Chief Folake Solanke…mentors younger women of several generations
By Morenike Taire, Woman Editor
LONG before she was decorated with the silk in 1981, Chief Folake Solanke, SAN, CON; already had the gift of the garb.
This she had employed earlier in the teaching profession; at Pipers Corner School, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, where she taught Latin and Mathematics for two years; following which she moved to St. Monica’s School, England to teach the same subjects from 1957 -1958. She later taught Latin and Mathematics at Yejide Girls Grammar School in Ibadan, Oyo State.
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She attended Ago Oko primary school, Abeokuta from 1937-1939, Emo Girls school, Abeokuta from 1940-1944 and Methodist Girls High School, Yaba Lagos, from 1945-1949, where she consistently took the first prize in English and Mathematics. In 1949, she became Games Captain as well as School Prefect and at the West Africa School Certificate Examinations that held that year, she became the first student of the school to obtain grade one.
In 1950, she did a one year higher course in Queens’ College then in Onikan Lagos before proceeding to England for her post basic education. In 1951, she entered the King’s College in the University of Durham, now the University of Newscastle in England where she obtained her BA (2nd Division) in Latin and Mathematics in 1954. In 1955, she received a diploma certificate in education and in 1960, Chief Solanke gained admission into Gray’s Inn, London to read for a degree in law. She was called to the English bar in 1962.
Upon returning to Nigeria from England in 1962, Chief Folake Solanke joined the chambers of MA Odesanya, now honourable Justice Odesanya, in Lagos from August 1962 – May 1963 from which she moved to the chambers of Chief FRA Williams in Ibadan as Junior counsel in 1963.
The Nigerian Lawyer, administrator, and social critic was born in Abeokuta on March 29, 1932 to the prominent J.S. Odulate (founder of Alabukun Medicine).
Though her mother, Madam Sekumade Abiodun Odulate died when Folake was just two years old, she recalls that though her father was a polygamist, her step-mothers were very good and caring, while displaying much love to her.
She married the late Emeritus Professor Toriola Solanke, and they are blessed with three children: Dr (Mrs) Oluyemi Koya is both a medical doctor and a lawyer, Engr. B.A Solanke and Miss Olushola Solanke, a mathematician.
In 1972, she was appointed commissioner, Western State of Nigeria; as well as Chairman, Western Nigeria Television Broadcasting Corporation (WNTBC).
On the international scene, Chief Folake Solanke became a source of pride not only for Nigeria and the Nigerian woman but also for Africa and the black world as a whole.
One of the most decorated Nigerian women living or dead, Folake Solanke has received numerous awards, including the National Honour of the Commander of the Order of Niger, as well as honorary doctorate degrees from various universities across Nigeria for her contribution to learning.
Following her conferment with Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) in 1981, Chief Solanke was installed the Yeyemofin of Ife by the Ooni, Oba Okunade Sijuwade Olabuse II. She has held many positions in various institutions and associations covering a wide spectrum of activities. Her papers and publications number over seventy also covering vast areas including law, women’s rights, Zonta and Christian topics.
In 2012, Solanke received the International Bar Association’s Outstanding International Woman Lawyer Award at the Association’s fifth World Women Lawyers’ Conference that held in London, in recognition of her professional excellence and immense contribution to the advancement of women within the legal profession.
Chief Solanke’s autobiography, Reaching for the Stars was published in 2007. The book described her as a “Lady of many firsts” and how she rose to prominence in the legal profession.
In 2012, Chief Solanke released her second book, A Compendium of Selected Lectures and Papers, Volume 1.
On January 17, 2015, Solanke was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by The Sun Newspaper at a ceremony held at Eko Hotels and Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos.
Her being the first African to be named 42nd President of Zonta- an international women empowerment organization- on July 21, 1994- was no coincidence. Lady Solanke has continued to devote much of her twilight years to the cause of gender empowerment and is mentor to younger women of several generations too numerous to mention.