Harmony with nature: The story of Alec Butler
As a research institute, the main business of IITA centers on science and measurable data. However, walking or driving into the IITA headquarters in Ibadan, Nigeria for the first time may leave you feeling like you just stepped out of reality and into a fairytale. Such is the beauty and excellence of the one thousand hectares on which the Institute sits, that some consider it a prime destination for eco-tourism in Nigeria.
When the Institute was set up in 1967, Alec Charles Butler, the first Grounds Superintendent, was one of the early team members who had a major influence on the development of the campus. Butler came to Nigeria and immediately set about laying the basis of a beautiful, fit-for-purpose research campus in Ibadan.
A conservationist at heart, Butler sought to maintain harmony with nature and his work prioritized the preservation of biodiversity. He prepared the landscape for the campus, established the plant nursery, and planted many of the beautiful trees, shrubs, and flowers, a lot of which are still thriving on the campus today. In 1969, he also assisted John Craig with building the eponymously named dam, which impounds water from the Awba River running through the Gunwin watershed.
“He was also responsible for the design and building of the golf course and was a keen golfer himself,” said IITA Deputy Director-General, Corporate Services, Hilde Koper-Limbourg. “After leaving IITA, Alec and his wife Flo were still very regular visitors to IITA until only a few years ago. When visiting, he would always look around critically and give his successors tips and advice,” she continued.
Echoing those sentiments, IITA Director of Advocacy and Country Alignment Function (ACAF), Kwesi Atta-Krah said, “His contributions to the Institute continue to flourish and blossom through all the wonderful trees and flowers that we enjoy from those 50-year-plus trees!”
This fondness for IITA was something Butler demonstrated to both his friends and colleagues and he continued to stay engaged with the Institute through the IITA Alumni Association. Butler was one of the retiree alumni who graced the IITA 50th Anniversary celebration, during which he cut the tape at the tree planting exercise establishing the trees bordering the newly named Golden Jubilee Crescent.
At the celebration, former Head of the IITA Forest Center, Deni Bown acknowledged Butler and his contributions, which included planting the beautiful avenues of trees along the residential roads of the IITA campus. Butler was also given the honor of planting one of the first 50 African nutmeg plantlets planted during the Alumni Day of the IITA at 50 celebrations.
Over the past 30 years, Butler took part in most of the alumni reunions that took place, and he was Chair at IITA Reunion (Europe). “Alec loved IITA, and he was my idea of a perfect gentleman and a great husband,” said Dr Stephen Lawani, current Chair of the Alumni Association.
Atta-Krah noted that the trees around the Golden Jubilee Crescent, planted during the IITA at 50 celebrations, recently started flowering, “as if to wish Alec a flowery goodbye!”
Alec Charles Butler, former Head of the Physical Plant Services (PPS) and the first Grounds Superintendent/Building and Grounds Service Officer, in IITA Ibadan, passed away on 23 February 2020, surrounded by his family.