|Dr. Tai Solarin|
Because of five red emotional buttons anything that has to do with education often triggers in the deepest point of my heart, the invitation to deliver this convocation address could not be turned down under any circumstances because it was in accordance with my long-held principle of adding value to our institutions for the purpose of advancing the course of humanity—the fact of which, I must confess, has become something of an obsession. First, Dr. Tai Solarin (who was born and named Augustus Taiwo Solarin) is (I can’t even come to terms to think of Tai Solarin in the past tense!) a living example of an educated or enlightened soul. Through his wonderful deeds as an educator par excellence and as the famous columnist of the Daily Times newspaper’s “Thinking with You” column, he still lives among us. It is similar to great deeds such as those of the youngsters of Ghana’s Young Pioneer Movement in the days of the late President Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah, who used to scream at the top of their voices as part of their pledge: “Nkrumah never dies!” To the critics of the Ghanaian leader, that was impossible. Yet Dr. Nkrumah has been dead since April 1972, yet his soul marches on, as his books are being used in schools and the ideas and socialist policies of Nkrumahism keep on popping up every now and then. In fact, some Ghanaians and other Pan-Africanists long for his reincarnation. And it is the same with Dr. Tai Solarin, whose name honors your great institution! “Tai Solarin never dies!!”
Second, from the time Dr. Solarin left Molusi College, my own alma mater, in the early 1950s to establish The Mayflower College at Ikenne, he had lived true to the character of a teacher who did not merely tell but instead showed and demonstrated. Tai Solarin, as a pilgrim, taught by example. He was also like an eagle and, as you and I know, eagles not only soar high, but they also fly alone. They are the only birds known to fly head on into the eyes of the storm!
Furthermore, pilgrimage is for the bold and courageous, not for the chicken hearted. Eagles do not keep the company of chickens, whose idea of flying is hopping on the curbs!
Tai Solarin’s sojourns, odysseys, and audacity as a pilgrim to move away from all the luxuries and comforts his guaranteed and secure position in Ijebu Igbo to the unknown Ikenne wilderness with all the risks of going solo to establish Mayflower College was no less a pilgrimage; he was accompanied, at the time, by only his dear wife, British-born Sheila Mary Solarin (née Tuer), whom he married in 1951 while in the United Kingdom after serving in the Royal Air Force during World War II. But a pilgrim is someone on a long journey or search, especially of something of exalted purpose or moral significance. It may interest you to note that Mayflower was the name of the ship on which the Pilgrims sailed to America in 1620. The life and works of Tai Solarin not only demonstrated that we too can make our lives sublime, but also showed us what a huge difference one person who was willing to walk his talk could make to change the world and create opportunities for others. Many alumni of Mayflower College have made a considerable difference and have chosen to live above board and carry on Tai Solarin’s torch of integrity and probity, even in our decadent and unpredictable Nigerian society.
Third, your university has just not been rightly named after our national heroic legend and pioneer of proper education Tai Solarin, but it is the first university of education in Nigeria. And no nation can rise above the quality of its teachers. Hence, without competing with Oyo State, whose motto is “pacesetter state,” your university—as the first educators or teachers’ university—is, to say the least, the yardstick to measure where Nigeria is at the moment, and how far in the future Nigeria can go! Why? Because teachers make the nation, and Nigeria, as a nation, cannot go beyond the quality of your product: the teachers. You, as teacher trainers and trainees, are the pacesetters for every sector of our economy. From early years to the university level, you mold the character and quality of our nation. You build the nation. The influence your graduates have in the lives of all the children that will pass through their classrooms will determine the quality of health service, architecture and infrastructure, goods and services. Your burdens and responsibilities are, in some ways, not enviable because our nation’s destiny is in your hands. As teachers, the past, present, and future of Nigeria are in your hands. You have quality education to dispense, and we are happy that your great institution is named after Dr. Solarin, who himself valued education. He used post-war benefits to earn his own high-quality education from the Universities of Manchester and London in the United Kingdom.
