Happy new month, ladies and gentlemen. I welcome you to another monthly edition of the Law History Series, which is aimed at promoting and unearthing the history, unknown facts and celebrating the heroes of our beloved legal profession.
Recently, I have been doing some research on several legal luminaries with the intention of getting some interesting details about them. During that process, I came across a particular story of what I will call a love tango between Folake Solanke SAN and T.O.S Benson SAN, which I came across via her book titled “Reaching the Stars” and an article by Femi Kehinde, a prolific journalist. The question is, what would have brought Solanke SAN, a famous Legal luminary, and T.O.S Benson, one of the most loved politicians in Nigerian history who happens to be a SAN too together?
I know what you are thinking? It’s not the legal profession! The majority of our readers who are born in the late 90s or early 2000s might not know much about T.O.S Benson SAN.
T.O.S Benson was born into an aristocratic family in Ikorodu, Lagos. He attended the CMS Grammar School in Lagos. He studied law at Lincoln’s Inn and was called to the Bar in 1947. He returned back to Nigeria and went straight into law practice and politics. He joined the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC). He had a brother called Bobby Benson, a musician who was the Taxi driver crooner! The old folks can relate to the song better!
While T.O.S Benson was dominating Lagos Politics, his brother Bobby was dominating the music scene. Bobby’s innovation in music and style was a precursor of the popular juju music, characteristic of the likes of IK Dairo, Ebenezer Obey, King Sunny Ade, Orlando Owoh, Fatai Rolling Dollars, and others.
Without digressing too much, how did the Folake Solanke SAN and T.O.S Benson saga start?
The majority of us knew Folake Solanke SAN as a prominent lawyer; only a few knew about the fact that she was Jacob Odulate’s daughter, who was the brain behind Alabukun Medicine.
His Alabukun products, which he patented in 1918, had become a trailblazer in the Nigerian pharmaceutical industry. The products, Alabukun Mentoline (a soothing balm), Alabukun APC, now “Alabukun” powder, and the Elixir (an equivalent of the present-day Viagra), still sells in the market today in Nigeria and some West African countries.
An event took place that led to the meeting between Solanke SAN and Benson. Kindly permit me to refer to Folake Solanke SAN as Folake and T.O.S Benson SAN as Benson for easy reference
Jacob Odulate, Solanke’s father, was expecting the arrival of his son, who just finished studying medicine in the UK.
So, Pa Odulate bought a new car to celebrate his son’s success after becoming a doctor. The same car was used to transport Pa Odulate son from Lagos to Abeokuta. But unfortunately, they had an accident while coming back from Lagos, and this led to the death of Pa Odulate’s son, Folake Solanke’s mother, and other casualties.
It was a really sad day for Pa Odulate, who was in the car alongside Folake, but fortunately, both of them came out of the accident alive! This was how Folake Solanke SAN became motherless at a very young age, but I guess she didn’t really feel the void, considering that her stepmothers were good to her. This was corroborated in her book titled “Reaching the Stars,” where she claimed her father’s other wives didn’t make her feel her mother’s absence, but no one could be like her mother.
It was during this turbulent period that T.O.S Benson came to sympathize with Pa Odulate and met the beautiful Folake. Benson’s exploratory discussions started between the Bensons and Odulates and the possibility of hooking up Folake with T.O.S Benson via an arranged marriage. The most interesting part is that the two families met and did an engagement without Folake in attendance at the marriage ceremony.
Folake relocated to the United Kingdom in 1951 for further studies, and this provided, perhaps, an escape valve for her. As soon as she arrived in London, she wrote a letter to Benson and told him point-blank that she should be counted out of the arranged marriage. She said-“I thought very deeply about my future. I came to a firm decision that the talk between Papa and Benson about an arranged marriage could never be for me.”
A year after Folake’s arrival in the United Kingdom, she met the real love of her life, Toriola Fehisitan Solanke, and on the 6th of October,1956, the marriage was solemnized. Toriola Solanke’s father was equally well known to Folake’s father. They all lived in the ancient city of Abeokuta. But despite her marriage, T.O.S Benson still remained unyielding and unbending. He was still determined to marry Folake at all cost!
In 1957, Benson had become the Chief Whip of the Nigerian Parliament and was a member of a delegation to London to discuss the Independence of Nigeria.
Despite the seriousness of this delegation to the United Kingdom (and its effect on Nigeria’s future independence), TOS Benson seized the opportunity of this visit to arrange with a cousin of Folake (now Mrs. Solanke) to lure her to her cousin’s house, where he could perhaps, talk to her all over again and convince her to marry him.
