The exit of J.D. Soleye: Tribute to an Elder Statesman

The exit of J.D. Soleye: Tribute to an Elder Statesman

By Abdulfatai Tomori

It was on Thursday, 1st October 2020 while I was deep asleep after I had earlier struggled to go through a few scripts out of about 200 allocated to me by the West African Examination Council (WAEC).

For quite sometime, I have been initiated into being a WAEC Assistant Examiner. I have been participating in the yearly marking exercise. Though WAEC has refused to increase its marking allowance in the last ten years and many of us would have stopped participating in the marking exercises but for Enu gbe scourge. Sorry for the digression.

At around 2.35 am, I heard my phone beeping. Upon picking my call, it was the voice of a brother, friend, and co-author of the book, ‘Blessed to Serve – A biography of Dr JD Soleye’, Lukman Afolabi. When I heard his cold voice, I suspected something was wrong and, before I could say hello, he said in Yoruba, “n je o gbo pe Baba ku? (did you hear of Baba’s death?).

“Baba wo?” (Which Baba?) I quickly asked. For the first five seconds, my mind was far away. I can imagine how my heart was racing a perfect 100-metre dash at an Olympic tournament, contending with Usain Bolt. But I told myself to be ‘calming down’.

“Baba J.D Soleye,” he replied. Immediately, I heard myself saying “Innalillahi wa’inna ilaihin Raji’un”. I then asked two questions at a time, “ni jo wo, ni bo lo ti gbo?” (when was that and where did you get the news?). He told me the incident happened yesterday Wednesday, 30th September, and he got the information through a Facebook update of one of our brothers from Offa.

Facebook? Not unexpected, we get different news items from that street. Without hesitation, I went on to Mark Zuckerberg’s street to confirm the story. The sad news was all over.

The news of the glorious exit of one of Offa’s oldest and respected elder statesmen, Dr Jonathan Durojaye Soleye, came to me like a thunderbolt! This is why. His passing away is a big loss to a community like Offa considering his enormous contributions to the development of the town. Particularly, when looking at the inescapable fact that vacuum left by people like him are difficult to fulfil.

It is a fact that Dr JD has an interest in the development and progress of Offa community and her people. He has demonstrated this many times. Besides, his fatherly role, as well as grandfatherly advice won’t be there any more. At the time he was calling the shots as one of the oldest educated elder statesmen in Offa Local Government at 97 years, many think that a great hero has fallen in Offa, Ibolo, and Kwara State.

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Born on October 22, 1923, in Offa. Dr Durojaiye Soleye attended St. Marks School between 1929 and 1936. He was among 22 graduating students at Igbobi College Lagos in 1941. Out of that class of 22, only Chief (Dr.) Christopher O. Ogunbanjo is still with us, hale and hearty.

Dr JD also attended the Nigerian School of Medicine Yaba and West London Hospital Medical School between 1954 and 1955 for his medical studies. For his Postgraduate Diploma in Public Health (DPH), Dr Soleye attended Queen’s University and Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast between 1961 and 1962.

Dr JD as he is popularly called was a gentleman of the highest status and grade, JD doubled as a gentleman of gentlemen. He was handsome, brilliant, intellectual, profound, civilized and cosmopolitan. It is repeating the obvious to say that he was intellectually deep and religiously sound.

He was a civil servant before ventured into private practices. He worked in both defunct Northern Nigeria and Kwara State Civil Service. Under Northern Nigeria Civil Service, Dr JD rose to the position of Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Preventive Services and, his tenure as CMO witnessed the establishment of the ABU Institute of Health. These included ABU Hospitals, Clinics and Dispensaries; ABU School of Nursing; ABU Medical Auxiliaries Training School and ABU School of Hygiene.

Dr Jaiye Soleye would later succeed Dr Russell Aliyu Barau Dikko in July 1967 as second indigenous Permanent Secretary in the Northern Nigeria Ministry of Health. As one of the first set of Permanent Secretary in the newly created Kwara State in 1968, he set up the administrative structure of the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare. He decided to retire voluntarily from the Kwara State Civil Service at his 45th birthday on 22nd October 1968, since then, JD never retired from public service.

