age of 79 years.