THE LIFE AND TIMES OF AFRICA’S FIRST FEMALE TOWN PLANNER, C. K. GEORGE

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By Sanya Onayoade

Chief (Mrs.) Catherine Kehinde George was a bundle of brain and beauty, exuding confidence and elegance even near her demise. She was all over the moon when providence gave her the privilege of Septuagenarian a couple of years ago. She celebrated here and there, including her social rendezvous, the expansive lounge of Lagos Country Club Table Tennis Section. Tall, and unbent, with skin-deep freshness and permanent smile wafting through her lips, Mrs. George was a thoroughbred professional. Her website www.catherinekehindegeorge.com welcomes you simply:

“I am Catherine Kehinde George, a professional Town planner, Author, Mother and Grandmother.” She was the first female professional Town Planner in Africa; her other first being the (first and only) Female patron in Lagos Country Club. Members of Lagos Country Club, especially the Table Tennis Section would remember her as the effervescent Matron, sometimes bringing cake to celebrate events, calling members randomly to ask after their welfare and preaching club-wide unity. She radiated warmth and smiles. She wrote a couple of books – The Challenges of Urbanisation in Nigerian Urban Centres,

The Lagos Mega-City Situation–A Town Planner’s Perspective, Basic Principles and Methods of Urban and Regional Planning, Urbanisation and the Lagos Mega City – which proffered solutions to the most threatening problems of Urbanisation in Nigeria. Her family values and religious devotion were also unquestionable as seen in her character, her books and public lectures which were devoted to issues of marriage, children upbringing and divine interventions. Chief (Mrs.) George’s family had the sobriquet of “Ibeji-diran” because of her three generations of twins. She was ibeji (twin) who had twin births, and twin grandchildren that are about twenty five years of age. Tpl. Mrs. Catherine Kehinde George was born in Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State, Nigeria on June 14, 1948 as fourth child to professional parents both of Ijebu-Ode lineage: Pastor Surveyor Adebusola Sogunro-Pitan (of Alebiosu Fowora Dynasty) and Mrs. Oladunni Sogunro-Pitan (of Ipaye Dynasty). Her father became the first Licensed Surveyor in Ijebu Province, Western Region in 1936; her mother was a retired teacher and later a confectioner. She married her heartthrob Arc. Akin George at the age of 20, and they had six children in the union and many grandchildren. She was a recipient of several honours and awards, such as: “Distinguished Professional” by the Faculty of Environmental Design and Management, Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife. Induction into Construction Industry Hall of Fame by Construction Engineering Digest Forum in Abuja.‘Award of Appreciation’ from Inner Wheel Club of Matori ‘Recognition Award’ from Women in Technical Education (WITED), Yaba College of Technology Chapter Merit Appreciation Award as most outstanding female Town Planner from Nigerian Institute of Town Planners.

This is her life and times:

I was born in Ijebu-Ode on Monday, June 14th, 1948. I started my primary school at St. Augustine Primary School, a missionary school owned by Roman Catholics. And later went to Our Lady of Apostles Secondary School. They taught us the way of the Lord apart from formal education. The school was run mainly by the nuns who came from Ireland. They taught us how to speak, interact, how to defend ourselves in conversation politely, to embrace integrity and respect and show empathy for others. They taught us morals. I finished in 1963 at a very young age of about 15 and I proceeded to Ijebu-Ode Grammar School, which is mainly a boys’ school but because I went to Our Ladies of Apostle, I didn’t have opportunity of doing science subjects. I spent a year at Ijebu-Ode Grammar School. So, I was able to prepare for my O’Levels in Physics, Chemistry and Additional Mathematics in one year.

