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Dr Wale Omole, Proprietor of T&S Hospitals in Lagos is the National Coordinator of Tai Solarin Foundation and also the National Coordinator of Peoples Problems and Solution (PPS), a Non-Governmental Organization, (NGO). He spoke with Bamidele Ogunwusi, on the legacies of the late social crusader, Dr. Tai Solarin and his political nuances. Excerpts:
I learnt you named your hospitals after Dr. Tai Solarin and his wife Sheila, Why did you do this?
Yes, it’s true I named my hospitals, T&S Hospitals. T is for Tai Solarin while S is for Sheila Solarin. The reason for this has been in the news for so long. I named my companies after them because of the role Dr Tai Solarin played in my life as a young boy.
One day when I was in Mayflower School, Ikenne, I went to him to seek permission to travel to Bida in Niger State to collect my school fees and when he saw I was the one, he said, “We cannot allow you to travel on that bad road.” He then asked, “Are you not the boy that came first in your class?” I said yes. He said, “Instead of allowing you to travel on that bad road, I will give you the Friends of Mayflower Scholarship.” He then gave me the scholarship.
Two weeks after, the wife asked me to see her during break time and I went to her. When I got to her office, she shook hands with me and said congratulations; that out of the 37 students that were recommended by the principal for Western State Government Scholarship, I was the only one that was given the scholarship.
That was why I got two scholarships within two weeks. In fact, the third scholarship also came from a philanthropist in Lagos who said the scholarship should be given to the best student in my class. And because I was the best student, it was given to me.
One day, Dr Tai Solarin called me to ask me which of the scholarships I wanted to use. I said he should choose for me. He said “If you have opportunity of taking something from government, you should not waste it.” He said I should use the Western State Government scholarship while the one from Friends of Mayfair will be reserved for my higher education and that of the Lagos philanthropist was given to another indigent student, a girl called Tawa.
He stood by his words and I used that of the Western State Government to finish my secondary education and in the process I had the opportunity of traveling to London. Though, it was not on the same platform, but it was a kind of exchange programme between Nigeria and British government and being the best student in my class, I was lucky to be among a set of 12 students and two teachers who went to London. I must say I gained a lot by attending that school, Mayflower School, Ikenne and benefited greatly knowing Dr Tai Solarin and his wife, Sheila.
When I finished my secondary education, I gained admission to read medicine at the University of Lagos and I used the Friends of Mayflower scholarship throughout my university education. When I finished, I went for NYSC programme and Dr Tai Solarin started paying me graduate salary, because occasionally, I used to go to the school to teach students and because he was just in love with me as a young boy, and he knew I was very hardworking and was always doing all he wanted.
When the opportunity came that I had to establish my own private hospital, in fact he was the one who advised me to start it, but I told him it’s capital intensive and exorbitant.
He said I should go and do the estimate and that if the estimate was too much for him and he cannot fund it by himself, he would take a loan and that if he did, he would write it in his will for his estate to pay back. I am from Ilesa, he was not my father, he was from Ijebu. I was completely surprised and naming the hospital after him was the smallest thing that I could do to honour such a man. Even the building I rented, he told me that the landlord could wake up one day and ask me to leave. He said I should be thinking of how I will have a building of my own. He told me that very year, that in January, he would send me a cheque for N1,000 and to encourage me to always be thinking of having my own building. He was always giving me a cheque of N1,000 every January not because I needed the N1,000, but he was reminding me of having my own building. He said to me: “I won’t be telling you every time to start your own building so that you won’t be embarrassed, but whenever I send you that cheque of N1, 000, it will remind you that you need your own building.”
So, when we were lucky to have our own hospital, I wasted no time in naming it Tai Solarin House.
What are the legacies of the great educationist and social crusader?
Solarin trained so many Nigerians. He even trained people from South Africa and Liberia when they had crisis. Even in Nigeria, during the civil war, he assisted those going to the war front with loads and trucks of food for children and women. He brought some of those children to the West here to train them. Some of them have become important people in society. He really did a lot for Nigerians. He left a lot of legacies in education, agriculture, journalism and in all areas you can think of. That man was everything to me and in fact a lot of us who were privileged to know him.
When he started his school in 1956, when the people from the Ministry of Education said they were not going to register the school because he did not have a laboratory, he told them he had a laboratory and when the official came to the school, he presented a carton and told them this is Mayflower School laboratory. He said, “From this cartoon, I am going to produce eminent doctors, engineers and great scientists”.
Luckily for him, the man who was the Minister of Education then was the former Principal of Molusi College, Awokoya. Awokoya just minuted on the file of Mayflower school and said, “If Tai Solarin wants to break his neck, allow him.” That was how the school was approved. That box of laboratory later metamorphosed into a very big one. Some people from Netherlands who heard of the exploits of the school came to build a very big laboratory for the school.
You have one NGO, PPS. Looking at the suffering among Nigerians, what do you think government can do to ameliorate the suffering of the people?
Nigeria is waging several wars and there are a lot of problems going on because we are not organized. Which area of the country is not facing one form of problem or the other? Every sector is facing challenges. Are we talking of that of education that is completely in ruins?
Our certificates are no longer recognized. In those days when we had fewer universities, our certificates were recognized all over the world. But today, nobody respects us again. Universities are springing up everywhere on daily basis. We don’t even have statistics to know how many people are of education age.
On food, we cannot even feed ourselves. We keep on importing rice and other food items. If Nigerians cannot produce food for us, let us go hungry. Is it tomatoes or maize that we cannot cultivate? Or, are we going to say God has not blessed this country enough?
Do you think Dr Tai Solarin has been adequately recognized and immortalized for his heroic contributions to the growth of Nigeria?
I will thank Ogun State for the recognition given to him and his wife, particularly to the man for the role he played when he was alive, Ogun State Government has done very well by naming after him, the first university of education in the country (Tai Solarin University of Education) and another NCE College, Tai Solarin College of Education, in Ijebu Ode.
Several schools have been named after him because a lot of people appreciates the man. But on the national stage, nothing has been done to immortalize the man. I think, he deserves to be nationally honoured. I know one day, the man will be immortalized because we have not had another Tai Solarin before he died.
Imagine if Tai Solarin were alive and seeing all that are happening in the polity. What do you think the man would have done?
Number one, I know that when he was alive, he was never hypertensive but by now, he would have been very hypertensive because the rate at which he was crying under Gowon and he was crying when he wrote “The Beginning of the End,” I am sure he would have developed high blood pressure if alive now.
In the light of what has been happening in the country, would you also lend your voice to the call for restructuring?
There is a need for us to come together as a nation to sit down and decide our fate but unfortunately for us, the Igbo and Hausa have agenda on where they are going, but the Yoruba are not prepared. If this nation has to continue to be together, we need to sit down and map out how we are going to live together. No section of the country is to be subservient to another. If people of different cultures agree to come together, then there is the need to determine how they are to live together. We should first of all recognize that Igbo are different from Yoruba and Hausa are different from Igbo and Yoruba. After this, we need to sit down and look for how we can live together. I assure you if we do this, we will live together in harmony.