The family of the late educationist and founder of the famous Mayflower School, Ikenne, Ogun State, Dr. Tai Solarin, recently marked the 21st anniversary of his passing on. His only daughter, Corin, in this interview bared her mind on how the late atheist related with the remaining members of his family. The late author and social critic, she said, died a rich man.
It is 24years since your father passed on. How has life been without him?
I have missed my father’s presence for the past 24 years. He can never be replaced. The best way to honour his memory is to follow the precepts that he gave us hard work, scrupulous honesty and not relying on others but rather being very independent.
One would expect either you or your brother to take to his ways, criticising government and wearing his trade mark khaki shirt…
It is more important to follow his ideals than dress like he did. One does not have to wear khaki before one can criticise the things that one perceives as wrong. There are many people who speak out about our society’s wrongs without needing to don khaki. For example, I see a lot that is wrong with education in Nigeria at present, and I do not hesitate in making my views known.
Could you tell us some of these things you think are wrong with our educational system?
One of them is that our government does not care about the education of the populace. This is evident in how much of the GNP is expended on education. Until our leaders realise that a highly educated and motivated workforce is the way to national prosperity, we will continue to subsist in poverty.
You appear to speak more glowingly of your dad than your mum. Why so?
Your questions thus far were about Tai Solarin. But behind every great man is a great woman. My mother was as well a great woman who worked side by side with Papa and can be said to have played a large role in his successes. She was a hard worker and a humble woman, who at the end of the day was recognised by no less a woman than Queen Elizabeth of England. She is greatly missed as well.
Your father was on different occasions thrown behind bars for criticising the government. Which of these occasions got you worried the most?
I would have to say that it was the last time in life that he was jailed for his writing. He spent 17 agonising months imprisoned in the north. He lost close to 20 kilos in weight, and every one of us feared that in his old age, he would not get out alive.
Was there any time you had to plead with him to soft pedal on his criticism of government? If yes, what was his reaction?
No. It would never have occurred to me to do so. Papa was extremely determined in his actions and views. He knew full well that his opinions could cost him his life, and he was courageous enough to face that eventuality. And Mama always supported him in his decisions, no matter how painful they were to her.
Did your father die a rich man?
My father was a very rich man. By this I mean he was very well loved, respected and admired, which are the greatest riches. Did he die with millions in the bank? No. And I would not prefer him to be in any way different from that.
I learnt he trained many people in school. How was I learnt he getting the funds to do that?
Tai Solarin had funds to train many people because he was a simple man who lived without luxury, preferring to use his money to send hundreds of people through as far as university and medical school. Any person who finished medical school, he would buy a car for them.
In one of your interviews that I have read, you described him as ‘patron saint of ogogoro sellers.’ Do you think the gesture back then was helpful, considering the number of people that have died drinking ogogoro across the country?
Tai Solarin never took a drop of alcohol in his lifetime! The reason he still became a hero among ogogoro sellers was that he believed that those who were producing alcohol locally were being penalised for their product, whereas imported alcohol from the Western world was sold freely. Experience such as the barring of alcohol, such as the one that happened in the US in the 1920’s during the period they call Prohibition, shows that it is virtually impossible to stop an alcoholic from finding alcohol even if it is banned. Tai Solarin’s only point was that Nigeria should support its local entrepreneurs.
Could you clear the air on the real reason your late father became an atheist? There are different versions of it out there.
I am not sure what versions you are referring to. Kindly specify.
Some said it was after he failed an examination he had prayed very well before doing. Others said it was after he lost his sister after praying rigorously to avert it.
The generally held notion is that in his youth, he had a crisis of faith when he lost someone that was close to him. In my opinion Tai Solarin was a much more devout man than many, based on how he lived his life.
Are you also an atheist?
You called Tai Solarin an atheist, not me. I am a Catholic.
But did he influence you to become one?
To become one what, please?
To become an atheist
Tai Solarin never influenced anybody’s choice of faith. He was a very tolerant human being. If more people followed his example, we might have a more tolerant society.
Have you heard anybody saying that he would go to hell because he was an atheist? Because I read an interview where you dismissed that, saying you know where he is resting.
It was reported to me by somebody that their pastor said so in their church. That was where I heard such a report. I can’t even remember the person that said so.
Most men dread going to the houses of their girlfriends whose fathers are disciplinarians. Did you experience that as a young lady?
I cannot say that I had suitors while I was living with my parents. I was one of the youngest in my set. There was nothing like suitors.
It is obvious you love and respect your late father. What attitudes of his did you dislike?
It is difficult to recall anything about the late Tai Solarin that I disliked. He was fair in his treatment of people. He was generous and kind hearted.
Most children of famous people are usually regular faces in social circles. Yours does not seem to be so…
I am not in many social circles because I am very often working and do not have the time.
How then do you relax and what are your beauty routines: clothing, making up and so on?
I relax by reading and travelling. With regards to health and beauty, I believe that everything should be done in moderation.
Culled from The Nation.