In 1981, Folake Solanke, became the first female to attain the highly revered rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) in the legal profession; and the glass ceiling which was previously unattainable got broken. After having qualified to practice law in the UK and in Nigeria in the 60’s, she later joined the ranks of other legal luminaries who called the shot in the Nigerian political climate.
Folake was one of the few women who practiced law in an industry dominated by legal bigwigs such as Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Chief Remi Fani-Kayode, Chief Frederick Rotimi Williams, Chief S.L.A Akintola, Chief Chris Ogunbanjo, T.O.S Benson, among others – until she charted her own path to wearing the silk gown as Senior Counsel.
Folake Solanke was also the first female Commissioner of Western State in 1972; from where she moved on to be the Chairperson of the Western Nigeria Television Broadcasting Corporation (WNTBC) – the first Radio and Television broadcasting station in West Africa.
Chief Folake Solanke SAN, CON, was born on March 29, 1932, to the family of the founder and originator of the decades-old popular Alabukun drug; Pa Jacob Odulate and Madam Sekumade Abiodun Odulate at Abeokuta, Ogun State.
In 2007, Solanke published her autobiography – Reaching For The Stars. While confirming her place as a lady of ‘many firsts’ in Nigeria, Folake highlighted an episode, which in one of her earliest legal involvements took an albeit sour twist with Chief T.O.S Benson who was a friend of her family.
T.O.S Benson was a lawyer himself who had risen to prominence in local Nigerian politics in Lagos and in the Old Western Region under the banner of the National Council of Nigerian and Cameroons (NCNC). He was also one of the legislators who participated in the pre-Independence National Conferences which took place in London before 1960.
Benson had wanted Solanke’s hand in marriage, but Solanke already had a suitor – a medical doctor named Toriola Solanke. The interaction took a different turn when Folake Solanke accused the prominent Nigerian politician, Benson of harassment after an interaction had degenerated into assault in London. Although Folake lost the court case in the UK; she would later make her mark in many other suits which she won while in practice as a lawyer in Nigeria.
While still schooling in the United Kingdom, she taught diverse subjects at schools. After obtaining a first degree of Bachelor of Arts in Latin and Mathematics in 1954 at Newcastle University (then University of Durham), she proceeded to further her studies and study law in 1960. Solanke got admitted into Gray’s Inn, London, to study law.
Upon her graduation and return to Nigeria in August 1962 to practice law in her fatherland, Solanke began her law career at the chamber of late Hon. Justice Michael Adeyinka Odesanya (Rtd) – an in-law who was married to her elder sister. She was called to bar in May 1963 and began as junior counsel in the law office of Chief Frederick Rotimi Williams.
Folake Solanke also, by sheer force of will and doggedness, became the first non-caucasian and 42nd International President of Zonta International – an international service organization focusing on advancing the status of women in the society. Solanke remarkably won the election on July 21, 1994 to become the 42nd International President of Zonta after losing twice.
Solanke also got more international recognition when she received the International Bar Association’s Outstanding International Woman Lawyer Award at the Association’s 5th World Women Lawyers’ Conference held in London, in 2012.
Folake Solanke’s story is an affirmation of the principle that no matter the challenges which may come one’s way at some point, many more remarkable paths could be charted by the one who work diligently at their goals.
The Cable NG
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