A Tribute To Foluseke Abidemi Somolu (1946 – 2015)

By Frank N. Okafor   |   06 November 2015   |   10:45 pm  


ENGINEER Seke Somolu (FAEng, FIET, FNSE, FNIM) died peacefully on Monday, August 24, 2015. He was endowed with great Power Engineering knowledge as well as the art of passing it to the next person, be it a student, a younger colleague or just a passer-by.

I stumbled onto this intellectual enigma during the course of my PhD research in the late 1980s. I was investigating the defunct National Electric Power Authority’s approach to Load Frequency Control (LFC) and through enquiries found myself in his office at Marina Headquarters. He was Director of Protection, Metering and Control (PC&M). He painstakingly took me on an intellectual journey of the subject matter before giving me valuable reading materials all of which I still keep till today.

Convinced that his knowledge deserved to be shared, I quickly invited him to come and lecture our final year students on Power System Operation in 1990. He arrived UNILAG at the appointed evening casually dressed in a flying blue shirt and a grey coloured trouser with leather sandals to match. He drove a 504 saloon car. By their body language, the students did not quite approve of the simplicity. However, when the lecture started, a would be one hour engagement was aborted by nightfall after over three hours. Questions came from all corners of the room while the answers were loaded with even more knowledge. The man stood so tall both in physical appearance and Power Engineering knowledge.

since then we became intellectually bonded till he breathed his last. But the bond was ever lasting through continued research and publications. May I also add that the bond extended to the social realm because the first set of photographs of my 1990 wedding event were those taken by Engr. Somolu.

In 2005 when he was appointed Senior Special Assistant to the then President Olusegun Obasanjo on Power Sector Reform and Coordinator of the NIPP Project, he invited me as his Special Assistant (SA). That opportunity greatly exposed me to the power sector especially system structure and dynamics. He was a great boss who made everybody feel as if he was just an ordinary team leader. His humility and forthrightness were unequalled. He believed that an engineer should say the truth about any project at all times. Not a surprise he told his boss, Obasanjo, that none of the green NIPP power plants would be ready for commissioning before the end of May 2007. This was against the empty promises being made by other members of the advisory team. The rest is now history. He was also quick in correcting the government of the late President Umaru Yar’adua who claimed that 16 billion USD had been spent on the power sector that only 6.3 billion USD had been spent. His stance earned him a sack. He was later vindicated by a committee set up by the same government. However, the damage had been done, but he remained his graceful self.

His achievements as SSA to Obasanjo were monumental. He changed the original concept of the NIPP project from small power plants to capacities of hundreds of megawatts, expanded the initial generation scope to include Transmission and Distribution improvements so as to avoid trapped generation capacity as well as prevented the use of on-line tap changers on generator transformers thus saving four million USD and equipment malfunction.

In 2009 when I became Head of Electrical and Electronics Engineering Department, I noticed that our Power System Protection teaching needed some life both at the post and under graduate levels. I approached him to join our faculty and he graciously accepted. On his merit, UNILAG appointed him Distinguished Fellow (Professorial Cadre). Prior to his acceptance, the graduate class in Protection recorded 4 to 5 students. This was good for him since, like any other teacher, he was scared of marking. However, two weeks into his handling the class, student enrolment swelled to 45. I had to apologise to him. Later in 2013, he was appointed chairman of the Technical Working Group (TWG) that produced the Nigerian Electricity Supply and Installation Standards (NESIS) by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC). The document has become law.

During the build up to what I may now refer to his last months on earth, he was concerned about two things: (i) the continuity of Power Engineering Research using his vast library and Reading Materials and (i) the Publishing of his two books on “Transformers” and “Philosophy of Power System Protection” respectively. The two books are with me for review. I hereby pledge that those two wishes will be pursued with vigour and actualised.

Finally, may I submit that if measured by his contribution to Power Engineering knowledge, one would have said “Oga Seke (as I fondly call him) go and rest, you have over paid your dues”. But we are insatiable.

Meanwhile, there are other commitments to his amiable wife Dr. Mrs. Olatokumbo Somolu FAEng, children and grand children. In the circumstance, our solace lies in the words of the psalmist which says that “the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them. In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be an affliction, and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace.”
Adieu my mentor, remain in peace.

*Okafor is a Professor of Power and Control Engineering, University of Lagos.

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