Nigeria’s first lady Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Chief ’Folake Solanke, on Wednesday, 29th March, this year, celebrated her 85th birthday in Ibadan, Oyo State. The well-attended celebration brought out the academic, legal, cultural, sartorial, royal etc elegance of the celebrant and her distinguished guests.
I have, since Chief Solanke’s 75th birthday, being a visible participant (Master of Ceremonies or Coordinator) of her public celebrations. And I, like many others, attest to the fact that the First Lady SAN (FLS) is a stickler for promptness, etiquette, protocols etc. Everything must be in place, elegant place. And I admit that those values of hers have rubbed on well with one and others.
On Friday, 29th March 2009, when she celebrated her 77th birthday, my birthday tribute to the FLS published in the Sunday Tribune issue of March 29, 2009 was titled: “The First Lady SAN and the Baroness” following is the tribute.
“The Yoruba generally believe that Olodumare (Almighty God) creates human beings in ‘pairs’. This belief is different from reincarnation, as the ‘pairing’ under reference connotes a belief that, for every living man/woman, there is also in existence either far or near him / her someone with similar features, characteristics, achievements, tastes, etc.
I shall cite two examples in this write-up, if only to buttress the Yoruba ‘pair’ theory. First, was the case of the late Elvis Aaron Presley and Muhammad Ali (now late), both citizens of the United States of America (USA). Even though one was white and the other black, the two gentlemen were Kings of their different professions. Elvis was the ‘King of pop’ and Ali was the ‘King of boxing’ as the first man in history to win the world heavy weight boxing title thrice. The two gentlemen were friends and were equally talented. Elvis’ hands and feet (remember his stage moves?) were as swift on stage as Ali’s (gloved) hands and footworks were in the boxing ring. Ali and Elvis were interwined by intelligence, creativity, beauty, humour and charity. May their souls rest in peace, Amen.
Now, to the First Lady Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) (1981) and the Baroness. I believe you know who they are. The First Lady SAN (hereinafter referred to as FLS) is no other person than Chief ’Folake Solanke, who is 77 years old today, Sunday March 29, 2009, while the Baroness was Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, the first female Prime Minister of Britain (1979-90). FLS and the Baroness were equally intertwined by intelligence, mathematics, law, teaching, chemistry (Baroness was a research chemist, while FLS’s revered father, PA Jacob Odulate alias the “Blessed Jacob” founded the popular Alabukun Chemist) savvy, drive, strong character, integrity, patriotism, and an all-round beauty.
My first public reference to the ‘sisterhood’ or is it pairing now, of these two remarkable ladies was sometime in 1990 at a luncheon in Mrs. Solanke’s honour by the Zonta Club at Bodija, Ibadan, where I was the Master of Ceremonies. With due deference, Baroness Thatcher, was older, but both women fit well into the Yoruba pair cell.
Better known as the “Iron Lady”, Baroness Thatcher was born in Grantham, Lincolnshire, England. Educated at Somerville College, and Oxford University, she held the B.A., B.Sc., M.A degrees and was mathematics teacher and research chemist before studying Law, specializing in tax law. Her foray into politics as a Conservative led her into entering the British Parliament, the second woman ever to become a cabinet minister under the late Prime Minister Edward Heath. She succeeded Mr. Heath as leader of the Conservative Party in 1975 and became Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990; Britain and Europe’s first woman prime minister and longest serving PM of Britain since 1827. She received the Order of Merit in 1990 and two years after, was made a baroness, qualifying to become a member of the House of Lords.
The celebrant of today, FLS, Chief Folake Solanke, SAN, B.A., Dip.Ed., B.L., LL.B. LL.D(h.c) FNIALS, D, Litt (h.c), former Latin and Mathematics teacher, who trained and taught in England and Nigeria, ‘Queen of the Bar’, whose “Alabukun Chambers”, according to one high court judge, is noted for decency holds among many others, the following firsts.
First lady state commissioner in the former Western State Nigeria, 1972; First Lady Chairman of the Board of WNTV-WNBS, 1972; First Lady Senior Advocate of Nigeria, 1981; and First non-Caucasian to be elected international president of Zonta International, 1992.
A full view of Mama Solanke can be obtained from her magnum opus, Reaching for the Stars…the autobiography of Folake Solanke, launched two years ago, during her 75th birthday lecture/book presentation in Ibadan. I was honoured to be the compere of the birthday / lecture / book presentation where the Nobel laureate, Professor ’Wole Soyinka was the guest speaker.
Please allow some glances of the amazing woman who has become an icon for cerebral dexterity and uncompromising honesty in the legal profession as I quote some of her reasons for writing the autobiography.
“First to acknowledge, with immense gratitude, the unquantifiable grace of God in my life. In all humility, all I can do is to continue in monumental thanksgiving for copious blessings, which it has pleased Him to bestow upon me and my family.
“Second, to pay a lasting tribute to my father, Chief J.S Odulate, alias “The Blessed Jacob”, otherwise known as ‘Alabukun’ for all that he did to protect and nurture me as a motherless child. I was only two years old when my mother died. Also, to express my deep gratitude to the entire Alabukun Family for my survival.
“……to demonstrate with my own life experience, that the home is the bedrock of the society. thus, home training and discipline are a sine qua non for moulding the character of every child. Discipline is not a swear word, it may be old, but it is still valid and relevant today for the welfare of the society. Regrettably, the words ‘home training’ and ‘discipline’ do not sit comfortably with many of the younger generation. Nonetheless, I am profoundly grateful to my father for my disciplined upbringing. My father taught me to be of good conduct. He also admonished me to pursue excellence in all my endeavours, and never, to be satisfied with mediocrity. I was in my early teenage years when he told me “The sky is the limit”. I have tried all my life to follow that paternal admonition by always reaching for the Stars. I continue so to do – Deo Volente…
“….and last, but certainly not the least, to pay a heart felt tribute to the love of my life – Toriola Feyisitan Solanke – who rested in the Lord in my arms, on Tuesday, the 18th day of September, 2001. In that regard, I hereby confirm what I wrote and published about the King of Surgery in the obituary titled: “Tribute from the Heart. (Reaching for the Stars.. 2007, ppxvii-xx)”
Dear Ma’am, please overlook my ‘shyness’ in describing you as God-fearing, intelligent, cultured, dainty, kind, thorough, blessed and well-loved.
Happy 85th birthday. We look forward to 2022 when, Deo Volente, you will celebrate your 90th birthday in good health, joy, honour and contentment. At least, everybody present at the Civic Centre in Ibadan, Oyo State on Wednesday, 29th March, this year heard you publicly declare.