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Dr. Tai Solarin, a Humanist, Atheist, Activist, Teacher, Nationalist, and Mentor, passed away 28 years ago today.
Tai Solarin was born in Ikenne-Remo, Ogun State, Nigeria, to Mr. Daniel Solarin, a drummer, farmer-cum-palmwine tapper and Mrs. Rebecca Okufule, a native of nearby Iperu-Remo.
His twin sister, Madam Caroline Kehinde Solarin (JP), a devout Methodist Christian, died on Wednesday 29 April 1992 while Dr. Tai Solarin, an avowed atheist, died on Wednesday 27 July 1994.
He was educated at St. James’ School, Iperu-Remo; Wesley School, Ogere, both in Ogun State; Otapete Methodist Primary School, Ilesha, Osun State, where he completed his Standard Six Certificate before going to Wesley College, Ibadan, Oyo State, for his Higher Elementary (Grade Two) Teacher’s Certificate in 1936.
He taught for five years at Methodist Primary Schools in Ago-Iwoye and Shagamu before leaving for Lagos where he worked briefly in the Customs Office as a typist.
Leaving Nigeria for England in May 1942 as a Nigerian volunteer in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War (WW2), he later became a navigator after a failed attempt at becoming a pilot.
He was discharged in 1945 at the end of WW2, enrolled at the University of Manchester the following year for a bachelor’s degree in history and geography, and topped it with a post-graduate diploma in education at the University of London where he eventually taught Yoruba language for a year at its School of Oriental and African Studies.
Tai met the then Miss Sheila Mary Tuer in Manchester and wedded her on 14 September 1951 when he was 35. Tai and his polytechnic-trained chiropodist wife with a master’s degree in English language lived happily together for 43 years in total service to humanity without a single day of sorrow. They were blessed with Corin (a daughter) born on 27 June 1952 and Tunde (a son) born on 15 December 1956.
Arriving Nigeria from the United Kingdom, he succeeded the foundation principal of Molusi College, Ijebu-Igbo, Mr. (later Prof.) Oluwole Awokoya as the second principal of the college from January 1952 to December 1955.
He co-founded the first and only truly secular school in Nigeria, Mayflower School in Ikenne-Remo, Ogun State, on 27 January 1956 with his wife, and remained its principal for 20 years till he retired in 1976 to establish the Students’ Second Home, a boarding house which still serves more than two thousand students of Mayflower School. Also complementing the Mayflower School was the establishment of Mayflower Junior School, the primary school arm of the Mayflower institution, a citadel of secular education for self-reliance and all round excellence.
Tai was awarded an honorary doctorate degree in Literature in 1971 by the Alma College, Alma, Michigan State of the United States of America, in addition to about 30 years of bilateral annual students exchange programme between Alma College and Mayflower School starting from 1963, with some ex-students of the latter having benefited from university degree scholarships offered by the former.
He also sponsored more than 300 students within and outside Nigeria at various levels from kindergarten to doctorate level with his selfless wife, apart from other unpublicized philanthropic gestures to the sick, the aged, the underprivileged and suchlike individuals and institutions.
He was appointed into public offices by various governments from Nigeria’s first republic to the Babangida administration by sheer virtue of his sterling patriotism, as a member of the Somade Commission on Education; as the Public Complaints Commissioner for the then Oyo, Ondo and Ogun States; as a member of the Justice Akinola Aguda Panel for the Creation of Nigeria’s New Federal Capital Territory; as the Chairman of the Presidential Monitoring Committee of the then Directorate for Food, Roads and Rural Infrastructure (DFRRI) in Benue, Plateau, Borno and Gongola States; and as the founding Chairman of the People’s Bank of Nigeria (PBN), among others.
Tai adopted what he christened a permanent “battle dress” in 1979 after visiting the densely populated China having almost 100% of Chinese children in school against less than 25% of their counterpart in Nigeria. Protesting this governmental irresponsibility, he swore to live the rest of his life in shorts, short-sleeved shirts and “Knowledge is Light” cap until subsequent Nigerian governments wake up to the responsibility of sending 100% of Nigerian school-age children to school.
He was detained in various prisons across Nigeria for his human rights activism right from his first major detention on October 12, 1974 by Gowon’s regime to his last major on March 12, 1984 by the draconian duo of Buhari/Idiagbon administration which cost him 17 months behind the bars. Thanks to the late Mr. Kehinde Sofola, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) who defended him for decades without charging a kobo, among other lawyers.
The erudite social crusader was admired as “the conscience of the nation” by Nigeria’s greats like the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN), the late Chief Bola Ige (SAN), the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo (SAN), the late Chief M.K.O. Abiola, the late Prof. Ayodele Awojobi, the late Prof. Babs Fafunwa, Prof. Wole Soyinka, the late Prof. Sam Aluko, Prof. Femi Osofian, and Prof. Olubi Sodipo who wrote that “Solarin could conveniently be likened to many profound and influential social critics and activists in world history and his social philosophy can be cogently compared to several world leaders’. His concepts of the school can also be compared to several articulate world educators’. His style of writing, which has spanned thirty years, can also be compared to writers such as Jean Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Paine.”
Tai Solarin’s mentors were cosmopolitan. He had leadership mentor in Jawaharlal Nehru of India, political mentor in Obafemi Awolowo of Nigeria, philosophical mentor in Robert Ingersoll of America and literary mentor in H. G. Wells of London.
He is intellectually immortalized in publications such as A Message for Young Nigerians; Towards Nigeria’s Moral Self-Government; Thinking With You; Our Grammar School Must Go; No Witches, No Angels: My Credo; Not God’s Injunction Today; To Mother With Love (An Autobiography); and Mayflower: The Story of a School, all written by Dr. Tai Solarin himself.
Books by other writers include Who’s Afraid of Solarin? by Prof. Femi Osofisan; The Educational Theory of Tai Solarin by Dr. Tony Aladejana and Dr. Sam Obidi; Tai Solarin’s Footprints, and Tai Solarin’s Adventures: A Practised Philosophy, both by Dr. Wale Omole as well as Timeless Tai by Akinbayo A. Adenubi and Education for Greatness 1: Selected Speeches of Dr. Tai Solarin by Sulaiman Dave Bola-Babs.
Widely travelled world citizen that he was, he had been to virtually all the continents of the world namely North America, South America, Europe, Asia and Africa. Among the countries visited by Tai Solarin and his wife, Sheila, are the United Kingdom, the former Soviet Union, the U.S.A., Canada, China, Japan, India, Australia, Brazil, Chile, Switzerland, Sweden, Tanzania and Ghana, to mention just a few.
The first university of education in Nigeria, Tai Solarin University of Education, Ijebu-Ode, was named after him apart from Tai Solarin College of Education, Omu-Ijebu, thus becoming the first Nigerian to have two higher institutions of learning named after him.
Credit : Kufo TV