10 November 2012

Nigeria: Sheila Solarin '1924-2012'


The late Dr. Tai Solarin's widow, Sheila, who died on October 21, aged 88, will be buried today in Ikenne, Ogun State. The acclaimed humanist who along with her activist husband established the popular Mayflower Schools in Ikenne, Ogun State in 1956, died at Babcock University Medical Centre where she had been on admission since mid-July following a domestic accident.

As one of the biggest pillars for our nation's education sector, she will be sorely missed.

It is however very telling, if not shameful, that for her contributions to education in Nigeria, it took the Queen of England to confer on Sheila in October 2007 the award of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE).

Successive administrations in our country never found it fit to honour the woman, whoalong with her late husband, worked tirelessly in uplifting the standard of education in Nigeria.

That tells a compelling story about our reward system which is pitched in favour of time servers rather than true patriots and those who sacrifice their time and talents for the upliftment of our society.

Born in England in 1924, Sheila Mary Solarin received her early education in England and obtained the Higher School Certificate (HSC) in 1941. In 1951, she graduated from Manchester University with a degree in English and later proceeded to Ontario Institute of Education, Toronto, Canada for a Masters degree in Education in 1975.

Sheila met Tai Solarin in the early fifties and in what seemed like a perfect match for two people from different cultural background Sheila followed her husband to Molusi College, Ijebu Igbo where they both worked for four years between 1952 and 1956.

The couple's unparalleled love for education made them quit Molusi College in 1956 to set up the Mayflower Schools. Over the years the Schools blossomed to become one of the best in the country. It never compromised on discipline and academic excellence.

The school's curriculum included learning of skills such as cooking, sewing and carpentry.

The goal, according to Sheila at the time, was to raise a "complete child". Mayflower thus became a great citadel of learning, producing some of the nation's illustrious citizens occupying positions of responsibility in different strata of the society today. Instructively, while other private schools charged outrageously high fees, Mayflower still has in place a fees regime not unaffordable to the average Nigerian family.

The excellence and attraction of the Mayflower schools include the fact that despite the Solarins' did not openly practice any religion - indeed the late Tai was a self-confessed atheist - Nigerians of various religious beliefs, including Christians, Muslims and traditional worshippers still send their children and wards to Mayflower school because of the quality of education it offers. As Sheila once noted, "We didn't ask anybody what their ethnic background or religion

was, we simply wanted to provide an education for all the children in the area." In fact Sheila taught English in the school for over 50 years.

Sheila Solarin belonged to the old generation of "stand by your man" women. Thus all through the years of her late husband's travails and times in and out of detention, as he confronted dictatorial regimes, the woman provided for her husband the needed moral support.

And when Tai died, Sheila stayed behind in Nigeria to continue with the legacy she had established with him. Sheila and Tai had two children, Corin and Tunde, who were both born in Ikenne.

Whenever the history of private schools, indeed of quality education, in Nigeria, is written Sheila and Tai would not only feature prominently, it would be said of them that they spent their lives in promotion of knowledge as a basis for the development of our nation.

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