He established Duro-Soleye Hospitals located along Allen Avenue, Ikeja. The establishment of the hospital became the bedrock of his private medical career. As a lover of his community, Dr Soleye thought there were too many things to do for his people hence, he had actively participated in all the activities of the Offa Descendant Union (ODU). His participation in the ODU affairs was dated back to 1936.

For those who may not be familiar with the history of ODU, I will be brief. Providence had made JD Soleye around at the formation year of ODU in Lagos. The young Jaye, as at that time, was under the tutelage of Pa Bilewu, a family friend and railway worker who lives at 40 McCallum Street, Sango, Ebute-Metta. Jaiye was in charge of the distribution of the circulars of notices of meetings to members. He was also to set chairs for members on the day of meetings. He was simply called ‘Circular Bearer.’

From the little-known Circular Bearer position in 1936, Dr Jaye would later become the National President of the revere-association three decades later, precisely around 1976/77. Though the association may not have flourished as much as he would have liked after his tenure in 1989, Dr JD never compromised his principles of fairness and social justice throughout his tenure as ODU president.

Earlier, around 1963, Dr Soleye established Offa Foundation, a nongovernmental organization with aims of awarding scholarships, bursaries, grants and revolving loans to indigent Offa students to pursue higher education.

He initiated the J. D. Soleye’s Prize for the best candidate in Part II finals of the Faculty of Public Health (FMCPH), National Postgraduate College of Nigeria with the best dissertation. He also instituted the prize for best student in Public Health at the College of Medicine, University of Ilorin. Besides, he instituted long service awards and merit award for senior, intermediate and junior staff at Duro-Soleye Hospital. These have been a way of giving back to society.

Dr Jaiye Soleye was a blessing to the Christendom. Aside from being a committed member of Iyeru Okin African Church Offa, he has also contributed his wisdom, expertise and talents to the development of the Church. He would be in Offa at every meeting of the Church Parish Council despite living in Lagos.

Until his death, he was the Baba Ijo of Iyeru Okin African Church, a position previously occupied by his father. He also served as Patron of the African Church in Kwara State.

In all these, he was driven by values that never had a hidden agenda. In his later years, Dr JD came into his role as a senior citizen and elder statesman with ease. He was a good ambassador and a role model for the younger generation. He was an excellent and engaging raconteur.

His knowledge of the details of history and past events was unsurpassable. This was demonstrated during our engagement with him in 2013 when we were writing his biography. Dr JD was a community man to the core. He held many significant positions in Offa community, he was Bobagunwa of Offa land. He was also the Chairman, Offa Council of Elders and Patron, Council of Offa Titled Chiefs.

Dr JD was a recipient of the national honour of the Officer of the Order of Niger. He continued to be involved in public and social life and, he was best known as the man of peace. He was at his best doing what elder statesmen should do! Dr Soleye was a fearless advocate of fairness, a champion of social justice and self-determination. He was a passionate proponent of unity among his immediate family members. Dr JD has carved a good name for himself and a good name, they say, is better than precious gold hence, he died a hero.

His death at this crucial period of our nation where his intellectual capability and elderly advice would have assisted the current government to make life meaningful for the masses. But what are we going to do about death, a creature the late Ayinla Omowura described as very dark with dilating eyes. Aare Dr Sikiru Ayinde Barrister, in one of his album, Fantasia Fuji, describes the power of this creature as so enormous that even God does not review its actions. He doesn’t give a damn, very stubborn!

But the good news is that, as a devoted Christian which Baba Soleye was, he was aware that this worldly death is not the evil which one should fear the most. He believes that life on this earth is not an end in itself but a preparation for what is to come. Jesus said in John 11:25, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live.”

With this, we can rightly conclude that Dr JD Soleye hasn’t died, he only went to sleep in the Lord. As Dr Jonathan Durojaye Soleye goes to his final home at his Offa residence on the 5th November 2020, I want to wish him a safe crossing on the journey back to the Paradise where his Lord awaits him. I equally want to pray for his soul to continually have perfect rest in the bosom of the Lord Jesus Christ. Farewell Pa ‘Ji!

Abdulfatai, an independent researcher, writer, and editor, is a co-author of ‘Blessed to Serve: A Biography of Dr. (Chief) Jonathan Durojaiye Soleye’. He can be reached through obiograph@gmail.com.

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