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31 October 2012


“Tai was my greatest motivator from the time I met him in 1947 till his death in 1994. If more people had listened to him, Nigeria might have made better progress.” 

The memory of Madam Sheila Solarin will remain evergreen in the minds of thousands of people whose lucky paths crossed that of this diminutive angel who has left her giant footprints on the sands of time as attested to with the MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) and MFR (Member of the Federal Republic of Nigeria) honours awarded her from her country of origin and country of adoption by marriage respectively. Her 88 years, 4 months and 3 weeks of exemplary life from 31 May 1924 to 21 October 2012 is worthy of emulation by the younger generation of today.

The octogenarian lady of honour we are celebrating her life and times today was an epitome of positive femininity, selfless philanthropy and embodiment of humility in greatness as well as an ideal wife and passionate teacher. She was a gentle celebrity who deliberately deferred the monopoly of klieglight to her equally cerebral husband cum human rights activist while she took care of the home front as the de facto administrator of the school.   

Just two of the hundreds of students across the globe who benefited from the university scholarship of the Solarins are Dr. Wale Omole who immortalised the great couple with the name of his Lagos-based hospital, T & S Hospital complex in Apapa and Mushin (T for Tai and S for Sheila) and Pastor W. F. Kumuyi of Deeper Life Christian Ministry who graduated with first class in mathematics from the University of Lagos. “Many of those who benefited from Solarins’ benevolence are established professionals and consultants in virtually all fields both within and outside Nigeria today,” so admitted Dr. Omole in a recent interview he granted a Saturday Tribune reporter.

According to her authorised biography Sheila: A Lady of Courage by Adewale Bakare, “I married Tai because he was very hard-working, very honest, had a good sense of humour and was very handsome. We had known each other four years before we got married, so we had plenty of opportunity to change our minds but we didn’t.

"I came to Nigeria without knowing much about it. The culture was different. I gradually began to understand it.  Fortunately, my parents were poor.  I didn’t grow up in the city but the countryside. There, we didn’t have electricity supply until I was in my teens. There was no pipe borne water in my house or water toilet. The ability to survive in Nigeria was helped by my background. I was lucky that Tai was the kind of man he was. If he had been a less supportive person, it would have been difficult. Again, his family accepted me.”

The selfless community leader who was once the chairperson of the Ikenne Local Government Education Authority explained further that "Nigeria then was better in many ways. There was no corruption, cheating or fraud. There was much honesty. You could go anywhere at any time, day or night. Life was safe and secure in the 60s and 70s. Then you could drive anywhere. But now, if I have to go to Sagamu, I will think twice. I believe part of the problem is that of inequality. The country is producing thousands of university graduates with no job and it is now reaping the harvest." 

Tai Solarin on the other hand went down the memory lane in his autobiography To Mother with Love to regale us with many lessons to be learnt from their 43 years of excellent matrimony. "Sheila and I met during my second year in the university. We went to the dance and cinema together, but I did it with the casualness that had been the trait of my relationship with all other girls I met. We were all students with some time off duty for a spree. I never proposed to any girl that I disappointed in my life.

"Any time we were together, I was surprised by the versatility of Sheila’s mind. She was a competent electrician. She could darn perfectly. She was a first-class cook and any time I commended her cooking, she always said it was nothing as compared to her sister’s. Not once could I talk about a book in those days which she had not read, or a news item she had not picked up on her own before me. In every aspect, she was my better.”

The social critic haply laid the foundation of his egalitarian marriage by jettisoning the age-old culture of patriarchy ab initio. "I remember visiting the registry a day before our wedding on the 14th day of September 1951and carefully checking over the passage that was to be read at the ceremony. I found that the wife must obey the husband. I told the registrar that sentence should be deleted. I did not want my wife who was more intelligent than I was to obey me. If she was to obey me, the family would die of mediocrity, as my wife would be taking dictation on decisions that might not be in the best interest of the family.  The registrar accepted my wish and that portion was deleted.

"Sheila and I have achieved a very healthy and happy union. Our relationship has been very symbiotic. I listen to her, she listens to me. I also remember that a few weeks before the wedding, Sheila reported her mother saying that she would be happiest if I got married to her daughter in the church. I asked her to tell her mother that the church and I had parted company for good.  Mrs. Tuer, her mother, did not take it badly at all. She wanted people to practise what they believed. She listened and accepted. And today, without the blessing of the church, our marriage remains highly fruitful.

"Long before we got married, I asked my wife how many children she would like to have. ‘About four or so,’ she said, her mother had six. I would like to be father to only two children – a boy and a girl. She acquiesced. I told her I wanted to have as much time as possible to serve the public in any way I could, but that a crew of children would create an impediment.  We have two children – a girl and a boy.