My father encouraged me to study Architecture although I was very interested in going for Surveying which is what my father did as profession. My father was the first licensed Surveyor in Ijebu land, having passed his licensed examinations in1936, but he felt that Surveying was too strenuous for a female and he diverted my interest towards Architecture which I did not know anything about anyway. But he passed on suddenly in September 1964, and there were no enough funds in the family for both of us twins to proceed to Ahmadu Bello University after A levels. So, the alternative was to seek admission into the Technical College in Ibadan (now The Polytechnic, Ibadan), so that the family could bear the financial burden. That was how I started my journey to Town Planning.

At the end of the first term examinations a letter arrived from Ikeja Area Authority in the then Western Region, requesting for the best student in the class for the first term examinations. I came top in my class of about thirteen and the award came to me for the three years programme: full sponsorship, but I was to come to Ikeja during each vacation to work. So that was how I started earning salary at the age of 17. My mother being a widow, I was also able to give her monthly allowance. I think that was a very good privilege and I thank Nigerian government at that time because the award must have come from the tax payers’ money.I finished at the polytechnic in December 1967 and got married the following year when I was 20. And I continued working in Ikeja Area Planning Authority and there was opening for an award from Australia for the full professional programme in the University of Melbourne in Australia.

I was the only female and there were other men, about three of them, who also applied for the sponsorship. I was requested to give up my place for the men although I was the most qualified, because they believed the men needed the programme more because they were the breadwinners of their families. When I reported this to my husband, he said since I had the potential and being the most qualified, I had to go even if it meant he had to personally sponsor me. When I got back to the office and told them our decision, the office didn’t have a choice but to give me the sponsorship. So, that was how I departed for the University of Melbourne in Australia in January 1971, for the two-year programme. I graduated in December 1972 to become Africa’s First Female Town Planner by the grace of God.You seem to be very passionate about Urban Regional Planning and that has been your world for which you have written several books.

What are your concerns about the current status of Urban and Regional Planning in Nigeria more specifically Lagos State?

My concerns are varied and multi-faceted. But the main concern is about our environment. I had my Town Planning training in Ibadan as a sub-professional at the Technical College Ibadan. So, I have a very good grasp of the basics of planning in Western Nigeria and I had my professional training in Australia in 1971/1972. I have a good understanding of urban and regional planning overseas and in developed countries. I believe up till date Melbourne has been one of the best cities in the world with the high standard of living and I have had the opportunity to live there and I have also had the opportunity of living for over 50 years in Lagos. I have seen the situation of the environment in Lagos for the past 50 years, firsthand experience. I think it is still very important for our people to absorb the importance of protecting the environment; it is individuals’ responsibility and not the government responsibility. Passing by the streets very early in the morning, you see people dumping refuse in front of houses.

Why would any responsible person dump refuse in front of the house?

All it takes is put them in the refuse bin and pay a token to waste agency to handle the collection and all that. Some people, even when they dress well, urinate indiscriminately on the street and street corners; in front of other people’s houses. This is a challenge for the government. We should have restrooms at strategic places for people to use. If you have restrooms and you pay a token to use them and they are kept clean, that is good. Also, we must inculcate the discipline of environmental protection in our children. Our children should not eat their biscuits and throw the wrappers through the windows of their cars. Our children should be taught to clean their houses, empty the garbage to assist in the cleaning, mopping and cooking and doing everything to make the environment clean. And also planting and nurturing flowers and plants.

All these will contribute to the neatness and the cleanliness and the health of residents. Lagos has changed a lot, and I noticed that in the past, everybody was concerned about everybody else; we all knew our neighbours. If my child went somewhere to play I knew that my child was safe. But now there is a great degree of anonymity, nobody knows who the next person is and nobody cares to know. We don’t know what the next door neighbour is doing for a living and parents are getting less involved in their children. They don’t know the parents of their children’s friends. All these things affect the environment, the quality of life. When crime grows, when there is anonymity in the environment, when people don’t care about who the next door neighbour is, when people don’t care about dumping their refuse in the drainage, this is one of the consequences of urbanization that is not properly monitored and that is not properly handled.

