Dr Raphael James is Founder of the Centre for Research, Information Management and Media Development (CRIMMD), Idimu, Lagos. His network of quality contacts cut across different sectors. To his credit are numerous revelations which have since served as a compass to his fellow researchers within and outside Nigeria. For about 30 years, James refused to reveal his last meeting with Dr Tai Solarin two days to his death. He had been scheduled to meet him, and arrived his Ikenne residence to be welcomed into the compound by the news of Solarin’s demise. The distraught James could only share with his late mother that exclusive information. The scared mother advised him against going public with it. However, James has broken his silence in an interview with TheTabloid.net. Excerpts
Can you recall when and under the circumstance you first met Dr Tai Solarin?
My first meeting with Pa Tai (Solarin) was during his visit to the former Ondo State University Ado Ekiti, now the Ekiti State capital. That was in 1993 during my NYSC (National Youths Service Corps) year. That was when I took my first picture with him. I was serving my country in the office of the university Registrar, Chief J.G.O. Adegbite. That was my first historic meeting with him.
When next did you see him?
My second meeting with Pa Tai Solarin was on Saturday July 24, 1994 at Yaba by the railline. There was a solidarity walk in honour of Professor Wole Soyinka’s 60th birthday. Soyinka had clocked 60th on July 13 1994 but the event could not hold that day as the country was burning with the one year anniversary of the annulled June 12, 1993 elections. On that day, I was at the Labour House Yaba to see my friends now Mr. Salt, who is a Professor today and Mr Tunji Adeyemi since I did not go to work at the Newswatch that day.Tunji was working with a Healthcare magazine, his office was a stone throw to the Labour Congress building. While at Yaba, I saw a crowd and I sighted Pa Tai.
What happened to you when you saw him?
Picture of General Ironsi came to my mind.
How connected was Ironsi to the Yaba event?
I am coming to that. I quickly joined the crowd and found my way to Pa Tai. He was in his traditional kaki shot and shirt. In that crowd was Prof Soyinka, Pa Tai and Comrade Pascal Bafyau who was not sure of his office as the labour leader then because the crisis of the June 12 1993 anniversary had affected the Labour Congress.
What happened when Solarin saw you?
I introduced myself, reminding him of my first meeting with him in 1993 during my NYSC year in Ado-Ekiti. I told him that I was writing the biography of General Aguiyi-Ironsi and I leant that he was the last person that held a meeting with Ironsi before he was killed and that he never granted an interview on it since 1966.
Was he surprised by your revelation and effontery?
He didn’t show it but asked me to come over to Ikenne in two day’s time. He promised to tell me the details.
What had you earlier read about his meeting with General Ironsi?
He confirmed at that point that Ironsi held a closed door meeting on the release of Chief Obafemi Awolowo in few days time. I was excited to hear this and looking forward to that meeting. When I asked him of how to locate his house on arrival at Ikenne, he told me to look for any blind man on the road and ask him that they would direct me to his compound.
Did you make it to Ikenne as scheduled?
Yes. On Wednesday July 27, I took off to Ikenne, and it was my very first visit to that town. It was so easy to get to his compound. On arrival, I saw people standing in twos and threes. I greeted an elderly woman and told her I was there to see Pa Tai. She responded, ‘may you never see him’. I never liked the response but I never knew that he was gone. He died while waiting to receive me.
How did you know he was actually expecting you?
I was there when his wife Madam Sheila, the white woman, held herself together and stepped out of the house and some of the women with her, narrated the story of his death.
What did she tell you?
That he was done with his breakfast and was climbing the staircase when he slipped and hit his head and died. But that he had announced that he was expecting a visitor and I am sure I was the visitor.
Hearing this, how did you react?
I was so scared, and I could not introduce myself or even tell anyone, for I started feeling guilty as a young man. Maybe, if I had arrived an hour earlier, maybe, I would have saved him or I probably would have been with him when he died and would have been charged. So, I have lived with that fear that may be I killed him.
Was that your last with his family?
No. In 2015, I visited his home and school and paid homage to him in my own way. I even donated books to his school library in solidarity of bringing back the reading habit.