"I owe the volume of work – for what it is worth – I have given Nigeria today to the fact that I did not have an army of children to shepherd round. And I consider any educated man these days with four children or more a very irresponsible man. The fact that such men are irresponsible is the reason why most Nigerian men never tell how many children they have in the public. Great nations are built only by great families but great families are in short supply in Nigeria. All societal evils in Nigeria stem from the overabundance of pseudo-families. Citrus trees in many orchards are better tended than most of Nigerian children. This is the core of the chaotic and amorphous character of Nigerian citizenry.     

Three years before his death on 27 July 1994, Dr. Tai Solarin proudly revealed more secrets that were the hallmark of their unique compatibility to the Winslow magazine of Mayflower School. "Sheila and I have so much in common. We do not hold secrets between ourselves. We remain honest and trustworthy in our relationship with each other. If I take money out of our joint account, Sheila never asks me why or what I use it for. Like me, she does not buy clothes or jewelleries. We have no need for them.

"I can safely assume she shares my stand on religion, though we have never discussed the issue. She allows me all the degree of freedom I can ever need. I don’t need to inform her beforehand of my social crusades or my public statements or roles, yet she’s ever so supportive. I don’t have to discuss the contents of my articles to her before publication, yet she shares the tribulations with me when they do occur.

"She’s a courageous woman, very brilliant too. I respect her. I’ve never shouted at her and I’ve never raised a finger against her in the forty-plus years of our marriage. Ours has been a happy and highly successful marriage and Sheila has been a strong positive influence in my life.”

The founding chairman of defunct People’s Bank of Nigeria climaxed their didactic union with these profound statements in his autobiography, "In our 40-plus years of married life, we have never had a day of sorrow. Ask me why not. My guess is that we spend each day as our last. We fill each day with plenty of activities in the service of others – that of course is our religion."

The great couple also shared a common work ethic which formed the buttress of education for self-reliance they taught successive generations of students who benefited from their tutelage in both Molusi College, Ijebu-Igbo and Mayflower School, Ikenne-Remo. Hear Sheila in her above-mentioned biography, "When I was a student, I sold cloth in the Saturday market, cleaned the apartment for one bachelor and mended socks for another. I worked as a waitress in a hotel in the long vacation; one summer I worked on a farm. On fine days we were outside working on the fruit farm. On raining days we were inside packing sweets made from fruit juice, or making wooden crates to pack the fruits for market. There was no day when a lazy worker could put his head down on the table.

"Tai worked an average of 15 to 16 hours per day all the time I knew him. Even before he came back from Europe, he had worked on a farm in Sweden and hit the headlines as the man who could pick twice as many potatoes in a day as any other farm worker. When he was in the air force in Canada, he collected the socks that his mates were too lazy to wash from the dustbins, washed them and sold them back to those who had thrown them away.

"Tai also worked as a mortuary attendant. And he was already a graduate at that time, but he had learnt to take any job available. If you get a job, work harder than you are expected to do and be ready to put in longer hours if need be. Whether you will get extra pay or not, you will be training yourself to work and building a reputation that will always be useful."

In the words of Tai Solarin: “Without Sheila, it would have been impossible for us to build Mayflower School. She had been the very strong pillar in the construction,” that is why the school’s Founder’s Day has been dedicated to the birth date of Sheila on 31 May every year in spite of the school being founded on 27 January 1956. 

The co-founder of the Students’ Second Home, Ikenne, and proud mother of Corin and Tunde who eventually served as a former principal of Community High School, Ikenne, averred, “There were times when we worked through the night – staff, students, office workers, cattle herdsmen, all. We were not divided by tribe, religion, skin colour or sex. Everybody worked and I believe everybody enjoyed it.

Tai and I created our own culture. We did not spend much time socialising with either Nigerians or Britons. We spent most of our time, quite enjoyably, in working. If we had time to relax, it would be in reading, or in my own case, sewing or gardening. Quite a lot of people of all nationalities, Nigerians inclusive, seemed to enjoy the culture we created. We have had a lot of fun.

I think it is an error to think that you are entitled to stop working at some point because of age. Many great men have gone on into their 80s and 90s productively contributing to the improvement of society. I hope I can stay in good health and work till I drop. It will be simplest and quickest to bury me alongside Tai. My late husband and I disliked the senseless ostentation of funerals; so we had agreed on absolute simplicity.

