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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.