This is a great challenge for our government that there should be inclusion in planning. The government must include the people in their planning or public participation in planning. It is planning principle that has been run for centuries and it is still being run till today. You cannot have the successful planning if you don’t integrate the people in what you are doing; let them be part of it through town hall meetings, media, social interaction, school clubs. Let our children belong to environmental club in their primary and secondary schools. And let them feel the importance of the environment. Once the environment is clean and healthy they will have cleaner and safer family life.

You are a successful professional with good family, what makes you tick?

Prayers. I believe in the efficacy of prayers. When I have very big challenge and I cannot handle it, I turn to the Lord in prayer and He has never disappointed me.You look healthy and radiant for your age.

Can you tell us how to achieve healthy living especially for our seniors?

I have a chapter in a new book, Reflections where I spoke about the challenges of ageing and we have a copy of that book in the library of Lagos Country Club for easy reference. What is more important in life is to have inner peace, more important than wealth and any other thing. And it is God that gives the inner peace, but we have to also seek for it ourselves. Whatever God has given to us, we have different blessings and different challenges, and we should thank God for our challenges and also thank Him for our blessings. And we should learn to do everything in moderation, eat moderately, less carbohydrate consumption and more of vegetables and fresh fruits. More of warm water, more of exercise. If you have the opportunity to walk, don’t take the car. And forgive at all times; somebody might have offended us at one time or the other. And likewise, we might have also offended people as well. Forgiveness brings peace, if we do not forgive we carry grudges on our mind and grudges will lead to emotional illness and physical illness. It is very important to forgive and move on. There is an interesting thing in your family, a three-generation of twins. Well, I grew up knowing my mother as Iya-Ibeji and God gave me twins as my youngest children when we thought we already had four children and we would not have more children, but God gave us a surprise and gave us a set of twins, a boy and a girl to make six children. God also gave us a set of twins, boys, as grand children through my first daughter. Our family is ‘Ibeji-diran’.

How has Lagos Country Club impacted on your life?

It has impacted very positively on my life, very positive. We joined when we were newly married and that was in the 70s and since then we have maintained our membership as a family, and our children grew up going with us to the club. I tried very hard to learn swimming, but I couldn’t get the hang of it. I played table tennis for many years until recently. But our children were able to develop their self-confidence, self-esteem and interact very well with children of other members in a very save environment. When they are in the club we know that they are very save and there is no problem. There is no molestation of any child. The safety in the club is paramount and I give kudos to the management, to the President.You are a patron of Table Tennis Section.

How do you feel being the only woman patron in a big section like that?

Our section is the Growing Section. I feel privileged and humbled and I always look forward to any outing with the Growing Section and I look forward to have more female patrons in the section. But meanwhile, let us continue to be happy together and I pray for God’s blessings.

Last line?

I want to thank God for his grace on my life and for blessing my life.


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6 thoughts on “THE LIFE AND TIMES OF AFRICA’S FIRST FEMALE TOWN PLANNER, C. K. GEORGE

    1. My Auntie!
      She runs with her vision and mission till the very end.
      Always forgiving, always prayerful always organized and loving.
      Rest in the bosom of the Lord in Jesus name Amen

  1. Thank you for this beautiful piece. My mum was an amazing woman & I am so glad so many people got to experience her.

  2. I appreciate your sharing this piece.
    Mummy George was not only beautiful on the outside but also on the inside. She was intelligent and always willing to share her knowledge with others. She strongly believed in the importance of family and worked to promote it. Mummy George was truly a remarkable woman, an inspiration to many, and had a great sense of style. Her presence will be greatly missed and her memory will live on forever.

  3. I knew Mrs George through the Akintan’s who live in Anthony. They are a family of 6 footers. I saw her 2+ decades ago when I was writing my thesis on the Oshodi Interchange (2001) – Oshodi is actually much better now, but could be better. One of the books she authored which I picked up at her residence was useful in the literature review for my thesis. She will be greatly missed.

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