I would like to be remembered for hard work, honesty, some kindness here and there, and an effort to make the best of the mental and physical equipment I was born with.” Rest in peace Mama Sheila. Mayflower School is missing you. Tai Solarin Organisation is missing you. Tai Solarin College of Education, Omu-Ijebu, is missing you. Tai Solarin University of Education, Ijebu-Ode, is missing you. Nigeria is missing you. But we are taking solace in your legacy of greatness.

21 October 2012

Madam Sheila Solarin, MBE, MFR, Dies Today At 88

Coordinator of Tai Solarin Organisation (TSO) Sulaiman Dave Bola-Babs and Chairman of TSO Mr. Akinbayo A. Adenubi, mni, welcoming Madam Sheila Solarin to the Victoria Island, Lagos venue of the 2009 Tai Solarin National Memorial Lecture.

Our heroine, Mrs. Sheila Solarin, MBE, MFR, dies today at 88. May her heroic gentle soul rest in perfect peace. She was a great role model and ideal wife cum partner in patriotic progress with Dr. Tai Solarin. We shall greatly miss this innocent intellectual and teacher of thousands of Ex-Mays and students of other schools where she taught English language.

Her biography "Sheila: A Lady of Courage" by Adewale Bakare is a must-read for all her admirers. Sheila, you are a great amazon.

27 September 2012

Today's Memorial Lecture was a Great Success

Precisely 18 years and 2 months ago, Dr. Tai Solarin parted with us after a hugely eventful life of 78 years, with his footprints on the sands of time as the first Nigerian with two higher institutions of learning named after him posthumously - Tai Solarin University of Education, Ijebu-Ode and Tai Solarin College of Education, Omu-Ijebu.

06 September 2012

7th Tai Solarin Memorial Lecture is Thursday 27 September 2012 at 11 a.m. Prompt

You are cordially invited to the Seventh Tai Solarin National Memorial Lecture entitled “The Dynamics of Information: Embracing the Present to Cope with the Future” to be delivered by Professor Zakari Mohammed, FNIM, University Librarian, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, on Thursday 27 September 2012 at 11.00 a.m. prompt at the auditorium of the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria, PC 19 Adeola Hopewell Street, Victoria Island, Lagos, under the distinguished chairmanship of Senator Chief (Mrs.) Oluremi Tinubu, OON.

Our Special Guest of Honour is Mrs. Sheila Solarin, MFR, OBE while the Master of Ceremony is the veteran broadcaster and actor, Mr. Yemi Shodimu. 

Please call 0803-365-3110 or 080-22233-413 for more information.

31 May 2012

“The World Owes You Nothing,” Says Mrs. Sheila Solarin At 88


As the highly respected widow of Dr. Tai Solarin clocked the enviable age of 88 yesterday, admirers of her late husband’s most popular article “May Your Road Be Rough!” will also enjoy Madam’s version of it republished here with the above title. It’s a sort of career guidance for the 21st century youth and the young at heart.

 “Don't go around saying the world owes you a living.
The world owes you nothing. It was here first.”

I would like to suggest that the only thing that is certain in this millennium is uncertainty. The world is changing rapidly and we will have to change with it, whether we are ready or not. It will surely be better to prepare for this uncertain future.

You should grasp at every shred of education and work experience that you can get. If you have a week or two of vacation, or a compulsory stay-at-home for a strike, look around for what work needs doing in your area and start doing it voluntarily. Don’t look only for what you will be paid for. If there are potholes in your street, look for broken blocks or an abandoned heap of laterite.  Get others of your kind together, beg for a shovel and a derelict bucket or head-pan and fill some of those potholes thoroughly. Get used engine oil from a local mechanic to pour on top of your filling. This will protect it from the rain to some extent. You will feel so good, you will have got physical exercise and you will have shown what is possible without money. Who knows, you may one day be a PWD engineer, or a local government chairman, and you will remember what you learnt. Above all, you will have learnt to be a leader, not a follower.

Volunteer to work in a local hospital – read stories to children, hold the hands of someone afraid or in pain. Look round and see what you can do to help. I am not suggesting that you are going to spend your life in a poverty-stricken volunteer, but you will learn a lot from any kind of work experience.

As I said above, get every shred of education you can. I would like to emphasize mathematics, science and English. These are your core subjects in secondary school. You can read up subjects such as history, geography, economics and literature at anytime, but you must get the basic rudiments in mathematics, English and science. Your science should be as practical as possible, so try to encourage your teachers to give you practicals. Volunteer to help set up, clean up and put away equipment. Your teachers are probably overwhelmed by the number of students and lack of equipment. Try to suggest politely ways in which students can help. You and the teachers are not in opposing teams. You are on the same side, facing the same goal post.

