Nigeria: Fola Alade, a True Iroko Found the Turf

30 July 2021

The evidence that Nigeria needs redemption is everywhere.

It's not normal that pigmies exit and their cohorts shout us deaf about the great exit of an icon but we cannot find what they built and the lives they touched. Yet Irokos fall in the forest and the Forest Ranger feigns deafness, as if Bandits are waiting to kidnap anyone who gives away their position with a cough.

This paradox of the Nigerian condition kidnapped my faculties when a true Iroko, builder of Architectural complexes, and of men and women, and of the Nation, waved goodbye, with the same gentle dignity he lived a life of impact, and I did not hear the expected thunderous roar from those he served so diligently, for so long, in several roles.

Even though I was out of the country when Chief Fola Alade took his last curtain call and bowed deeply for the last time on this side of the great divide, I expected his impactful life, with the glow of his accomplishments would have generated a thunderstorm of salutes. Even with the show of his works so glaring, and still breathing so stoutly in facilities large and small, edifices quaint and monumental, and lives big and small, our failing to acknowledge true greatness persisted.

It was normal to assume that the rumble in the jungle, as the strike of the earth by the great branches of the Iroko, with the passing of Architect Fola Alade, if not as earth shaking as Alli/ Foreman rumble in the jungle from Ziare in 1974, should have loud enough that I should have felt the tremors of praise from Chicago where I was.

Is it probably because we failed to pay enough regard to history, or is it because we banned it's being taught in schools that this generation should respond to such a landmark as a farewell wave by so grand a personage, not withstanding the tempering of the grandiose state of his standing by the deliberate humility of his mien, and so does not seek the attention.

One of our earliest and foremost Public Sector Architects, he left his imprimatur on buildings around the then Federal Capital of Nigeria, Lagos, and beyond into the country.

As young people with limited interest and exposure to Architecture we still used to be able to look at a Federal building and see, feel, and almost smell a Fola Alade touch. But many of my friends were not as lucky as I was. I actually got to know the man and to enjoy his delightful charming and warm company.

One of the first things that struck me when I heard of his departure, at the age of 87, was a word association with the man, his legend, and his reality, which unveiled the person behind the persona. The words tumbled out without effort; decent, jovial, straight in your face frank talker, dignified, draped in integrity , unbound by age, tribe, or tongue.

Not many who served at senior positions, superintending building development, and construction, at a time we were in a construction frenzy so loud the importation of cement for the purpose created a cement Armada, and made the wait to berth at our ports a multiple month affair, would finish into modest dwelling as Chief Fola Alade did.

I met him when his Allen Avenue home was like building a house in Sangotedo on the Lekki-Epe Axis, today.

He seemed happy enough living there when many of his subordinates found themselves homes in Ikoyi and Victoria Island.

Even in his simplicity, he created the Fola Alade brand. His dress sense was avant-garde and unique. Whenever I saw him in his Beret and boy scout necktie, I was usually reminded of Pablo Picasso. Clearly, his Zaria School Artists contemporaries at the Nigeria College of Arts Science and Technology, that was precursor to Ahmadu Bello University would be green with eny at his fashion sense. With a little touch of the eccentric to his fashion statement Architect, Fola Alade must have made the Zaria nobels of the Arts school slightly envious of this Zanny Architects gear up.

Even at that, he would prove to be the disciplined Federal Permanent Secretary, the first from his stock, playing John the Baptist for current day NIA President, Architect Sonny Echeno who is Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Education?

As I scope the problems of today's Nigeria, I realize that more than 80 percent of the problems flow from simple matter of not finding leaders who can engage objectively with strangers, people they do not know but manage to build preconceptions about. As Malcolm Gladwell notes, in his book on Talking To Strangers, this problem has dogged humanity throughout history.

With Chief Fola Alade who talked easily with strangers, that was not an issue.

I had a group of American friends, who were his neighbours on Allen Avenue. With them, and stranger s both American and Nigerian, we spent many pleasant moments.

There was hardly a dull moment with this pleasant and simple icon who could make you laugh and cry at the same time. Surely Peter Enahoro (Peter Pan) was right to write that you galta cry to laugh.

This patch of God's Real Estate will surely miss Architect Fola Alade, the Chief of esteem and profound dignity who had a common touch and universal appeal, yet was simple to the end.

We urge safe travels past the many rivers and hills on the way to the gate of paradise and the escort of bubbly angels. Farewell.

Patrick Okedinachi Utomi is the founder of the Centre for Values in Leadership

AllAfrica publishes around 800 reports a day from more than 110 news organizations and over 500 other institutions and individuals, representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons. Publishers named above each report are responsible for their own content, which AllAfrica does not have the legal right to edit or correct.

Articles and commentaries that identify as the publisher are produced or commissioned by AllAfrica. To address comments or complaints, please Contact us.