By Dele Akinsola
Nigeria’s construction industry has lost one of its first set of professors, Olubayo Timothy Olateju, an icon, exemplar in academia and Howard and Purdue Universities-trained world-class construction engineer and scholar.
Just in 2014, Prof. Olateju chaired the World Engineering Conference on Sustainable Infrastructure in Abuja.
Born in 1944 in Ibadan into the family of the late Pa Moses Olateju, a carpenter, and the late Olaigbe Esther, a pap seller, the don authored, co-authored and edited many books and over 150 journal articles and technical reports.
Olateju was featured in renowned world publications — “Who is Who in the World’’ (Marquis World Listing, USA, 2000) and “Who is Who in the World of Construction Engineering’’ (India, 1994).
Amid buzz, pomp and ceremony, the body of Olateju, a fellow of Nigeria Society of Engineers, Nigeria Institute of Structural Engineers and Nigeria Institute of Building (NIOB), was interred in the ancient metropolitan city of Ibadan on Saturday, December 11, 2015 after a funeral service at the University of Ibadan’s Chapel of the Resurrection.
Aged 72, Olateju, a professor of Construction Engineering and Management at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State and two-term commissioner in Oyo State in different dispensations, made a successful foray into politics.
At the age of 38, he was appointed Commissioner for Special Duties by the late Gov. Bola Ige in 1982 and 16 years after, he was inaugurated as Commissioner for Agriculture in the administration of the late Gov. Lam Adesina (1999-2003).
At various times he served as Commissioner for Lands and Housing as well as helmsman in the Ministry of Establishment and Training, a pointer to his political savvy.
Until he passed on November 19, 2015, Prof. Olateju was the Assistant Secretary-General, Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE) a.k.a “Igbimo Agba Yoruba’’, chaired by the retired nonagenarian Maj.-Gen. Adeyinka Adebayo.
Unperturbed by his poor background, Olateju worked hard to gain full scholarships to study at the American universities, a testimony to his exceptional intellect and brilliance.
On professional and academic spheres, he had a distinguished career in OAU, Ile-Ife as he held sway as the pioneer Head of Department of Building and after his retirement in 2000, Olateju supervised post-graduate students at OAU, Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Ogbomoso and the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta.
He also served as external examiner for both undergraduate and post-graduate degree examinations at many Nigerian universities and polytechnics, including Universities of Lagos, Ilorin, Anambra State University, Nnamidi Azikiwe University, Kwara State Polytechnic and Kano State Polytechnic among others.
In addition, the professor was an examiner for a number of professional courses of the Nigerian Institute of Building and the Nigerian Society of Engineers.
As a designer and constructor in multiple specialties in civil engineering, Olateju pioneered laudable policy initiatives in the industry, including the development of the first ever National Construction Policy, the National Policy on the Environment and the National Building Code.
He also served as the Registrar of NIOB where he worked assiduously to see to the establishment of the Council of Registered Builders of Nigeria (CORBON).
A proud recipient of Yaba College of Technology’s Distinguished Alumni Award, Olateju’s enjoyed pastime such as politics, reading, travelling and agriculture.
Early this year, he visited his alma mater, Howard University, U.S., and the famous Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum in Atlanta, Georgia with his wife, Stella, ostensibly to bid them good bye.
Interestingly and premonitorily, the celebrated don had on November 19, the morning he was to be discharged faced the “Grim Reaper’’ after his breakfast and prayed for doctors and nurses at the ward of the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan.
And the moment came: He got on the bed and in a seated position, took his Bible to read — he breathed his last while the cup of tea in his hands fell off attracting the attention of doctors and nurses who attempted to revived him to no avail.
The previous day, Olateju had told his wife of 40 years and his daughter, Jumoke, who had prayed as usual for his healing on his bed:
“You people should stop praying for my healing, but should be thanking God for my healing because I’m completely healed; come to a higher realm and stop operating at your low level’’.
To another caller on phone on Wednesday night before he passed on at 8.00 a.m. on Thursday, he said: “Don’t bother to come and see me here. You will not meet me because I’m totally healed and will be discharged tomorrow morning. Just continue to thank God for my healing. Let us meet at HOME!’’
At the funeral service, the U.I. Chapel Chaplain, the Very Rev. T.O. Olatunji, noted that God empowered Olateju to do great exploits in politics, professional calling and in the body of Christ, describing him as a man who feared and served God.
He recalled that the last song he sang to his daughter, Dr Adetoun Olateju, across the seas on phone on Wednesday night signaled his imminent departure. “I have joy like a river, joy like a river, joy like a river in my soul … joy like a river in my soul.’’
The cleric urged Christians to live ready and reconcile with their God before it was too late.
Tributes and condolences poured in for the family, including the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who wrote: “May his soul rest in perfect peace.’’
Others are NSE, NIOB, FUNAAB, Oyo State Government, Ekiti State Deputy Governor, Dr Kolapo Olusola (Olateju’s ex-student at OAU) and league of former commissioners in the state, individuals, the clergy and the academia.
Chief Idowu Sofola, the Secretary General of YCE wrote: “Prof. Olateju, a gentleman, an erudite scholar and a patron of Yoruba people … He was an embodiment of the noble ideals of the Yoruba nation at home and in Diaspora. A pillar of strength, reliable, and ever dependable … Despite being emeritus professor of international repute, he remained steadfastly approachable. He will be sorely missed and filling his shoes will be an arduous task’’.
FUNAAB also extolled him: “He lived a fulfilled life of service to the engineering profession and to humanity. An inspiring senior, a father-figure, colleague, great mentor and leading light in his specialized field, he was head of department till June 2015 and led the department through two successful accreditations. He has left indelible footprints in the sands of time, he has left this world better than he met it’’.
His wife, Stella, said of him: “An exemplary husband, you left me when I did not expect. You were a reliable, loving, trusted friend, husband and father’’.
Dignitaries who bade Olateju good bye include the wife of Ekiti Deputy Governor, Mrs Janet Olusola, Ambassador (Dr) Oluremi Sogunro, Prof. I.A. Adeyemi, Vice-Chancellor, Bells University, Ota, Prof. Ayodeji Olukoju, Vice-Chancellor, Caleb University, Imota, Lagos State, representatives of FUNAAB, OAU, LAUTECH vice-chancellors, YCE members and retired Assistant Inspector-General of Police, Rev. Ralph Osanaiye.
Well, from the tributes and encomiums, there is no doubt that Olateju lived and died a great icon and like the great 18th century writer,
William Shakespare puts it in his book, “Julius Ceasar’’, “When beggars die, there are no comets seen. The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes …’’, so let it be with Olateju. (NANFEATURES