Last Thursday, in a serene location at the New Bodija area of Ibadan, Oyo State capital, Chief Folake Solanke was a special guest of five Nigerian artists.
Decked in her silk regalia, she sat for four hours (with breaks at intervals) before the artists, who expressed their artistic interpretation of her sitting profile from various perspectives, Solanke, the first Nigerian female lawyer to be conferred with Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), also became the first female and latest icon of the Living Legend Project.
The artists were Taiwo Fadare, Olusegun Adejumo, Akinola Ebenezer, Toromade Tosin and Olu Ajayi. Chief Solanke, the first lady of silk, was selected as the first female to sit for the prestigious Living Legend Foundation live drawing project.
Chief Solanke described the project as very unique and highly cerebral, praying that good fortunes attend the living legend innovation, and may God continue to elevate the initiators. She added: “I am very elated to be included on the same pedestal to the previous documented legends, the likes of Prof. Wole Soyinka, Prof. Yusuf Grillo, Dr. Bruce Onobrakpeya and the late Oba of Benin, OmoN’ObaN’Edo, UkuAkpolokpolo (Oba Erediauwa), Prof. J. P. Clark and General Yakubu Gowon (rtd).’’
She asked the initiator how the project was being funded. Olu Ajayi, responding, said fund has been a sore part for the unique project, as corporate Nigeria are yet to see the project’s viability. “They are only interested in a short-term project with huge profit. Though, the project received funding from NNPC during the Yakubu Gowon edition, all other editions have been personally funded,” he added.
Before the drawing started, 14-year- old Oluwanimi Adeniji read Chief Solanke’s citation . Also, Living Legend initiator, Olu Ajayi, read an excerpt from her autobiography titled: ‘Reaching for the Stars’, which she received with joy, saying that passage brought pleasant memories.
The life painting started at 3:45pm, with Solanke dressed in full regalia of the first lady of silk, sitting graciously like a queen for one hour, while the artists engaged in drawing and painting, with soft music at the background.
At the close of the painting, Mrs Solanke was led by the project curator to view the mounted paintings, which showed the artists’ expression of the Legend’s resemblance and character in various perspectives.
The Living Legend Project, a non-profit initiative was started in 2008, documenting esteemed African personalities (icons), who are making great impact and creating legendary footprints that will make for scholarly artistic references in the near future.
It adopt the medium of drawing, painting, sketching and sculpting to create and immortalise ‘Legend, thus creating a Hall of Legends’.
This process of painting the immortal deeds and accomplishments of these Nigerian/African/ international icons, is expected to ignite the spirit of emulation; re-awake national consciousness, history and patriotism. It will locate the intercession and intervention of the Art in the nation’s development.
The project has so far documented the following personalities: Prof. Wole Soyinka, Prof.Grillo, Dr. Bruce Onobrakpeya and the late Oba of Benin (OmoN’Oba N’Edo, Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba Erediauwa), Clark and Gowon.
Solanke was born in Abeokuta on Tuesday, March 29, 1932 to the illustrious family of Chief Jacob Sogboyega Odulate, alias: The blessed Jacob, otherwise known as ALABUKUN of Ikorodu, who made his name and fame in Abeokuta. He was a pharmacist and the proprietor and founder of Alabukun Patent Medicine Stores, Sapon, Abeokuta, Ogun State. Her father was the inventor and manufacturer of Alabukun powder and many other medical products. His photograph is depicted on the popular Alabukun power sachet, which consumers take for instant relief from all ailments. It was a delight for us, as children to work in our home factory during school holidays, followed by a sumptuous feast after the factory activities.
Her mother, Sekumade Odulate died young when she was only two years old. She attended kindergarten and primary schools in Ago-Oko, School and Imo Girls’ School, Abeokuta.
In 1944, she sat for the entrance examination into Methodist Girls’ High School, Lagos. With spectacular result, that she was placed in form II instead of Form I.
She attended Methodist Girls’ High School, Lagos from 1945 to 1949 where she obtained the first Grade I in the Senior Cambridge School Certificate Examination and was a School Prefect and Games’ Captain.
She worked for a few months at the Ministry of Lagos and found the clerical work there unbearably boring and was relieved to leave the ministry.
Chief Solanke left for the United Kingdom in January and was a student at King’s College, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, then in the University of Durham and now the University of Newcastel-upon-Tyne, from 1951 to 1955, where she obtained B.A. degree and Diploma in Education, teaching Latin and Mathematics as a resident teacher in two fee paying public schools to wit:Pipers Corner School, Great Kingshill, High Wycombe, Bucks, and St. Monica’s School, Clacton-on-Sea, Essex.
She taught the same subjects at Yejide Girls’ Grammar School (1958-1960), Ibadan. She got married to the love of her life, Dr.Toriola Feisetan Solanke in London in 1956, who later became a Professor Emeritus of Surgery, before he passed away in 2001.
In 1960, they returned to England where she worked as a Students’ Officer at the Nigerian High Commission, London (1960 – 62). She also studied Law at Gray’s Inn, where she passed all the Bar examination in 22 months and was called to the English Bar ‘in-absentia’ in May 1963 in London. She also enrolled as a Lawyer in the Supreme Court, Lagos, the same month and year.
In 1981, she was elevated by the Supreme Court of Nigeria to the prestigious rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) – the equivalent of Qeen’s Counsel (QC). in England, the first female lawyer to be so elevated. She has been practising serious advocacy for over 52 years and not tired.
In 1981, she joined the prestigious Zonta International – a global organisation of executives in business and the professions, working for the advancement of women. The new focus is “Empowering Women through Service and Advocacy. Zonta has clubs in about seventy (70) countries of the world. She is a member of the Zonta Club of Ibadan. She rose, by elections, through the ranks.
In 1992, in Hong Kong, by divine grace, she achieved what was thought to be impossible by being elected the first non-Caucasian (non-white) Zonta International President for 1994-9196. Her biennial theme was: “Zonta in action: Women’s Health, Human Rights and World Harmony” (The “triple H” concept).
Her biennial performance has been positively acknowledged by all and she is welcomed at Zonta Conventions all over the world with much respect and affection.