A Tribute To An Exceptional Engineer, Foluseke Somolu
PHONE calls at 2a.m are often ominous. And this was what I felt when Mr. Sadiq Ibrahim, Principal of Laureates College, Lagos called me in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, August 25, 2015. After struggling to pick up the phone, wondering who the hell was disturbing my sleep at that unholy hour, the agitated voice and the message was terse. “Mr Uwem, have you heard already.” What is it Sadiq? I queried. Hmmm, the Chairman has gone o,” he dropped the bombshell.
For an indeterminable time, I was just starring at the phone, trying to make out what he was trying to say. Of course, I knew it could only mean one chairman that we both knew. But gone? To where? How? The questions kept tumbling from my mind. I can’t remember if I said anything else after his message. All I remembered was that I called him again after about an hour seeking for details of what happened. Of course I knew that he was referring to Engr. Foluseke Somolu, the Chairman of the Board of Governors of Laureates College where, yours sincerely is a board member; but that he died was what I had all the questions tumbling from my mind for.
The last thing I was willing to hear at that point was what Mr. Sadiq told me. Yes, I knew Engr. Somolu was struggling with some health issues but I had concluded, since the last time we met in June, that the worst was over. He had brightened up and put on some weight; we even went out together to his barber’s shop for a haircut.
Over lunch that Sunday afternoon, we had teased and joked about everything. I remembered asking him what went on in his mind at the height of his sickness. He simply replied that he had expected the worst and that God just decided to extend his stay on earth. That was the quintessential engineer who had been my friend for over 18 years and represented everything that is decent, as far as I know. I glued to him like a leech and drank deep from his philosophical reflections and wisecracks. He showed me love and couldn’t be bothered about our age difference. He was a pillar and trusted, frank and dependable mentor which any growing and ambitious young man would want to have around. I often told my other friends that the Almighty God brought Somolu into my life for the various interventions which he brought to bear in whom I am today.
On his 60th birthday celebration, I wrote in the birthday card I gave to him “after God, my late father, you are the next person who have affected my life profoundly.” I meant it, and just like George Washington said “associate yourself with men of good quality, if you esteem your own reputation.”
In all my endeavours since I met him, the former President of the Nigerian Society of Engineers and former Senior Special Assistant to both President Olusegun Obasanjo and Umaru Yar’Adua on Power Reforms, has had an imprint in my life endeavour. As Editor of the defunct National Sportslink Newspaper, he was my veritable critic. He read through every edition and compiled every error both factual and grammatical slips including printer’s error. He called me and reeled out his observations, and called for more thoroughness. Of course, I often retorted, “how can I allow an Engineer to correct a Mass Communicator” wherein, we would go for a bet if another slip occurs. He often won the bet. This is just one of the numerous interventions he has had in my life. His imprints are very visible in my job movement, business endeavours and the numerous other pies I have my hands in.
Of course, I have also been his most virulent critic too. And he liked it. As General Manager, Transmission in NEPA, I often teased him that he didn’t transfer his thoroughness in seeing the errors in my newspaper to getting electricity for Nigerians. He often told me that if I had worked for a behemoth, a federal establishment like NEPA, I would have understood that an individual idea mean little or nothing if the head of the organisation or government does not have the will power to make things work.
This is true because when he was eventually pointed into the NEPA Technical Board by President Obasanjo in year 2000, he brought some ideas to bear on that committee and the result is the more than 11 integrated power stations we have across the country. And that also earned him the elevation to the office of Senior Special Assistant on Power Reform by former President Obasanjo and was rightly retained by the late President Umaru Yar’Adua until the hawks in that government then played their usual game and he had to leave.
But one thing you couldn’t take away from my late mentor was that he was very serious with whatever assignment he was saddled with or took upon himself to do. In all of the years I have known him, everything he did, including handling activities for his Alma Matter, Ibadan Grammar School, was always serious business for him. As Vince Lombardi observed, the quality of a person’s quality is in direct proportion to his commitment to excellence.
My consolation remains the fact that this godly man will find favour with his creator, and like it is often said, it is not how long one lives that matters but how well. I equally believe that my mentor left indelible marks in the sands of time through the way he lived. Adieu, my mentor.
Ankak, a journalist and public affairs analyst, lives in Lagos.