Augustus Taiwo Solarin
Educator, Social Activist, Author
DATE OF BIRTH
August 20, 1922
DATE OF DEATH
June 27th, 1994
University of Manchester, University of London
PLACE OF BIRTH
Ikenne, Ogun State
Augustus Taiwo “Tai” Solarin was born on August 20th, 1922 in Ikenne, Ogun State, in Western Nigeria. Affectionately knowns as “Uncle Tai” by his admirers, he first schooled at the prestigious Wesley College, Ibadan and afterwards decided to further pursue his education overseas after being influenced by Nnamdi Azikwe who advised young people to study abroad. Unfortunately, he failed in his first attempt to obtain a passport. However, his opportunity came later when he listed in the British Air Force and served as a navigator in the Second World War. After the war, Solarin stayed back in Britain and studied at the University of Manchester where he received a Bachelor’s degree in history and geography first and then attended the University of London a few years later for graduate studies. It was also during his stay at London that he met English-born Sheila Mary Tuer, who he got married to in 1951. Their union was blessed with two children, a son and a daughter and the couple stayed married until his death in 1994.
After obtaining his Bachelor’s degree, Solarin returned to Nigeria and first became a teacher at Molusi College, Ijebu-Igbo, Ogun State and then later a Principal of the school in 1952. Molusi College was supported by the community and Christians in Ijebu-Igbo and the governing board
demanded strict adherence to certain policies around daily morning routines and worship. Solarin, who was a humanist, decided to make some changes in the style of education and ideology in the school and removed morning prayers and religious studies as a subject in the school curriculum. His changes were soon opposed by the local community where his brother served as a reverend. Due to the disagreement, he decided to quit his position in 1955 and found his own school, Mayflower School on January 27th, 1956.
Mayflower School was established in Solarin’s birthplace, Ikenne, Ogun State, on a sprawling piece of land. Solarin named the school (Mayflower) after the ship that transported the first English Separatists from Plymouth, England to the New World in 1620. He felt the name conjured images of fleeing rebuke and discrimination for a new life choice and autonomy. During the school’s inaugural year, seventy students were selected to attend out of 1,115 applications. A few years later in 1959, he established the Mayflower Junior School. By 1992, the attendance at Mayflower had expanded to 1,900, including over 800 girls. Mayflower has since become a shining example within the education system, boasting of an attendance of almost 8000 students and yearly academic achievements. The school campus features classrooms, administrative buildings, teacher’s quarters, dormitories for boarding students, and a farm. Earlier in 1976, Solarin turned Mayflower School over to the government even though it was still led under his direct guidance and principles until his death.
Solarin was a columnist who steadily contributed to the Daily Times since 1958 and the Nigerian Tribune since 1967 as well as many other renowned newspapers such as The Guardian. He has been noted as the one of the few acclaimed Nigerian columnist to have a continuously running column that lasted for over twenty years. He was highly applauded as an intellectual guru who wrote over thirty published articles a year. Apart from his contributions to various newspapers, Solarin also published his own books which were well received with critical acclaim. He also often participated in conferences and seminars at various institutions of learning all over the country.
Critic, Activist & Humanist
Solarin is noted as one of the most vocal post-independence civil rights critics and an unrelenting skeptic of the Nigerian government especially the military regimes. During the delayed return to civilian rule saga that plagued General Gowon’s regime, Solarin published a pamphlet titled ‘The Beginning of the End’ which he physically distributed on the Ibadan-Lagos expressway. His bold act led to his imprisonment for nearly a month. This incident was the second time the government of Gowon put him in prison. He will also criticize the government of Shehu Shagari, who came to power in 1979, and whom he considered the worst leader ever to rule Nigeria. He was notorious for his weekly public denouncement on Sundays of Shagari at Campus Square, Lagos which was always soon after followed by his arrest, detainment and release. In 1984, he was detained for seventeen months in Jos for suggesting that the military government hand over power to the public. These were not the only instances of imprisonment for speaking against the government as Solarin was in and out of prison for his displeasing and opposing opinions.
Solarin was a self-confessed and very vocal humanist and atheist who at many times criticized what he termed Nigeria’s outrageous religious beliefs. His views were reflected in particular aspects of Mayflower School’s governance when it is noted that the school did not teach a particular religion or lead the students in hymns and prayers. He stated that ‘blacks hold onto their God just as the drunken man holds on to the lamp post for physical support only.’ Despite his well-known freethinking views, certain religious leaders actually agreed with Solarin both on his criticism of the government and his rebuke of religious extravagances by many groups in Nigeria. His moral and philosophical ideology was based on his belief in man and humanity in general. He believed in providing solutions to problems, the power and the freedom to act and the uplifting of people rather than any prayer. His sense of goodness was founded on the Golden Rule and was known to have passed on morals to his students by teaching them honesty, determination and peaceful living. Despite his atheist views and his opposition to church ownership of his school, Solarin permitted Christian students to construct chapel on the school grounds as long as such structures were not funded by the school and the time dedicated to the construction did not take away from classroom time. He believed that while students have a right to practice any religion of their choosing, their first and foremost allegiance should be to Nigeria and not to any god or church. He once said that “The chronic bane of African non-development is chronic dependence on the deity to solve all early problems.”
Solarin was an innovative educator, a fearless advocate for good governance and one of the leading intellectuals of his time. He constantly spoke against the declining sense of values, the decayed and corrupted sectors of the government as well as the cloud of hypocrisy that shrouded the nation. The Mayflower School has over the years been ranked among the best secondary schools in Nigeria. Doing away with the regular white collar method of teaching, Solarin taught his students crop farming and animal husbandry; lessons that aligned with his principle of self-reliance. A lot of secondary schools have since followed the Mayflower example and made agricultural science a must-have of their curriculum.
Solarin was a man who was inimitable in Nigeria. He chose to question injustice, fought for the poor and powerless, and championed universal education. He was a simple and modest man who despised materialistic extravagance and flamboyance. He was always seen wearing sneakers, shorts, and a khaki hunting cap irrespective of what social function it was. Solarin practiced what he preached and he passed away on June 27th, 1994 at the age of 71. He was considered by many to be Africa’s greatest humanist and educator. He was once quoted as suggesting an epitaph for his tombstone that read “Here lies the remains of Tai Solarin, who lived and died for humanity.” Even in death, he wanted to ensure he was not misrepresented.
- “Tai Solarin” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 12 October, 2016. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tai_Solarin
- “Tai Solarin: His Life, Ideas, and Accomplishments (1995)”. The Secular Web. Web. 12 October, 2016. infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/Tai_Solarin.html