“The righteous perish, and no one ponders it in his heart; devout men are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death,” Isaiah 57: 1&2 (new men’s devotional bible).
It was on Wednesday August 16th 2017 at about 11am that I received a text message from a professional colleague informing me of the demise of Engr. Emmanuel Oluwafemi Awoyinfa, on Tuesday August 15th 2017, a polished and decent man, a co-founder of NSCHE, the pioneer National Publicity Secretary of NSCHE, a noble and humble Nigerian, a man of honour and wisdom, and the President Nigerian Society of Chemical Engineers never had!
I first met Olu at Unilever Nig. Ltd (then Lever Brothers Nigeria Ltd) around January 1968 having just been employed as a Technical Manager-in-training. I was struck by his sense of decency and nationalism, as someone who had seen racial slurs in the United Kingdom where he sojourned for four years and graduated in B.Sc Hons in Chemical Engineering at West Ham College of Science and Technology, University of London in July 1967.
Olu was posted to the Soaps Making Unit whilst I was in the Non-Soapy Detergent (Omo, Surf and Drive) Production Unit. We became very close and he would follow me to pick my two kids at Corona Nursery and Primary School, Apapa and and all of us would drive to our residence at Surulere for lunch.
It was during post-lunch discussions that we mooted the idea of founding Nigerian Society of Chemical Engineers in 1969. We both approached a very Senior colleague at Unilever Nig. Ltd who shared our passion and was offered to be the Pioneer National President, whilst Olu and myself took the positions of the Pioneer National Publicity Secretary and Pioneer Secretary General of the Nigerian Society of Chemical Engineers (NSCHE) respectively. In 1972, Olu and I swapped the positions, that is Olu became the Secretary General whilst I took over the National Publicity Secretaryship, between 1972 and 1975.
Having incorporated NSCHE in 1972, Olu and I struck a deal that Olu should join the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE) to stir up a change to embrace other Engineering disciplines on equal footings with Civil Engineering, the dominant profession then. This approach paid up when Olu became the first Chemical Engineer to be elected the National Publicity Secretary of the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE) between 1981 and 1983. He eventually became the Secretary General of NSE in 1986 till 1988.
By dint of hard work and passion for African brotherhood, Olu was elected the Secretary General of the Federation of African Organizations of Engineers (FAOE) based in Nairobi, Kenya between 1993 and 1995 and also Secretary General DFAOE in 2000 up to date.
The last time I saw Olu was at the 2017 Olu Awoyinfa Distinguished Annual and Public Lecture organized by the Nigerian Society of Engineers, Ikeja Branch, to commemorate his 75th Birthday Anniversary on the 1st June 2017. This was the Seventh Annual and Public Lecture for Olu. My wife and I were there till the end of the event to honour a man, very humble to a fault. I never knew it was to be the last time to be together. We both shared banters to the admiration of the National President of NSE, Engr O.O Anyaeji who was the Chairman of the occasion.
While I admire Olu for his remarkable professional accomplishments up to his old age, I found his devotion to his family even more admirable. With the support of his charming wife, Winifred, he planned the education of all his children very carefully. His first son, Dipo, a Chemical Engineer who followed the footsteps of his father, is based in Qatar at their Refinery and Petrochemical complex as a top Management Executive.
Adieu to a humble man; Adieu to a soft spoken man; Adieu to a Pan-Africanist to a core; Adieu to a great family man; Adieu to a very great Chemical Engineer Adieu; to a role model not only to Chemical Engineers but also to other Engineers in Nigeria.