Folake paid a visit to her cousin, to her utmost shock, dismay, and bewilderment. Benson, her old suitor, came in just after she had arrived and quickly went to the business of convincing Folake to marry him. Folake’s answer was an immediate rebuff and a persistent “no”. She said-“I told him quite categorically, in the presence of Afolabi (cousin), what I had been telling him, my father and others for six years, that I could never marry him. As he still refused to take no for an answer, I told him that I was already married. Benson said he did not care about my marital status and that he would do everything to destroy my husband and I in Nigeria.”
Benson did not stop at that, and according to Folake-“as soon as Afolabi left the room, I got up from my chair, to leave the room, but suddenly, Benson grabbed my left hand and started trying to remove my engagement ring by force. I struggled as hard as I could, but he overpowered me and violently forced my engagement ring off my finger. In the course of the assault, my open-ended gold bracelet wristwatch also came off my wrist.” She further said-“my gold engagement ring had two diamonds set on either side of the blue sapphire. I pleaded with him to return my ring and wristwatch to me, but he flatly refused. He then put the two items in one of the pockets in his flowing Agbada. Benson locked the door and kept the key in one of his numerous pockets”.Folake, caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, did the unthinkable-“There was no way I was going to remain in the apartment, which for me had suddenly become a place of violence and unlawful detention after all the pleas had failed to recover my precious possession from him, and with the door locked against me, I reached for the telephone. Instinctively, I made for the window to jump out”. Luckily, the windows had no burglary proofs, unlike Nigeria.
As a result of this escape, audacity, and boldness, Benson realized it was no longer a tea party affair. He called Folake’s cousin- Kayode, who promptly came into the room, and they both persuaded her to come back. Despite her escape, Benson nevertheless held unto her ring and wristwatch. Folake reported this case to the police.
On the 1st of June, 1957, the London Metropolitan Police arrested Benson and arraigned him before Acton Magistrate court, London, for stealing a ring and wristwatch valued at £41 from a woman, Folake Solanke. He was alleged to have forcibly robbed her of her ring and wristwatch on the 25th of May, 1957. He was granted bail with two sureties. The court ordered a remand for two weeks, which meant he could not leave London that period. On Saturday, June 15, 1957, the case went on at the Magistrate Court to determine whether Benson had a case to answer.
T.O.S Benson, through his lawyer, Mr. Dingle Foot, called 12 witnesses that represented the crème de la creme of Nigerian politics. They included the Late Chief M.T Mbu. The greatest shock, however, was bringing the plaintiff’s father, Chief Jacob Odulate, to the court. The father testified against his daughter!
The courtroom was packed full with Nigerians as the story also hit the headlines of major newspapers in London and Lagos. Folake Solanke further said: “There were also others who came simply to hurl abuse and curses and threats on me. The unprintable taunting and vituperation did not elicit one single response from me. I held my head high, and the police gave me every protection.” After the trial, the judge adjourned the case to July 1, 1957, TOS Benson was eventually discharged and acquitted by the court.
The court matter was certainly a clash between modernity and tradition, boldness and audacity, to stand firm, on a choice- Toriola Solanke. Chief TOS Benson could still not forgive Folake for not marrying him. He taunted her at every opportunity. When Toriola Solanke died, he hired a band to taunt her, saying that, he an old man, had outlived her husband. Until his own death, Chief Theophilus Owolabi Sobowale Benson SAN never forgot and never forgave the bride he lost to Toriola Solanke.
To our readers, I want to appreciate those that reached out to me as regards our previous article, and I wish to dedicate this edition to Fatima Musa Maibasira, a blossoming and promising law student who lost her life in a car accident earlier this month, we pray Almighty God to forgive her sins and grant her family, the Law student’s community, in general, the strength to bear the loss.
1.Solanke, F. (2007). Reaching for the Stars: The autobiography of Folake Solanke. Ibadan: Book Builders Editions Africa.
About the Author
Toheeb Mustapha Babalola is a pupil of Law, a content creator, a blogger & a student of the Faculty of Law, Bayero University, Kano. He is the Founder of Lex Updates Publications, a Deputy Coordinator, North West Zone, MIPLG. He is interested in advocacy, academic writing, legal writing/history, activism, and positivism. To reach him, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or contact/WhatsApp: 08106244073.
Picture source: https://www.olumuyiwa.com.ng/2017/10/09/solanke-vs-benson-a-lifetime-story-of-tradition-love-and-hatred/