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The other day I was reminded of the great and implacable educationist Tai Solarin (1922-1994) when I saw pictures of the State of Osun Governor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, kitted in school uniform with a cap to match sitting in the midst of students. From the wide grin on his goateed face, you would conclude correctly that the governor relished the moment and probably wished it was not a fleeting experience! It was no less excitable for the students.
Perhaps, the message Aregbesola sought to pass in posing with youngsters dressed like them is that when a leader is passionate about a policy, he must follow it up (beef it up?) with some outward tokenism. It is the equivalent of saying that examples are better than precepts.
It is Tai Solarin all over again! Not satisfied with breaking new grounds in the education sector and in fighting the mighty establishment of his era in a crusade to secure education for the Nigerian child, Solarin would renounce society’s sartorial formality. He would not, for instance, wear trousers nor would he put on his native Yoruba attire. He resorted to khaki shorts and khaki or white short-sleeved shirts, all in protest against the neglect of the Nigerian child by the state.
But for his age, he wouldn’t be an odd man on the grounds of Mayflower College, the school he set up in Ikenne, Ogun State, in rebellion against the order of the day. He said the khaki attire was meant to kick against the non-delivery of free and compulsory state education to the children of the poor. He stuck to his position to honour the Nigerian child and was easily noticed at the numerous public gatherings he was asked to grace by hundreds of his loyal admirers and government functionaries.
When military president Ibrahim Babangida invited Solarin to chair the board of People’s Bank, the social critic only accepted the offer because it was for him “an opportunity to serve the deprived folk.” Later the media would run rare photographs of Solarin in flowing agbada with the imprint of Peoples Bank logo. Again to honour the people, he briefly abandoned the khaki. He wouldn’t take government job that didn’t give him room to serve the hoi-polloi.
Setting up Mayflower saw the iconoclast in full flight of rebellion. He left the financial comfort of Molusi College, Ijebu Igbo, Ogun State, where he was principal, to found Mayflower in 1956. Nobody gave him a chance to succeed. Professor C.O Taiwo, upon noticing what Solarin and his wife, Sheila, were attempting to do, told Tai: “You are carrying a dead baby!” At a point when the “baby” was to die following the refusal of the authorities to allow Mayflower students to take their WASCE exams, Solarin did the unthinkable: He took the youngsters to far away Ghana where they did the work! Such passion to serve humanity! Today, Mayflower is 57, outlasting those who derided its founder and predicted it would die at birth.
A journalist wrote of the school: “Mayflower School has become a veritable centre of excellence, a fitting tribute to a man who believes that Nigeria’s salvation lies only in free and qualitative education at all levels for her citizens.”
Are we not already seeing the Tai Solarin in Rauf Aregbesola who is also declaring that he is ready to give all it takes to offer all-round and qualitative education to the Osun child? Aregbesola is taking on the colossal opposition in the state to implement his policy. Like the illustrious Solarin, the governor is adopting unorthodox but legitimate means to achieve his goals. And the elite few are trying to run him down, pooh-poohing the steps he is taking. They say he can’t succeed on account of the massive deconstruction of the old order that he must undertake. The myopic critics of Solarin’s day said the same thing when the man started his great crusade. But he succeeded.
Nigeria is where it is (a sorry state) today because in the past we did not take the courageous step to halt the decay at its start and while in progress. Now it is a monster in our time. But it can only take an equally monstrous approach to kill a monster. Not to do so would amount to enfeebling the present and passing the death sentence on the future. Aregbesola is doing the right thing to abort this fatal trajectory. He is also conditioning the project with the appropriate passion.
Discerning observers such as Senator Uche Chukwumerije have submitted agreeable comments on Aregbesola’s mission. He declared in 2012 when he visited the State of Osun: “The state and the country owe Governor Rauf Aregbesola a lot of gratitude for promptly laying a formidable foundation for education in the state. I will like to use this opportunity to advise other states, irrespective of your political affiliation: you must drop your ego and learn from the people-oriented projects and programmes of Governor Aregbesola.”
Classical German philosopher Wilhelm Hegel (1770-1831) said somewhere in his numerous works that great personalities in history appear twice, as it were. Later, Karl Marx (1818-1883), his compatriot of a more radical persuasion, ran a cynic’s post-script. Marx said Hegel forgot to add that when history so resonates, the first apparition is a tragedy and the second a farce.
Tai Solarin was not a tragedy; nor Rauf Aregbesola a farce!