Dr. Iphigenia Efunjoke Coker : A life of impact and excellence
Its near impossible to attempt to write an appreciation on Dr Iphigenia Efunjoke Coker MA, MFR, an amazing Amazon, worthy of emulation and recognition, a champion of Nigeria womanhood and education of the girl child. As a colossus that bestrode the field of education in an era that ushered in Nigeria’s independence laying the foundation for her development, her life has been inspirational to all who were privileged to have come under her tutelage. She was a teacher’s teacher, a trainer for the very best, a builder of moral character and balanced personality. She was not only devoted to academic excellence she instilled the cultural and humanitarian sensibilities in her wards, male and female alike.
Renowned as the first Nigerian principal (and youngest of a Federal Government Institution), to the prestigious Queens College, Lagos, of which she was herself an alumnus of the class of 1941. She served as principal for 14 years (1963-1979), which marks her as the longest serving in all such federal government institutions to date. Powered by her upbringing and background, she was destined to make a resounding impact for the times attracting public reverence, admiration and love with her name a brand for dedication, integrity, altruism and patriotism.
Mrs. Coker’s life was one of inspiration, selflessness and sacrifice. With very firm but loving hands, she instilled in her wards enduring values of integrity, handwork, honesty and respect that continue to guide and propel them to the heights. These values more than the certificates explain the collective success and high profile positions of her products in public service, the academia, politics and business both locally and internationally. One of her mantra was “you must earn your respect”.
Famed for her great pioneering and leadership records, she was also unique and of unusual talents, a scholar who combined Mathematics and English to Masters level with Latin as a subsidiary as far back as 1956. It speaks volume of the intellectual giant that she was. She was an inspiring tutor who urged the youth to pursue excellence and to shun immorality, and other vices.
The Latin writer and philosopher Cicero said in a quote: “qui stadium currit, eniti et contendere debet, quam maxime possit, ut vincat,” which loosely translates as – who runs a race must strive, must exert himself to the fullest, in order to be victorious.
She had a towering figure with a serious no-nonsense presence. But underneath that mien was a woman full of love, life, fun and a heart of gold. Many naturally failed to understand her rigid stand on principles, being not privy to her upbringing, background and a training where rules and regulations were never compromised, and in a period when honesty and truth where the guiding force and values to uphold.
Born on Monday September 29, 1924 at 118 Bamgbose Street, Lagos Island, the last of eight children, to Mr. Bankole Soluade and Iphigenia Aina Soluade (nee DeSouza) both of illustrious lineage. Her paternal family was of Egba extraction. The Soluades were a prosperous farming and chieftaincy family in Abeokuta. Her father Bankole Soluade was a son of Kusimo Soluade, an earlier teacher of renown who was baptized as Laurenco Ruffino. Bankole Soluade worked at the at the Treasury Department of the Colonial Secretariat for many years before he resigned to set himself up as an Auctioneer. Her mother Iphigenia Aina Soluade was the daughter of Senhor Izidro de Souza, a prosperous merchant and highly respected pharmacist, counsellor and leader of the Afro-Brazilian community whose house on 12 Taiwo Street, is recorded as where the Catholics used to gather for prayers and Mass before the first priests came and the first Cathedral was built, largely financed by her maternal grandfather.
Senhor Izidro de Souza was himself a descendant of the legendary Dom Francisco Felix de Souza [1754-1849] ‘’Cha-Cha’’ Vizeroy of Ouidah, the Brazilian trader who was deeply influential in the pre-colonial West Africa’s regional economic and socio-political life. He and his descendants founded Afro-Brazilian communities in the West African Region in Ghana, Togo, Benin and Nigeria, and were very instrumental in their growth and their fight for independence from colonialism. His many descendants went on to establish Afro-Brazilian communities and the Catholic religion.
In January 1929, for her primary school education, she was taken to St. Mary’s Convent School, Broad Street (founded in 1873), which her mother and sisters had all attended and where they had taught. Later, she was admitted to St. Teresa’s High school where she spent 2 years. The she transferred to St. Agnes Teachers Training College, where she trained to become a teacher in a three-year course.
However, at the persuasion of Reverend Mother Enda, principal of St. Agnes and her older sister Efunduke, she attended Queen’s College joining the form 3A class. She earned a Government scholarship to study at the University of Ibadan for her university education, but left for Dublin, Ireland, to continue at the National University (University College, Dublin), where she obtained Bachelor degrees in Mathematics and English and Latin and Masters in English.