When you reach the end of Junior Secondary class 3, you have to be thinking of your choice of subjects. Try to make sure that your results are good enough to offer at least biology and chemistry, and physics if you can. The world we are in – the millennium we have just moved into – needs science and technology. Don’t opt for physical education or religious knowledge because you can get marks. You may get through Senior Secondary class 3 and university and end up with a useless qualification. Music and art should be taught and should be enjoyed, but remember that very few people make a good living from either of these. The same goes for football. Sure, an international footballer may get, for a few years, a salary beyond its widest dreams but count how many such footballers there are. Get a degree in, say, biochemistry and play football thereafter. When your football career is over, you will go back to your biochemistry for the rest of your life – perhaps another twenty or thirty years after the period you spent on football.

Aim at becoming computer literate by whatever means. One of those compulsory breaks from university may give you a couple of months for a short computer course. Befriend somebody who has a computer. Offer to clean his car, do up his garden, scrub his cement yard or wash his clothes in exchange for half an hour on his computer. Read the theory by all means but try to get your hand on somebody’s keyboard. Bill Gates never went to computer school. His mother got hold of a computer from somewhere and he learnt as a teenager what he needed to know to become one of the world’s richest young men – a computer wizard.

Consider what you can do to be self-employed. If you want a job these days, you had better make one. What about making work and wealth from waste? There are a few people in Lagos combing the rubbish heaps for reusable materials but they are not well organised and do not own the processing equipment themselves to turn the rubbish into something useful.

You can sell waste paper, scrap metal, glass and cloth. Get yourself a collecting cart, two bicycle wheels, a rectangular metal bottom with the sides heightened with iron mesh. Go around your collecting area on the same day every week, so that your visit will be expected.  If you can afford to divide the inside of your cart into three sections, then you could collect paper in one, glass in one and metal in the other section. After your round, you have to press the paper into bales.

Reusable tins and bottles can be sold off to those who reuse them for selling palm oil, vegetable oil, etc. Other metals need sorting into types – aluminium and iron will be separated. Factories producing aluminium pots and pans accept aluminium for recycling and pay for it. Plastic can be recycled also to coat hangers and similar small items. Cloth can be cut up and turned into rugs or reprocessed for re-spinning and weaving.

Clearly, one quality you have to put aside is pride. What will my mates say when they see me collecting rubbish? Perhaps, ultimately you will have a small business producing coat hangers and your mates will still be dressing up to carry their application letter from door to door looking for a job ten years after they graduate.

If you are going into business, be ready to start small, producing something people want. ‘Eleganza’ knew what he was doing when he started producing coolers for carrying food for parties. Which household does not own one, or does not hope to get one? Slippers we need; carpets we can live without.

If you can manage to have two businesses going – especially if one is seasonal – you will have a better chance of surviving. If you drill a small borehole and produce bottled water, you could run it in the dry season and farm during the rains.  In China, on a commune we visited, the farm was a fruit farm but they also produce children’s cloth (which Nigeria imports from them) when there was not much work on the farm. Nigerian farmers are largely idle throughout the season.  

In the U.S.A. and United Kingdom, there are special department stores where all kinds of handcraft from the Third World are sold. You will find embroidery and crochet work from Zimbabwe, carvings from Ghana, textiles from India, small items of furniture from Thailand – from Nigeria, nothing. Yet this country has a wealth of handsome cloth, pottery, wood carving and metal work we do not seem able to show the world. All of these could be produced in the dry season as a second leg on which to stand when times are hard. You might also make a business out of going round the country collecting craft items for export.

If you are lucky enough to get a job at any point in your career, make sure you do more than you are asked to do. Tai worked an average of 15 to 16 hours per day all the time I knew him. Even before he came back from Europe, he had worked on a farm in Sweden and hit the headlines as the man who could pick twice as many potatoes in a day as any other farm worker. When he was in the Air-force in Canada, he collected from the dustbins the socks that his mates were too lazy to wash. He washed them and sold them back to those who had thrown them away.

When I was a student, I sold cloth in the Saturday market, cleaned the apartment for one bachelor and mended socks for another. I worked as a waitress in a hotel in the long vacation; one summer I worked on a farm. On fine days we were outside working on the fruit farm. On raining days we were inside packing sweets made from fruit juice, or making wooden crates to pack the fruits for market. There was no day when a lazy worker could put his head down on the table.

Tai also worked as a mortuary attendant. And he was already a graduate at that time, but he had learnt to take any job available. If you get a job, work harder than you are expected to do, and be ready to put in longer hours if need be – whether you will get extra pay or not – you will be training yourself to work and building a reputation that will always be useful.

So these are a few suggestions to think over.  The world does not owe you a living. You have to make a place for yourself. Good luck!