Remembering Sheila Solarin (May 31,1924 – Oct. 21, 2012)
Tai was my greatest motivator
From the first time I met him in 1947
Till his death in 1994
If more people had listened to him ,
Nigeria might have made better progress
At the school gate I asked whether I could see mama . “Yes, she is there go and meet her “, the security officer replied .I walked down to her house which was about 20minutes walk I got to her residence , a bungalow that has no fence and no security personnel. As I met one of her maids, a Togolese and told her I wanted to see Mama then I heard a soft-spoken velvet voice saying ” Tell Taiwo to come in, let him come in “, that was Mama, she recognized my voice because I had been used to the family .
The late Sheila Solarin and Taiwo Abiodun
” Stand up, stand up Taiwo “, she urged me as I prostrated to greet her. Immediately the giant domestic animal sighted me it started barking but Mama patted the lovely dog, Rosa to stop. ” Mama I am here again for interview”, I told her. ” Ask your questions”, she responded .
In order to make my story unique I demanded to see the late Tai Solarin’s ‘war clothes’, she did not argue as she went in and brought the khaki shirt and shorts and I took the photographs . I asked questions and she was not tired to answer .She did not say my questions were foolish as I asked from relevant to irrelevant
I asked how she felt about the former Head of state who incarcerated her husband and whether she has forgiven him for what he did to her , the old woman looked down, shook her head and said ” whether I have forgiven Babangida? Well, he contributed to the poor health condition of my late husband until he died .What type of forgiveness is that ?.My husband was detained several times for saying the truth and looking for a better Nigeria , was that an offense?”
Asked to talk about Nigerians , she said ” Nigerians are hard working and ready to work if there are jobs as they could cope anywhere in the world .But where are the jobs ? .I am more concerned about the youths ” , she said . “Mama, can I see where Tai Solarin was buried ?”, I asked , she rose while her dog, Rosa ( who has become her companion ) followed us and we got to the place , I took a lot of photographs.
On a personal note since we had become a family and she asked after my welfare, family and how I was faring in journalism profession , she said ” since I know many of these media don’t pay very well”,but I told him we were being paid as at when due where I worked. “Oh, I love you for saying the truth , that is good and that means things are changing “, she responded .
I asked why she preferred Audi Car product to other products ( As I could see many used ones there) , she said ” it is a strong car”. Mama, I was told you have a Zoological garden , she said ” all schools are supposed to have , we have snakes , some reptiles and other animals there , go and have a look”, she said. Again I asked her whether I could interview Tunde, her son , she said ” Will he grant you interview? I know him, he would not”.
Mama who owns all these cows ? She replied ” they belong to my son, Tunde , I can’t be doing all these” . Later , she told me she was going to the class and I asked ” Mama , going to the class? ” , she replied” Yes, some of those I teach at home had just left .I teach English language .”
When I returned to the office , The Nation newspaper , the Sunday Editor , Mr .Lekan Otufodunrin was happy as he grabbed the story and gave me three pages , then gave me 2,000 Naira for a job well done .He splashed the photographs of the ” war clothes” of the old ” soldier” on center pages of The Nation‘s newspaper . At another time I asked Mama why she did not go to church and she responded” This is 10 o’clock Sunday morning , why didn’t you go to church and waste your time? . Nigerians are full of hypocrisy .They should go out , work and assist people .They waste too much time on what does not matter” .
I once asked her about her big and frightening dog, Rosa ,” dead”, she replied. “Why didn’t you have a gate and fence round your house for security purpose?, she replied ” I don’t need that”. As I finished my interview she bade me goodbye and safe journey back to Lagos. But one thing I will never forget from the old woman is when she asked how I went to school and I told her that my older brother , Professor Rowland Abiodun sponsored my university education from undergraduate to the Post graduate level, she demanded for her e mail and I gave her, ” I will write him to thank him for I know what it is to sponsor one’s education”, she promised
She asked where my twin brother was , and I told him he was far away in Canada, she said ” oh , I was there several years ago and that place is always cold .Is he a boy or a girl , are you identical or not , is he also a journalist? ” She asked me all these questions three years earlier and still remembered later.
Mama was very articulate and has good retentive memory despite her old age . She once lectured me about Cancer, as she said she once had cervix cancer when she was young but was quickly detected and treated . ” So cancer can be treated if detected early”, she lectured me. She was ready to discuss anything under the sun and would not say it is private or take an offense. I remember when I asked her why she had two children, she replied “why do we need to have many?, what for?” She was truthful, faithful and straightforward to a fault. She was ready to tell the truth no matter whose ox is gored . I remember when she said ” when a man lies , he needs 99 percent of more lies to cover up the one lie he has lied” ( he was referring to a former Head of state ).
I became a friend to the family, as I had interviewed Corrine her first child before “. As we all remember Mama Sheila today , I remember her soft vspoken, lovable, cheerful, harmless, beautiful, dutiful and caring woman .I remember her golden framed- eye glasses , her hearing aids , walking stick, smiles, her golden hair, her clean feet in her beautiful sandals and of course the day she called me and said ” So you are Babalawo of The Nation?”, laughing. She gave me six books , I so much treasured and I kept them in my library in Owo, my beloved home town.
The late Sheila was a British and wife of the late atheist, Tai Solarin .The duo established May Flower School , Ikenne in Ogun State and were both atheists.
Sheila contributed a lot to the development of education in Nigeria .She was always behind her husband who was always incarcerated because of her politicyal contribution because of his radical ideology.
As I was leaving Mayflower school and glanced at the the iron cast sculptures of Sheila and her husband placed at the entrance of the school I said, in spite of being atheists they are still loved.For the duo or the Solarins it is Veni, Vidi, Vici.
Memories , memories and memories .