On her return to Nigeria, before joining Queen’s College, Lagos, she spent sometime in then Western Nigeria. Her first posting was to Queens School, Ede and after that, as Education Officer at Government College Ibadan, with a brief spell at the Government Press, Inalende (General Publications Section) of the Secretariat, at Ibadan.
She came to Queens as the first Nigerian Vice Principal, then its first indigenous Principal in December 1963 to December 1977. During this period the school continued to soar as the undisputed foremost girls institution, she also saw the expansion of the school’s classes into more streams and new buildings to accommodate more classes, laboratories and hostels. Though, Queen’s college was a grammar school, she also introduced commercial subjects like secretarial studies, economics, and Home Science. Also, all students had ballet and modern dance included in Physical Education class, took Music and Fine Art classes in their first three years, to build appreciation for good physical comportment and the Arts. Those so inclined continued with international examinations, which took them to such institutions as Sadler Wells, London School of Music, The Slade, to pursue further professional training and career.
After her voluntary retirement from Queens College this quintessential lady devoted all her time to charitable works and more service to the nation and humanity. She desired not and did not receive personal remuneration. Rather she used her influence to bring support to raise the status of those organizations. These included the position of President of the Nigerian Red Cross Lagos State for eight years, Member of the Directorate of the National Youth Service Corps; Member of the Governing Board, Yola Polytechnic; member of Council of the University of Ibadan, President Zonta International and Chairman of the Golden Zee Club (the youth wing of the Zonta International Club) of Lagos; a foundation member of the Musical Society of Nigeria (MUSON).
For leisure, one could say, she was a “culture vulture” of sorts, with a passion for arts and culture: theatre, music, films, dance, fine art, photography, literature, poetry. She imparted the appreciation for these through extracurricular activities she established in the school. She loved traveling, visiting countries in all the continents, even going to remote places meeting indigenous people. She met some high profile personalities and world dignitaries too. These included Pope John Paul VI, Queen Sylvia of Sweden, Prime Minister De Valera of Ireland, Mrs. Roosevelt of the US, Mrs. Imelda Marcos of the Philippines, to mention a few.
She was a model of leadership, character building and the competence of thousands of girls and boys who went through her hands. The obituary statement by the Queens College Alumni glorified her as “An exemplary teacher and astute administrator, mentor and mother of mothers.” She endeared herself to everyone. Gladly, her efforts did not go unrecognized while alive.
In February 1979, Mrs. I.E. Coker was conferred with the national award of M.F.R. (Member of the Order of the Federal Republic), by government of General Olusegun Obasanjo. In 2016, she received the KARIS award of the Household of God Church and 2017 recipient of honorary Doctorate of Educational Management degree from the Federal University, Oye-Ekiti. A hostel in Queen’s College was named Efunjoke House in her honour. Her many students who regarded her as mother, teacher, moral tutor, mentor and role model have continued to emulate her by carrying on with the values to make a success of their lives and career. Also they demonstrated their appreciation by regular visits, care and love for her till her last days. They all agree she led an exemplary life of service and altruism, shunning pecuniary gratification.
We cannot but appreciate her immense contribution as an educator par excellence, a molder of youth and a trailblazer. Her breed is almost extinct, if not so now, in Nigeria. At the ripe age of 95 years she breathed her last and translated to greater glory after engraving her footprints in the sands of time. She has, with reference to Queens’s College motto, ‘’Passed on the Torch still Brightly Burning’’ to all future generations!
Truly, it can be said of this legend, her essence and influence will be passed on to the continuum of life and eternity.
As in the lyrics of the pop song “Immortality” by Celine Dion:
So this is who I am
And this is all I know
And I must choose to live
For all that I can give
The spark that makes the power grow
And I will stand for my dream if I can
Symbol of my faith in who I am…
I make my journey through eternity
I keep the memory of me and you
Fulfil your destiny
It’s there within the child
My storm will never end
My fate is on the wind
The king hearts, the joker’s wild
We don’t say goodbye
We don’t say goodbye
I’ll make them all remember me
“Cause I have found a dream that must come true
Every ounce of me must see to it….”
Dr. Iphigenia Efunjoke Coker MA, MFR,
Memory of your beautiful personality and legacies lives
on in our hearts, forever. We love you, and miss you!
Requescat In Pace
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