Mrs. Kehinde George, the first female professional town planner in Africa, turns 60
By Nehru Odeh
Mrs. Kehinde George, who turned 60 on 14 June, is always willing to admit that things could have turned out differently. Today, she is glad that they did not because it could have been worse. Her father wanted her to study Architecture, but three years before she was ready to proceed on tertiary education, he died. This forced a change of plans. At the age of 16 Mrs. George secured admission into then Technical College, Ibadan (now The Polytechnic, Ibadan) for a diploma in Town Planning. Three years later, aged 19, she became the first female professional town planner in Africa.
Between 1971 and 1972, on the strength of a scholarship she got from the Ikeja Area Planning Authority, where she worked for three years, George enrolled for a postgraduate diploma at the University of Melbourne in Australia, graduating with honours at 24.
“I didn’t have a degree before I went for the postgraduate programme. I had only a diploma. So it was challenging in the sense that I had to work extra hard. I was so busy with my academics that I had no time to be homesick,” George said. For her success, George remains grateful to her husband, Architect Gilbert Akintola George, who encouraged and supported her while she was in Australia.
“My husband supported me in my career because while I was in Australia for two years, he was back home in Nigeria with our two young children. He held the fort. And God kept the marriage intact,” she said.How does she feel being the first female professional town planner in Africa? “I feel humble because I know that this is not something I achieved by my strength alone. It is what God ordained. I am very grateful to God for allowing me to be in that position. It could have been any other person. And I am appreciative of God for this honour,” George enthused.
George’s success story, however, is not restricted to academics. An epitome of womanhood, she has put her vast education to bear on the training she gave her children, who are all graduates and professionals. Jide her eldest child is a petroleum engineer; Toyin, a pharmacist; Bole, a geographer and pilot; Desola, a lawyer, Taiwo, an economist; and Kehinde, a geographer. “I think the part I played in their lives was just to be their mother, their friend. I was always around to cook good food for them. While they were in the university I phoned them. I made them know they are important in my life. They are my friends as well as the brothers and sisters that God gave me,” she said proudly.
George, a consultant to government at different levels, taught at the Yaba College of Technology in Lagos for 14 years. But how did she break through the restrictions imposed on women by a chauvinistic society. “At work I don’t see myself as a female. Even when I was in school, both in Ibadan and Australia, I saw myself as one of the boys. I never had any problems with my classmates. I got on very well with all of them even when I was ahead of them academically,” George said.
She also told TheNEWS that her parents played a pivotal role in her development. Not only did her parents teach her strong moral values, they also made her feel wanted and relevant in the family. “The way my parents brought me up made me believe in myself and also to care for people around me,” recalled George. Does she have any regret being a town planner? “Not at all. If I have another opportunity I would want to be a town planner again,” she enthused. George said that what fascinates her about her profession is that it is a creative course. “You have to be creative and artistic to work as a town planner; you have to be able to visualise. It is a combination of art and science. And the creative part is what I enjoy,” George remarked.
However, another interesting aspect of her profession dawned on George when she was lead consultant at the Galadima District Plan in Abuja. During a meeting she and her project group had with the indigenes, George realised that while the traditional ruler, elders and the youths were present, women were not represented.
“I found it very strange that in that forum in which people were supposed to express themselves, women were not physically present. That culture meant that those who were present were the voice for the women,” she said ruefully. Now that she is 60, George cannot but be grateful to God. “I will never forget the day I turned 60 because I was wondering if I would ever get to 60 and have all my children around me? And on that day my children, grandchildren and husband were all alive and well. It was the happiest day in my life,”