Fourth, the entire world, not just educators, is at the historic crossroads. And the challenge of managing the associated confusions of being at the crossroads while at the same time directing, guiding, and compassing the entire world in choosing the appropriate route to take depends on teachers! For ages, the world has historically used property ownership as its yardstick to measure success, and as the compass to guide our movements on the chessboard of the political economy. Now and then, crossroads arise when there is a regime change of property ownership. To appreciate what creates or constitutes the crossroads, and what they mean in our times and in the new Internet virtual and real global village, let’s cast our minds back in history. In the fifteenth century, Christopher Columbus journey to the West, accomplished without dropping into the oblivion, debunked the religious myths not only that our planet earth was not flat but also that it was not the center of the universe.
Consequently, the British naval power and shipping industry automatically enthroned Britain as the world’s mercantile imperial power, trading in goods and humans. Medieval mercantile aristocrats lived side by side and in harmony with the feudal lords because vassals, with scattered farm or village settlements, and small workforces served the mutual interests of the feudal lords and mercantile aristocrats. Might was Right. Everyone knew his or her place, either in the king’s courtyard or within the larger society. And, on one hand, no one dare crossed the lines separating the slaves and the drivers supervising the slaves from the vassals, and on the other hand, no one crossed the boundary between vassals, the feudal lords, and mercantile aristocrats.
However, the industrial revolution came with mass production, larger workforces, and urbanization. Thus, the worlds of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries witnessed another crossroads as property ownership changed from landowners to industrial entrepreneurs. Industrial relations, too, changed from the agrarian vassals to organized trade unions and corporate management. The confusions at the crossroads led to the two World Wars, and attempts to navigate through the worldview on who should own or control the economy and the new factors of mass production generated the crisis between free market enterprise and socialist-communist dialectics. Breakdowns of family lives and the close-knit village neighborhood relations and social norms and rules began to change to anonymous town and city lives, with associated sophisticated new forms of entertainment, crimes, and associations. As the role of women changed from full-time housekeeping to working in offices, sewing and textile industries, and hospitals and health care industry, marital relationships began to change. Marriages began to breakdown. Women also challenged male chauvinism as women began to fight for the franchise, equality, and liberation.
Since the 1980s, the world has come to another crossroads with the new era of virtual Internet and real global village. The Cold War between the West and East came to an end. Technology changed the way we run our lives. The operational systems of capitalism, socialism, or communism had broken down. Technology had become power. Property has, therefore, changed from land, industries, bonds, and stocks to intelligence, property, and knowledge economies. Ownership of property and work relations also had changed from industrial entrepreneurs, investors, and speculators and their professional wealth builders and managers (engineers, accountants, lawyers and medical professionals) to techies and website architects and designers, and virtual property developers. It may interest you to note that, like the backyard workshop and experimental industrialists of the Ford Generation, both Bill Gates and the recently deceased Steven Jobs, the vanguards of the new beginning in the Internet and computer era, do not have university degrees. Workforces, too, had changed from trade unions to social networks. Hours of work had changed from 9 to 5, five or six-day week to 24/7 all the year round. Why we do business, what business we do, when we do business, where we do business, who we do business with, and how we do business have all changed!
Fifth, I believe that everyone needs just one opportunity of awareness to change his/her state of affairs or fate, and therefore to change his/her condition in life. And, as an obsessed, humble student and teacher—indeed, as a farmer would do—I have always considered it as an opportunity and privilege to be in a position to sow the seed of encouragement for my budding colleagues.
… I started this lecture with words about the great Tai Solarin. Let me close also with words about him. In our search for the new pathways to the new beginning in education, we really do not have to reinvent the wheel. The indomitable and sagacious Dr. Tai Solarin, whose great name adorns your institution, has left us a roadmap and a compass to navigate our ways from the southern tip of society to the true north. In my endeavor today, it is my abiding hope that I have provided enough materials to throw some light on the roadmap and compass left behind by Dr. Tai Solarin, whose great societal ideas can make one exclaim, as it was done in Ghana about the late president Nkrumah (as I mentioned earlier in this speech) that “Dr. Tai Solarin never dies!”