Lapido Solanke

Ladipo Solanke (1886-1958)

Ladipo Solanke was a Nigerian-born political activist who campaigned on West African issues and was integral to London’s pre-Second World War Black community. Born in Abeokuta, Nigeria, as Oladipo Felix Solanke, he studied at the historic Fourah Bay College in Sierra Leone before moving to study law at University College, London, in 1922.

Solanke joined the Union of Students of African Descent and increasingly found himself at the forefront of a revival of interest in traditional Yoruba culture and national pride. He became the first person to broadcast on the radio in Yoruba and founded the Nigeria Progress Union to promote the welfare of Nigerian students. In addition, he vigorously protested stereotypes and racist depictions of Africa, notably a report in the Evening Standard, which claimed that cannibalism was endemic to Nigeria.

In 1925, Solanke, alongside Dr Bankole-Bright, founded the West African Students’ Union (WASU) in London. Between 1929 -1932, Solanke returned to different countries in West Africa to raise money for WASU, opening new branches in other countries. He met his wife, Opeolu Obisanya, and the couple later married and returned to Britain with enough money to open an HQ in Camden, known as the Africa House.

For the next twenty-five years, WASU was the social, cultural and political focus for West Africans from all walks of life in Britain. Aside from providing a cultural and social hub for students in London, it also served as a training ground for many future political leaders.

He became the organisation’s Secretary-General and the main contributor to its journal, Wasu. Other anti-colonial activists living in London at the time, such as Amy Ashwood Garvey, Marcus Garvey, Paul Robeson, Reginald Sorensen and Nathaniel Fadipe, supported Solanke’s efforts.

During the 1930s and 40s, Solanke organised political campaigns to assist cocoa farmers on the Gold Coast and was regularly back and forth between West Africa and Britain. However, after a prolonged stay between 1944-1948, Solanke returned to an irreconcilable split and dissent in WASU and had to step down as Secretary-General.

In 1953 he split with the union after some members voted to close down the Africa House due to financial pressures. Nevertheless, Solanke maintained the hostel with his dwindling funds until his death from lung cancer in London in September 1958.

Location: 62 Camden Road, Camden Town